Wider dialogue with government on environmental issues welcomed by faith groups

Young climate activists in Manila, Philippines, were among 4 million people around the world who took part in the global climate strike in September 2019. The Global Catholic Climate Movement is among the country’s faith-based organizations who welcomed the dialogue with the Biden administration on environmental concerns. (CNS Photo / courtesy World Catholic Climate Movement)

CLEVELAND – Faith-based organizations that are working to fight climate change and strengthen initiatives to protect creation are again heard by the federal government.

Since President Joe Biden took office on January 20 and began to reorient federal priorities towards achieving a greener country and environmental justice in poor, minority and indigenous communities, organizations have seen a new opening for cooperation and dialogue.

“The doors are open. The administration has its own plans which run parallel to what all of our groups are pushing for. It’s a whole new day for those working for environmental justice, ”said Stephen Schneck, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network in Washington.

At the Catholic Climate Covenant, the sentiment is much the same.

“We are super excited with the Biden administration and their initiatives. It’s almost like the day and night of the previous administration, ”Jose Aguto, associate director of the organization, told Catholic News Service.

“The spirit of what he is proposing is very, very Catholic and rises where the younger generations are in terms of an orientation towards social justice,” said Aguto.

This focus on the environment and climate change gives the Catholic Climate Convention, the Ignatian Solidarity Network and other organizations a much needed boost after their views have been widely dismissed under the administration of Donald Trump.

Members of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light have gathered in the state’s oil and natural gas wells in recent years to seek tighter controls on the pollution affecting neighboring communities. The organization is among faith-based organizations across the country that have welcomed dialogue with the Biden administration on environmental concerns. (CNS Photo / courtesy New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light)

Their efforts were given new impetus as the Global Catholic Church observed Laudato Si ‘Week from May 16 to 25 with online and local events. The week concludes the Special Anniversary Year of Laudato Si ‘, celebrating the progress made over the past five years in the church’s environmental work on a global scale. It also launches a new wave of decade-long initiatives in a continuing response to Pope Francis’ call for the care of creation.

Biden, the second Catholic president in the country’s history, has proposed a series of initiatives in line with that call.

In an executive order in the early days of his administration, Biden laid out plans to prioritize climate change, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, promote land and water conservation, and create well-paying jobs in fields. related to the environment. Some of the orders override Trump’s executive orders that overturned dozens of environmental policies, claiming they were hurting American businesses.

Biden also announced the return of the United States to the Paris climate agreement, a priority objective of the organizations.

One of Biden’s most notable plans is the Justice40 initiative, which the White House explained calls for delivering 40% of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to underprivileged communities. Performance towards the goal would be tracked through what the administration called an “environmental justice scorecard”.

Franciscan Sister Joan Brown, executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said such an aspiration is laudable, especially because communities of color, including Native American tribes, disproportionately suffer the negative effects of the pollution and climate change, such as severe drought and water scarcity. Resources.

In approaching environmental justice, there is also a new opportunity to confront the broad concerns of racial inequality and long-term poverty, Sister Joan added.

“What has changed is the way we approach it. It’s not just environmentalists who say we need to do this. It is more inclusive to fight against economic disparities, ”she said.

Biden’s U.S. Jobs Plan, a sweeping, eight-year, $ 2.3 trillion proposal to strengthen the country’s infrastructure, is also garnering support from faith groups.

Environmentally related proposals in the plan include support for the development and purchase of electric vehicles, water sanitation programs, elimination of lead pipes in homes, improved transportation. and investment in clean energy development and infrastructure.

Anna Wagner, director of network engagement for the Global Catholic Climate Movement, explained that such measures – and more – are needed given that the United States is a major producer of fossil fuels and a major emitter. greenhouse gases.

These gases accumulate in the atmosphere and, according to the vast majority of scientific studies, probably contribute to global warming.

Aid for climate change “hinges on bold action by the United States,” Wagner told CNS, saying the country “has a great opportunity to move the world forward into a sustainable future.”

“The United States can also take action by challenging other governments and businesses to move away from fossil fuels as quickly and completely as possible and to minimize the damage to the less responsible, those we know to be. are the first and the most affected, ”she said.

New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light is mobilizing faith-based organizations, churches and individuals nationally to enthusiastically support Biden’s plan. He is circulating a signing letter calling on Congress to adopt the proposal’s full list of green measures.

“We urge you to support historic investment levels that will protect creation, combat the impacts of climate change and pollution from fossil fuel extraction and related industries, and fulfill our moral obligation to leave a world habitable to future generations, ”said the letter, which is expected to be sent in June.

“Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) and low-income communities have been hit hardest by the triple health, economic and environmental crisis we face,” he said. “The needs of these communities must be at the center of any infrastructure package. “

Beyond the letter, organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant are working to connect with Republican and Democratic members of Congress to support key legislation that will address pollution, climate change and environmental justice.

“We are building bridges, especially with Republicans. The alliance is a coalition of partners. We are working with partners to target key lawmakers in certain districts who can advance the climate agenda in ways that could be useful, ”said Dan Misleh, executive director of the convention.

Sister Joan said it is important to have stronger relationships in government and Congress, as this will allow those most affected by environmental policies to have their voices heard. She highlighted a recent meeting that New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light had with Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, DN.M., who is serving her first term in Congress.

Leger Fernandez, Sister Joan said, wanted to know why believers were so engaged in environmental concerns and wanted to share what she had learned with other less environmentally conscious believers. It was a refreshing change, Sister Joan added.

Yet, she said, no matter who is in place, there is still a lot of work to do to achieve true environmental justice.

“In some ways, it’s important to know who’s in power and take advantage of that not only to get things done, but also to speak up,” she said. “But that doesn’t change what we’re working on because it’s ethical and moral.”

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