Five representatives from faith-based nongovernmental organizations stressed the implications of climate change on poverty and justice around the world at a gathering in the Healey Family Student Center on Nov. 9
The second part of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs’ Symposium on Religion and Climate Change brought together American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, Vice President for Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals Galen Carey, Lead for the Faith-Based Initiative at the World Bank Adam Taylor and associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America Maryann Cusimano Love.
Panelists discussed the efforts each has made in his organization to raise awareness about climate change and aid marginalized groups in the context of their faith traditions.
Katherine Marshall, a senior fellow at the Berkley Center, moderated the discussion. Marshall stressed a strong common interest between social justice, fighting poverty and climate action before segueing into a conversation on the role of religious social justice organizations.
“The world of international development and the world of climate change have many synergies … which include an emphasis on sustainability, and … the challenges of inequality in the world, as well as the challenges of poor governance,” Marshall said. “The anger and grievances are sparking a third pillar, conflict resolution and peace building.”
Carey also emphasized the importance of recognizing the disproportionate effects of climate change.
“Climate change is already impacting the poorest people among us, and we know that climate change will affect all of us,” Carey said. “The poorest suffer most in disasters, which will be intensifying in years to come.”
Carey said since the poor live in the most vulnerable places and have the fewest resources, they are less able to adapt to changing climates and are more prone to displacement by the growth of deserts or the rise of sea levels. Such displacement contributes to the increase of violent conflicts.
Messinger also spoke about her organization’s work in Mexico to secure land and water rights for indigenous populations, who are often exploited by mining and agriculture corporations intent on resource extraction.
“We are supporting groups that are advocating for their land against the incursions of outside interests, helping them become parts of larger social movements that are advocating across countries and continents for the right to food sovereignty,” Messinger said.
Messinger also explained the link between deforestation and health, citing last year’s Ebola virus epidemic as proof that climate change can intensify the spread of deadly disease.
Love then spoke about the obligations Catholics have, as laid out in Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.”
“Francis really talks about the connections between … people, poverty, the planet and peace,” Love said. “He says that it cannot be emphasized enough that these are interconnected and that if we seek only a technical remedy to each, then we are masking the true and deepest problems of the global system.”
After speaking about how financial help through U.S. Agency for Internatinoal Development has helped to provide technical fixes through funding for new farming techniques, Love described the work she has done with Catholic Relief Services in Ghana to determine the detrimental effects climate change has on the poor, particularly in regards to malnutrition as a result of extensive drought and the disenfranchisement of women.
Taylor shared the efforts of the Faith Initiative at the World Bank to revitalize its ties with religious groups around the world to provide funding and research so that nongovernmental organizations can more effectively help disadvantaged groups.
“Climate change poses one of the most quintessential and paradoxical challenges the world faces around the commons itself,” Taylor said. “We wouldn’t be in this conundrum if the crisis of the commons was at the heart of this issue.”
Taylor emphasized the World Bank’s most recent research findings on climate change and poverty, which report that unless concerted effort focuses on resolving humans’ impact on the environment, 100 million more people around the world will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030. The number of people exposed to severe drought is also predicted to increase from 9 to 17 percent by 2030 and from 50 to 90 percent by 2080. Additionally, a 2-degree rise in temperature could increase the number of people at risk from malaria by 150 million.
Taylor stressed the role of religious leaders in educating their congregations on the responsibility religious individuals have to act on climate change.
“We see peaks in awareness and concerns when major disasters strike, but that concern dissipates far too quickly,” Taylor said. “Religious leaders can help sustain it by putting that in the context of their entire Bible study or engaging churches, mosques and synagogues in a long-term fashion.”
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