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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Faith important in climate rescue

When I was younger, my grandpa related the “Parable of the Drowning Man.” It’s the one about the guy who is caught in a catastrophic storm, but as the floodwaters rise, he refuses to accept help. “No, I believe the Lord will save me,” he proclaims as one boat, then another, and finally a helicopter attempt to rescue him from the rising waters. When the man ultimately drowns and later enters the pearly gates, he asks God why he, a man of such faith, was not saved by the divine hand. God replies, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What more did you want from me?”

When my grandpa, a remarkably faithful man, shared this parable with me nearly four decades ago, he undoubtedly was not thinking about climate change, which was not even a blip on the average person’s radar then. As a six-year-old in that era, I certainly wasn’t thinking about it. However, in my current role of Outreach Coordinator with West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, a state affiliate of the national Interfaith Power and Light network, which promotes climate action from a faith-based perspective, it’s hard to hear or retell the story without making the connection.

Today, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that our climate crisis demands a similar urgency as that which brought two boats and a helicopter to our drowning man. In fact, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a stunning report that clearly states the global community is on the verge of “miss[ing] a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all” if we do not take bold climate action now. After decades of warnings by scientists, it seems we’ve already waved away the first and second boats; we’re at the helicopter rescue stage of this impending disaster.

While the IPCC tells us action must be taken on the global stage to affect large-scale change, at WVIPL, we encourage faith communities to be examples of the change and take local action. A growing number are doing so, including two West Virginian congregations that have won national awards in recent years from the IPL network for their energy efficiency projects. We have also seen environmental committees established in faith settings, discussion forums about climate hosted by faith communities, and over 150 registrants signed up for our online discussion series last year. And while there is inevitably some resistance to the idea that climate action and faith should coexist, with a sometimes-vocal preference for the human-hands-off approach, it does not deter us.

At WVIPL we know from firsthand experience with communities and individuals from across the state and varied faith traditions that bold climate action and faith not only can coexist, but for many of the faithful, MUST coexist, as the latter demands the former.

Climate action, after all, is a demonstration of gratitude (for the beauty of the earth), compassion (for those most vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of climate change), justice (as marginalized populations bear the brunt of the polluting practices that contribute to climate change), and community-mindedness (in seeking not to squander for personal gain what others will one day need). While these values are of course not exclusive to the faithful, they tend to be at the core of the faith traditions in our midst, making climate action a logical fast friend.

If you and/or your faith community would like to get involved in this work, we invite you to contact us — whether you are a faith leader who has an entire community behind you, an individual lay person with just your personal convictions, or something in between. IPL’s Faith Climate Action Week taking place later this month in conjunction with Earth Day and the year-round Cool Congregations energy efficiency program are great starting points.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can to avoid becoming a new punchline to The Parable of the Drowning Man, as the experts predict will happen if we do not heed their warnings with the urgency they deserve. “I sent you a panel of climate scientists and some renewable energy!” God might quip in the updated version. “What more did you want from me?”

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Angie Iafrate, of Parkersburg, is the statewide program and outreach coordinator for WVIPL, which can be contacted at westvaipl@gmail.com.

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