Climate change: reflecting on 2017

Jasmine Huggins | December 15, 2017

As we approach end of year celebrations, this is a good time to take stock, reflect and see what lies ahead in terms of climate change.  Here is my own 2017 review – the good, the bad and the hopeful.

The good news is that, even if 2017 was marked by shock and dismay at the dismantling of once-bold U.S. government policy on climate change, Americans showed up throughout the year to preserve the planet in courageous ways. In a year in which the Administration announced draconian and damaging cuts to environmental budgets, increased fossil fuel exploitation, rolling back of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, ordinary people from all walks of life, faiths, communities and leaders from across the political spectrum stepped up resolutely to push back against these changes.

During Earth Week in April, 200,000 people marched in 300 cities in the People’s Climate March.  Among other things, they called for a just transition to renewable energy sources, protection of the Arctic Refuge and Indigenous land rights, preservation of the fragile ecosystems that give us clean air, water and food and support for the world’s most at risk and climate vulnerable communities.  Dozens of faith organizations, including CWS, were involved.  Today, all around the country, churches and places of worship are producing faith resources to promote the protection of God’s creation and all who depend on it, as well as speaking out and organizing public action.  By doing so, they add their voice to the hundreds of American business, institutions, colleges and universities which, by signing the recent We’re Still In declaration, have voluntarily committed to addressing climate change within their own institutions and to keeping America’s promise to the rest of the world that it will indeed reduce its carbon and methane emissions, despite the Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.  And, just as U.S. federal funding for foreign and climate assistance is being threatened, American cities, states, counties and private donors are proactively exploring innovative new initiatives to provide capital to poor countries to help them adapt to, and prepare for, climate change.

At this year’s United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany, international climate change negotiations – often dismissed for being insufficiently responsive to the real needs of the most at risk and most vulnerable groups – for the first time adopted two new agreements that recognized the disproportionately negative impact of climate change on women and girls, and on Indigenous groups around the world. We who have called for climate justice are pleased that additional commitments now exist to prioritize the most at-risk groups who least created climate change, but are most affected by it.

CWS’s humanitarian program, too, has benefited from unwavering public support in the aftermath of an unprecedented triplet of destructive storms. Thanks to supporters and volunteers, we have donated in excess of 130,00 blankets, emergency cleanup buckets and hygiene kits in Texas, Florida, Cuba and Puerto Rico.  And it does not end there. In early December CWS Executive Vice President Maurice Bloem walked over 100 miles in a bid to raise awareness about climate change and proceeds from his Hunger Walk  will this year support hurricane response programs in the Caribbean.

The bad news is that the pace of all this is not yet fast enough to avert further – and potentially irreparable – climate disruption. Collectively, the world has not yet enacted sufficient reforms to achieve anywhere near the 1.5-degree world promised by the Paris Agreement, not shifted to renewables nor invested in adaptation quickly enough to overturn an already dangerous trend.  Annually, new climate change records are being set:  2017’s summer temperatures the highest were the hottest.  Its Atlantic hurricanes didn’t only travel the furthest (to Western Europe) and produce the most torrential rain and destructive winds ever, they also produced the highest price tag in history – experts suggest in excess of $200 billion so far.  Elsewhere in the United States, more than 2 million acres of land in the U.S. alone were consumed this year too, by wildfires, caused by scorching temperatures and dry winds.

Citizens of Caribbean territories whose economies and infrastructure were so battered this year will be living with the consequences of climate change for decades, or perhaps until the next – inevitable – hurricane makes landfall.  Further afield, the consequences have been even more tragic for poor and developing countries: extreme flooding in South Asia this year alone caused the deaths of some 1,200 people and affected up to 40 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Emerging reports now confirm a rise in child marriages in Africa’s most impoverished countries, with girls as young as 13 leaving school and being offered in marriage – and even voluntarily choosing to marry – as an economic alternative, after drought and floods have damaged family crops and reduced their ability to feed them. Not just in Africa, but in Latin America too, the consequences of crops failure, drying lakes, altered seasons and extreme weather events are disrupting social and gender relations.  So dramatic are the consequences for women and girls, that UNESCO recently declared that “women’s exposure and vulnerability to violence increases as temperatures rise.”

What, then, is within the realm of the hopeful, if we are confronted by so much bad news?

Our own individual actions, can still prevent further, possibly irreversible climate disruption, if we act persistently and quickly.  The United States government can be reminded of the inordinate power it has – through its decisions – to effect long lasting, positive change over the lives of people in its own country, and around the world. Over the next few months, Congress will be making major decisions about environmental programs, energy policy, federal funding for climate change and overseas aid, as well as on IVAWA – the International Violence Against Women Act, which aims to empower women to address all forms of violence against them.  With each piece of legislation, the nation’s leaders can come closer to crafting sustainable climate solutions that preserve Creation, or exacerbate problems that have already caused such damage.  Hope lies in our ability to marshal our own resources of compassion, solidarity, and generosity to envision a sustainable life, not just for those we love, but for those whom we may never meet, in distant lands far away.   It is as incumbent upon them to do the right thing, as it is upon us to remind them to do so.

Take action today, to remind Congress to use its leadership to address climate change.