Taking action against climate change is a moral imperative

Said Ahmed-Zaid
Said Ahmed-Zaid

Back in 2015, a group of youths filed a lawsuit that became known as “Juliana v. the United States.” The case was born in Eugene, Oregon, and spearheaded by the lead plaintiff, Kelsey Juliana, a University of Oregon student who was 19 at the time. Kelsey is one of 21 plaintiffs who come from 10 different states. The youngest one, Levi Draheim, is in sixth grade.

Through the courts, these youths are trying to block the U.S. government from continuing the use of fossil fuels or, at least, subsidizing this industry. Their lawsuit asserts that the government’s affirmative actions are causing climate change, violating the youngest generation’s constitutional right to life, liberty and property, and said actions are failing to protect essential public trust resources.

The science is clear on the subject of global warming or climate change, to put it mildly. Because warming from carbon dioxide will persist for centuries, it is important to set an upper temperature limit, which will then require net carbon dioxide emissions to eventually drop to zero. Many parties have called to a stabilization well below 2 degrees centigrade and even closer to 1.5 degrees centigrade.

Avoiding dangerous climate change will require a fundamental economic transformation in developed and developing countries. Unfortunately, this transformation cannot be about tweaking or fine-tuning existing systems.

At the Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris in 2015, affiliates of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change, and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments leading to a sustainable low-carbon future. By November 2016, there were 195 signatories and 185 parties to the accord, including the United States of America.

On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. However, and in accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, the earliest withdrawal date cannot be before Nov. 4, 2020, or one day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Many faith-based organizations of different denominations have been calling on their governments to take action in addition to pledging climate action themselves. At the August 2015 Islamic Climate Change Conference in Istanbul, Islamic leaders called on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to engage in combating climate change while urging their governments to join the accord in Paris.

In June 2015, Pope Francis released a papal encyclical letter, in which he called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change.

In July 2015, the Church of England’s General Synod backed long-term climate action, which received an overwhelming majority of votes.

During 2015, hundreds of rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, whereas Buddhist leaders released a Buddhist declaration on climate change. Hindu leaders released their own Hindu Declaration on Climate Change in late November 2015.

More and more religious leaders are reminding us that acting on climate change is a moral imperative. Let us face it: We have been bad stewards of this planet. The current epoch in which we are living has been described in geological terms as the Anthropocene, or the “Age of Humans.” In the brief period following the Industrial Revolution, humans have consumed much of the nonrenewable resources, which have taken hundreds of millions of years to produce.

Leading climate scientists assert that a rise of 2 degrees centigrade in global temperature will be the “tipping point” that will expose millions of people and other creatures to drought, hunger and flooding. Other scientists are more pessimistic and consider a rise of 1.5 degrees centigrade to be the “tipping point.”

My scripture, the Quran, has an emphatic warning when man behaves irresponsibly toward nature. In Chapter 30, Verse 41, we read: “Corruption has appeared on land and sea by what people’s own hands have wrought, that God may let them taste some consequences of their deeds, so that they may turn back.”

The year 2015 was a good year for environmentalists everywhere and for people of good will wanting to take action against the dangers of climate change. The year 2016 was a setback. Let us pray that the year 2020 will be one that will put us back on track for a better future, for our children’s and grandchildren’s sake.

Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.