Beyond Debate: Climate Change and Our Shared Planet

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

Addressing issues surrounding the realities of hunger, poverty, and homelessness in our country seems to be beyond the scope of presidential debates. More these struggles that face the most vulnerable among us are rarely addressed if at all in campaign rallies or asked about in press conferences.

For people of faith caring for and advocating for the lost, last, and least among us is a gospel imperative at the heart of Christian discipleship. This work goes beyond collecting canned goods for the food bank and raising money for the local shelter. If we are truly to address issues of hunger and poverty, we must address them at the structural levels of policy and prejudice. Still, it does not take a biblical command to have and show compassion for those who are experiencing poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness. A recognition of our shared humanity and the dignity each person deserves calls us all to action to work for the betterment in the lives of all who are suffering oppression, discrimination, degradation, and socioeconomic marginalization.

As disappointing as it is not to have the realities of poverty and hunger discussed in recent presidential debates, it is not all that surprising either. These anti-hunger policies don’t make headlines. It’s easier to have a food drive than think about all the intersectional realities at work from living wages to health care and student debt to various forms of discrimination.

However even as these challenges persist, the health of our planet and its numerous ecosystems of life are facing a crucial tipping point. Climate change is the greatest threat to life as we know it. It is the most urgent and important issue of our day. Yet despite this urgency and the unprecedented record-setting warming of the planet, it was not discussed in any of the presidential debates.

The New York Times called this a failure of journalism.

“The failure to ask about climate change during any of the debates is a failure of journalism.”

Is addressing climate change beyond debate in our presidential debates because it is still up for debate in the Republican-controlled House and Senate?

The failure to address climate change in the presidential debates is indeed a failure of journalism, but the failure does not rest only on these few debate moderators who crafted the questions. This failure also rests with those who insist climate change is not real and with the media for giving equal time to “both sides” creating a grossly irresponsible false equivalence leading to a misinformed and confused public who often don’t think but parrot their sides talking points. The media is also culpable for this failure because of the obsessive coverage of trivialities like handshakes and presentation style as opposed to substantive issues of content both discussed and notably absent. Though this election year presents an unprecedented challenge for any kind of substantive content with the nomination of Donald Trump.

This failure is also a moral one. Caring for all of creation is a moral obligation of living together and sharing this one planet with a multitude of diverse species and forms of life that work together in ecological systems that sustain and perpetuate life.

The industrial revolution that brought much advancement to our world has also come with an unprecedented cost to the environment and thus to life as we know it. Nevertheless, just as we had the scientific and technological knowledge then so too do we have the insights and information now to build a greener infrastructure and way of life that will preserve and protect the one planet we share with one another and with all other forms of life.

The call to care for all of creation is rooted in the scriptures. Genesis speaks of the goodness of creation and the Psalms sing of the marvels of God’s handiwork. One preacher in a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan declared that our earth might very well be the one stripped and beaten and left for dead on the Jericho roadside. So just as our neighbor is everyone from every place and time so also is the earth and all its diverse life to be seen as neighbor and regarded with compassionate care and justice, that all life may flourish in peace.

Again, one does not need to read Genesis or the gospels to see that one planet we have to live on is in peril. It does not take a biblical mandate to come together for the common cause of addressing climate change, though this is one area where people of faith can find unity and even be a leading voice in the public square for both legislative and cultural change that seeks the preservation of the earth, the environment, and all the ecosystems that make for the flourishing of life.

Climate change is beyond the debate of its reality. It’s also past the reality of being beyond a crucial tipping point of atmospheric carbon levels exceeding 400 parts per million. These realities ought to have been enough to assure that climate change is not beyond the reality of presidential debates and the collective urgency of our moral conscience.

The debates are over for this election. The debate on climate change has been over for some time. Now is the time to act before all solutions are beyond debate.