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Don’t Let Rhetoric Rule: Ensure Climate-Change Justice

Health-care legislation has finally reached the Senate for action. It’s been a long wait; the relevant committees in the House of Representative took their action quite a while back.
 

And now, of course, the issue comes down to money. Who is going to pay? And how much?

 

I’m sorry, but did you think I was referring to legislation on health-care reform that passed the Senate’s Finance Committee with just one affirmative Republican vote – the proposal that would reshape how health care in the United States could be financed so that a lot more people would have access to it?

 

Reasonable mistake.

 

But I was actually referring to the health legislation that has a far larger and longer impact. One that will, in the end, cost a lot more.

 

In the Senate it’s called “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” although in the House it went by the “American Clean Energy and Security Act” back months ago when that chamber considered it. They could just as well have added “Global Health” to those titles.

 

What both bills do is limit carbon emissions that cause global warming and set efficiency and renewable energy standards far into the future for our nation. That’s the good part.

 

One important point where the two bills differ is being crystal clear about who ends up paying for this and how much. What’s clear in both bills is that energy costs are going to rise. So the question is whether people who are in or right on the edge of poverty will have to pay for the rising costs at the same rate as those who are somewhat or a lot better off.

 

The bill that the House of Representatives passed made specific provisions for those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. So far, the Senate bill contains only rhetoric in that direction – and we all know what happens when only rhetoric rules.

 

So people of faith and conscience who are concerned about economic justice have their assignment for contacting their senators and making sure that the Senate legislation is as specific as the House’s in making allowances for the poor and near poor.

 

It’s a way of assuring that we are all drinking from the same cup in terms of the actual impact of this important legislation on everyone’s economic well-being.

 

Something similar operates on a global scale as this U.S. environmental legislation and other U.S. environmental policies are brought to an international summit in Copenhagen in December.

 

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The so-called “developed nations” have been taking advantage of a free ride on greenhouse gas emissions for decades and centuries – during those times, that is, when the problem of global warming was not a recognized problem virtually anywhere. These nations have profited enormously from that free ride, which explains, in part, why they are so far ahead economically over other less-developed nations.

 

But now every nation has to be a part of reducing emissions and slowing global warming because every nation would face disaster if nothing is done. The painful price has to be paid for those near- and long-term actions.

 

Yet how could we seriously entertain the notion that poor and near-poor nations should bear on an equal basis with us the challenge we collectively face, given all the benefits the so-called developed nations have reaped over the decades and centuries?

 

To their credit, the so-called developing nations have let it be known that they aren’t about to sign on to a treaty that would help the whole world address global warming unless they receive major assistance from the so-called developed nations.

 

And, to their credit, the so-called developed nations have said they agree.

 

But so far, it’s all rhetoric – and we all know what happens when only rhetoric rules.

 

So people of faith and conscience who are concerned about both environmental and economic justice have still another assignment in these coming weeks: it is to make absolutely certain that our own country takes the lead in making specific and just proposals for funding an international program of action on the environment. That means contacting senators and representatives, as well as the White House, to insist that justice be done on our part and in our advocacy toward other so-called developed nations.

 

In Mark 10:35-40, a couple of the disciples ask Jesus for the favor of being seated by him when he enters into his glory – one on his right side and the other on the left. Jesus, in the end, tells the two disciples that it isn’t up to him to make the seating arrangements at that glorious time to come. But what he does have the right to ask is whether the disciples are willing and able to drink from the same cup as he will drink on this side of glory.

 

That involves, Jesus suggests, making the self-sacrifices that will be costly in order that others will be served and saved.

 

The disciples, without fully knowing what this means, indicate that they are, indeed, willing and able to drink from the same cup.

 

I suspect those of us who are followers of Jesus today are in somewhat the same situation – not knowing exactly all that’s at stake for us in advocating for justice on issues such as global warming. But at the very minimum it would seem to involve recognition that “sharing the same cup,” not just with Jesus but with our fellow citizens of the world, requires some exceptional sacrifice, especially for those of us who have been able to avoid that sacrifice for so long.

 

Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence at The Common Good Network.