Jeremiah’s Warning and Climate Justice
Just before the Babylonian exile in 587 BCE, God sends Jeremiah to sternly warn King Jehoiakim and the Israelites that their great city will be destroyed if they continue to forsake God’s ways.
The message is this (Jeremiah 22:13-16):
“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
and decorates it in red.
“Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.
Unlike his father Josiah before him, Jehoiakim built the overconsumption of his palace on the extortion of the people and natural resources around him.
Today, Jeremiah would have similar warnings for us: those of us living in the United States make up 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume nearly a quarter of the world’s resource flows. The supplies for our great house – materials for our infrastructure, coal for our electricity, oil for our cars – are extracted from the lands of marginalized people, both in the Global South, from Nigeria to Ecuador to Iraq, but also our own country’s Appalachia, Gulf of Mexico, and many American Indian reservations.
Apart from impacts on health and livelihoods in those communities, one of the gravest consequences of this extraction for consumption is climate change. It is already likely that global average temperature will increase 2-3°C above pre-industrial levels and, if business continues as usual, we could face a 6.4 °C (11.5 °F) rise by the end of the century.
Unjustly, those least responsible for climate change are also the most vulnerable to its impacts. At 2-3°C temperature rise, approximately 20 to 30% of plant and animal species will likely face an even higher risk of extinction – and I don’t just mean polar bears. Coastal flooding, more extreme weather, water insecurity, and increased incidence of vector-borne diseases like malaria are already harming the world’s poorest people from Pakistan, to New Orleans, to sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change already causes 150,000 people to die annually and these numbers are on the rise; by 2020, up to 250 million Africans could face drought as their crops produce 50% less due to rainfall shortages.
While these challenges seem daunting, or even impossible to overcome, the global society and environment we inhabit is far from irredeemable. Even after the Israelites’ leaders went into exile in Babylon, Jeremiah began to speak of returning.
What can we do as people seeking a return to right relationships with God’s creation?
In order to limit future climate and ecological damage: 1) we must make the best choices we can in our daily lives to reduce our personal and communal consumption, especially of electricity and oil. (2) We must call on our Government to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and public transportation and to transform our economy into one that equitably meets human needs, instead of feeding exponential growth.
And what can we do about the climate change that is already inevitable?
1) We can personally give our prayers and our resources to organizations working to help marginalized communities at home and abroad to prepare for the impacts of climate change.
2) We can call on our leaders to contribute our fair share of the $200 billion per year in public finance necessary to help poor countries adapt to climate change, gain access to renewable energy technology, and protect their forests. So far, only a fraction of the money needed has been pledged and, now, before the UN Climate meeting in Cancun at the end of the month, the Obama Administration is dragging its feet on establishing a Global Climate Fund that is representative and accountable to those most affected.
Instead of dipping into U.S. coffers already in deficit, the US could still put forth its fair share by redirecting fossil-fuel subsidies, utilizing IMF Special Drawing Rights, and/or putting a tiny levy on financial speculation.
Helping impoverished countries prepare for the impacts of climate change is a matter of justice, not charity. In so doing, we can defend the cause of the poor and needy. Is that not what it means to know the Lord?
To learn more about Climate Justice and what you can do, please visit www.jubileeusa.org, To take immediate action visit: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/863/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY...
Eric LeCompte is the Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network.