I am a Christian woman and work to advance climate justice as the leader of United Methodist Women’s Just Energy for All campaign. It might surprise you to learn that my academic training was not in climate science; it was in history, political science, and theology. Even though I am not a climate scientist, I recognize that the climate crisis is an existential threat impacting all of creation. As a woman and a person of faith, I have a unique responsibility to act.
Women, children, and youth are already being disproportionately affected by the climate emergency. The UN reports that 80% of people already being displaced by climate change are women. And when natural disasters hit, women and children have been 14 times more likely than men to die, more vulnerable to gender-based violence, and afterward, there has been as much as 20-30% increase in trafficking. Therefore, we must be actively involved in advancing solutions to the climate crisis.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Aug. 2021 report warned that limiting global warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels “will be beyond reach” in the next two decades without immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that we still have a chance to turn the tide on the climate crisis: we can reduce emissions at an individual and corporate level. To do this, we need to understand our carbon footprint. It’s called carbon footprint because most of the planet-warming pollution is carbon dioxide. The energy sector accounts for nearly three-quarters of worldwide emissions, followed by agriculture. The primary source of emissions comes from the energy sector, and chiefly from fossil fuels – coal, oil, and increasingly natural gas, used for electricity and heat generation, followed by transportation and manufacturing. In fact, the past IPCC report noted that we must completely eliminate fossil fuels by 2050, and move towards renewable, lower energy demand, change dietary habits and consumption, and protect and restore natural ecosystems.
But how we respond is vastly different based on where we are from and how much pollution we have created in the past and currently. About 60% of GHG emissions come from just 10 countries, while the 100 least-emitting contribute less than 3%. The 10 countries include China, the United States, the EU, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, and Canada. Some countries have polluted the least but are experiencing the worst effects of the climate emergency because of countries like the United States.
Though the U.S. is 4% of the world’s population, we have emitted 25% of cumulative emissions. In fact, we have the highest emissions per capita. The top 10 largest emitters, especially the largest historic emitters, must do more to not only reduce their own emissions but also to finance and support the mitigation efforts of countries least responsible. This will allow us to help countries least responsible for the climate crisis with reparations for loss and damages, and resources for adaptation and resilience.
For those whose countries are the historic emitters we have a responsibility to amplify not only how the climate crisis is impacting our own domestic communities, but the realities of our sisters from countries least responsible but most impacted, from Kiribati, Fiji, the Bahamas, Tuvalu, Mozambique, Samoa, the Philippines, Kenya, Sri Lanka, to name a few.
While the 10 largest emitting countries must take drastic actions, all countries and all people can be part of turning the tide on the climate crisis.
One concrete step we can take is to reach out to our government leaders and urge them to commit to eliminating fossil fuels as energy sources and to transition completely to clean renewable energy sources like wind and solar. We need to urge them to transition from fossil fuels to just energy sources that do not cause harm or cause communities to relocate because of rising sea levels. Instead, we can envision and advocate for a world where there is equitable energy access, where women are not dying because of smoke inhalation from cooking or being raped while getting water or kindling. We can advocate for an energy economy that is not extractive but just; where we are stewards, not pillagers, of creation.
Advocacy can take many forms, and it can occur amid a global health crisis. In April 2021, more than 300 United Methodist Women leaders from 40 states had 80 visits with Congressional members. Our group urged our elected leaders to quickly transition to renewable energy that is centered on justice and equity. We also met with car manufacturer Ford at their headquarters and dealerships. Some members even went to Chevron’s headquarters and met with staff. In each meeting, we urged a just transition to renewable energy.
At the personal and communal level, we can determine our carbon footprint by using an online carbon footprint calculator. Good calculators where one has a large carbon footprint and avenues for modification. Advocating for energy policy change is key, but I can also turn off the lights, replace lightbulbs with LEDs, ride public transit, compost, eliminate waste and plastic use, and reduce the amount of meat I eat on a weekly basis.
Another crucial thing we can do is to talk about not only the climate crisis but the climate solutions with our family friends, schools, colleagues, companies, and our government leaders.
The current climate crisis is doing incredible harm to God’s creation. Women of faith have an opportunity to be like the widow in the parable with the unjust judge. The widow did not get justice because the judge thought she was right, but because she was persistent. Even when we get discouraged, we should persist in demanding that our government officials, fossil fuel companies, churches, and communities do their part to address the climate crisis. In the process of calling nations to account while also reducing our own emissions, we have the possibility to do as John Wesley advised: to do no harm, to do good, and care for creation.