Join the awakening to climate change


We are experiencing a communal awakening to the impending crises triggered by climate change. This is not entirely unexpected, nor is it exactly a bolt from the blue: polls have been showing a consistent shift in consciousness in this direction, not coincidentally, since the visit to the United States by Pope Francis in 2015. But this does seem like a “moment” of push-back against the federal government’s public and aggressive strategy of climate change denial.

The President’s Science Advisory Board was corroded into irrelevancy in 2017. Last November the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA), supported by 13 federal agencies, was attacked by EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, and (then) Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. The administration intends to roll back the Clean Power Plan and the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles standards. Mention of climate change has been scrubbed from websites of the EPA, the Departments of Interior, Energy, Transportation, the State Depart­ment and the White House (Environmental Data & Govern­ance Initiative, January 2018). In February, the administration announced an ad hoc “National Security Council” of climate change deniers to suppress future NCA reports. This would be “the most forceful effort to date to challenge the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are helping drive global warming,” according to the Washington Post (2-14-19).

But this is a new moment. In late 2018, EPA Director Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke were each forced out of their positions for ethics violations. Polls from December show that Republicans are “re-engaging the issue” of climate change. Republican legislators from the local to the national level are finding their voices as well, perhaps prodded by the infamous “Green New Deal.” Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Com­mittee are now “focused on solutions” (RealClear Policy, 2-13).

The business class is stirring as well. The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders recently wrote that “climate change is a major threat to our environment, society and economy” (World Economic Forum, 11-29-18). The Auto Alliance, representing 70 percent of car production in the U.S., along with American Honda Motor, Fiat Chrysler, Ford and GM support some kind of SAFE mileage targets (Washington Post, 3-7-19).


Majorities of Democrat and Republican voters (albeit fewer of the latter) accept that climate change is real, human caused, and that it should be a priority. They even support initiatives that would raise taxes or impair economic growth. They agree that the U.S. should return to the Paris Climate Accord and should be world climate leaders (New York Times, 12-29-18).

Most excitingly, young people have been ‘woke’ (their slang) to climate change. March 15 was the date for student “climate strikes” around the world, the brain child of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Stockholm. Of course it has a hashtag: #FridaysForFuture. And, like its cousin #NeverAgain, it is rich in teen idealist-cum-cynic wit, as in the placard that read: “I’ll do my homework when you do yours.” Educators are into it, too. “Extinction Rebellion” (XR), forged by English academics, employs Gandhian nonviolent civil disobedience to address climate change, loss of bio-diversity, ecological collapse and “human extinction.” (They also have a British-cool logo.)

Catholics were already ‘woke,’ even before this moment, by the Catholic Climate Covenant. Formed in 2006 in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) statement on climate change, it has 18 Catholic institutional partners. The goal of CCC is to help us “answer the call to care for creation and the poor” since “loving God’s creation and God’s most vulnerable is at the heart of who we are as Catholics.” Check them out: Join the awakening.

(Father Bud Grant is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

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