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April 22 is Earth Day

Two of our grandchildren are sixth-generation San Franciscans, growing up in “The City by the Bay.” Their mother’s great-great grandfather left Ireland around 1850 in search of California’s gold, settling in the city all America loves or loves to hate. Across the Bay is Oakland and next door to Oakland is the city disparagingly called, “The People’s Republic of Berkeley,” where I confirmed my faith at Bethany Lutheran Church (now Lutheran Church of the Cross) on Palm Sunday, 1961.

The cities of San Francisco and Oakland brought a lawsuit against Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobile, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, citing damages caused by global warming brought on by fossil fuel extraction. At a press conference on September 17, 2017, Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said, “Global warming is an existential threat to humankind, to our ecosystems and to the wondrous, myriad species that inhabit our planet. These companies knew fossil fuel-driven climate change was real, they knew it was caused by their products and they lied to cover up that knowledge to protect their astronomical profits. The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse. The law is clear that the defendants are responsible for the consequences of their reckless and disastrous actions.”

Climate science is having its day in court. On March 22, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup listened closely as the two cities presented their case against the world’s largest oil companies.

The attorney for Chevron, Theodore Boutrous, Jr., admitted “there is no debate about climate science,” but insisted it’s not “the production and extraction of (of fossil fuels) that’s driving the increase. It’s the way people are living their lives.”

Speaking on behalf of the two cities, geologist Gary Griggs from the University of California, Santa Cruz, pointed to research suggesting the coastal flooding that now “happens in San Francisco every ten years is expected to happen once every 3 days by the end of the century, even if greenhouse gas pollution slows.”

Climate change is one of the most polarizing issues in the United States. Our evangelical brothers and sisters tend to be politically conservative, agreeing with Senator Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma) who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. He said, “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Speaking on behalf of the Evangelical Environmental Network, Kathrine Hayhoe and Mitch Hescox remind us, “God created a sustainable world … but he also told us to take care of it.” The two quote Genesis 2:15 where “God orders Adam to ‘care for’ the Garden of Eden” and add, the Book of Isaiah includes the line “the earth is polluted because of its inhabitants, who have transgressed laws [and] violated statutes.”

In a statement issued by our own ELCA in 1993, we are reminded that “Humans, in service to God, have special roles on behalf of the whole of creation. Made in the image of God, we are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth.” The ELCA produced a four-session small group study to “encourage, empower and equip Lutherans in their calling to care for creation. The study is entitled, “Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping,” and is available for us at LCM.

The study concludes, admitting, “You certainly cannot solve a problem like global warming  single-handedly, but you can change the type of lightbulbs in your house; you can look for ways to make your church building more energy efficient; you can arrange a carpool for church members; and you can “speak truth to power” to leaders and legislators, with advocacy actions to call for real steps to address even the large environmental problems.”

Sunday, April 22 is “Earth Day.” Our presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued the following statement on Monday, April 16:

“The effects of the warming climate are felt in nearly every corner of the globe. These include increased migration, food insecurity due to changing agricultural landscapes, national security issues and health problems. As bad as it is for all creation, the most vulnerable people around the world are suffering the most. Yet they have contributed the least and, as noted in the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,[iii] are ill equipped to adapt to or mitigate the effects of a changing climate to build resilient communities.

“An honest and credible look at the increasing environmental degradation and climate change names the neglect, carelessness and wrongs of industry, civil society and global governmental leadership. It also recognizes how human beings individually and collectively worsen the attacks on God’s creation. As a church, we must confess our frequent lack of urgency in addressing environmental degradation and slow action to address a changing climate. We also must pledge to acknowledge the intersections of racial and environmental injustices and strive to involve the voices of those most affected in the process.

“In grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ, this church carries out its responsibility for the well-being of society and the environment. Our concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.” Our concern is, then, propelled by hope and guided by principles of justice. We find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to everything God has made. We seek justice for all of creation in concert with God’s creative and renewing power. We do so, understanding that we have the ability and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“The present moment is a critical and urgent one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as individuals, citizens, leaders and communities of faith in solidarity with God’s good creation and in hope for our shared future. We claim God’s promise in Revelation 21 for “a new heaven and a new earth” as we pray together:

“Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us coworkers in your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence to use the resources of nature so that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”