Having attended college in the beautiful panhandle of West Virginia, my heart breaks for those who are now dealing with the aftermath of severe flooding affecting that region where as much as 10 inches of rain fell in just over 6 hours. The National Weather Service is calling this a “one-in-a-thousand-year event,” in which at least 23 people have died, hundreds more have been rescued, and a state of emergency was declared in 44 of the state’s 55 counties.
Iowa is no stranger to the financial and emotional toll of events like this one. In 2008, Cedar Rapids suffered from devastating flooding that was among the most costly in Iowa’s history. Many other communities in our state have seen similar events where families have lost homes, businesses, farms, and livelihoods. Multiply those outcomes nationally and globally and what emerges is a picture of extreme weather events that are not “one-in-a-thousand-year events,” but a pattern of a changing climate that is impacting people right now in very tangible ways.
For too long in our society we have acted as if “the environment” is somewhere else and that the ways that we treat our environment don’t have economic consequences. We think about environmental protection in a very abstract way, that it is somehow about protecting plants and animals, about “worshipping nature,” and not fundamentally tied to our well-being as humans. The truth is, we cannot separate the environment from the economy any more than we can separate our hearts from our bodies and expect to live.
Climate change is not some distant threat that will impact people 20 or 50 years from now — though I would argue that even if it were that we are still called to act on behalf of our children and future generations. Climate change is here, we are experiencing a “new normal” in terms of its impacts, including extreme weather events, changing patterns in our growing seasons, mass migrations of the global population and an increase in refugees, and a rise in political instability as a result. All of these impacts have economic consequences.
As people of faith, we believe that we are called to act on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society and in our world. It is those who are most vulnerable who are being impacted first and hardest, those who can’t just pack up and move to higher ground, who have limited resources, who suffer from adverse health impacts exacerbated by environmental degradation.
But we are not powerless to act. In fact, Iowans are demonstrating that clean energy solutions can have very positive economic impacts. Wind energy alone accounts for more than 31 percent of our total energy generation in the state, has created more than 7,000 jobs, and resulted in land lease payments to farmers and tax revenue for rural communities. Energy efficiency has created more than 19,000 jobs in the state and helped to save consumers energy in their homes and businesses while saving them money on their utility bills.
As people of faith, we also believe in hope. We believe that there is room to act to create a future in which all of us can thrive. Let’s work together to be a part of the solution and urge our elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels to do the same, for the sake of our common good.
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• Rev. Susan Hendershot Guy is the Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org