Column: Connecting Children, Climate and Faith

Strafford

“Jeff, what’s the connection?”

As chairman of the steering committee for the Children, Climate and Faith Symposium, I get that question all the time: What is the connection among our children, climate and faith? I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering how to articulate this and deepened my own understanding.

Climate disruption is causing an enormous increase in social injustice. Hurricanes hit an area without discrimination, disrupting the lives of poor and rich alike. But those least able to afford to rebuild suffer the most. Similarly, droughts hit farmers hard and eventually are felt by everyone in the form of higher food prices, but those larger grocery bills have the most severe impact on those whose food expenses make up a disproportionate share of their living expenses. Any disaster has a larger effect on those who are already living on the margin.

More than a billion people now live in low-lying coastal areas. And this number is projected to increase as more people move to large cities, which are predominantly in these low-lying areas. These areas are a productive core of many nations because they have developed in agriculturally rich river deltas or alongside vast fisheries, or they have become the places where industrial centers have evolved. And they will be affected by stronger storms and by rising ocean levels, as well as by drought and a decrease of fresh water availability.

The full impact of those changes is masked by their incremental nature. The rise of ocean levels is measured in small fractions of an inch per year. Droughts may be devastating, but they still are temporary and eventually come to an end. It is not we who will suffer the worst effects of climate disruption. It is our children. The impacts from the last storm and the next storm, the last drought and the next drought, are felt by those who own property today, who go to the market today, who farm today. But as these effects intensify and as the oceans rise, it is our children who will be forced to cope with disruption of a greater magnitude. And that means the unequal distribution of suffering will also be magnified.

So, for those thinking about climate change, the question is unavoidable: What kind of world will we leave our children? What kind of world does our faith and spirituality tell us to provide for them?

Working for social justice is a tenet of every faith and spiritual tradition. Many of the great social justice movements — civil rights, anti-poverty, anti-apartheid, anti-slavery — have been led by people of faith. But a deeper, more fundamental belief of all faiths is to care for our children. Climate disruption is threatening both of these bedrock principles of faith — social justice and the welfare of our children.

The Our Children, Climate, Faith Symposium (www.FaithClimateConference.org) being hosted in Strafford on Aug. 16-17, will consider these connections, and what our own faith calls on us to do in response. With a range of speakers from across the nation, including many from Vermont — among them, Bill McKibben, writer and founder of www.350.org, a grassroots climate campaign; Shyla Nelson, a classical soprano who is the founder of the One Earth. One Voice campaign; Mark Kutolowski, a spiritual teacher whose ministry includes reconnecting with nature — we will work to understand these connections more deeply, and to awaken an understanding of how our faith and spirituality inspire hope and lead us to take successful action. Although created and based in Vermont, the symposium will have a global reach through streaming connections.

It is appropriate that this happen in Vermont, given the state’s tradition of leading on matters of social justice. And it is appropriate that Strafford, the home of Sen. Justin Smith Morrill, host the conference. Morrill, creator of the Morrill Land Grant College Act in the mid-19th century, fought for social justice for all children through greater access to higher education. We seek to inspire a continuation of that fight for the rights of children.

The symposium is open to all. It requires a broad audience to create a lively discussion to articulate the connections among our children, climate and faith. People already have registered from as far away as Washington, Florida and Nova Scotia. The natural and spiritual beauty surrounding us in Strafford will rejuvenate and inspire us to determine how we can right our children’s future, because we have faith that sustains us as we take the actions we need to address the largest social justice challenge we have ever faced.

Jeff Wolfe, a Strafford resident, is chairman of the steering committee of Our Children, Climate, Faith Symposium and is the co-founder and chairman of groSolar, a renewable-energy company based in White River Junction.