I don’t understand politics. For a year, the US Senate went on again, off again with proposals to address climate change. Meanwhile, heat waves blasted the US, with temperatures in the Milwaukee area rising to 100 degrees (20 degrees higher than average) in June, causing the pavement on Interstate 94 to buckle.
Maybe the heat waves and tragic flooding in Kentucky — sadly, another common event in our future, according to the scientists’ climate forecasts — loosened up the political gridlock. Congress finally passed major investments in a clean energy future in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Understanding the political machinations behind the months of debate over the act is elusive. As a Catholic priest, my concern is understanding the morality of creating a healthier, safer world.
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Climate disruption is real, and it is affecting all of us. It is no surprise that a majority of Wisconsin residents rank climate change as one of the major problems facing our nation today, according to a survey by the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison.
Pope Francis has called for us to see climate change as a pressing moral issue. In his 2020 TED Talk, he said we are faced with “the moral imperative, and the practical urgency, to rethink many things.” This includes, he said:
- The way we produce.
- The way we consume.
- Our culture of waste.
- Our short-term vision.
- The exploitation of the poor.
- Our indifference to the poor.
- Growing inequalities.
- Our dependence on harmful energy sources.
The pope is illuminating the big picture: We have a moral imperative to change course from a society that is wasting God’s natural resources, polluting ourselves and increasing inequality. This is not about politics. It is about right and wrong and what we owe ourselves and our children and grandchildren.
Echoing Pope Francis, our Catholic bishops have repeatedly advocated for bold climate action as the clear moral course we must take. It is almost unprecedented for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to support an economic bill that is not bipartisan, but they did just that as the chairman on domestic issues, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, issued multiple statements in support of these climate investments.
Thankfully, the Inflation Reduction Act should cut carbon emissions by over 40% by 2030, which will be our country’s most decisive step to address climate change in history.
In addition to a cleaner, healthier world, I want to point out another aspect of a moral vision of society along the lines that Pope Francis has asserted. A moral economy ensures everyone can succeed through dignified work, and that means creating family-sustaining careers.
Labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, are applauding the Inflation Reduction Act because it sets strong labor standards for clean energy incentives and will boost the manufacturing of clean energy in the US, rather than relying on China with its terrible labor and environmental standards.
Our future is bound collectively to the health of the planet. We are at a decisive moment for realigning our economy towards a moral vision for society. This requires, in the words of Pope Francis, the moral courage “to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life-giving.”
Let us urge our governmental leaders: As we move into the future, set aside political calculations and make us hopeful again for a healthy and just world.
Pocernich is a senior Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.