I am very grateful for President Obama's leadership on climate change as outlined in his recent speech at Georgetown. (See the video or read the text.) I was privileged to be in attendance at this historic moment, and as I said right after the speech, this represents the first time our federal government has put forward a major plan to begin to overcome climate change, that future generations would look back and see this as a defining moment.
While the president's Climate Action Plan can be improved (something I'll discuss in a follow-up blog), it is a good beginning, something to build on in the years ahead. By itself it won't get us all the way there when fully implemented. But that's not the way to measure it.
The proper measure is this. Assuming full implementation, does President Obama's plan lay the foundation upon which we can build even stronger measures in the future to address both causes and consequences? Does it have the U.S. play our part to keep the world within striking distance of avoiding what scientists consider dangerous interference with the climate system? (Would it, in other words, help provide the world with a good chance of not going beyond 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by not exceeding 450 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?)
In my opinion, the answer is yes.
But the president's plan will only prove to be significant if our country develops the moral and then the political will to take even bolder actions in the future. For changes this momentous, the moral will must precede, undergird, and empower the political will.
Major challenges of the magnitude of climate change come along once in a generation, if that; their scope and complexity make them prime candidates for inertia-inducing inaction, even when we acknowledge that addressing them is the right thing to do. Now throw in the fact that vested interests and those with ideological axes to grind have worked hard to make us think (falsely) that overcoming climate change is controversial, have politicized it, and it is that much harder.
(Frequently in my community of evangelical Christians I encounter people who have been intimidated into accepting this "controversial," "political" -- meaning partisan -- framing. They say something like, "Sorry, but I don't want to get involved in political issues like global warming." In this context the correct way to understand overcoming climate change is this: it is a moral issue that requires action by political leaders as part of the solution. As citizens of a representative democracy we are called to support and encourage such leaders to do the right thing. Our system of government is designed to work precisely this way, with a virtuous citizenry supporting policies that create the common good. Thus, it is not "political," meaning bad/partisan, but rather virtuous citizens and leaders supporting one another in creating a better world for everyone.)
The president's fully implemented plan will only be successful -- meaning laying the foundation for more robust action in the future -- if the rest of us create a moral movement even larger than the civil rights movement that demands action commensurate with the challenge both now and throughout our lives.
Simply put: the president is doing his job; now it's time for us to do ours.
As was the American Revolution, the Civil War, WWII, and civil rights, this is the great moral challenge of our time, the next great cause of freedom. Will we rise to the occasion? I strongly believe that we can.
But to do so we must fight our own fears that the problem is too big for us or that the solutions will diminish our lifestyles, or our fear of the bullies who try to intimidate us into inaction. We must overcome our own moral lethargy that anesthetizes us from making the changes necessary to create a better world.
But how? Where will we find the will? The president said what we need is courage. Where to get such courage? And how will we be sustained as we run this marathon of overcoming climate change?
It is such questions that help us see the most basic truth about overcoming climate change: ultimately it is a spiritual struggle; spiritual in that it is only through our relationship with God that we will have what we need to play our part in overcoming climate change.
Jesus taught us that the meaning of our lives could be summed up in two Great Commandments: to love God, and love others as ourselves; and we are able to love God and others and ourselves because God first loved us.
The spiritual riches needed to overcome global warming are there for the asking. This great challenge calls forth from us our destiny; we simply need to be what God created us to be -- free beings who have accepted God's love, which empowers us to love in return, love Him and who and what He loves. And from His love will we find the courage, will we find the will.
The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.