Column: Faith leaders in Michigan are ready for climate action

Modern electric cars charging on a street station.

By Charles Morris, Michigan Advance

Even as we turn the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, a feat that President Joe Biden himself came to Michigan over the Fourth of July weekend to celebrate, many in our state still find our faith challenged by the ongoing climate crisis.

Severe flooding trapped drivers in Detroit and prompted emergency rescues last month, while other parts of our state are now gearing up for wildfires as exceptionally dry, hot conditions continue. All these climate catastrophes are made more frequent and severe by climate change, and it is clear something must be done.

Our faith teaches us to look out for one another to address the crises before us, and as our nation continues to recover, we must now turn our attention to the climate crisis and environmental justice. A bold investment in clean energy infrastructure currently being discussed in Washington would do just that. This is an opportunity to invest in a clean energy future while addressing the injustices of the past.

As members of the faith community, we look to our religious and spiritual leaders to unite and to lead us forward through bold economic recovery and infrastructure plans that will make a difference in our community and across the nation. We must fulfill our moral obligation to leave a habitable world for future generations. With a historic investment to rebuild and revitalize our infrastructure with clean energy, we can do this while providing immediate support to those who need it most.

Low-wealth communities and communities of color are most vulnerable to pollution and the impacts of climate change, suffering from skewed rates of asthma and respiratory ailments as a result. To make matters even worse, these communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19, in terms of illness, death rates and economic fallout.

From keeping water from being shut off to the planting of community gardens in Detroit during the pandemic, the Detroit faith community has come together to be there for the hurting ones – the poor and people of color. Biden has proposed making these communities at the center of this historic infrastructure package, mandating that at least 40% of investments target disadvantaged communities.

Access to clean drinking water and clean air to breathe should not be a luxury only some enjoy. That’s why we must invest in electrifying clean transportation to reduce carbon pollution and in clean water infrastructure for all communities. Whether leaded drinking water in Flint or collapsing dams in Midland, Michigan has experienced up to $5 billion in damages due to 19 extreme weather events that have exposed our state’s crumbling roads, stormwater infrastructure and pipes. By modernizing our electric grid and expanding clean energy, we will see far fewer deadly climate-fueled disasters and extreme weather events.

Faith leaders from across the country have united in their call for a bold recovery and an infrastructure package that will help us rebuild in a way that makes us stronger than ever before. The clean energy transition is the future, and we’re counting on Congress to turn this vision into a reality. Faith leaders – across all denominations – are calling on members of Congress to support passing this monumental legislation to help families get back on their feet, protect our public health and preserve our beloved environment.

In Southeast Michigan, these are issues that our communities deeply care about. In fact, a recent poll of Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, my own community, found strong support for investments in climate and public health. 75% said they supported addressing the challenge of climate change by transitioning to clean energy, and 83% were in favor of investments to upgrade drinking water infrastructure by replacing every lead water pipe in the country, ensuring access to safe, clean water.

These smart investments are exactly what our nation needs to care for our climate and our neighbors, and that’s why I have joined 3,400 other faith leaders from around the country in adding my name to a letter to Congress, supporting such a plan.

“If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you” is our state motto. May it be a reality both now and for the generations of Michiganders who will follow.

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