And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28
Our ELCA Social Statement “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice” reminds us that we are called to live into God’s commandment for us to steward creation. That means, as a church, supporting sustainable methods of growth and industry, as individuals and as communities. The church continues to advocate for all of creation being considered when policy decisions are made.
By mid-century, the commonwealth will experience a 5.9 degree rise in temperature, according to the latest Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment. This increase will impact areas already prone to extreme weather events and climate disasters, as well as increasingly vulnerable communities, ecosystems, and farmland.
The assessment uses federal, state, and local data to show the trend of rising temperatures and increasing rainfall and project how it will continue into midcentury (2041-2070) and beyond, if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. The extent of impacts, from limited to catastrophic, is projected for numerous aspects of life in Pennsylvania. Above-average temperatures, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall events constitute the three highest risks. The report was produced with Penn State University, ICF International and Hamel Environmental Consulting.
The result of increased and intense precipitation include degrading infrastructure as well as coastal and inland flooding. More than 3.7 million Pennsylvanians living in designated “environmental justice” areas, determined by poverty and racial demographics, will be affected. The coastline along the Delaware estuary, for example, is projected to rise by more than two feet. Those living with underlying health conditions, or who lack access to air-conditioning, will suffer detrimental health effects related to more frequent heatwaves and sustained warmer temperatures.
Pennsylvania’s cherished natural habitats will come under strain as well. As temperatures increase trees and other vegetation will likely see increased mortality rates as seasonal patterns are disrupted. Pests and invasive species will also fester, harming native populations as they simultaneously struggle with fragmented habitats and migration routes, as well as disturbances in dormancy and blooming patterns.
“Our forests and natural areas that will be impacted by the effects of a warmer climate also are some of our best strategies for responding and adapting to climate change,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “It’s imperative that we support natural solutions including protecting and expanding forest land, streamside forests and urban trees for resiliency.”
Action to mitigate climate change impacts are especially vital for Pennsylvania’s farmers. Farms are prone to erosion and nutrient runoff from increased rainfall. The extended rainfall in 2018 shows the resulting statewide crop damage. “Planting delays, repeated damage to planted fields, and the inability to harvest” negatively affect crop and commodity producers. Involving farmers in climate mitigation and solutions is necessary as their livelihoods depend on the land.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary Patrick McDonnell spoke to these challenges that farmers will face, as well as some specific solutions the commonwealth could embrace. The first step is for Pennsylvania to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), already embraced by eleven northeastern states. The program has seen significant economic benefits for consumers and states alike, as well as driving down greenhouse gas emissions which fuel climate change.
As Pennsylvania navigates how to address new challenges posed by climate change, Lutherans can join the broader ELCA in taking individual and congregational action. In 2019 the ELCA signed-on to the Earth Charter, which follows four basic principles: 1) respect and care for the community of life; 2) ecological integrity; 3) social and economic justice; 4) democracy, nonviolence, and peace. The work of living out these principles is being implemented first in the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA. Learn more here.