Why Religious People Must Speak Up About Climate Change

03/21/2012 12:46 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2012

No one who believes in a God that loves all people should be able to sit by as the wealthy harm the poor on a massive scale. Indeed, the fact that God loves all people should spur us to search for the ways in which God's beloved children are being oppressed worldwide. It seems God demands that the poor be at the center of our analysis of the issues of our day. When viewed in this way, we see that global society has not yet begun to come to terms with the degree of victimization that climate change represents. God sees this victimization and demands that we see it too.

Climate change is almost entirely created by rich and rising countries. The poorest countries in the world have essentially no discernible impact on global carbon emissions. The wealthier a person is, the greater his carbon footprint, and therefore greenhouse gases can be considered essentially a product of wealth. Climate change is thus a problem almost entirely caused by the global rich.

If rich people in rich and rising countries are creating the problem of climate change, who is most harmed by it? It is overwhelmingly poor people in developing countries. The global poor are in double jeopardy when it comes to climate change: they are concentrated in equatorial regions that are the most vulnerable to global warming's effects and they have the least ability to protect themselves from the catastrophic droughts, storms and floods it causes. This double vulnerability is predicted to translate into deaths on a staggering scale. The WHO states that climatic changes already cause 150,000 deaths annually, a number on the same scale as the deaths that resulted from Hiroshima. These victims are poor children, women and men who probably know little about climate change and have no way of advocating their interests.

Scientific consensus tells us that the more greenhouse gases wealthy and rising countries emit, the more poor people will die as a result of catastrophic climatic events. This can and should be viewed as victimization of the poor by the rich on a massive scale. However, in mainstream cultural dialogues on global warming, the problem is rarely posed as one of victimization.

God demands that religious voices be raised to expose the many deaths that will result from rich and rising countries' continued failure to mitigate carbon emissions. It is high time that light be shone on the atrocious crime against the poor that unmitigated greenhouse emissions represent. As moral voices in our societies, religious leaders, groups and organizations have the power to shape social dialogues around climate change. God demands that we lift up the voices of the poor and show the world what is really at stake: nothing less than infinitely precious and highly vulnerable human lives. We have no more time to lose. The time to speak out and act is now.