The sun sets over a hazy mountain ridge in Highland County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
By Karen McElfish
This past year has challenged Virginia in unforeseeable ways. Our faith communities have been tested by not one, but four converging crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, racial inequalities and the climate crisis. As the nation hoped and prayed for a better future, it was the wisdom and guidance of our faith, spirituality and religious advisers that guided so many of us forward. As United Methodists, known as a denomination involved in social and political efforts to care for people’s lives, we follow our social principles, which call us to stewardship of the natural world and care for community. United Methodist Women especially focus our efforts on the impacts on women, children and youth, who are disproportionately affected by climate change.
My faith and my work within and beyond the community of United Methodist Women has given me the opportunity to work with and befriend women from all walks of life. I serve as a liaison to UMW’s Conference Social Action Coordinators and feel called to action too as both a mother and a grandmother. As I think about my vast community and the future that lies ahead for my family, I see that we are all united by our common need for a healthy and livable environment.
Our faith teaches us to look out for one another. We must work for environmental justice and public health and address the climate crisis. With a bold investment in clean energy infrastructure, we have an opportunity to invest in a renewable clean energy future while addressing the injustices of the past.
As members of the Virginia Conference United Methodist Women, we call on our leaders to lead us forward through bold economic recovery and infrastructure plans that will make a difference in our communities and across the nation. We must fulfill our moral obligation to leave a habitable world for our children and grandchildren. With historic investments to revitalize our infrastructure and transition to 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, both in terms of illness, death rates and economic fallout. President Joe Biden committed to place these communities at the center of his initial infrastructure proposal, mandating at least 40 percent of the benefits 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 the necessary infrastructure plan would focus on electrifying clean transportation to reduce carbon pollution, and invest in clean water infrastructure for all communities. As we do so, we must avoid polluting energy sources or technologies like natural gas, nuclear, biomass or carbon capture and sequestration. Virginia has much to gain in the transition to clean, renewable energy sources such as offshore wind energy, with the potential for an expanded workforce. Additionally, Virginia has approximately 10,000 miles of coastline threatened by sea level rise with subsequent flooding and food insecurity. By modernizing our electric grid and expanding 100 percent renewable, pollution-free energy resources, we will see far fewer deadly climate disasters and extreme weather events such as floods and fires. This infrastructure package means significant improvements to our public health and quality of life.
Faith leaders from all across the country have united in their call for a bold recovery and infrastructure package that will help us rebuild in a way that makes us stronger than ever before. I recently joined over 3,400 other faith leaders from around the country in a sign-on letter calling for a bold economic recovery and infrastructure package that creates family- and community-sustaining jobs while caring for our climate and our neighbors. As a United Methodist and a person of faith, I see it as my duty to advocate for the future of our children and grandchildren; faith leaders from all denominations feel the same. An unprecedented investment to transform our country’s transportation and energy through infrastructure is the future, and we’re counting on Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to turn this vision into a reality.
As part of any final infrastructure package, we are looking to them to support bold investments to address the very real threat of climate change. Such investments will help families get back on their feet while protecting our public health and beloved environment.
Karen McElfish is a member of United Methodist Women. She serves on the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement Coordinating team and the Virginia Conference Creation Justice team. She is a retired pediatrician, wife, mother and grandmother who lives in Arlington.
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