We should all be grateful to the coal miners and other workers who brought energy to this country for many decades. Too often, they paid the price with their lives from the dangers of the job, including Black Lung Disease. Now we know the true cost of fossil fuels and air pollution, and have developed technology to move beyond them.
I am a religious sister with the Dominican Sisters of Peace and we are committed to protecting humanity from our self-destructive energy use. International cooperation is necessary to achieve this goal, so I am pleased that the United States officially rejoined the Paris climate agreement on Feb. 19, after our politically motivated opt-out in 2017.
This return to the table of collaboration has positive implications in our global efforts to bring change and healing to our common home. Pope Francis reminds us that this is a moral issue: “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”
As a nation, our response to climate change bears a striking resemblance to our response to the coronavirus pandemic. For both, we have been slow to act, mired in denial and lacking courage and imagination. Worst of all, we have not come together as a country or as citizens of the global community.
As we think specifically about West Virginia, it is clear we must resolve both systemic and immediate problems.The American Rescue Plan — a massive $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery package — has the potential to address many of the issues facing our state. It brings immediate hope and relief for families who have been struggling for food and housing. It addresses long-term environmental injustices, which disproportionately impact our brothers and sisters of color. It helps stabilize our infrastructure. And it encourages sustainable job growth to move our economy forward.
While people of goodwill may disagree on the specifics of any recovery package, Pope Francis inspires us to seize this important opportunity to build a new future for ourselves and the planet. In his latest book, “Let Us Dream,” Francis says, “This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed on.”
How can we focus anew on our shared values for West Virginia and for the country at large? Does our vision allow for significant changes leading us to a healthier, happier future that includes everyone?
These are moral questions. Francis warns us not to fall prey to the old, comfortable systems: “We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation.”
This is our challenge today. We need leaders with the courage and clarity to dream big. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is a Catholic and a leading figure on energy in the Senate, could lead our state and our nation to the sustainable future envisioned by the pope.
I believe in our capacity to seize this opportunity for a better tomorrow. It all hinges on whether we undertake this challenge together or are mired in division. Let’s not prop up the old economy. Instead, let’s be courageous enough to envision something new and better for us all.