The first time I fully understood the human cost of climate change was two years after we moved to the Houston area. My husband and I, both raised in the Midwest, watched with fascination and then concern and then deep sadness as we witnessed Hurricane Harvey’s fury unleashed on our adopted city. In the two years prior, we experienced at least two massive flooding events that temporarily shut down our city, one of which kept the kids and myself out of school for a full week. But this was different. The rain never stopped coming, we kept pumping the water out of our backyard and towards the street, and as the waters receded we delivered supplies to our church and drove around to show our kids the local aftermath of a storm that never seemed to go away.
The floods destroyed the homes of rich and poor alike, but it was the poor who suffered the most long-term damage. They lost their homes, places of work, and the polluted waters and increase in mold counts from houses that were not fully gutted on time affected their health. The significant homeless population in our area had nowhere to find refuge since most of their prefered locations were covered in water and then littered with toxic debris.
Hurricanes are a natural part of living along the Gulf coast. Everyone living near an ocean knows there is a very real possibility that they will eventually experience severe tropical weather. But the years leading up the Harvey and the Atlantic and Gulf storms that followed in the next two months demonstrated what could continue to be an increased reality for those who live near oceans: an increase in both storms and intensity as the oceans continue to reach higher temperatures and remain warmer for longer.
Climate change isn’t just about storms. Changing climate patterns have also caused some crops to dry up and others to drown in expansive flood waters. This doesn’t just hurt the livelihood of farmers and those who work their fields. It affects the food supply chain around the world. While famine seems out of the question for developed countries, famine in developing countries, which are already struggling for economic survival, is a cause of tribal warfare, high infant mortality, and increased refugee crises. Rising oceans are threatening people who live along coastlines across the globe, and it isn’t just the rich oceanfront property land owners who are impacted. People of varying economic status around the world live near water, and there are fears that others could be pushed out of their inland homes as people move away from coast lines to escape higher tides. And as with hurricanes and typhoons, it is the poorest amongst us who are most likely to lose their homes and livelihood.
But creation care is not just a belated reaction to global climate change. While the severity of the impact of climate change is up for debate (and subject to unpredictable changes in weather, natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, and apparently even global pandemics), other environmental issues are much more clear cut.
Air pollution decreases life expectancy and creates chronic health issues for individuals who have been exposed to significant concentrations of pollutants their entire lives. COVID-19 is showing us both the impact of air pollution on human health (those who had weakened lungs due to years of exposure have been more susceptible to the virus) but we’re also seeing clear skylines in major cities around the world; in some cases we are seeing those skylines for the first time in over a decade. While our global economy cannot survive a permanent shut down of industry and an end to people driving cars, we are seeing how quickly our air can clear when we cut down the pollutants we’ve been pumping into it for decades.
Water pollution doesn’t just hurt those who are living in an area with contaminated water. It also has lifelong implications in the physical and mental health of the unborn if their mothers are exposed to water pollutants throughout their lives. Flint, Michigan isn’t the only city that has struggled with lead poisoning, which doesn’t just cause major health issues but also can severely impact the mental abilities of children who are exposed at young ages. Approximately 30% of the global population does not have easy access to clean drinking water. This doesn’t just affect the water they consume, but their ability to stop the spread of disease by being able to practice hygiene, a significant problem as a pandemic continues to spread.
There are many who criticize environmental movements for raising plants and animals to the same status as humans. Some complain that the determination to protect an endangered plant or animal prevents development for human use. Some environmentalists forget to look at the historical record which shows indigenous peoples changing the landscape for the good of civilization, and brushing over this fact weakens their argument with some skeptics.
There is nothing inherently wrong with prioritizing human beings in the grand scheme of progress. The problem is that when we sacrifice the health of the planet in the name of progress, we do so to our own detriment. Humans are not living in a bubble where we are not adversely affected by the damage our progress has caused. Instead, from our health to our homes, we are seeing what happens when we do not take care of the land, earth, and air that God gifted us with.
Being a pro-life environmentalist means you care about the planet because you understand all the ways a damaged earth negatively impacts the health and well-being of your fellow humans, particularly those who are most vulnerable. We prioritize creation care because we understand that a healthy planet is essential for the fruitful survival of the humans charged with its care from the very beginning. We want to see safe environments for all children to grow up in, from the womb on.
And with all of us spending a lot more time at home lately, maybe now is a good time to start thinking about how our families can do better by our planet and each other.