Creation Care, Antiracism, and Justice

February 09, 2023 • Larry Kane

Antiracism and Justice-Seeking Are Core Elements of St. Luke’s Self-Description
Prominent among St. Luke’s self-description on its website are the following statements:
· St. Luke’s is an open, affirming, inclusive, antiracist Methodist church located in Indianapolis.
· We renounce the way religion has been used throughout history to support racism, war, discrimination, genocide, violence, and poverty, and we pledge to rid ourselves of the conscious and unconscious biases when sacred stories are used to uphold injustice.
· We are particularly sensitive to the issues facing our brothers and sisters of color and LGBTQIA+ individuals, both within the United Methodist Church and in the general society.
· We pledge to be leaders in eradicating racism and discrimination.
What these descriptors all hold in common, among other things, is a clear intent to be antiracist, to conduct ourselves in an antiracist manner, and to work toward the eradication of racism, discrimination, and similar injustices.

Moreover, the opening page of our website greets viewers with the words:
Inclusive, Justice Seeking
Loving Like Jesus

Here St. Luke’s emphatically articulates our intent to be a justice-seeking church.

The Creation Care Ministry Is Directly Related to Antiracism and Justice-Seeking

We now explore how St. Luke’s Creation Care Ministry relates to the foregoing aspirational goals by which we at St. Luke’s describe ourselves? The short answer, we believe, is that the Creation Care Ministry intrinsically and essentially is a key part of St. Luke’s antiracist and justice-seeking emphasis.

At its core, the focus of the Creation Care Ministry is promotion of (i) protection of the environmental quality of our world and (ii) effective action to mitigate climate change and its damaging impacts. In the 50+ years of the American environmental movement (which, of course, has since become a worldwide movement), it has become recognized that negative environmental impacts tend to not fall upon all members of society with equal force. Rather, those negative impacts are more likely to fall most heavily on poorer, marginalized citizens.

The reasons are not difficult to understand. Most industrial facilities with harmful environmental impacts, such as landfills, power plants with fossil-fuel emissions, and chemical plants with toxic emissions and wastestreams, tend to be located on land with low market value since this reduces the costs of developing such facilities. Moreover, poorer people tend to live on such low-value lands since they can’t afford better locations or are forced to live in such undesirable locations through racist policies such as redlining of real estate. So, economic and racist forces tend to inexorably position facilities with more harmful environmental impacts closer to the poor and marginalized, who are typically people of minority races. Also, the poor have less political power to successfully oppose the objectionable and deleterious effects of industrial facilities.

The recognition of these disproportionate environmental impacts on the poor has led to the emergence of the environmental justice movement, which seeks to support the pleas of the poor for equity in protection from negative environmental impacts. Since most of the poor who are the focus of advocacy of environmental justice are of minority ethnicity, such as blacks and Hispanics, actions to achieve environmental justice are inherently antiracist.

An analogous situation exists regarding the damaging impacts of climate change, which primarily result from carbon emissions of power plants and other industrial facilities. While the more significant sources of carbon emissions are generally located in the northern hemisphere, the more severe impacts of climate change appear to be hitting third world countries in the tropics and southern hemisphere. For example, the highest temperatures are occurring in the Middle East and northern and central Africa and the most severe weather events have occurred in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sea level rise most threaten southeast Asia and the island nations of the South Pacific although coastal cities in the northern hemisphere are also at risk. So, the most substantial adverse impacts of climate change tend to be hitting Third World and developing countries, whose populations tend to be of Asian, Indian, or black ethnicities. These countries have much fewer financial resources to use in adapting to these disproportionately high climate impacts.

“Climate justice” is the concept that has arisen to describe the need for measures to address and equalize the disproportionately high climate change impacts hitting those countries of the world whose populations not only are much less responsible for causing climate change, but who also are far less equipped with financial resources to respond to its damaging effects. Thus, climate justice deals with inequitable disparities in climate impacts that have racist undertones and result from power imbalances between the poor and the wealthy nations of the world.

It should be observed that Creation Care’s focus on actions and policies that alleviate climate injustice is consistent with and supportive of the Climate Commitment made in April 2021 by the leaders of several key agencies of the United Methodist Church. That commitment embodies a pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 across ministries, facilities, and operations, putting equity and justice at the center.

Finally, we note that there are overlapping benefits between actions to promote climate justice and their effects on environmental justice. The measures needed to curb climate change will also improve environmental quality, thus serving to mitigate environmental injustices. For example, the most critical measure needed to reduce climate change is the decarbonization of the world’s energy infrastructure by transitioning to clean, renewable energy generation. The elimination of fossil fuel combustion will not only help mitigate climate impacts but, fortuitously, will also eliminate the emission of toxic gases and other harmful substances that are part of the combustion emissions. This will relieve the environmental injustice incurred by poor people living proximate to a coal or gas-fired power plant.

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Larry Kane