Climate change is too rarely listed among the greatest moral and spiritual issues of our time. After all, bureaucratic battles over power plant efficiency or legislative scuffles involving clean energy seldom have a human face or narrative.
Yet, climate change impacts us all, particularly of color. The facts paint a bleak picture for these communities in the face of climate change. Americans of color breathe in 40 percent more pollution than white Americans. Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within thirty miles of a coal plant. Climate change has serious impacts on individual and community health — from increased rates of asthma to heat-related deaths to increased heart disease.
Because climate change overburdens communities of color, Black church leaders have been urging action on climate with growing urgency and alarm. All of the Black church national denominations have spoken out on the need to address climate change; senior religious leaders have proclaimed the urgency of climate action; Black clergy across the nation have sounded the climate alarm; and tens of thousands of black congregants have urged immediate climate action and the rejection of backwards thinking dirty energy initiatives.
While the African American community works diligently for accessible healthcare, criminal justice reform, and other justice issues we know that we must also work to halt the advance of climate change. For even if we address the aforementioned injustices, we will still be left with the injustice of climate change and its horrific impacts to our Black communities. Climate justice is an integral part of social justice.
In West Virginia, we are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. Not because of hurricanes or wildfires, but because of flooding. In fact, West Virginia has the highest percentage of roads, commercial properties and infrastructure at risk for flooding than any other state in the U.S. Almost a third of residential homes in West Virginia are at risk for flooding. It is no surprise that West Virginians have the highest per capita rates of flood insurance claims than any other state. These impacts effect everyone in the state but fall most heavily on communities of color.
Now that the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act is the law of land, we must ensure that the benefits of climate action are felt in West Virginia and especially in communities of color. How the Inflation Reduction Act is implemented on the ground will determine the health and wellbeing of all communities in West Virginia.
Because of its impacts, we must acknowledge climate change as the most urgent of moral issues and faith issues. Without a deeply-held belief in the necessity of fighting climate change, there will be plenty of ways to undermine our work to address climate change and embrace a clean energy future. We cannot act with reluctance at a personal or policy level. We must ensure that action on climate change, which includes the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, is robust and centered on justice.
We will not be rewarded by minimal effort. It is time to embrace climate change as a moral and spiritual challenge of unparalleled import, and it is time to meet that challenge with the strength of conviction. The longer we wait to face this great invisible sin of our time, the more irreparable damage will be done.