Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
(Psalm 104:1-4, New Revised Standard Version)
“I say that we are wound/with mercy round and round/as if with air”, wrote poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Earth’s atmosphere enfolds us as one of the most important means by which God sustains and shelters our lives and the lives of all creatures on earth. It protects us from the icy cold and deadly radiation of interplanetary space; it is the reservoir of the air we and other creatures breathe; it recycles and distributes life-giving moisture around the globe; it maintains earth’s average temperature within a habitable range.
Although it seems vast, comparatively speaking the atmosphere forms only the thinnest envelope around the mass of the earth. By introducing a few novel gases into the air, we have thinned the ozone shield that protects life on earth from deadly ultraviolet radiation. By burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, we have injected harmful pollutants and particles into the air we breathe. Moreover, we have increased the atmosphere’s heat-trapping properties, potentially altering earth’s climate for generations to come.
Both air pollution and climate change are environmental justice issues because the poor and vulnerable are the least able to protect themselves from their effects. Because we depend so much on burning fossil fuels to supply ourselves with need for light, heat and electricity, energy usage — including transportation as well as other economic sectors — is a major cause of these changes in the atmosphere. Climate change is projected to have serious consequences for agriculture, water supplies, and human health as well as the ecology of our landscapes and the survival of many endangered species.