‘World can’t afford to silence us’: black church leaders address climate change

African American religious leaders have added their weight to calls for action on climate change, with one of the largest and oldest black churches in the US warning that black people are disproportionally harmed by global warming and fossil fuel pollution.

The African Methodist Episcopal church has passed its first resolution in its 200-year history devoted to climate change, calling for a swift transition to renewable energy.

“We can move away from the dirty fuels that make us sick and shift toward safe, clean energy like wind and solar that help make every breath our neighbors and families take a healthy one,” states the resolution, which also points to research showing that black children are four times as likely as white children to die from asthma.

The resolution was passed at the church’s general conference in Philadelphia, where more than 30,000 members gathered. The AME church, the oldest independent Protestant denomination founded by black people in the world, has about 7,000 congregations and 2.5m members.

“Damage to our climate puts the health of children, elderly, and those with chronic illnesses at greater risk and disproportionately impacts African Americans. We believe it is our duty to commit to taking action and promoting solutions that will help make our families and communities healthier and stronger,” stated Bishop John White, president of the council of bishops of the AME church.

The resolution follows an open letter sent by African American clergy last year that called for political leaders to take “bold action to address climate change”.

The letter states: “The voices of communities whose inhabitants look like us often are dismissed or disregarded. But the world cannot afford to silence us, and we cannot afford to be – and will not be – silent. Climate change most directly impacts the poor and marginalized, but ultimately, everyone is in jeopardy.”

Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, director of AME church’s social action commission, said that will “hold elected officials accountable” over climate change.

“In communities of color, the church has been the voice on these kind of issues and we need to continue to be that voice,” she told the Guardian. “Many people may have heard that climate change is some sort of political trick – but when we speak, people will listen to us. We have an obligation to make this a focal point.”

Dupont-Walker said that the church’s voter mobilization campaign will work throughout the 2016 election cycle to question candidates on climate change. Local officials and landlords will also be put under pressure over inadequate housing and infrastructure that helps spread pollution to black communities.

According to the NAACP, African Americans emit far less carbon dioxide per person compared with white people and yet will bear the brunt of heat-related deaths, due to the concentration of black people in cities.

Faith leaders across the world have expressed alarm over climate change, with Pope Francis warning last year that “we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth”. Some churches have backed the campaign to divest from fossil fuels.

June was the warmest on record in both the US and globally, marking the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat worldwide.


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