Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

What Have We Got to Lose?

Moving our moral compass toward action on climate change

By Johanna Miller

I don’t consider myself a religious person. I don’t affiliate with any particular ideology or attend church regularly. I do, however, believe in God, higher powers and the golden rule.

Courtesy of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Courtesy of the Environmental
Defense Fund.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you.”

It’s a commonsense, kind and unifying principle threaded throughout most religious beliefs. It’s a principle my faith-led family has adhered to, and one upon which I have aimed to orient my interactions with others in this world — and the world itself.

That’s why I have long been perplexed that, as a planet full of people rooted in faith and religious communities, we fail to apply the golden rule to the one mother we all share — our Earth.

We have built a civil society largely rooted in the extraction and pillaging of the world’s natural resources, bankrolling abundance today but bankrupting families of the future.

Globally the quality of our air and water worldwide has worsened over time. We are also witnessing rapidly rising atmospheric carbon emissions and an increasingly acidified ocean. These realities leave me thinking more than ever — especially now that I am a mother — what kind of world are we going to leave future generations?

I have been hoping since elementary school, when my concerns about environmental issues began, that the latest bad news or eco-tragedy would be the last straw and finally motivate our global society to stop taking from the planet without giving back.
Once again, I have been both terrified by the latest reports on climate change and buoyed by hope. The climate messages that have come out recently are more clear, unified and urgent than ever. It makes me optimistic, once more, that this news will force us to recognize the costs of what we are doing to this planet and finally motivate us to take the essential action required.

Here’s some of the latest news…

Two national security bodies released reports suggesting climate change will likely increase conflict across the globe.

In March the Pentagon released its Quadrennial Defense Review, drawing a direct link between the effects of global warming and terrorism.

Then in May, CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board — comprised of retired military elites formerly in charge of national security — issued its report National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change. Their conclusion: “Climate change is no longer a future threat — it is taking place now” and serves as “a catalyst of conflict in vulnerable parts of the world.”

Also in May the White House’s latest National Climate Assessment report summarized the detrimental impacts of climate change across regions of the United States. Here’s some of what we can expect, depending on where we live: more heat waves, droughts, extreme precipitation events and coastal flooding.

The Vermont Climate Assessment study released earlier this summer warns of increased precipitation and more frequent catastrophic flooding. It’s an unsettling forecast, since the tragedy of Irene still haunts us. That storm displaced thousands, made others homeless and, worst of all, cost some people their lives. It also carried a hefty price tag, costing Vermont nearly a billion dollars.

One of the many takeaways from the latest report by the world’s leading climate scientists — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — is that the price of climate action today is cheap compared to what it will cost, if delays continue. They note that climate change is happening now, and no place is immune. Life as we know it on this planet is at stake. Building resilience — adapting to a climate-changed world — is essential to limiting risks. And seriously cutting heattrapping gas emissions is critical, now.

I take these key findings as our planetary marching orders and our moral imperative.

Many well-mannered people often avoid certain topics in particular — religion and politics — because they can be so personal, complex and controversial. But we must have these hard discussions and move forward. We must channel our shared moral compass and do all we can to live by the golden rule — both in our interactions with each other, as well as in our relationship with the earth.

Johanna Miller, energy program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, may be contacted at

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