By Karen McElfish
The past year has challenged Virginia in unpredictable ways. Our religious communities have been tested not by one, but by four converging crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, racial inequalities and the climate crisis. As the nation hoped and prayed for a better future, it is the wisdom and guidance of our faith, spirituality, and religious counselors that have guided so many of us forward. As United Methodists, known as a denomination involved in social and political efforts to care for people’s lives, we follow our social principles, which call us to manage the natural world and take charge of the community. . United Methodist Women particularly focus our efforts on the impacts on women, children and youth, who are disproportionately affected by climate change.
My faith and work within and beyond the United Methodist Women’s community has given me the opportunity to work with and befriend women from all walks of life. I serve as a liaison with the social action coordinators at the UMW conference and also feel called to action as a mother and grandmother. Thinking of my vast community and the future that awaits my family, I see that we are all united by our common need for a healthy and livable environment.
Our faith teaches us to take care of one another. We must work for environmental justice and public health and face the climate crisis. Through a bold investment in clean energy infrastructure, we have the opportunity to invest in a clean, renewable energy future while addressing the injustices of the past.
As members of the Virginia Conference United Methodist Women, we call on our leaders to guide us through bold economic and infrastructure stimulus plans that will make a difference in our communities and across the country. We must fulfill our moral obligation to leave a livable world for our children and grandchildren. With historic investments to revitalize our infrastructure and the transition to clean energy, we can do so while providing immediate support to those who need it most.
Low-wealth communities and communities of color are the most vulnerable to pollution and the impacts of climate change, suffering from asymmetric rates of asthma and respiratory disease. To make matters worse, these communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19, both in terms of disease, death rates and economic fallout. President JOe Biden has pledged to put these communities at the center of his initial infrastructure proposal, demanding that at least 40% of profits from investments target disadvantaged communities.
Access to clean water and clean air to breathe should not be a luxury that some people appreciate. This is why the necessary infrastructure plan would focus on the electrification of clean transportation to reduce carbon pollution and invest in clean water infrastructure for all communities. In doing so, we must avoid polluting energy sources or technologies such as natural gas, nuclear, biomass or carbon capture and sequestration. Virginia has a lot to gain in the transition to clean, renewable energy sources such as offshore wind power, with the potential for an expanded workforce. Additionally, Virginia has about 10,000 miles of coastline threatened by rising sea levels with ensuing flooding and food insecurity. By modernizing our electricity grid and developing 100% renewable and non-polluting energy resources, we will see far fewer deadly climate disasters and extreme weather events such as floods and fires. This infrastructure package means significant improvements in our public health and our quality of life.
Religious leaders across the country have united in their call for a bold stimulus and infrastructure package that will help us rebuild in a way that makes us stronger than ever. I recently joined over 3,400 other religious leaders from across the country in a signing letter calling for a bold economic and infrastructure stimulus package that creates lasting jobs for family and community while taking care of our climate and our neighbors. As a United Methodist and a person of faith, I consider it my duty to defend the future of our children and grandchildren; religious leaders of all faiths feel the same way. An unprecedented investment to transform our nation’s transportation and energy through infrastructure is the future, and we are counting on Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to turn this vision into reality.
As part of any final infrastructure package, we count on them to support bold investments to tackle the very real threat of climate change. Such investments will help families get back on their feet while protecting our public health and our beloved environment.
Karen McElfish is a member of United Methodist Women. She is a member of the United Methodist Justice Creation Movement coordination team and the Virginia Conference Creation Justice team. She is a retired pediatrician, wife, mother and grandmother who lives in Arlington.