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Local view: Faith, climate and future | Columnists

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LORIE BENSON and LAUREL VAN HAM

What drives us to care for each other, our communities and our environment?

For some, it’s an internal moral compass. Those of us who belong to one of the world’s major religious traditions are called by scripture, example, and tradition to love our neighbor and care for God’s creation.

This year, 29 faith communities in Lincoln responded to that call through Faith to Forest, an initiative encompassing worship, education, stewardship and advocacy.

We focus on the special place of trees in creation, the gifts they provide to humanity, and our responsibilities to care for trees, especially in a changing climate. Responding to this call to attention is based on love for people and places, now and in the future.

Our call for attention is also based on facts. A healthy environment, including trees, has been proven to benefit physical and mental health and promote environmental justice. Healthy ecosystems provide food and other products, and the jobs that go with them.

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Mitigation and adaptation to climate change will reduce human suffering and economic losses caused by floods, droughts, fires and other disasters. Facing the reality of climate change will also create good jobs in a competitive global economy and ensure our common security.

Environmental protection is also a workforce issue, a top priority for Nebraska. A 2021 Pew study reports that a significant majority of Gen Z and Millennials say climate change should be a top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations.

On the opposite end of the generational spectrum, people planning for retirement are encouraged to consider the impacts of climate change on their finances and lifestyle.

So how do we respond to this moral and spiritual imperative to care for people and creation?

This year, on the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, let’s plant trees and donate to local and global organizations that do so. Let’s learn more about God’s creation, the environmental services it provides and how we can care for it.

Let’s celebrate creation through worship and just going outside to enjoy it. Let’s tackle climate change by reducing our carbon footprint on a personal level and especially on a societal level. Let’s take a step toward environmental justice by planting trees in low-income neighborhoods to combat heat islands and increase the mental and physical health benefits that trees are already providing in Lincoln’s wealthier neighborhoods.

And encourage decision makers at all levels to make environmental protection and the fight against climate change top priorities. Commendably, Lincoln Electric System has adopted a decarbonization plan and the city of Lincoln has a climate action plan. Now we need action at the state and federal levels.

The Nebraska Legislature is considering several proposed bills to protect ecosystems and help our state build resilience to climate change. State senators must be pushed to act now. The same goes for our delegation from the US Congress. They all need to hear that these issues are important.

As people of Nebraska and as citizens of the world, let us adopt new ways of meeting energy needs that are fair, environmentally and economically sustainable and that will protect current and future generations.

Change can be frightening, but acting from a place of moral imperative, love of neighbor and love for God’s creation will give us the courage and determination to act.

Faith to Forest offers many more ideas for getting involved, both for individuals and faith communities. Learn more at firstplymouth.org/catforest.

Lorrie Benson and Laurel Van Ham both live in Lincoln and are co-chairs of Faith to Forest. They write on behalf of St. Matthew’s Episcopal; New Hope Methodist; Christian Bethany; Lincoln Neighbors Methodist; Fourth Presbyterian; St. Paul Methodist; St. David’s Episcopal; Aldersgate Methodist; reunion of friends of Lincoln; St. Luke Methodist; Contemplate Lincoln; Methodist Trinity; Brethren Antelope Church; Unitarian Church; First-Plymouth Climate Action Team, Peace & Justice Committee, Sustainable Living Ministry; Westminster Presbyterian [email protected]; Our Savior’s Lutheran Sustainability/Stewardship Team; Action Network for the Creation of the Vine Congregation; Rev. Brandon Proffitt, Trinity Chapel; pastor Dave Nickel, first Mennonite; Climate legacy of elders; Nebraska IPL.