When U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., signed off on a package to invest in a clean energy future, many of us felt hopeful again. Air and water pollution and climate change are major disruptions to how the world should be. These investments feel like the start of a rebalancing. It should never have been acceptable, for example, that 200,000 Americans die every year right now because of air pollution. Many of those deaths from soot pollution are concentrated here in Appalachia, according to studies.
The major climate and health legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, will not solve all our environmental problems but it is a great step toward a healthier and safer world. The package was applauded by a wide range of faith groups including, from my own faith tradition, the Catholic bishops and religious sisters. Yet, to more fully achieve that healthier future, we will need a deeper rebalancing: a greater sense of the common good.
I am a Catholic religious sister and, like many West Virginians, faith forms my moral compass. Jesus commands us to Love Thy Neighbor and, in the story of the Good Samaritan, he expands who we are to regard as our neighbor. What would it mean to truly love our neighbors who are children and seniors who are most vulnerable to fine soot particles in their lungs from the burning of dirty fossil fuels? How could we better love our neighbors throughout Appalachia who are most vulnerable to flooding—which is projected to keep getting deadlier as climate disruption worsens? And that is just the start as we broaden our circle of concern across the world and across species. People of all faiths or of no faith can agree that loving thy neighbor is a path to greater flourishing for all of us.
In many ways, the ambitious climate and health package was the easy part. It is a big move toward a world where we can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a more safe and stable climate. The hard part will be living in this new world with a greater sense of togetherness, as one human family.
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