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Monroe: Climate change, creation care

The State Newspaper Guest Columnist

I know that our creator meant for us to love and care for the garden called Earth, as is written in scripture: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to till it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

Even after expulsion from Eden, man was still commanded by God to take care of earth: “Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken” (Genesis 3:23).

Creation care is not an option. It is the moral issue of our time. As a minister, a father, a son and a member of my community, I also see climate change as an issue with immense health implications, especially for African-Americans.

South Carolina and the other five states with the highest African-American population are all in the Atlantic hurricane zone, and are expected to experience more intense storms resembling Sandy, Katrina and Rita in the future.

Extreme weather events reduce the availability of fresh food and water, contribute to carbon-monoxide poisoning from portable electric generators used during and after storms and increase stomach and intestinal illness among evacuees. They can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Changes in temperature and precipitation, leading to more droughts and floods, likely will affect agricultural yields and production. Many crops in South Carolina already have been impacted by climate extremes.

Scientists project that warmer temperatures will increase the frequency of days with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant and a component in smog. Ground-level ozone can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function and inflame airways, increasing respiratory symptoms and aggravating asthma or other lung diseases, especially in children, older adults, outdoor workers and those with chronic illnesses.

Ozone exposure also has been associated with increased medication use, doctor visits, emergency department visits and hospital admissions. Some studies suggest it can cause premature mortality and possibly asthma.

The most direct health effect of climate change will be intensifying heat waves, which disproportionately impact poor and urban populations. Heat waves can lead to heat stroke and dehydration and are the most common cause of weather-related deaths. Young children, older adults, people with medical conditions and the poor are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness; African-Americans are at a greater risk of dying during extreme heat events.

These are our children, our parents, our sisters and brothers and our church members. People you know and see every day — all vulnerable to illness or death from a heat wave.

Climate change is also an issue of justice and human rights, one that dangerously intersects race and class. It’s not a futuristic maybe. It’s happening right now in our state, our nation and our world. And now is the time for change.

On Inauguration Day, President Obama made a case for energy innovation and identified environmental protection as a mandate set forth by the nation’s founders.

“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he said. “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But Americans cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.”

And lead it we will. We will lead from our homes to our churches, to our local and state legislators, where our votes will be our message. The care of souls is incomplete without the care of creation.

The Rt. Rev. Monroe is bishop of the South Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church; he lives in Rock Hill. Contact him via [email protected].

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