The comments from D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) this month and his subsequent apology have opened some important conversations in our city about the enduring prevalence of both anti-Semitism and racism.
But that incident hasn’t started another critical conversation — one about the real causes and consequences of a damaged climate here in the District.
The episode began when White, from his car, had an experience of weird weather that is increasingly common for anyone who lives in the District. He couldn’t believe that, in March, “it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning.”
White is right that something is weirder about the weather than it used to be: Our entire planet’s temperature has gone up a degree and a half over the past 150 years, with the Earth warming ever more quickly in recent years. Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that the only explanation is us: Burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation is pouring heat-trapping climate pollution into our atmosphere, causing our Earth to warm.
And while no single snowstorm can be attributed exclusively to climate change, climate scientists, including Michael Mann of Penn State, confirm that warmer oceans and a warmer Arctic have made the recent “Nor’easters” more intense here in the District and more likely to come down on all of our cars as snow.
As a Jewish climate activist here in the District, I want to draw out two lessons from the uproar over White’s comments:
First, we need to talk more about climate change. There’s simply no way to understand how what we’re experiencing fits into global patterns and larger problems without talking with each other about climate science. Right now, more than half of us who think climate change is important rarely or never discuss it with the people in our lives, according to research from George Mason and Yale. When we don’t hear climate conversations, we’re less likely to bring the topic up, leading to a dangerous “spiral of silence.” We must be more fearless in talking about our concerns about climate change with each other and with our elected leaders, ensuring that our neighbors and every member of the D.C. Council develop a strong vocabulary for meeting the challenges that face us.
And second, I’ve been reminded that the work for climate justice invites us, powerfully, to come together across differences. Far from distracting us from ending bigotry, climate change calls us to band together — as people — to take on the urgent challenge of repairing the damage done to our common home. Through our work at Interfaith Power & Light, congregations of many spiritual traditions are working together with the campaign known as “Put a Price On It, DC.” The proposal would require climate polluters to take responsibility by putting a fee on harmful greenhouse gases and use the revenue raised to support all residents of the District through monthly rebates as we transition to a clean energy economy. We call on White to join his colleagues in working together for this visionary proposal to model just climate policy here in the District for the rest of the country.
Ultimately, the two conversations begun by the mistake White made last week are, we believe, really only one conversation: How we might dwell together in unity, as the psalm says, on the single planet we share. By working together, our religious communities each have an opportunity to fulfill their highest purpose, honoring the respect for human dignity and the reverence for the natural world that are core values for all of our sacred traditions. The climate challenge is calling us, at last, to this unified purpose. And we call on all of our city’s leaders to help us make it so.
Joelle Novey is the Director of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA).