The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We are faith leaders in Maryland. Congress must pass Biden’s American Jobs plan.

Flooding on the Potomac River at Great Falls, Md. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Mike Tidwell teaches youth Sunday school at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church and is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. David Shneyer, a rabbi, serves as director of the Am Kolel Sanctuary Retreat Center near Poolesville.

It sounds like a joke: A rabbi, a Presbyterian, a farmer and a student walk into a bar. Except we weren’t in a bar. We gathered in November 2004 at the entrance to a coal-fired power plant in Dickerson.

For nearly an hour, we peacefully blocked the facility entrance, sitting cross-legged and singing songs as coal trucks stacked up, trying to get in. We went to jail that day to draw attention to the moral crises of mountaintop removal mining and rapid climate change.

David Shneyer is the rabbi, serving as director of the Am Kolel community in Montgomery County. Mike Tidwell is the Presbyterian, a youth Sunday school teacher in Takoma Park. As activists, we approach climate change from many angles. But we see it first as a moral issue. As the Rev. William Barber II often says, “Some issues are about right versus left. And some are about right versus wrong.”

Climate is the latter.

On June 9, we’ll be standing side by side again, this time near the U.S. Capitol lawn with 100 prominent faith leaders from across the nation. No civil disobedience this time, just religious leaders from ages 25 to 75 dressed in pulpit robes and stoles and yarmulkes and hijabs and the saffron robes of Buddhism. With our prayers and speeches, we’ll ask Congress to immediately pass the biggest U.S. legislation ever proposed to address global warming: President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

Much has changed since our first protest 17 years ago. Like a walk through the Book of Revelation, the planet has convulsed violently — much faster than expected — from the high heat triggered by greenhouse gases. The past six years have been the warmest six on record. Unprecedented swarms of locusts have plagued Africa, linked to wetter weather. Wherever you go on the planet, it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. And people die. Annually, 150,000 from climate-related disasters. That number could climb to a cumulative 106.5 million by 2100 if we do nothing. By any worldview, this is morally unacceptable.

Biden has committed our nation — the world’s largest historic climate polluter — to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. It’s a breathtaking, science-based goal and an ethical imperative. Among other steps, his $2.3 trillion jobs plan aims to create 500,000 charging stations for electric cars, invest $17.5 billion in home weatherization and create a New Deal-like Civilian Climate Corps.

But the core of the Biden plan is this: Require 100 percent of America’s electricity to come from clean, pollution-free sources by 2035. By comparison, Maryland law would get us to just half that — 50 percent clean — by 2030. The ambitious Biden plan is to “electrify everything” in our economy — and simultaneously power those Teslas and new water heaters and high-speed trains with wind farms and solar panels.

So on June 9, we’ll stand with 100 faith leaders side by side near the Capitol in support of 100 percent clean power. And Congress must act to make it law right now.

Meanwhile, we’re not some small, progressive-minded wing of the U.S. faith community. More than 70 percent of religious Americans now believe global warming is a threat requiring action, according to a recent Yale-George Mason University poll. Even a majority of young Evangelicals — like younger Republicans generally — reject the climate denial of their elders and see the moral obligation to act. Among White Evangelicals, stunningly, a 2018 NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll showed 40 percent support the Green New Deal.

Of course, designing a clean-economy future involves layers of ethical choices. Given our nation’s long history of environmental racism, the American Jobs Plan appropriately requires that 40 percent of all investments and benefits from the move to clean energy must flow to historically disadvantaged communities. And for the coal miners and other fossil fuel workers whose jobs will wind down, the plan calls for approximately $130 billion in retraining, pension support and new jobs plugging uncapped oil and gas wells leaking methane across the country.

How will we pay for all this? The Biden plan fairly asks corporations and the wealthiest Americans — disproportionate beneficiaries of the 2017 Trump tax cuts — to cover much of the cost. Plus, several studies show that the avoided health costs of phasing out fossil fuels will more than equal the taxpayer investment in switching to clean power. Right now, a staggering 1 in 5 deaths worldwide are linked to fossil fuels.

Fifteen years after we first met as protesters outside that coal plant in Dickerson, the plant’s owner announced its permanent shutdown. Now plans are being discussed to turn about 50 acres of the grounds into a solar farm. It’s a start.

Our faith traditions teach us that the Earth is a sacred gift and that human communities are only whole when no one is left behind. Unbridled climate change mocks these moral precepts. Congress, with growing support from America’s religious voters, must heed these wise and ancient values and pass the American Jobs Plan.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The danger of climate change is imminent. The Senate must approve a strong policy.

The Post’s View: Climate change is threatening our circulation. We must act now.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Humanity faces a climate emergency — shouldn’t that be news?

Eugene Robinson: Ignoring climate change hasn’t made it go away

The Post’s View: Biden promises big on climate change. Delivering will be much harder.