One People, One Earth embodies two simple, yet profound truths. Indeed, we are one people (approximately 7 billion people), sharing this one Earth. By 2050, the global population will swell to 9.5 billion people. Meaning that, in less than 40 years, Earth must provide enough clean air, water, shelter, and food for an additional 2.5 billion people.
Human-accelerated climate change and ocean acidification are jeopardizing Earth's capacity to meet our basic human needs. In 2011 (and already in 2012), nearly every natural disaster headline included ominous words, such as: extreme, record, massive, storm of the century, unprecedented, unseasonably; all of which led to devastating loss of life and property. In other words, climate change is placing lives and livelihoods at risk, especially the world's most vulnerable peoples.
It is the threat to human life that should raise our collective consciousness that taking action on climate change, through reductions in carbon dioxide air pollution, is not only about caring for our environment, more importantly, it's about caring for one another. Essentially, climate action means implementing prudent stewardship to protect the common good.
As a person of faith, I take my responsibilities of stewardship (Genesis 2:15) and loving my neighbor (Matthew 22:39) seriously, as should anyone with a moral consciousness. And it's this moral obligation that should compel every nation to take climate action. To this end, a diverse and prominent group of Alaskans traveled to Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau to share this moral message.
The One People, One Earth Climate Initiative involves religious, student, scientific, and Alaska Native leaders, including: Imam Dr. Ataur Chowdhury, Reverend Curtis Karns, Father Thomas Weise, Heather Kelahan, Mallory Millay, Aleks Pfaffe, Dr. Doug Causey, Dr. Terry Chapin, Dr. Larry Hinzman, Dr. Franz Mueter, Libby Roderick, Elder Elaine Abraham, Elder Rita Blumenstein, Elder Ole Lake, Elder Howard Luke, and Aleut leader Larry Merculieff.
Words cannot fully convey the feelings of hope and goodwill the One People, One Earth conversations inspired. I can say that we took one significant step toward becoming one people, sharing this one Earth. However, for as many people as do understand the need for climate action, there are many more who do not understand because of misinformation and concerns. After working on climate change for the past seven years, allow me to address the most common responses I have heard for inaction:
• "Action is not feasible, it will cost too much." Answer: That's exactly what people said about the abolition of slavery. Furthermore, the significant reduction in sulfur dioxide pollution in the 1990s, creating acid rain, demonstrates we can successfully reduce air pollution. In 2003, the Office of Management and Budget found the Acid Rain Program accounted for one of the largest quantified human health benefits (over $70 billion/year) of any major regulatory program, with benefits exceeding costs by more than 40:1.
• "Climate action means stopping development." Answer: It's not a question of stewardship or development, stewardship means developing the right way. And now that we understand carbon dioxide pollution is rapidly altering our climate, taking action presents Alaska with a tremendous opportunity to become a world leader in developing resources, while reducing air pollution and promoting renewable energy.
• "China and India aren't doing anything about it, why should we?" Answer: Matthew 7:15.
The One People, One Earth initiative offers extraordinary insight into the moral imperative for climate action, as seen through the lens of faith, youth, science, and traditional knowledge. Moreover, this initiative underscores another essential message: respect. Respect for one another is a requisite for meaningful action, and respect comes from understanding our differences. Through greater respect, we can come to see that values uniting all people, such as a desire for a bright future, far outweigh our differences.
My hope for this Earth Day (and everyday) is that we will strive to not only foster greater respect for the earth, but also one another. Then maybe, just maybe, we will come together as one people, sharing this one earth, to make this bright future a reality.
Mary E. Walker is executive director of Stewards of Creation & Alaska IPL. For Earth Day tips and more information on One People, One Earth, please visit www.akipl.org.