This past year the United States has been challenged in unforeseeable ways. We have been tested by not one, but four converging crises: the public health crisis, economic recession, racial inequalities, and the climate crisis. Our country is in a desperate need for leadership and political will, to guide us through these hard times. Luckily, different initiatives are being carried out from all corners of civil society, including communities of faiths and their spiritual leaders.
After joining New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light this past September, I realized the role religion can play in climate action. New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light fights for our environment and demonstrates the importance communities of faith play in protecting it. Having grown up Catholic in Arizona, I was committed to contributing to these efforts. As a high school student, I took an AP Environmental Science class that would change the course of my life. I found my passion, and graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science in 2017. When the previous administration started reversing environmental protections and abandoning the Paris Agreement, I was inspired to take action. I knew from personal experience that science needed to be made accessible to BIPOC and especially for fellow Latinos. I started organizing and advocacy work and have not looked back.
In our faith communities, we again look to our religious and spiritual leaders to unite and to lead us forward through bold economic recovery and infrastructure plans that will make a difference in our community and across the nation. We must fulfill our moral obligation to leave a habitable world for future generations. We can do this while providing immediate support to those who need it most. We must work for environmental justice and public health, and address the climate crisis. We have an opportunity to invest in the clean energy future while addressing the injustices of the past.
We must fulfill our moral obligation to leave a habitable world for future generations.
Low-wealth communities and communities of color are most vulnerable to pollution and the impacts of climate change, suffering from skewed rates of asthma and respiratory ailments as a result. To make matters even worse, these communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19, both in terms of illness, death, and economic fallout. New México has lost over 4,000 people to this virus. President Biden must place these communities at the center of a historic infrastructure package, where investments target disadvantaged communities.
Access to clean drinking water and clean air to breathe should not be a luxury only some enjoy. That’s why we need investments in electrifying clean transportation to reduce carbon pollution and investments in clean water infrastructure for all communities. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure report card, New México has $320 million in wastewater needs. The state needs to diversify its economy because it is too heavily dependent on the oil sector. Improvement of our public health and quality of life will require significant investment. Also, by modernizing our electric grid and expanding clean, renewable energy, we will see far fewer deadly climate disasters and extreme weather events such as floods and fires.
Faith leaders from all across the country have united in their call for a bold recovery and infrastructure package that will help us rebuild in a way that makes us stronger than ever before. Just as our faith leaders guided us through the darkest, most uncertain moments of the past year, they can also guide our nation in building back better. That’s why New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light joined over 3,400 other faith leaders from around the country in adding its name to a letter to Congress calling for a bold economic recovery and infrastructure package that creates family and community sustaining jobs while caring for our climate and our neighbors.
Sister Joan Brown, Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, once stated, “It is a moral imperative to address the impact of climate change and make sure it intersects with the communities.” We must protect what God has put in our hands, the answer must not be afraid of change because we need to learn how to adapt. We’re counting on members of Congress to turn this vision into a reality. They must fully support passing legislation that helps families get back on their feet while protecting our public health and sacred environment.
Arcelia Isais-Gastelum, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light & ReNew Mexico
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