Several weeks ago a startling scientific infographic by NASA came across my desk. Since the map dealt with methane, a large contributor to global warming, which I work with on a daily basis, I took note. The image of the United States displays methane releases during the study period from 2003-2009: A large red hot spot dramatically stands out in New Mexico in the Southwest Four Corners Region.
According to NASA, “One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate.”
The methane cloud hovering over the Four Corners Region covers 2,500 square miles, around the size of Delaware. The massive cloud is so large that at first researchers dismissed it, thinking their instruments were in error. More research affirmed the finding. According to NASA, between 2002-2012 approximately 590,000 metric tons of methane every year were leaked from gas, coal and coal-bed methane mining and processing. The calculations were taken before the upsurge in new hydraulic fracturing techniques, which some say emit even more methane. Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
The same week this map became embedded into my consciousness, I found myself at a weekend liturgy where the homily focused on non-attendance at Mass as a mortal sin. In addition, we were told that if we do attend Mass and wear inappropriate clothes, “God is not pleased.” As I looked around at the many empty pews and the gray heads of the faithful present on that Saturday night, I began to reflect upon the meaning of mortal sin.
As a 9-year-old child, sitting in this very church, I was deathly afraid of dying in mortal sin. At one point I became very scrupulous about my mother’s cooking. Fearing some hint of meat might creep onto my fried egg for Friday morning breakfast, I began eating only certain foods on Fridays. As this rule changed so did my understanding of sin, grace, God and what it means to live in right relationship with the Holy and the human and earth community.
According to the Catholic catechism, “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man [woman] by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man [woman] away from God . . . .”
From my research, I believe the large fossil fuel industry knowingly continues to grow the human-induced climate change problem – mostly for short-term profit.
Mortal means death. Are my and our choices of consumption and business-as-usual leading to death through human induced climate change? Are such choices separating the human from God and brothers and sisters around the planet? What does it mean in contemporary terms to be about charity and love?
This past week Interfaith Power and Light sent a letter to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the EPA calling for a plan to address methane:
As people of faith, IPL leaders, congregations, and members have a moral responsibility to be stewards of Creation and advocates for justice. We have become greatly concerned about the dangers posed by reckless oil and gas extraction. This practice is not only seriously jeopardizing our ability to protect the planet from catastrophic climate change, it is impacting people’s health on a daily basis.
The letter that I signed along with 40 other state Interfaith Power and Light affiliates was a positive choice for charity and love in light of death producing actions.
The letter continues:
The oil and gas industry is exempt from many of our bedrock environmental laws. This regulatory gap has led to unconscionable practices that endanger our air quality, jeopardize human health, reduce property values, and leave people in the dark about oil and gas development going on in their own communities. Voluntary standards are insufficient to cut harmful, climate-disrupting methane pollution from oil and gas operations and they will not adequately protect impacted communities.
Within the next weeks I and other people of faith will visit our local congressional offices sharing this letter and the NASA map along with information about The Solutions Project: A 50-state roadmap to transform U.S. energy from fossil dependent to 100 percent renewable by 2050.
I wonder what it would be like to have homilies about the mortal concerns of climate change, methane gas and oil, coal and gas extraction. I also wonder why our churches fail to make the Good News of Caring for God’s Creation real in ways that witness to love and charity toward God, neighbor, self and creation.
[Sr. Joan Brown,OSF, is a Franciscan sister from the Franciscan Sisters of Rochester, Minn., and executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light.]