By Roy Speckhardt
Since humanists believe we have just one life to live, we’re especially motivated to make the most positive impact we can in our single lifetime. One of the ways I seek to do this is through my actions to protect our shared planet. “Humanism and Its Aspirations,” the latest defining document on humanism, reminds us of our “planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.” Nature is woven into the very fabric of who humans are. So our embeddedness within nature should inform how we carry ourselves through the world on Earth Day and every other day.
Humanists commonly recognize that we are part of an interconnected web of life and that anything significant that impacts one strand can also shake the web. That’s one reason why we strongly support efforts to combat climate change at the local, state, and federal levels. All life and the biosphere itself has value that must be recognized every time we discuss the importance of humanity and our global future. We must act on our planetary duty now, before it’s too late.
Climate change has wide-reaching implications. In the European heat wave that dominated 2003 headlines, more than 70,000 additional deaths occurred. That international crisis prompted scientists to begin using “climate attribution” techniques to determine human impact on natural disasters. Photographers have captured the moment that ice sheets off the coast of Greenland crumble into the sea around them. Domestically, climate change is increasing spatial and housing inequity. In Miami, real estate at higher elevations appreciates at a faster rate than elsewhere—a trend replicated in other cities at risk for dramatic climate change impact. This “climate gentrification” puts vulnerable communities at dangerous risk for continued displacement, as the wealthy move away from sweeping beach views.
While it may not have been its first-priority public issue, the American Humanist Association affirmatively supported the environment for decades. The AHA resolved in March of 1962 to actively support movements for conservation and preservation of natural beauty, renewing this commitment in 1969. The most recent resolution in 2017 calls on humanists worldwide to join in efforts to reduce human activities that increase carbon emissions that cause global warming and climate change. And many folks from other faiths and philosophies share this commitment.
The corporate world is beginning to take note and address these pressing issues. Lyft added to the conversation in an Earth Day piece – calling on the federal government to embrace “a healthier and more prosperous future for our communities by supporting a clean energy economy and strong climate action.” Patagonia – the unofficial uniform of Silicon Valley and Wall Street alike – just announced that branded vests and pullovers will only be sold to companies that meet certain social and environmental performance standards. This follows a 2018 decision by the company to donate its $10 million Trump tax cut to environmental groups.
Our passion and pledge to change, however, hasn’t been enough so far. A recent World Wildlife Fund report found a 60 percent decline in population sizes of wildlife around the world since 1970. Recent reports from the United Nations join the United States’ own Fourth National Climate Assessment in underlining the fact that we must successfully address climate change now or face dire consequences in the immediate future. UN Secretary-General António Guterres says that “climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it.”
The critical thought and compassion that mark the life of a humanist compel action on climate change. Reform must be wide-sweeping to combat the deleterious effects of human populations and the massive environmental trauma that has damaged our planet to this point. That’s why we’ve launched a Humanist Environmental Response Effort (HERE) for Climate. HERE for Climate connects local individual and community organizations with the resources they need to have an impact and encourages local, immediate change that makes a difference.
Throughout this “pale blue dot,” as billions move through their daily lives, there exists a universal aspiration for a better life. It draws individuals to become participating members of society and it drives continual improvement, even after setbacks. The immense challenges that our world is facing mandate all of humanity to move beyond the concerns of individuals and nations and work toward united global responses. As David Suzuki , recipient of the AHA’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award, said, “the miracle of life on Earth is a combination of four things which Indigenous people call earth, air, fire, and water and which are created, cleansed, and replenished by the web of living things.” It is our responsibility to ensure that the fragile web Suzuki mentions is sustained and protected as humanity continues to evolve.
It is only through personal and collective action that we can address this crisis. As we implement the HERE for Climate campaign, we’re asking members and non-members to learn more about climate change through reading, watching, participating, and more. Then, we will take action together. There are so many ways to engage on this critical issue: attend (or host!) an event, share on social media, write an op-ed or letter to the editor, host a living room conversation, or join a demonstration in your area. Climate change may be the greatest threat facing our world, so let us help lead the way forward.