Op-ed | Queens-based faith leaders: Climate crisis is the moral crisis of our time

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GreenFaith leaders at actions in Albany
Photo provided by Green Faith NY

As we approach another sure-to-be sweltering and storm-drenched summer due to the continued warming of the planet, it is time to take decisive, bold action for climate justice here in NYC. As residents of Queens, we know all too well the havoc of climate destruction. Not even two years ago, eleven people in our borough were killed by flooding from Hurricane Ida. And, we’re still rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy, over a decade later. The worsening climate and ecological crisis will continue to affect everyone, but mostly the most vulnerable in our communities. 

From Flushing to Jamaica, East Elmhurst to Astoria, Queens has many neighborhoods considered to be Disadvantaged Communities, or DACs, by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). DACs include poor and working-class folks, communities of color, including the many immigrant populations that make Queens so special. As the “world’s borough,” many of us have loved ones back home in our countries of origin, countries in the Global South that are even more vulnerable to the disastrous effects of climate change.  

As clergy – a pastor and an imam who both live and minister in Queens – we know that every life is sacred. We all deserve clean air and water, life-sustaining jobs, and flourishing communities. The Bible is filled with verses that celebrate the beauty of the natural world and instruct humans to care for the earth (Genesis 1-2) as well as our neighbors (Matthew 22:39). The Qu’ran tells us that we are custodians of the planet (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:205) and that we have an obligation to plan for the future (Surah Al-Kahf 18:24). As part of GreenFaith, a global interfaith climate justice movement, we work with the statewide, grassroots-led NY Renews coalition to advocate for legislation that will help our great borough become cleaner and healthier for all – and stay that way for future generations.

The climate crisis is the moral crisis of our time. It’s not just a crisis of too much carbon in the air or more severe than usual “natural” disasters like hurricanes, it’s a crisis of corporate leaders and politicians who lack the will to stand up to gas and oil executives. There are people sitting in high-rise offices in Manhattan making decisions every day that ensure the destruction of our planet who have never set foot in Flushing or Forest Hills.

We need to stop the funding of oil and gas infrastructure, which accelerates the warming of our planet, and instead, invest in renewable energy. Creating flourishing communities is something that transcends partisan politics and can unite us all across race, class, nationality, and religion. We know this from experience in our interfaith work, with GreenFaith, an international climate justice movement; the U.N.; and more. 

Communities already have the solutions. This year, NY Renews members like GreenFaith, from communities across the state, came together to develop the People’s Climate Justice Budget—an example of what $1 billion in on-budget state spending could do to help our communities help themselves. There are shovel-ready projects across the city that could provide good jobs in our communities. The Climate Solutions Grant Program will enable community-led climate and energy planning, shoring up our public transportation, creating good green union jobs, and more. This ensures that New York’s transition to renewable energy is a just transition. The fossil fuel industry has long exploited the labor of poor and working-class communities, often immigrants and communities of color, and we have to make sure that burgeoning solar and wind companies are not allowed to do the same.

Our religions tell us a better world is possible, right here on Earth. A better world in which we all have access to clean air and water and people live equitably and peacefully with each other. We call on our fellow New Yorkers of faith to urge your state legislators, including Governor Hochul, to fund the People’s Climate Justice Budget and the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Package in this year’s New York State Budget. We have no more time to waste. 

Photo provided by GreenFaith NY

*Reverend Jeff Courter is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills and serves as the chair of the Social Justice Committee for the Presbytery of New York City. Jeff is a former National Guard service member and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. He served the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago Heights, IL, was a pastor in Westernville, NY, and was moderator of InterFaith Matters of Utica. Imam Muhammad Shahidullah is a teacher, author, community activist, and proud husband and father. He is renowned for using his platform to bring together people of all backgrounds in his work with GreenFaith, the United Nations, New York State Chaplain Taskforce, and as chair of the Queens Imam Council. Imam Shahidullah is also an award-winning peace ambassador.