"In 100 years, if we do nothing to retard climate change and the rise of our oceans, Paul Revere would be able to row to Charlestown by hopping into a boat tied to a dock just outside his door. In a hundred years or less a nor’easter or a hurricane could flood his house and bring flood waters to his statue behind the Old North Church."
The following is testimony given by the Rev. Stephen Ayres, Vicar of Christ Church (Old North) in Boston's North End, at a state Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee hearing on carbon pricing on Oct. 27:
Good afternoon. I am the Rev. Stephen Ayres, Vicar of the Old North Church, and a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
Several years ago, the Old North Church partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to promote energy conservation by placing compact fluorescent light bulbs in the famous lanterns at the top of our steeple. I can now proudly introduce myself as the only priest who ever made national news by changing a light bulb.
The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and the Old North Church have for years advocated energy conservation as a means to combat global climate change. Our Diocesan Convention passed a resolution in 2013 specifically supporting the implementation of carbon pricing to discourage the use of fossil fuels. That resolution begins:
“Resolved, that the 228th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts calls upon all members of congregations and affiliated organizations to support efforts to establish a carbon tax to discourage the use of fossil fuels because of their impact on climate change;”
In his recent encyclical Laudato Si – On the Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis wrote:
“25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, and political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded."
The Episcopal Church is acting in a number of small ways to combat climate change. We have installed solar panels on some of our churches and retrofitted others to be more energy efficient. We have aligned our investment portfolios with our values. We recognize that these efforts are mostly symbolic, and that systemic change is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change to our state and to the world.
Putting a price on carbon is the most efficient and potentially effective means of reducing our reliance on carbon based energy sources. It will send price signals to all of us to change our energy consumption patterns. It will call on all of us to sacrifice for the common good of our brothers and sisters. To quote Pope Francis again:
“229. We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good.”
As a historian as well as a priest, let me bring the argument a bit closer to home. In 100 years, if we do nothing to retard climate change and the rise of our oceans, Paul Revere would be able to row to Charlestown by hopping into a boat tied to a dock just outside his door. In a hundred years or less a nor’easter or a hurricane could flood his house and bring flood waters to his statue behind the Old North Church.
As an historian, I wonder what our successors will think about us as our precious historic sites are threatened by rising oceans. How could we not act, given so much information?
The time has come to change our fundamental relationship to carbon base fuels by pricing them to reflect the immense damage they are causing to our environment. Thank you for considering putting a price on carbon that captures its social and public health costs. May you find the courage to enact such a measure and may other states follow your lead.
-- The Rev. Stephen T. Ayres
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