Editor's note: This article was originally published in UU World's Fall/Winter 2022 Climate Justice issue. It has been republished on uuworld.org with minimal edits, in anticipation of Earth Month/Earth Day celebrations. We invite you to revisit our Climate Justice issue.
Early this year, six UU organizations—the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUs for Social Justice, the UUA Office at the United Nations, UUs for a Just Economic Community, and the UU Service Committee— came together around a shared theme for the year: climate-forced displacement and community resilience. This summer, they released the following joint public statement committing to respond to climate-forced displacement. It’s a historic moment of UU collaboration at a time when we’re seeing unprecedented climate-forced migration all over the globe—even right here in our communities. We invite you to read the statement and sign on in support.
UU Statement of Commitment in Response to Climate-Forced Displacement
In light of the global challenge of forced displacement caused by the climate crisis, Unitarian Universalist (UU) organizations—the UU Ministry for Earth, UUs for a Just Economic Community, Side With Love, UUA Office at the United Nations, UUs for Social Justice, and the UU Service Committee—join forces to issue the following statement of solidarity and commitment:
Recognizing the interdependence of life on Earth and the accountable pursuit of justice, equity and compassion is central to creating a thriving 21st Century.
Unitarian Universalism is a faith tradition anchored in religious pluralism, the rhythms of nature, and the inherent worth and dignity of each person. The ongoing climate crisis challenges all of our core values as a faith tradition. As organizations currently or historically affiliated with Unitarian Universalism, we feel compelled to speak and act in solidarity with front-line communities facing forced climate displacement. In keeping with these principles of repair and justice, we urge governments, world leaders, corporate actors, and congregations to respond to the global challenge of climate-forced displacement by centering the human rights of affected communities.
The climate crisis is not a matter for future generations to address; it is already upon us.
As the climate crisis escalates, the needs of those that are suffering the worst effects of climate change—a crisis chiefly caused by carbon emissions from wealthier industrialized nations like the United States—have gained wider acknowledgment. The climate crisis is not a matter for future generations to address; it is already upon us. In early March 2022, the world’s leading climate scientists issued their starkest warning yet about the failure of global leaders to stem carbon emissions. Humanity is on pace to exceed the 1.5 degrees of warming that scientists estimate is the limit the Earth can sustain without risking an unstoppable chain reaction of climate harms.
Due to this collective policy failure, communities around the globe and in the U.S. are already facing the effects of climate destruction. Black, Indigenous, People of Color, front-line, and other oppressed and marginalized communities — who have done the least to contribute to the climate crisis historically—are facing the worst of its effects. Many of these communities have been displaced from their homes, and millions more will follow in the decades ahead. Communities across the U.S.—as well as in other countries—are already experiencing these pressures, and the reality that parts of the U.S. will become uninhabitable is increasingly hard to ignore.
This involuntary climate exile is both a global and a domestic human rights violation on a massive scale. Not only does it deprive millions of people of their rightful home, it also forces them to seek resettlement in a global community that has done little to ensure the safe and dignified reception of people seeking asylum—particularly migrants of color. In the U.S., people are forced to abandon their traditional homes and communities or look to build infrastructure mitigation strategies that outstrip the resource and financing capacity of their households and local governments.
Even as we acknowledge that climate displacement is a present reality and not a hypothetical risk, we also reject the fatalism and defeatism that would deny the possibility of further collective action to forestall or address it. To this end, we shall share the power of our voices and influence with those who have less recourse to engage decision-makers, be they elected, appointed, or corporate actors. We pledge to coordinate our advocacy in order to persuade the international and domestic community to:
- Prevent further climate displacement by mitigating the effects of climate change and ensuring a just transition to clean and renewable energy sources;
- Ensure—in the event of displacement that cannot be forestalled—that communities are able to relocate safely, with dignity, and in a self-determined way that respects their integrity and identity;
- Provide communities with the resources they need to adapt-in-place to the effects of climate change, and to compensate for the loss and damage they have already incurred as a result of anthropogenic warming;
- Redress past failures and address root harms and causes as part of our accountable behavior to those suffering harm.
Climate displacement is already occurring around the world. Our leaders have a choice as to the pace at which it unfolds and the treatment of people who endure it. We urge them to act now, before even more people are deprived of their homes.
First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, NM
MUUSJN: Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network
South Nassau UU Congregation, NY
Texas UU Justice Ministry
The UU Congregation of York, PA
Unitarian Universalist Association
Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community
Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice
University Unitarian Church, WA
UU Fellowship of Hidalgo County, TX
UU Fellowship of the Peninsula, VA
UUA Office at the United Nations