Andersen: Climate change is a moral failure |

Andersen: Climate change is a moral failure

It took a Quaker Friends meeting in Aspen to clarify why climate change is a moral issue and that we’re failing it as a nation.

Were I not allergic to structured religion, I would become a Quaker and further their missions to end war, ensure equality and advocate for “Earth restored.” Climate change factors in on all three issues.

The Friends meeting took place recently in a beautiful Aspen Victorian, where Quakers from the Committee on National Legislation described moral values, high ideals and an ambitious mission.

As “true believers,” said Executive Secretary Diane Randall, “Quakers commit themselves to influencing and engaging through the political process. The first step in addressing this moral crisis is like an AA program. You have to admit there’s a problem before you can address it.”

Randall explained that the U.S. Department of Defense has identified climate change as a threat multiplier to U.S. national security.

“They don’t confirm human causation,” she said, “but they allow there is a correlation from human activity.”

The Quakers’ biggest challenge is to convince voters and legislators that climate change is being accelerated by human agency. Only then can climate become a moral issue by showing that our actions are harming other people and future generations who will bear the costs of changes to natural resources and degradation to the global environment.

Quakers believe that people and nations have a “planetary imperative to recognize climate change and to be responsive to heal a wounded world through restoration approaches.”

Being responsive is how morality influences change. Remember the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam War, where moral force was required to make sweeping cultural shifts. The same moral authority must eventually address climate.

Most moral issues are channeled through narrow filters of civil law and religious strictures. Everyday actions such as driving your car and consuming goods and services are habitual and therefore off the moral balance sheet for most consumers.

Accepting personal culpability for climate change is routinely denied because to do so would impose the grievous discipline of tempering our excessive lifestyles. Most Americans prefer to live by the Bush Sr. doctrine so recklessly stated in Kyoto, Japan, in 1992, where the president said, “The American lifestyle is not negotiable.”

Since climate change is a moral issue, it becomes immoral to wantonly spew carbon into the atmosphere. No longer can overconsumption be seen as a birthright. No longer can we dismiss the moral implications of multiple-home ownership, private jets, mega-trucks, SUVs and a litany of gluttonous habits.

Quakers have an uphill battle as they strive to attack climate change by making it imperative that we look at our own consumption habits through a moral lens. It is undeniable that moral choices are the personal responsibility of people who live in free societies.

Still, in the U.S., we ignore morality for the expedience of material pleasures and economic gain. We bask in the glow of gratification for what we’ve “earned” in our various labors and achievements. We leave the future to our progeny, who are certain to condemn our moral failures as they struggle to cope with the results.

Oberlin College teaches a course on Quaker virtues as a means for opening a dialogue on an enlightened humanitarian world view.

“All Quakers,” Oberlin says, “hold in common the following testimonies: equality, peace, simplicity, integrity and community, which are more like guidelines for living than specific rules to follow.

“It seems that to be Quaker is more to have a certain way of thinking rather than a specific code of action. It is this excitement regarding the world’s potential that makes Quakers who they are.”

What sets Quakers apart is their recognition of something divine in everyone and everything. That’s why Quakers are opposed to killing. That’s why Quakers champion peace, civil rights and protection of the “Creation.”

Climate change is erasing species from the Creation, threatening civil rights by condemning millions to flood risks and fostering resource wars. Climate change violates the divine. Whether you’re Quaker, there is no stronger moral reason for a call to personal action.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at

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