Earth Day 2016 is monumental: Call for action and prayer

Panel at U.S. State Department presentation at COP21, with Joan Brown at right. (Submitted photo)

On Earth Day the sun seems to shine brighter. The songs of the finch, meadowlark and red winged black bird ring more boldly upon the air. All creation seems to celebrate Earth Day. But, Earth Day this year seems different. The joyful rays and songs are still there, however, they feel tempered. A bittersweetness rests upon my heart.

April 22 is a monumental day for the world as leaders sign and affirm the U.N. Paris Climate Accord agreed upon by 195 nations in December 2015. We celebrate the beauty of the Sacred Earth Community with this signing. We also officially recognize that the Earth community is suffering as climate change escalates. After more than 25 years of trying to come to a resolution for action, we are finally agreeing to act as one community of developed and developing nations living or dying together on this small planet spinning through space in a vast cosmos.

I am particularly aware of the signing of the Climate Accord in New York at the U.N. because I attended the U.N. Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris as a Franciscan's International official observer inside COP21. My body carries the memory of meeting with brothers and sisters from Central America, Africa, Bangladesh and island nations. So many are suffering from drought, flooding, food insecurity and ensuing violence related to climate change disruption.

Unveiling the Paris Pledge at a U.S. State Department presentation at COP21. (Submitted photo)

Echoes of thunderous applause by the tens of thousands of people gathered in the halls of La Bourget as the agreement was affirmed ring in my ears. Voices of brothers and sisters from the Global South whose lives depend upon stronger ambition by developed countries to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) also haunt my ears.

The beauty, melodies, joy and community that form our reality of life is only possible because we share One Common Home. Now Our Common Home, like any home we share, begs our time and energy to care for her and ourselves.

Actions to care for Our Common Home are sprouting more rapidly in the light of Laudato Si' and the COP21 agreement. April 22 is the final day for public comments to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's proposed Methane and Waste Prevention Rule to address methane pollution from existing and future oil and gas wells. Any day now, the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil final rules addressing methane from oil and gas production on any land in the United States. Methane waste from leaks, flaring and venting is a large and extremely potent contributor to climate change in the short term.

This week, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light participated in a rally outside a Santa Fe hotel where people gathered to bid for leases for oil and gas extraction. I was invited to speak from a religious perspective on the requirement to act for climate and intergenerational justice. In the Denver area, organizers are planning still another public event at an oil and gas lease public auction in May. People of faith are engaged in many actions and activities because the moral and ethical imperative to act is very clear.

Artwork float depicting climate change refugees at COP21 Dec. 2015 (Joan Brown)

Many faith communities and organizations are calling and writing senators and congress people to approve $750 million in the president's budget for the Green Climate Fund to assist brothers and sisters around the world who face climate change adaptation and mitigation. You can help by gathering signatures on postcards or making phone calls. Interfaith Power and Light has resources and actions for the weeks around Earth Day.

You can also join thousands who are praying on Earth Day. As we celebrate this amazing moment of life as part of Earth on Earth Day, may our hearts also be turned to compassionate action, which I believe always plunges us more deeply into the vast mystery of the holy and the meaning of our call as part of the Sacred Earth Community. May this prayer invite our hearts to act in new and bold ways:

We Hold the Earth

We hold brothers and sisters
who suffer from storms and droughts intensified by climate change.
We hold all species that suffer.
We hold world leaders delegated to make decisions for life.
We pray that the web of life may be mended through courageous actions to limit carbon emissions.
We pray for right actions for adaptation and mitigation
to help our already suffering earth community.
We pray that love and wisdom might inspire my actions
and our actions as communities. . .
so that we may, with integrity,
look into the eyes of brothers and sisters and all beings and truthfully say,
we are doing our part to care for them and the future of the children.
May love transform us and our world with new steps toward life.

[Sr. Joan Brown, OSF, is a Franciscan sister from the Franciscan Sisters of Rochester, Minn., and executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light.]