Last Tuesday I ended my column by asking God what I would be writing about this week. His reply came in two segments the next day, one at breakfast and the other at lunch. Both had to do with social justice, but in vastly different ways.
Breakfast was a fundraiser for Family Promise, which helps homeless families get off the streets. Several Catholic parishes in the Salt Lake area regularly host families through Family Promise, offering them a place to stay and warm meals prepared by parishioners.
One of the speakers at the breakfast was Barbara Moeller, who gave tips about how to live as a homeless person with a family that she learned when she and her three children fled an abusive relationship. She couldn’t go to a shelter, she said, because shelters don’t allow children older than 14, and her oldest son was that age. She was told she and her two youngest children could stay, and that would leave only the eldest outside.
Hearing that, my heart skipped a beat. What a choice to give a mother: Having her two youngest children warm and safe and dry but abandoning her eldest – still just barely a teenager – to fend for himself, or staying together in the cold and sometimes dangerous streets.
Barbara chose to keep her family together, so they lived in a Hyundai. Nighttime was when she felt most keenly that she had failed her children, she said, because they were frightened of the dark, but if she parked in a lot or near a streetlight the police would tell her to move on. She discovered that if they parked in rich neighborhoods and kept very quiet, they could get the necessary five hours of sleep. One night, parked in the hills above Salt Lake City, she looked out at the glowing city lights and marveled at the beauty.
“I could never afford a view like that,” she said, but then her appreciation turned to despair when she realized that not one of those lights “was a place where I could go to be warm and safe,” she said. “You’re invisible when you’re homeless. It’s a weird kind of being a leper.”
All that changed when she found Family Promise. The churches that hosted the family “treated me like a person,” with warm meals and friendly greetings, which offered “an invitation back to humanity,” she said.
Now, 15 years after receiving help from Family Promise, Barbara has a home; her children are college-educated. “In my family the cycle of poverty is broken,” she said.
Family Promise accepts financial donations and is seeking volunteers, for information, visit familypromisesaltlake.org.
Daniel Carter, a composer best known for his works that reflect his faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is staging a holiday benefit for Family Promise. “Artaban, the Other Wise Man, the Musical” will be performed Nov. 29 – Dec. 2 at Wasatch Junior High School; tickets are $15. For information, visit danielcartermusic.com.
The topic at lunch took me from being my brother’s keeper to care for the environment, an issue the Church has promoted for many years, but Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si” brought it to the forefront. The Holy Father writes, for example, “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” from greenhouse gases caused primarily by human activity.
At the lunch, Brian McInerney of the National Weather Service presented some of the science behind the pope’s statement. These rigorous studies have been conducted by a variety of reputable organizations and individuals. All have one indisputable conclusion: The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased dramatically. More carbon monoxide in the atmosphere means that the atmosphere retains more moisture, which leads to warmer temperatures. More water in the atmosphere and warmer temperatures also combine for dramatic events like Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria – three powerful storms the likes of which the United States has never seen before in the same season, at least not in modern history.
McInerney mentioned again and again extraordinary weather events like the recent hurricanes and this summer’s record heat wave in Utah. His common refrain was that, as scientists, “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
He pointed out that those who deny climate change react to the overwhelming scientific data the same way that cigarette companies did in the 1970s when studies showed that smoking causes lung cancer: They attack the scientists, not the science, because the facts are unassailable.
McInerney’s presentation reminded me that I’ve slacked off in my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint, but he was insistent that more than an individual effort is needed. Local, state, national and international efforts will need to be made to prevent the average temperature from raising 12 degrees by the year 2100, he said; if that happens, Utah’s winter weather will consist of rain rather than snow, and “how will we get a water supply if there’s no snow in the mountains?”
That scenario is just one example of what will happen locally; similar effects will be seen nationally and internationally.
“This is really scary stuff,” McInerney said.
Scary stuff, indeed. So, what to do so that future generations have a world that is tolerable to live in? First, learn the facts. Second, look at reducing your own carbon footprint. Third, write your legislators and urge that they support legislation that will reduce greenhouse gases.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.