We, the undersigned faith leaders from across the Commonwealth, are writing to you in anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit to Pennsylvania later this week. Pope Francis began a dialogue about our common home in Laudato Si. It’s a dialogue he’s sure to continue as he speaks before Congress and the United Nations and worships with families in Philadelphia.
“It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenge now before us,” the Pope cautions us and reminds us that “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.” Although his encyclical is widely regarded as a statement on the urgency of addressing climate change, it is truly a much broader statement about our interdependence and responsibility to the earth and each other.
Pope Francis understands that our current path is unsustainable and that the poorest among us are already witnesses to that fact. He challenges political leaders to “leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility” and the rest of us to “embark on new paths to authentic freedom.”
Our Pennsylvania Constitution states that the people have a right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people. This statement encompasses 2 basic principles: Pennsylvanians have a right to a decent environment; and Pennsylvania government has a trustee responsibility to protect the environment on behalf of future generations. We join together to call on you, Governor Wolf, to be the leader who will help our state chart a sustainable course.
The consensus among climate scientists is that we must leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. Continued reliance on them to simultaneously provide energy and drive our economy is no longer a realistic option. Pennsylvania ranks third behind Texas and California in total emissions. The shale gas boom of the past decade has reinvigorated the energy industry in the state, but not without profound and far-reaching consequences.
We know you served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Indian State of Odisha. This place where you once dedicated yourself to serving has been dubbed that nation’s “disaster capital”. Some scientists have called what is happening there a “dress rehearsal for the meteorological mayhem” climate change will cause everywhere on earth. Cyclones and floods where they’d never been seen before, heat waves killing thousands, and severe droughts that have had profound impacts on agriculture are just some examples of dramatic effects Odisha is experiencing. We must not ignore cautionary tales like Odisha’s that are becoming all too common.
The localized impacts of shale gas development have been occurring throughout the shale fields of Pennsylvania for more than a decade. They are profound impacts that command our attention and call us to action. Air quality is poor near drilling and related infrastructure. Children, infants, and the in utero are exposed to risks to their health and development as gas wells and compressors are located perilously close to their schools and homes. Frontline residents of all ages are experiencing a range of symptoms that started after gas drilling came to their communities. New research out of Northeastern Pennsylvania shows that hospitalization rates are higher in heavily fracked areas. Property values have diminished, as has quality of life.
To make matters worse, many Pennsylvanians are living without clean water in their homes because it has been fouled by gas drilling activities. Hydraulic fracturing poses an even broader threat to our water supply. Each fracking consumptively uses millions of gallons of that essential and finite resource.
Water, a sacred medium, used in our religious and spiritual practices, water that fills our bodies and is essential for all life on the planet, is rapidly being depleted. We need to look at practices that will conserve and preserve it. We can’t support energy extraction that intentionally poisons and permanently removes large amounts of precious freshwater from the hydrologic cycle. We can’t permit an exchange of life-giving water for climate damaging fossil fuels.
If the industry has its way then shale gas development is only in its infancy in Pennsylvania. The problems Pennsylvanians are already facing will multiply. The effects of climate change will be much more pronounced and irreversible.
Governor Wolf, you have the opportunity and the obligation to act. Shale gas development is not only putting us in an increasingly precarious position, it is also keeping us from making the necessary and urgent transition to clean, renewable energy. Pennsylvania has long been a leading energy producer. It still can be by leading the transition to clean, renewable energy. We are all called to stewardship.
Pennsylvanians are eager to embark on a better path. Many have enacted or are working to implement a statewide moratorium on fracking. We are looking to you as our Governor to lead the way.