Photo provided by Sister Tess
Advocating for justice is nothing new to Sister Marie-Thérèse “Tess” Browne, who came of age during her home country, Trinidad and Tobago’s, movement toward independence. Part of how Tess witnesses to her faith is by speaking truth to power, including the realm of climate justice, which her story today reflects. Tess’s testimony reflects her personal experience enduring a climate disaster, as well as her understanding of the interconnectedness between climate change, systemic racism, and health outcomes, especially among children.
I am no stranger to the realities of climate change – I have skin in the game. I live in Quincy, Massachusetts, a coastal community like so many others struggling under the burden of rising sea levels. In a two-day period in March 2018, four successive exceptionally high tides, a full moon and nor’easter sent eight feet of floodwaters over the sea wall onto Post Island Road, my Quincy neighborhood. This storm upended my life and my community, flooding and destroying homes and leaving 150 people homeless. Many were evacuated in rubber dinghies, boats, and front-end loaders.
Thankfully, we had access to the National Guard and other resources in Quincy, but I am painfully aware that others living in coastal areas around the world who have even less responsibility for the problem of climate change will suffer much more if we don’t take bold climate action. The reality of our crisis is troubling, and what is more troubling is that people on the margins of society – the least of us and those left out – are most affected by climate disasters and have the least means of rebuilding their lives when disaster strikes.
Having taught high school environmental biology, I understand the science behind our changing climate, and my faith motivates me to advocate for our common home. All people deserve a fair shot at clean and safe air, water, and land, a right so often violated when one considers the health of our cities and their people. It is well understood that black and brown children in Boston (the capital city) have much higher rates of asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits than their peers of the same race and ethnicity statewide, a direct example of urban pollution so prevalent in our cities.
My journey as a teacher, organizer and advocate brings me to legislative advocacy with interfaith groups in my state these days, such as Massachusetts Interfaith Power and Light and the Boston Catholic Climate Change Movement. Climate justice work is happening, and I try to support it by showing up. I also act in solidarity with our Sisters, Associates, and my parish and surrounding communities. I certainly do not act alone; we have collective power and there is a reason organizing is done in community. Concern and care for the Earth – God’s creation, our common home – is a major commitment and moral imperative for our Congregation and for me. I recently testified in the state legislature to pass a carbon pricing bill, which paves the way for climate action and energy solutions. As Pope Francis has stated, “Time is running out! We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward.” Therefore, I will keep urging steps in the direction of environmental justice for all.