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Commentary By Joelle Novey: Using Sunday School Lessons To Combat Climate Change

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As part of her job, commentator Joelle Novey attends numerous faith services where she's been inspired by what these congregations teach children. Novey directs Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, which helps local congregations save energy, "go green" and respond to climate change:

For a nice Jewish girl, I go to a lot of church. I have sung hymns in Episcopal and Catholic masses, shared silence at Friends meetings, offered sermons in Unitarian Universalist and Jewish congregations, and broken bread with Muslim communities.

Rev. Robert Fulghum once wrote that everything he needed to know he learned "in the sand pile at Sunday School." One: "Clean up your own mess," and two: "Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody."

Every congregation I have visited teaches children these same lessons: Clean up your own mess. We are responsible for how our actions impact the world. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Every person is important. When we hurt someone, we must work to repair the harm we have caused.

This week, the nations of the world are gathered in Cancun for climate negotiations. Not surprisingly, there are no Sunday school kids there representing our country.

The U.S. negotiators are all grown-ups.

But wed do well to bring along some moral basics to climate meetings. Our country is already responsible for a quarter of the heat-trapping emissions that are disrupting the climate. We have caused extreme draughts, food shortages and stronger storms for everybody.

We must clean up our share of the mess. Starting now, our country can reduce our emissions and shift to clean energy.

Many people are already being harmed by climate change, most of all in the poorest countries. Worldwide, 300,000 people are already dying from climate changes every year, many of them in Africa.

Our emissions are hurting somebody, many somebodies. And we can do the international version of saying we're sorry by putting our financial resources to work in repairing the harm we have caused.

At last year's climate talks, the U.S. agreed to help raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries cope with the climate crisis.

This Wednesday at noon, I'll be gathering with caring people outside the White House to call on President Obama to make good on his promise.

This isn't just a nice thing to do -- it's the right thing to do. And it isn't because holiday cheer makes us feel generous.

Taking responsibility for causing our brothers and sisters to suffer, and acting now to repair that harm, is basic Sunday school morality.

As our city's children rehearse for holiday pageants, I'll be praying that we as a nation can be good the way local congregations teach our kids to be good: by cleaning up our own mess and saying we're sorry when we hurt somebody.

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