Today a United States Senate committee heard testimony from religious leaders on global warming. Representing the National Council of Churches was Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts of the Episcopal Church USA. Presiding Bishop Jefferts (a former Oregonian we proudly note) told the committee:
Before my ordination to the priesthood, I was an oceanographer and I learned that no life form can be studied in isolation from its surroundings or from other organisms. All living things are deeply interconnected, and all life depends on the life of others. Study of the Bible, and of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, made me equally aware that this interconnectedness is one of the central narratives of Scripture. God creates all people and all things to live in relationship with one another and the world around them. At the end of the biblical creation account, the writer of Genesis tells us that "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good."
I believe that each of us must recall ourselves to the vision that God has for us to realize in our own day. It is a vision in which all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. While many of the faith communities represented here today may disagree on a variety of issues, in the area of global warming we are increasingly of one mind. The crisis of climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to the goodness, interconnectedness, and sanctity of the world God created and loves. This challenge is what has called our faith communities to come here today and stand on the side of scientific truth. As a priest, trained as a scientist, I take as a sacred obligation the faith community's responsibility to stand on the side of truth, the truth of science as well as the truth of God's unquenchable love for the world and all its inhabitants.
The Church's history, of course, gives us examples of moments when Christians saw threat, rather than revelation and truth, in science. The trial and imprisonment of Galileo Galilei for challenging the theory of a geocentric universe is a famous example of the Church's moral failure. For his advocacy of this unfolding revelation through science, Galileo spent the remainder of his life under house arrest. The God whose revelation to us is continual and ongoing also entrusts us with continual and ongoing discovery of the universe he has made.
As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist I believe science has revealed to us without equivocation that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities. They are a threat not only to God's good creation but to all of humanity. This acknowledgment of global warming, and the Church's commitment to ameliorating it, is a part of the ongoing discovery of God's revelation to humanity and a call to a fuller understanding of the scriptural imperative of loving our neighbor.
Global warming is real and a threat to God’s creation (the theme of my sermon this past Sunday). Unfortunately, despite the scientific reality of this crisis and the theological and social implications of our actions (or inactions) to stop global warming there are still those who insist there is nothing to worry about…or even that global warming is not real. President Bush has largely adhered to that viewpoint. And today representatives from the Southern Baptist Convention and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, two groups known for parroting White House views, testified before the Senate and argued quite tragically that the climate change crisis we face is not the problem it is made out to be. IRD president Jim Tonkowich told the committee:
The kind of radical fideism that some evangelical Christians are exhibiting toward catastrophic global warming is a betrayal of science and a betrayal of the Christian intellectual tradition…. The refusal to engage in thoughtful debate about global warming, while choosing instead to make dubious assertions about the debate being over or all scientists agreeing, is not a Christian approach to the issue—particularly when the livelihood and lives of the global poor are at stake.
IRD and other conservatives have argued that environmental protections will somehow hurt those living in poverty (an ironic position since IRD opposes anti-poverty programs both within the US and abroad).
Presiding Bishop Jefferts offered the committee a more honest reflection on the linked problem of climate change and poverty:
I join many of my colleagues and many of you on this committee in sharing a profound concern that climate change will most severely affect those living in poverty and the most vulnerable in our communities here in the United States and around the world. I want to be absolutely clear; inaction on our part is the most costly of all courses of action for those living in poverty.
The General Convention, (the governing body of the Episcopal Church), the National Council of Churches, and many Christian denominations have called on Congress to address both climate change and the needs of those living in poverty in adapting to curbs in fossil fuel use. On their behalf, I would like to offer into the record their own statements.
Over the past five years, Americans have become increasingly aware of the phenomenon of global poverty – poverty that kills 30,000 people around the world each day – and have supported Congress and the President in making historic commitments to eradicating it. We cannot triumph over global poverty, however, unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related. Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change.
Let me give you a few examples. As temperature changes increase the frequency and intensity of severe weather events around the world, poor countries -- which often lack infrastructure such as storm walls and water-storage facilities -- will divert resources away from fighting poverty in order to respond to disaster. A warmer climate will also increase the spread of diseases like malaria and tax the ability of poor countries to respond adequately. Perhaps most severely, changed rain patterns will increase the prevalence of drought in places like Africa, where only four percent of cropped land is irrigated, leaving populations without food and hamstrung in their ability to trade internationally to generate income. By 2020, between 75 and 250 million Africans are projected to be exposed to an increase of water stress due to climate change.
Conversely, just as climate change will exacerbate poverty, poverty also is hastening climate change. Most people living in poverty around the world lack access to a reliable energy source, an imbalance that must be addressed in any attempt to lift a community out of poverty. Unfortunately, financial necessity forces many to choose energy sources such as oil, coal or wood, which threaten to expand significantly the world's greenhouse emissions and thus accelerate the effects of climate change. This cycle—poverty that begets climate change, and vice versa—threatens the future of all people, rich and poor alike.
This relationship between deadly poverty and the health of creation was not lost on the world's leaders when, at the turn of the 21st century, they committed to cut global poverty in half by 2015. Their plan, which established the eight Millennium Development Goals, included a specific pledge of environmental sustainability. This year marks the halfway point in the world's effort to achieve these goals, and while progress has been impressive in some places, we are nowhere close to halfway there. Addressing climate change is a critical step toward putting the world back on track.
Climate change and poverty are linked at home as well. We know that those living in poverty, particularly minorities, in the United States will suffer a disproportionate share of the effects of climate change. In July of 2004, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation released a report entitled African Americans and Climate Change: An Unequal Burden that concluded "there is a stark disparity in the United States between those who benefit from the causes of climate change and those who bear the costs of climate change." The report finds that African Americans are disproportionately burdened by the health effects of climate change, including increased deaths from heat waves and extreme weather, as well as air pollution and the spread of infectious diseases. African American households spend more money on direct energy purchases as a percentage of their income than non African Americans across every income bracket and are more likely to be impacted by the economic instability caused by climate change, than other groups. That report makes a strong case for our congressional leaders to propose legislation to reduce carbon emissions that does not put a greater share of the cost on those living in poverty.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts was joined by “John Carr of the department of social development and world peace at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops; Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center,” in urging action to stop global warming before it is to late (according to ENS).
You can add your voice to those religious leaders trying to save creation by clicking here.