Tag Archives: Evangelical Environmental Network

Evangelicals, Catholics and Climate Pollution: The Sleeping Giant is Stirring

This just might be the year.

After a string of losses and frustration spanning more than a decade, this looks like the year that efforts by the Christian faith community to protect the world’s climate systems are starting to pay off. When historians look back to pinpoint the turning point in the battle against climate catastrophe, I’m beginning to believe they will focus on this time – 2015.

Why this year? Well, consider:

  • The world’s two largest economies – the US and China – have finally agreed this year to serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and have called on the rest of the world to do the same.
  • With the global climate meetings planned for early December in Paris, the rest of the world is getting on board as well. So far, fifty-three countries representing the vast majority of the global economy have already submitted plans for cutting climate-warming pollution. Among them, Russia, Japan, and the entire European Union have joined the US and China, committing to significant reductions in carbon emissions.
  • The leader of the world’s largest religion, Pope Francis, has issued an urgent call to action by all Christians to protect the creation in the face of manmade climate impacts that fall most heavily on the poor.
  • And with the pivotal climate summit in Paris only four months away, American evangelical Christians have launched a new community – Climate Caretakers – committing themselves to prayer and action in response to the climate crisis.

Climate Caretakers isn’t remotely the first evangelical foray into the struggle to protect the creation from climate-warming pollution. During the past decade, American Christians issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative, concluding that “Christians must care about climate change….” The 190-nation evangelical Lausanne Movement issued a call to action, finding that “the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change.” The Evangelical Environmental Network gathered many thousands of signatures in support of limits on carbon and mercury pollution from power plants. The National Association of Evangelicals clarified the link between Jesus’ command to love “the least of these” with the duty to protect the environment. The Christian Reformed Church adopted an exhaustive endorsement of the findings of climate science and called on all Christians to take action. And the Orthodox “green patriarch” Bartholomew has issued unrelenting calls for compassionate climate action, as have Anglican and other Protestant denominations.Sign CCC 2

But in launching Climate Caretakers, Christians are offering a simple way that the faithful can commit to pray and act in ways that demonstrate love for their Father by protecting his world, and to love others by protecting the natural systems vital to their survival. They are inviting Christians to do the following:

  • Affirm God’s purpose for his creation to flourish.
  • Confess the harm that we have each done to God’s world and his people.
  • Recognize the cloud of witnesses who testify to the impact of climate disruption upon the poor of the world.
  • Commit to faithful prayer and bold action in pursuit of lasting solutions to the climate crisis.

They envision a world in which delegates from every nation will be prayed for regularly as climate negotiations proceed; a world with thousands of Christians considering daily what it means to be a steward of their Father’s creation; one in which children know that their elders care deeply about the world they will inherit; and where policymakers know that they must answer to a growing movement of compassion for the innocent victims of unrestrained, unlimited and unpriced pollution.

The Climate Caretakers Commitment has been made by pastors, scientists, denominational leaders, educators and lay people. And it’s easy to join them, by signing the commitment at http://climatecaretakers.org .

This could well be the year that the dam of denial and apathy finally bursts under pressure from praying believers. All of us can be among those changing history by our faithful prayers and compassionate action. You are invited to join them.

And yet, the painful reality is that many otherwise compassionate Christians will remain disengaged. Some will be confused by the gaggle of “think-tanks” dedicated to manufactured doubt about climate science. Others will be lulled into inaction by airwaves choked with cheery ads about “clean coal” and “safe” fracking. Others will mistakenly conflate care for God’s creation with liberal politics. Still others will be tempted to give up, because of entrenched politicians smearing science as a “massive hoax” and vowing to scuttle even skeletal efforts at global climate cooperation.

But I believe that this tide too has begun to turn. We’re seeing today that the truth can only be suppressed for just so long. Today, a solid majority of voters in the key swing states support climate action. Politicians who once denied climate science have revised their script to simply assert that they are not scientists, hoping to satisfy their polluting donors while not appearing laughable to voters. Young people, Catholics, and people of color have become especially concerned about the climate crisis.

This may be the year that the tide finally turns. We all have a choice whether or not to engage for the sake of God’s world and his people. Or perhaps we’ll try to just get along. Won’t you join me in one small step? Log on to Climate Caretakers. Make the commitment to pray and act. It might not seem like much at first, but maybe you’ll end up being a hero to your grandkids.

It may take time, but let’s start praying – and acting – now.

J. Elwood

Governor, the Scientists and Theologians Want to Talk to You

Imagine a press conference in Washington.

  • Q: “Governor, do you advocate drinking toxic sludge?”
  • A: “I don’t know, I’m not a scientist.”
  • Q: “Well Governor, is jumping off the north rim of the Grand Canyon safe?  And is it a good idea to place my head in the jaws of a lion?”
  • A: “I told you, I’m not a scientist.”

Silly, right? No one talks like that. We take firm positions on all kinds of things in reliance on the expertise of others. And that’s why it’s been so strange to hear “I’m not a scientist” from politicians dodging questions about climate change.

Consider Florida Governor Rick Scott. On May 27th at a campaign stop in Miami, the Miami Herald reported this interchange:

  • Q: “Do you believe man-made climate change is significantly affecting the weather, the climate?”
  • A: “Well, I’m not a scientist. But let’s talk about what we’ve done…. But I’m not a scientist.”
  • Q: “In 2011 or 2010, you were much more doubtful about climate change. Now you’re sounding less doubtful about man-made climate change….”
  • A: “Well, I’m not a scientist. But I can tell you what we’ve accomplished….”
  • Q: “So do you believe in the man-made influence on climate change?”
  • A: “Nice seeing you guys.”
Florida Gov. Scott, not a scientist

Florida Gov. Scott, not a scientist

Or consider House Speaker John Boehner. On May 29th, he took the podium to criticize the EPA’s proposed power-plant carbon standards, which aim to reduce climate-warming emissions.

“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Boehner said. “But I am astute to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs. That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes to our climate.”

Boehner protests that he’s not qualified to debate climate science, but he’s pretty sure about the economics. For the record, he is neither a scientist nor an economist.

And then there’s a second Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio. “Denial is a loaded term,” he told ABC News on May 11th. “I’ve never denied that there is a climate change. The question is: Is man-made activity causing the changes in the climate?”

If you’re waiting for Rubio’s answer, I’m so sorry. Rubio isn’t a scientist. He’s not going to venture a position.

Of course, people who aren’t scientists usually have a way of getting to the bottom of scientific issues: For the most part, they listen to the actual scientists. In this case, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (among scores of other authorities) has found that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field of climatology support the scientific consensus on manmade climate change. Further, they report that the 2-3 percent who don’t agree possess comparatively low expertise and prominence in the field.

In fact, not being a scientist is almost always a reason to seek out and heed the advice of those who are. We can all appreciate skepticism about medicine, or physics, or biology. But none of us respects it from someone who is totally unlearned in the field being debated. “I’m skeptical, but I’m not a scientist?”  That doesn’t carry much weight in virtually any arena.

Except maybe politics, it would appear.

But there is a risk to this approach. What if actual scientists offer to sit down with you, and explain the facts in easily understood layman’s terms? You might just have to listen, right?

And that’s what’s just happened to Florida’s Governor Scott. Last week, ten prominent Florida climate scientists offered to give him a crash course in climate change science.

“We are scientists,” they said in a letter to the governor, contrasting themselves with Scott’s not-a-scientist narrative.

“Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists — seekers of evidence and explanations. As a result, we feel uniquely qualified to assist you in understanding what’s already happening in the climate system so you may make the most effective decisions about what must be done to protect the state, including reducing emissions from fossil-fuel-burning power plants.”

Of course, this is Scott’s worst nightmare. “I’m not a scientist” somehow seems much more forgivable than “I understand the problem but don’t want to run afoul of my oil company donors.” Or even: “Okay, it’s a problem, but let’s let the kids deal with it.”

Flooding without rain: Miami Beach streets at high tide

Flooding without rain: Miami Beach streets at high tide

The scientists said that they could bring the governor up to speed in about a half an hour. “It’s not rocket science,” said their spokesman, Jeff Chandon of Florida State University. Chandon plans to walk the governor through millions of years of temperature data, which has risen whenever the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, and fallen when it decreased. But those concentrations also never ranged outside of 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stands at 400 ppm, and is rising fast.

This is not good for the unknowing Scott, currently locked in a tight reelection race for the votes of Floridians, two-thirds of whom are convinced of the near-term peril to their state from the changing climate, according to a Yale University study. So he initially agreed to send a staffer to meet with the scientists. But when his rival, former Governor Charlie Crist agreed to sit down with the scientists in person, Scott relented, and the crash course is now on.

But another group of experts is also trying to meet with the governor, with less success so far. Reverend Mitchell Hescox, the head of the Evangelical Environmental Network, has asked for a meeting with Scott, a professing Christian, to discuss the moral and spiritual implications of climate change on the vulnerable people of Florida.

“Florida, your home, literally represents ground zero,” wrote Hescox in a letter to the governor last week. “Sea level rise, more extreme weather, saltwater contaminated wells, loss of farm land and increased air pollution all pose significant threats to the health and well-being of Floridians.”

Hescox, an outspoken conservative, assured the governor that this has nothing to do with politics. “It’s a moral challenge to all Americans. It is a call to follow our Risen Lord and act to prepare for the impacts, many of which are already happening, and to work to reduce our carbon pollution to help our children, now and in the future.”

So far, Hescox hasn’t gotten too far. He’s collected more than 57,000 signatures from Floridians urging Scott to develop a plan to address climate change. But the governor isn’t planning on meeting him. Lots of Hescox’s fellow Christians have begun to pray, and next Tuesday, Hescox is planning to knock on Scott’s door with his 57,000 signatures, his Bible, and his plea for justice for “the least of these,” who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Who knows? Maybe the scientists will help Scott understand things well enough to realize that his state faces a crisis. And maybe Hescox’s boldness will get him in the door, for a few prophetic words to a fellow believer.

For me, I’m joining those who are praying for both meetings. Florida is indeed ground zero. But it’s not too late for its leaders to take action to reduce the harm, especially for those leaders who believe that “the earth (including Florida) is the Lord’s, and all its fullness” Psalm 24:1.


Climate Denial: Have Christians Become Irrelevant?

I’ve just gotten back from a beautiful spring day in Boston, where I took in a brilliant theatre performance of “The Whale,” Samuel Hunter’s moving story of the perpetual struggle between the sanctity and beauty of people, and the standards and rules by which we make sense of the world. The characters in the play were all deeply flawed. But notable among them was an archetypical religious person – a Mormon teenager on “mission.”

Of course, the teen is the perfect religious foil for people wrestling with profound human concerns: He exudes blind certainty with respect to irrelevant and implausible doctrines, and relentless sincerity in “saving” others from being different from himself. For me, as a public adherent to the Christian faith, I sat in the audience torn between relief that the playwright had plucked the low-hanging fruit of a Mormon door-knocker, and the discomfort of knowing that the role could have been filled almost as easily by many of my co-religionists – or perhaps even by me.

At home again this morning, the news served up a fresh reminder of why our culture sees religion the way it so often does. As we all know, the world’s climate scientists meeting in Yokohama had just released their most dire warnings ever about the impact of manmade climate change. Last September, their science report had finally put to rest any serious scientific debate over the basic facts of global climate change and its principal causes. Today, they’re telling us that the crisis is not one we’re leaving for the grandkids: it’s landed already, and it’s threatening to starve the poorest and most vulnerable humans right now, with worse to come. And while some Christians leapt to the defense of the world’s climate victims, others again dusted off their nearly incomprehensible claims that they know more than the scientists, and that it’s all an alarmist conspiracy.

September’s IPCC science report was the fifth in a three-decade series of global assessments of the state of climate science – each one more certain than its predecessor. The science is now 95% sure that the planet is dangerously warming due to human greenhouse gas emissions and human changes in land use. We’re using way too much coal (for electricity), oil and gas; and we’re destroying way too many forests and wetlands. We’re as sure of this as we are that smoking causes cancer. Never 100% sure, of course. That would be doctrine, not science. But 95%. Denying this is like betting the kids’ college fund on a 20-to-1 hunch.

This week’s impact report tells us more about what the climate science conclusions actually mean to people, other creatures and their habitats. And it’s not pretty. With high or very-high confidence, the world’s climate researchers now agree that during the current century, our disruption of the climate will mean:

  • Lower crop yields, increasing hunger, and higher food costs, all of which will land hardest on the poor and on poor countries.
  • Failure of rural communities due the drying up of fresh water systems on farms.
  • Collapse of fishing communities due to the failure of marine ecosystems in warmer and more acidic oceans.
  • Flooding or inundation of coastal communities as melting ice sheets and thermal expansion accelerate sea-level rise.
  • Increase in human migration as climate-change refugees look for new places to support themselves and their families.
  • Acceleration in the extinction of species of plants and animals, which is already at historic highs.

Among Christians, the Evangelical Environmental Network was first out of the blocks. More hunger? More thirst? More destroyed communities? Harm to the poor? This isn’t all that hard for Christians, as you would assume. EEN released the following statement:

“The current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report provides even more evidence for what we have known for some time: climate impacts have and will continue to hit the poor the hardest, those least able to cope with the consequences, especially children and the elderly.”

Ben Lowe, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

Ben Lowe, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

And then came Young Evangelicals for Climate Action: “We can now see the impacts of climate disruption growing in our country and all over the world,” said Ben Lowe, the group’s spokesperson. “This is a moral issue that requires our church and political leaders to wake up and step up. The decisions they make today affect not just the present, but also the rest of my generation’s future.”

Of course. This is what you would expect from people whose Bible sets forth explicit commands for feeding the hungry and thirsty, and caring for the poor and the sojourner. Indeed, the consensus of evangelical Christians declarations calling for urgent moral action on climate change is consistent and overwhelming.

But it wouldn’t be long before a much more sinister voice would speak up. The Cornwall Alliance, a group that claims to be both scientific and evangelical, managed to convince The Christian Post that it had produced a “scientific report” that found key evidence that the world’s scientists had ignored.

“The human impact on global climate is small,” they claimed, “and any warming that may occur as a result of human carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions is likely to have little effect on global temperatures, the cryosphere (ice-covered areas), hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, and rivers), or weather.”

In effect, they say, you can believe the world’s climate scientists, and the broad consensus of research that they have conducted, or you can believe us – us Christians (maybe?) who know better. Never mind that we don’t conduct any of the climate research ourselves. Never mind that we don’t represent a single Christian denomination. Never mind that the world’s actual climate researchers warn of profound injustices perpetrated upon the poor of the earth – starvation, inundation, displacement and the wars and atrocities that generally accompany such traumas – even though they’ve contributed little to the problem.

In 2012, the Christian Reformed Church and its 1,300 congregations in North America specifically analyzed the Cornwall group’s claims and publications. “Considering the limited number of authors and their lack of religious credentials,” they wrote in a 130-page report, “it is somewhat disingenuous to label these as evangelical documents.” They continued: “Because of the absence of biblical references, presence of other ideologies commingled in its theological background, and outright denial of science on the issue of climate change, we do not discuss further the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship or recommend it for study.”

And finally, said the Christian Reformed Church, “The positions expressed in the Cornwall Declaration are in general inconsistent with our perception of biblical stewardship and with our observations of what is occurring in our world today.”

But … somehow, they persuaded The Christian Post to give them equal time, and to buy their flimsy claims to legitimacy – long since debunked by both scientists and churchmen.

And so the secular culture has yet another reason to dismiss and to revile those who cling to faith in the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The global community is struggling with existential threats, among them the collapse of ecosystems under the weight of climate change. Do Christians have something real to offer? Or are we no more relevant than that Mormon teenager on Mission?