Faith efforts add to climate debate

BY HEATHER MOYER | BOSTON | July 20, 2001



"It's exciting to realize how much unity there is in this."

—Marcia Leitch, WV Interfaith Global Climate Change Campaign


The United Nations released another report

about global warming earlier this month -- this time saying that

global warming is happening two times faster than the rate predicted

six years ago. Global warming and climate change are the hot button

issues in today's politics, and it's not just mainstream

environmental organizations that are getting involved.

From church youth groups selling energy efficient fluorescent light

bulbs as a fundraiser, to church leaders sitting down to talk policy

with their legislators, faith-based organizations are actively

engaged in the issue of global climate change.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) has an Eco-Justice Working

Group that's been focusing on global warming and climate change since

1998. "We've taken more than a stance on the issue, we have a major

campaign going," said the Rev. Richard Kilmer, Director of

Environmental Justice for the NCC. Kilmer said they have 18 major

state ecumenical and interfaith campaigns operating. "The campaign

has expanded every year since we started working on it," he said.

Kilmer said their group is focusing on four major categories:

Education of congregations and judicatories (regional denominational

bodies); ways churches can be more energy efficient; campaign moves

toward education and awareness for the general public through use of

the media; and public policy and advocacy -- talking to government

officials and legislators.

Marcia Leitch is the Coordinator of the West Virginia Interfaith

Global Climate Change Campaign, one of NCC's state teams. Their

education tactics have included everything from handing out resource

handbooks to congregations on why global climate change is a

religious issue, to holding Bible studies regarding climate change,

to doing energy efficiency presentations. "It's our responsibility

to care for God's creation," said Leitch.

Leitch says she is very happy with the success they've had in their

only two years of existence, and loves the diversity in the movement.

"It's exciting to realize how much unity there is in this, the

example is how many groups across the religious spectrum --

Buddhists, Christians, and more -- are involved in this," said Leitch.

Diversity is also apparent in the "umbrella" organization through

which NCC also gets their work done. The National Religious

Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) is an alliance of major faith

groups and denominations among Jewish and Christian communities and

organizations in the United States. The four founding members of the

NRPE are the NCC, the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Coalition on the

Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), and the Evangelical

Environmental Network (EEN).

According to NRPE's mission statement, their aim "is integrating care

for God's creation throughout religious life: theology, worship,

social teaching, education, congregational life, and public policy

initiative. And (they) seek to provide inspiration, moral vision, and

commitment to social justice for all efforts to protect the natural

world and human well-being within it."

COEJL's main environmental campaign right now is global warming, and

they run it very much like the NCC, with much work being done in its

various state chapters, according to Judy Lehrer, the COEJL

Coordinator of the Greater Boston Area Chapter. Education is their

main method of activism, she said, but they've also just started up

with a local campaign called the "Solar Boston Initiative."

"Solar Boston has us doing outreach to synagogues and day schools in

the area and evaluating and installing solar technology," she said.

Lehrer said they are also part of the "Let There Be Light" movement

where they've had over 36 religious leaders from many different

denominations sign a petition stating that they believe global

warming is a moral and justice issue that resonates in the religious

community.

In June, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) released a

statement called "Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue,

Prudence and the Common Good." According to the statement, it is

meant more as an encouragement to fulfill an obligation as Christians

rather than to take sides with any political parties. "At its core,

global climate change is not about economic theory or political

platforms," says the statement, "nor about partisan advantage or

interest group pressures. It is about the future of God's creation

and the one human family. As bishops, we are not scientists or public

policymakers. We enter this debate not to embrace a particular

treaty, nor to urge particular technical solutions, but to call for a

different kind of national discussion."

USCC Director of Environmental Justice Walter Grazer says the USCC

looks at global warming as a long-range issue, saying that political

partisanship in this issue will only make things more challenging.

"This is a question that affects the whole planet -- a question of

the common good," he said. "We don't want people to think of this in

a narrow viewpoint where you only consider yourself. We're not

trying to play scientist, we're trying to say let's discuss it and

rise above our narrow interests to look at the common good."

Grazer said they are not leading any state campaigns on the issue,

but that they do educate and that there are many Catholics active on

their own on the local level. "We're not getting into 'hey, don't go

buy an SUV' with our members," he said. "But education does help

shape the public opinion, so we do look for ways to get the message

out to the media."

The controversy over the reality of global warming and whether it's

actually human-caused has some taking a different approach to the

issue. One such organization is the Acton Institute . Based in

Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Acton Institute is an organization

"devoted to religion and liberty."

"(Since) our responsibility at Acton is to be a think-tank," said

Acton Institute Director of Programs Rev. Jerry Zandstra, "We simply

say, let's take a look at the principles."

Zandstra says it is important that all people of faith be concerned

about the Earth. "Stewardship is a biblical concept, especially when

it comes to Earth-keeping," he said. "But what does it mean to be a

steward of the earth? We have to match it with where humans fit on

the Earth."

Zandstra said that the controversy surrounding the issue comes down

to the science involved. "The science that (these studies) are in is

forecasting the future, making educated guesses," he said. "So the

scientists not only have to study the current moment, but also that

last five to 10,000 years, and then gauge it. That's very difficult.

Both sides (of this issue) need to acknowledge that they're

forecasting, and unfortunately not everyone is doing that."

The Acton Institute held an environmental conference last year with

people from many different faith backgrounds, Zandstra said. At the

conference, the attendees produced a document called the "Cornwall

Declaration." "The document says that we do need to be stewards, but

we also need to be scientifically sound," he said. "There are a lot

of politics involved in (this issue of global warming), which makes

it more complicated. You have to get down to who pays for the

studies (on climate change and global warming)."

Despite controversy over whether or not global warming actually is

happening and whether or not it is human caused, leaders say they

have a responsibility to raise the issue. "Even if we're totally

wrong about it, good stewardship is still necessary," said Leitch.

"We can't go wrong with this, we all know that we need to start

consuming less."


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