[Paleopsych] NYT: Evangelical Leaders Swing Influence Behind Effort to Combat Global Warming

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Evangelical Leaders Swing Influence Behind Effort to Combat Global Warming

    A core group of influential evangelical leaders has put its
    considerable political power behind a cause that has barely registered
    on the evangelical agenda, fighting global warming.

    These church leaders, scientists, writers and heads of international
    aid agencies argue that global warming is an urgent threat, a cause of
    poverty and a Christian issue because the Bible mandates stewardship
    of God's creation.

    The Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the
    National Association of Evangelicals and a significant voice in the
    debate, said, "I don't think God is going to ask us how he created the
    earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created."

    The association has scheduled two meetings on Capitol Hill and in the
    Washington suburbs on Thursday and Friday, where more than 100 leaders
    will discuss issuing a statement on global warming. The meetings are
    considered so pivotal that Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of
    Connecticut, and officials of the Bush administration, who are on
    opposite sides on how to address global warming, will speak.

    People on all sides of the debate say that if evangelical leaders take
    a stand, they could change the political dynamics on global warming.

    The administration has refused to join the international Kyoto treaty
    and opposes mandatory emission controls.

    The issue has failed to gain much traction in the
    Republican-controlled Congress. An overwhelming majority of
    evangelicals are Republicans, and about four out of five evangelicals
    voted for President Bush last year, according to the Pew Research

    The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of
    Evangelicals, an umbrella group of 51 church denominations, said he
    had become passionate about global warming because of his experience
    scuba diving and observing the effects of rising ocean temperatures
    and pollution on coral reefs.

    "The question is, Will evangelicals make a difference, and the answer
    is, The Senate thinks so," Mr. Haggard said. "We do represent 30
    million people, and we can mobilize them if we have to."

    In October the association paved the way for broad-based advocacy on
    the environment when it adopted "For the Health of the Nation: An
    Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility," a platform that included a
    plank on "creation care" that many evangelical leaders say was

    "Because clean air, pure water and adequate resources are crucial to
    public health and civic order," the statement said, "government has an
    obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental

    Nearly 100 evangelical leaders have signed the statement.

    But it is far from certain that a more focused statement on climate
    change would elicit a similar response.

    In recent years, however, whenever the association latched onto a new
    issue, Washington paid attention, on questions like religious
    persecution, violence in Sudan, AIDS in Africa and sex trafficking of
    young girls.

    Environmentalists said they would welcome the evangelicals as allies.

    "They have good friendships in places where the rest of the
    environmental community doesn't," Larry J. Schweiger, president and
    chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said. "For
    instance, in legislative districts where there's a very conservative
    lawmaker who might not be predisposed to pay attention to what
    environmental groups might say, but may pay attention to what the
    local faith community is saying."

    It is not as if the evangelical and environmental groups are
    collaborating, because the wedge between them remains deep, Mr. Cizik
    said. He added that evangelicals had long been uncomfortable with what
    they perceived to be the environmentalists' support for government
    regulation, population control and, if they are not entirely secular,
    new-age approaches to religion.

    Over the last three years, evangelical leaders like Mr. Cizik have
    begun to reconsider their silence on environmental questions. Some
    evangelicals have spoken out, but not many. Among them is the Rev. Jim
    Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network, who in 2002 began a
    "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign and drove a hybrid vehicle across
    the country.

    Mr. Cizik said that Mr. Ball "dragged" him to a conference on climate
    change in 2002 in Oxford, England. Among the speakers were evangelical
    scientists, including Sir John Houghton, a retired Oxford professor of
    atmospheric physics who was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
    Change, a committee that issued international reports.

    Sir John said in an interview that he had told the group that science
    and faith together provided proof that climate change should be a
    Christian concern.

    Mr. Cizik said he had a "conversion" on climate change so profound in
    Oxford that he likened it to an "altar call," when nonbelievers accept
    Jesus as their savior. Mr. Cizik recently bought a Toyota Prius, a
    hybrid vehicle.

    Mr. Cizik and Mr. Ball then asked Sir John to speak at a small meeting
    of evangelical leaders in June in Maryland called by the Evangelical
    Environmental Network, the National Association of Evangelicals and
    Christianity Today, the magazine. The leaders read Scripture and said
    they were moved by three watermen who caught crabs in Chesapeake Bay
    and said their faith had made them into environmentalists.

    Those leaders produced a "covenant" in which 29 committed to "engage
    the evangelical community" on climate change and to produce a
    "consensus statement" within a year.

    Soon, Christianity Today ran an editorial endorsing a bill sponsored
    by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, along with Mr.
    Lieberman, that would include binding curbs on heat-trapping gases.
    Mr. Ball said the strongest moral argument he made to fellow
    evangelicals was that climate change would have disproportionate
    effects on the poorest regions in the world. Hurricanes, droughts and
    floods are widely expected to intensify as a result of climate change.

    Evangelical leaders of relief and development organizations had been
    very receptive, he said.

    "Christ said, 'What you do to the least of these you do to me,' " Mr.
    Ball said. "And so caring for the poor by reducing the threat of
    global warming is caring for Jesus Christ."

    Among those speaking at the two meetings this week are Sir John and
    Dr. Mack McFarland, environmental manager for DuPont, who is to
    describe how his company has greatly reduced emissions of
    heat-trapping gases.

    Such an approach appeals to evangelicals, Mr. Haggard said, adding,
    "We want to be pro-business environmentalists."

    Mr. Cizik said he was among many evangelicals who would support some
    regulation on heat-trapping gases.

    "We're not adverse to government-mandated prohibitions on behavioral
    sin such as abortion," he said. "We try to restrict it. So why, if
    we're social tinkering to protect the sanctity of human life, ought we
    not be for a little tinkering to protect the environment?"

    Mr. Lieberman added: "Support from the evangelical and broader
    religious community can really move some people in Congress who feel
    some sense of moral responsibility but haven't quite settled on an
    exact policy response yet. This could be pivotal."

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