November 18, 2009
Leading environmental scientists and evangelical Christians join forces to lobby senators in support of the climate bill
The handful of Senators trying to rustle up support for Obama's energy and climate change legislation in Congress could certainly do with some inspiration, or even divine intervention – so an initiative this week by scientists and evangelical leaders is especially timely.
Members of the two camps paired up in a campaign on Capitol Hill to lobby Senators to support the bill. Evangelicals are the bedrock of the Republican party and are often seen as sceptical of science, from global warming to evolution. So the initiative's core argument is: if evangelicals can find it in their hearts to support action on climate change, why can't senators have a similar conversion?
As they began their rounds on Tuesday, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, confirmed that a climate change bill would have to wait until next spring.
The delay suggests a further weakening of political will to cut America's greenhouse gas emissions, which Republicans and conservative Democrats say will deepen the economic recession.
But Richard Cizik, a former executive of the National Association of Evangelicals, who is one of the leaders of the initiative, argues there is far broader support among religious communities for action on climate change that is widely understood. The younger generations especially are passionately concerned about the environment.
"These evangelicals have an intensity level that even some in the environmental community don't have. They believe this is their God-given calling," he said. "When you realise you have missed something – as I did when I had a conversion on these issues – you become like a new convert to the faith, a passionate activist."
For many, the connection between climate change and poverty in the developing world – a core issue for many churches – was crucial in forcing a rethink on climate change issues.
"There has been for some in this country a conflict between faith and religion and science and so climate change has been in certain ways a victim of the origins debate. Scientists believe in evolution, therefore I oppose evolution."
The Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative is an effort to build bridges on the climate change issue:
Ultimately, we believe that such collaboration will capture the imagination of people worldwide who will recognise the urgency of our concerns about the environment and be moved by our willingness to put aside whatever differences we may have to work together to protect it.
The idea of leading environmental scientists and evangelical Christians meeting and working together is initially often met with surprise and some anxiety as there are clear areas of disagreement between the two groups.
However, both groups have come to understand that the devastating effects of climate change and biodiversity loss disproportionately affect people who are poor and lack the financial resources to adapt to a changing climate. This is at the heart of our groups' shared sense of moral purpose.
Among the top targets of the evangelical-scientist lobbying effort is Richard Lugar, the most senior Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee who said last week he could not vote for the current version of a climate change bill. "Senator Lugar we would hope would take a higher-profile leadership role," Cizik said. "We think there are ways to bring Republicans like Lugar on board." Lugar co-sponsored a senate briefing about the initiative with Senator John Kerry on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Other Republicans apparently are beyond redemption on the issue of climate change though. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma has famously called global warming a "hoax". "I am not persuaded that Senator Inhofe will ever be convinced that the science of climate change is real and urgent," said Cizik.
Here is the list of evangelicals and scientists involved in this week's action:
• Eric Chivian, MD, founder and director of the Centre for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School. Shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. Named by Time in 2008 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
• James J McCarthy, PhD, Alexander Agassiz professor of biological oceanography at Harvard. Past president, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Former co-chair, Impacts Working Group, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
• Nancy Knowlton, PhD, holder of the sant chair in marine science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and adjunct professor of marine biology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
• Thomas E Lovejoy, PhD, the first recipient of the newly created Heinz Centre biodiversity chair, who coined the term "biological diversity". Former chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank and assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
• Paul R Epstein, MD, MPH, associate director of the Centre for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School. Adviser to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
• Richard Cizik, D Min, senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, president of the group New Evangelicals, and former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Named by Time in 2008 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
• Gerald L Durley, PhD, an educator, psychologist, and motivational speaker, who is the pastor of the historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
• Deborah Fikes, executive adviser to the World Evangelical Alliance. Board of directors and member of the Creation Care Advisory Team, NAE.
• Joel C Hunter D Min, senior pastor of Northland Church, a megachurch with a congregation of 12,000 in Orlando, Florida. Board of directors and chairman of the creation care advisory team, NAE.