US religious groups urge strong action to reduce greenhouse gases

December 8, 2009
The National Religious Coalition on Creation Care
Press Release

Copenhagen, Denmark - As the climate summit opens in Copenhagen, a coalition of religious organizations will present a collection of statements to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging strong action to reduce greenhouse gases. This will emphasize that climate change is a moral and ethical issue because it deals with lifestyle issues and choices that all people must face.

        Major U.S. religious organizations over the past several years have issued numerous statements about the threats posed by changes caused by humans to the world’s climate. Roman Catholics, Jews, Mainline Protestants and most Evangelicals are united in seeing spiritual implications to the problems represented by human actions.

        Speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, from Washington, DC, declared, “climate change is a profoundly moral and spiritual problem.” Catholic bishops are very concerned and they will be promoting a new Climate Covenant. They will take the message on the seriousness of climate change to every Catholic parish in America.

        Cardinal McCarrick’s statement reflects the position of Pope Benedict XVI who has spoken repeatedly about the climate problem. “Attention to climate change is a matter of grave importance for the entire human family," said Pope Benedict XVI before a gathering in Saint Peter’s Square.

        Rabbi Warren Stone, representing the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC), and also serving as the environmental chair for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, declared, “Our religious traditions compel us to act boldly for justice. This is something we all share in common and it is a shared source of strength and inspiration upon which we must draw. There is no one fixed or easy answer. Now is the time to act.”

        Rabbi Stone will present these statements to the Office of Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and urge him to press for rapid and bold action to address the rising levels of greenhouse gases.

        The Rev. Michael Livingston, president of the National Council of Churches, observed that “While not all of us agree on much,” the churches within the NCC “do agree on the need to protect God's creation. It has become clear that global warming will have devastating impact on those in poverty around the world.”

        The Rev. Owen Owens, past chair of the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group and co-chair for the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, emphasized the importance of addressing climate change. “This is one of the most serious issues society faces.” The way each person lives is at the root of the problem. “Pursuing a wise and responsible lifestyle becomes a moral and ethical issue on which churches have a responsibility to speak.” This, he explained, is why every major religious organization has a statement on climate change and calls for strong action to hold off this threat to the future welfare of our planet.

        Dr. Thomas English, Creation Care Educator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), from San Diego, Calif., states that the midrange predictions of global warming will result in mass extinctions of plants and animals by the end of the century. These extinctions will profoundly disrupt the food web for people over the entire Earth. This unprecedented collapse of food supply will lead to a collapse of the economic system of many countries. People will attempt to ease their suffering by migration to other countries. Global migration will increase international tensions causing nations to war with one another. The apocalyptic disruptions would undoubtedly lead to thermonuclear warfare. This catastrophe can be avoided by the world’s leaders taking action now to halt the increases of greenhouse gases.

         Evangelicals too have addressed the climate problem, although with a less consistent voice. Three years ago, 86 top U.S. evangelical Christian leaders launched the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which calls upon all Christians to push for legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

        The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, says that global warming is also a social justice issue. He added, "Climate changes, in terms of famine, in terms of the inability to grow crops, in terms of the flooding of islands, most affects the poor.... So we here in America probably can do many things to exempt ourselves from the immediate consequences, but the front edge of disaster is most going to affect those who have the least.”

        Anderson is one of the evangelical leaders who challenged the Bush administration on global warming. As a signatory to the "Evangelical Call to Action" (on climate change), he argues that there's no real scientific debate about the dangers of climate change. The group is calling on the government to act urgently by, among other things, passing federal legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

        Mrs. Connie Hanson, an evangelical Presbyterian and president of Christians Caring for Creation, in Pasadena, California, urged strong action by those in Copenhagen. “Climate change is already disrupting the lives of many people and it is threatening many of God's precious creatures, often the most vulnerable of the Lord's children.”

        The Rev. Richard Cizik, former vice president for the National Association of Evangelicals, estimates that about 84 percent of evangelicals already support mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. He has said that this is not a matter of political persuasion so much as “moral leadership.”

        Eastern Orthodox Christians are also concerned about climate change. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has convened a series of international symposia to study environmental problems generally and climate change specifically. His findings have led him to declare that climate change is “a profoundly moral and spiritual problem.” “We paternally urge every person to realize their responsibility and to do whatever they can to avert the increase of the earth’s temperature.”

        Following the lead of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Rev. John Chryssavgis, from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, says that there is no longer room for negotiating with nature. “At the Copenhagen Summit, we must assume courageous initiatives in our attitudes toward the treatment of the earth's resources and assume generous leadership in supporting the burden of the poor.” 

        Rabbi Warren Stone, who serves as co-chair for the NRCCC, observed that Copenhagen will serve as a stage for the next step in the world’s response to climate change. “We are called by our religious traditions to serve as a bold voice for justice. Climate change will have a dramatic impact on hundreds of millions of the poorest people on our planet, especially those who live in coastal areas.

        “In Judaism there is a profound and powerful mandate for caring for the Earth. In a world where matters of faith often seem to divide us, there is no issue which aligns us more deeply than our shared dependence upon this tiny planet.

        “It is our moral responsibility to the world community,” continued Rabbi Stone, “to take decisive action now! A treaty and legislation, though helpful, will not be enough. We need to change our way of life toward sustainability. Religious communities understand the importance of spiritual values as guiding our choices. We need to shift the way we live toward more sustainability. Our common future demands nothing less. Now is the time for a cultural shift in our way of living.”

        Statements in the packets for delegates, assembled by the new national religious coalition, will represent the positions of Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Southern Baptists, Eastern Orthodox Christians and United Methodists, among others, all of whom have strong statements regarding the importance of action to hold off climate change.

This press advisory was assembled by Warren Stone in Washington, Fred Krueger in San Francisco, and Jim Davidson in St. Paul, with Margaret Bullitt-Jonas in Amherst, Mass., Connie Hanson in Los Angeles, and Tom English in San Diego.

For press contact or further information, please contact Frederick Krueger at (707) 573-3161.