Religious Conviction and Climate Change

Fri, 02/01/2008

Many faith communities representing the breath and depth of religious life in America have come together to call for a proactive response to the growing threat of global climate change. On this issue, we are guided by scriptural command to care for God's creation and to “love our neighbors” as we promote the common good of the entire human family. But we are particularly driven by our moral obligation to stand up for the voiceless and vulnerable – those who have contributed the least to the problem yet stand to suffer the most from it. Experts tell us people living in poverty and on the margins of society will not only be put at greatest risk environmentally by the physical impacts of climate change, they could also bear the greatest burden economically from any large-scale program to reduce global warming. The varieties of Jewish and Christian communities hold a common ground in the belief that good earth is God's beloved and gifted creation. They know a common sense of responsibility for cherishing our planet's blessings, respecting its limits, and safeguarding our neighbors and all creatures. Within their own particular religious communities, people can speak their own language, draw upon the riches of their own traditions, and act through their own networks and institutions. Such “in-house” work can be efficient and effective. It respects the integrity of the community's faith and the distinctiveness of its gifts. But there are also times for followers of diverse faiths to speak or act together. When people from across the religious spectrum cry out with one voice against environmental injustice and the abuse of creation. When hands reach across religious divides to mend and tend a frayed and fragile portion of the earth, they may accomplish together what none could do alone. Without diluting their individuality or compromising their principles, they bear a common witness to the Creator's will for a flourishing, living earth. At this critical moment in history, many share a deep conviction that global climate change presents an unprecedented threat to the integrity of life on Earth and a challenge to universal values that bind us as human beings. Highly regarded institutions in the international scientific community have reached a consensus on causes and potential consequences of climate change. Citing “discernable human influence on global climate,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the main human-made greenhouse gas affected by human activity, has not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years and likely not during the past 20 million years. According to a 2001 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, “Climate change simulations for the period of 1990-2100 based on the IPCC emissions scenarios yield a globally-averaged surface temperature increase by the end of the century of 1.4 to 5.8C (2.5 to 10.4F) relative to 1990… Even in the more conservative scenarios, the models project temperatures and sea levels that continue to increase well beyond the end of this century.” Among the predicted consequences of climate change are more frequent occurrences of heat waves, drought, torrential rains, and floods; global sea level rise between one-half and three feet; increase of tropical diseases in now temperate regions; significant reduction in biodiversity. All these conditions would seriously affect human health and well-being. And, according to the IPCC, “the impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor within all countries, and thereby exacerbate inequities in health status and access to adequate food, clean water, and other resources. When “discernable human influence” is determined to be a cause of destruction, we are dealing with moral and ethical concerns as well as scientific and policy issues. These are shaped by religious convictions. In Judeo-Christian scripture, all creation, by God's handicraft, is deemed “good”. Because “the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1), its gifts are intended for the benefit of all. Humans are called into covenant with their creator as stewards of life. In love, we care for the conditions of one another's well-being; in justice we attend first to the needs of the most vulnerable. When significant danger threatens, the traditional value of prudence requires us to prevent damage to the common good. All these obligations apply to the protection of future generations.