US Evangelicals repent, break with White House over climate change
Evangelicals, who have claimed credit for helping George Bush into the White House, have broken with the US president, and demanded action to tackle climate change and avert a global disaster.
In an apparent act of repentance for their slowness in realising the scale of the problem, eighty-six prominent figures in the movement, among them leading pastors, the heads of evangelical colleges, religious broadcasters and the Salvation Army, released a statement yesterday (Wednesday) warning that "millions of people could die this century" because of global warming - most of them in the earth's poorest regions.
They pledged their support for proposed legislation, opposed by the White House, to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Until recently global warming has not been a priority for evangelicals, most familiar for their uncompromising stances on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, and their emphasis on the nuclear family. "Many of us required considerable convincing" that it was a problem, the statement acknowledges. But, it declared: "Now we have seen and heard enough."
It will be taken as a welcome sign by many Christians that conservatives are expanding their previously narrow political agenda.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners in the US, whose book on the Religious Right will be launched in the UK next week, is amongst those who have urged conservatives to broaden their horizons.
The evangelical manifesto will be followed up with information campaigns at evangelical churches, schools and universities across the US, supported by radio and television broadcasts.
A TV ad will declare; "With God's help, we can stop global warming for our kids, our world and our Lord".
All will spread the message that the government must act to curb carbon dioxide emissions, preferably by "cost-effective, market-based mechanisms".
That last is a nod in the direction of the business community, which evangelicals have generally supported in the past. But the new urgency - spurred by Hurricane Katrina and by the devastation of drought and starvation, witnessed first hand by evangelical missionaries in the Third World - is striking nonetheless.
The initiative is actively opposed by some of the biggest names in the movement - among them James Dobson, the head of the influential conservative group Focus on the Family, who signed a public letter last month claiming "global warming is not a consensus issue", and urging the National Association of Evangelicals, the movement's umbrella group, not to take a position on it.
Thus far the association has not done so - but there is little doubt which way it is moving. Although neither Ted Haggard, its president, nor the Rev Richard Cizik, the vice-president, has signed the manifesto, the latter made his feelings plain in a television interview last month. "We, as evangelical Christians, have a responsibility to God, who owns this property we call Earth," Mr Cizik told the PBS public broadcasting network. "We don't own it. We're simply to be stewards of it. And if climate change is occurring, can we simply ... pretend it isn't happening?".
However, the names of most of the president's most influential Christian political backers were notably absent from the list of signatories joining the campaign. Possibly the best-known signer was Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life."
The Christian leaders said they were impelled by their faith to launch the campaign out of a growing realization that the threat of global warming was real and that the world's poor would suffer the most.
Paul de Vries, president of New York Divinity School, said: "However we treat the world, that's how we are treating Jesus because He is the cosmic glue."
The leaders said a poll they commissioned of 1,000 evangelical Protestants showed that two thirds were convinced global warming was taking place. Additionally, 63 percent said the United States must start to address the issue immediately and half said it must act even if there was a high economic cost.
Such sentiments are not those of the Bush White House, which has resolutely played down climate change and mankind's responsibility for it. Arguing that market forces will resolve the problem, it has regularly tried to gag anyone in the administration who suggests otherwise.
But unease among evangelicals will only have grown after last week's State of the Union address, in which Mr Bush - though he referred to America's "addiction to oil" - did not once mention climate change or global warming. And their unease will not be easy to ignore, given the political importance of the evangelical vote. In 2004 it split four to one in favour of Mr Bush, accounting for a third of his support.
Yesterday's statement is also proof of how religious groups feel increasingly obliged to speak out on global warming. The trend has seen the religious right make common cause with liberal Episcopalians and others on the "religious left", joined by some Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish groups. In 15 states, interdenominational groups are seeking regional standards to reduce emissions, Paul Gorman, director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, told The New York Times.
The campaign by evangelicals coincided with a call on Wednesday by a U.S. think tank for the United States to take immediate steps to fight global warming, including working with other nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Pew Centre for Global Climate Change said in a report that America has waited too long to seriously tackle the climate change problem and spelled out 15 steps the United States could take to reduce emissions it spews as the world's biggest energy consumer and producer of greenhouse gases.
"This transition will not be easy, but it is crucial to begin now," the Pew Centre said. "Further delay will only make the challenge before us more daunting and more costly."
The United States, with around 5 percent of the world's population, accounts for a quarter of its greenhouse gases and U.S. emissions rose by 2 percentage points in 2004 alone, according to government figures.
The McCain-Lieberman bill has failed to win passage twice in the Senate, although a majority there did adopt a non-binding resolution to cap emissions. The issue has not come up for a vote in the House of Representatives.
The Bush administration opposes imposing mandatory limits and backs voluntary efforts by companies. It has also refused to join the Kyoto Protocol, an international accord signed by the European Union, Japan and most other industrialized nations that sets hard targets for cutting emissions.
The Pew Foundation also recommended boosting renewable fuel output and providing financial incentives to farmers to spur absorption of greenhouse gas emissions on farm lands.
U.S. government weather forecasters reported on Tuesday that the nation's January temperatures were the warmest on record, beating the average for the month by 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit (4.7 degrees C). Two weeks ago NASA scientists confirmed that 2005 was the hottest year ever recorded worldwide.