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Climate change, global poverty linked, Presiding Bishop tells Senate committee

Jefferts Schori calls for immediate action on urgent concerns

[Episcopal News Service] Calling global warming "one of the great human and spiritual challenges of our time," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee June 7 during a hearing titled "An Examination of the Views of Religious Organizations Regarding Global Warming."

Representing the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) and the Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori said, "As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist I believe science has revealed to us without equivocation that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities."

Jefferts Schori was the first of seven faith leaders to testify at the hearing. The first four urged action on global warming.

The full text of the Presiding Bishop's testimony is available here.

Noting her experience as a scientist and an oceanographer, she said, "The scientific community has made clear that we must reduce carbon emissions globally by 15 to 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. On behalf of the Episcopal Church and the National Council of Churches, I implore you to make these goals a national priority. To my colleagues in the faith community who doubt the urgency of addressing global warming, I urge you to re-consider for the sake of God's good earth."

"We cannot triumph over global poverty, however, unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related," she added. "Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change."

"As temperature changes increase the frequency and intensity of severe weather events around the world, poor countries -- which often lack infrastructure such as storm walls and water-storage facilities -- will divert resources away from fighting poverty in order to respond to disaster. A warmer climate will also increase the spread of diseases. Changed rain patterns will increase the prevalence of drought in places like Africa, where only four percent of cropped land is irrigated, leaving populations without food and unable to generate income."

In the future, "we can lead the world with new technologies, renewable sources of energy and innovations not yet dreamed of, that will allow for new markets, new jobs, new industries as we move away from the use of fossil fuels," Jefferts Schori said.

Joining the Presiding Bishop on the panel were John Carr of the department of social development and world peace at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops; Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center.

"With new initiatives in Congress by the Administration and at the G8 Summit meeting, this is an essential time to buildup the common ground for common action to purse the common good for all of God's children and creation," Carr stated. "On climate change, it is now time to act with clear purpose, creativity, care and compassion, especially for our sisters and brothers who will suffer the most from neglect and, if we turn our back, our future indifference."

Ball called global warming "the major relief and development problems of the 21st century, because it will make all the basic relief and development problems much worse."

The movement about global warming "is being felt across the spectrum of religious life in American," Saperstein said. "It's happening at the national level, by major denominational governing bodies, and it's happening in the pews."

Minority presenters were: Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; David Barton, author, historian and founder/president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization; and Dr. Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In contrast to the first four speakers, Moore said, "The unique dignity of humanity must be addressed in the global warming debates chiefly on issues of population control and world poverty."

Tonkowich agreed. "The problem is not population. It's how to create just, peaceful, educated societies in which people can use and develop technologies to meet their needs."

In opening statements by the senators and in a question/answer period that followed the testimony, the issues surround global warming were discussed, including the effect on those living in poverty, future technology, and the apparent differing views of scientists.

Members of the Senate Committee attending were: Senate Majority (Democrats): Barbara Boxer  (Chairman), California; Max Baucus, Montana; Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut; Thomas R. Carper, Delaware; Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York; Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey; Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland; Bernard Sanders, Vermont; Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota; Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island.  Senate Minority Committee Members (Republicans): James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma; John Warner, Virginia; George V. Voinovich, Ohio; Johnny Isakson, Georgia; David Vitter, Louisiana; Lamar Alexander, Tennessee; Larry E. Craig, Idaho; Christopher S. Bond, Missouri.

The Episcopal Church is one of the 35 member communions of the NCC which is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches.  These communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states. The NCC's Eco-Justice Programs have been working for nearly two decades addressing environmental concerns from the Christian faith perspective.

-- Neva Rae Fox is a communication specialist for the Episcopal Church.

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