What can churches do about climate change?

By Alexander Carpenter

Often Adventists have been intellectually torn over how much faith to put in the scientific method. After all, we are the progenitors of George McCready Price and the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Unlike the Scientologists and Christian Scientists, historically Adventists have attempted to apply the findings of science about health care while eschewing the same method's findings on geochronology or the origins of life. While historically significant, the work of Price has pretty much been discredited and while fifty years ago few Adventists would admit to multi-million-year-old geological column, now even some staunch defenders of a literal six-day creation admit that the rocks have been around long before.

But we certainly won't solve this on a blog. Perhaps here's a emerging third way to mix our science and faith.

These days a new science is in the controversial air: climate science. Why is it controversial? Because it is about American power with apocalyptic overtones--which should be right down our eschatalogical alley. Faced with the most comprehensive report on global warming--thousands of scientists, hundreds of countries--how will we respond? Should we care about our earth? Should we do it because science suggests that if we don't the eco-system will collapse? Does the bible and our lifestyle support creation care? Some friends of mine at Interfaith Power and Light published the following op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. As you read, consider the implications: might this be an issue where pastors and the local congregations can work together to save the world?

Science and religion unite on climate

In the wake of the most significant scientific report to date on the potentially dire consequences of global warming, a ray of hope has emerged. Ironically, it emanates from the convergence of forces that have often been at odds. One force, the world of science, has long been on the forefront of the issue of climate change. Another equally powerful force, religion, has often remained on the sidelines -- until recently.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of more than 2,000 of the world's top scientists from more than 100 nations, stated in a Feb. 2 report that global warming is "unequivocal," that it is rapidly changing the nature of our planet and its ecosystems, and that it is "very likely" being caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.

In the course of the last decade, a significant movement within the faith community has been mobilizing around the call to care for God's creation, the web of life that sustains us all. This calling is the essence of religious life, and people of faith are beginning to hear it, even as scientists sound the alarm that we may be nearing a climactic tipping point.

We view science and religion as powerful potential partners. The hope is that the clarity of the science will inspire a concerted effort by the leaders in both communities and thus avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

Scientists have also provided us with insights that raise serious ethical challenges, particularly the issue of the choice between stewardship and fatalism -- the moral dilemma of our time. We can accept the challenge with hope or sit on our hands and do nothing. For people of faith, the moment of truth has come, and we must open our eyes to the knowledge that modern science is showing us. The choice offered us is to move beyond denial and doubt that global warming is caused by human activities to play an active part in a global effort to save this fragile creation or suffer the consequences.

The active involvement of religion is necessary for wide-scale social change. Social movements from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement have been led by the religious community. Some 64 percent of Americans belong to a church or synagogue, and nearly 50 percent attend a service every week, according to a 2005 Gallup poll. (By comparison, only 14 percent are active participants in environmental organizations.)

Evidence that religious people are making the choice in favor of environmental stewardship is coming in every day. This fall, more than 400,000 people in congregations across the country viewed Al Gore's global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," in packed houses. Almost every major denomination has adopted statements of concern on global warming. Evangelicals, often skeptical of science, are breaking with the president to join the call for action on reductions in greenhouse gases.

Science and religion have proved to be capable of independently inspiring social change and reshaping global consciousness. Just imagine what these forces could do together, in a united effort to reverse the damage we have done to our planet.

In 2007, we stand at a crossroads and there is a choice we must all make. Thanks to science, we have the knowledge of the damage we have caused to our planet, and how to stop it. Greenhouse gases need to be stopped.

Now, with religious institutions becoming engaged, will we, as a society, have the collective wisdom to break with our destructive behavior and choose another way? We have seen the religious community putting aside differences to solve a moral problem in the past with issues such as slavery and the civil-rights movement. We might also see differences put aside and rejoice in the marriage of religion and science. It is a pivotal moment, and the consequences of our choice will be felt for generations to come.

Stephen H. Schneider is a professor of biological science at Stanford University. He has been studying, writing and speaking about the issue of climate change for 30 years.

The Rev. Sally Bingham is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of California and a member of the board of Environmental Defense. She is the leader of a national campaign, Interfaith Power and Light, which is mobilizing the religious community in 22 states to become leaders in the fight against global warming. See www.InterfaithPowerandLight.org

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4344