Faith Leaders Debate Effects Of Limits on Emissions

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 8, 2007

As President Bush resisted mandatory limits on carbon emissions at a G-8 summit in Germany yesterday, several U.S. religious leaders urged Congress to speedily enact such limits to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures that would particularly hurt the poor.

But in sharply divided testimony before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, some evangelical Protestant leaders took the opposite tack, also citing concern for the poor.

Trading the same admonitions from Jesus to protect "the least of these," the climate-change activists said the poor would suffer most from extreme weather; skeptics of climate change said the poor would be hit hardest by the cost of shifting to cleaner energy sources.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and a former oceanographer, argued that "global poverty and climate change are intimately related."

She said that changing rain patterns would increase droughts in Africa and that the poorest Americans would be disproportionately affected by heat waves, extreme storms and the spread of infectious diseases. "I want to be absolutely clear: Inaction on our part is the most costly of all courses of action for those living in poverty," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the National Council of Churches, which links 35 Christian denominations, Jefferts Schori called for a 15- to 20-percent reduction in global carbon emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Her call for urgent action and her emphasis on the poor was echoed by three other religious leaders: Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center, the public policy arm of the Reform Jewish movement; John L. Carr, a staff member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and the Rev. Jim Ball, representing more than 100 evangelical Protestant leaders who have signed an Evangelical Climate Initiative.

But the Rev. Russell D. Moore, dean of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, told the Senate that "divine revelation does not give us a blueprint for environmental policy."

James Tonkowich, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, said that "cap-and-trade" proposals to set overall limits on carbon emissions and allow industries to buy and sell emission permits would "disproportionately hurt the poor," slowing job growth and costing up to $4,500 per family in increased energy costs, by one estimate.

David Barton, head of an evangelical group called Wallbuilders, told the Senate that emissions limits would "significantly impede" the hopes of people in the developing world "for a better and more prosperous life." It is unlikely, he said, that evangelicals would support "placing the theoretical needs of the environment over the actual needs of the poor."

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