by the Eco-Justice Working Group of the
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
material is not copyrighted and may be reproduced or otherwise used without
WARMING: A RELIGIOUS ISSUE
Questions and Answers about Science, Public Policy, and Faith
is global warming and how does it relate to climate?
- Climate everywhere is
affected by small quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere that
traps some of the earth's heat which would otherwise escape into space. This
is called the natural greenhouse effect. It keeps the earth about 60 degrees
F warmer than it would otherwise be and makes life possible.
- Climate change occurs
naturally due to periodic changes in the intensity of the sun, the position
of the earth in relation to the sun, and the shape and location of continents.
As climates gradually change, plant and animal species evolve to adapt to
- Global warming refers
to the rapid climate change now occurring because human activities are adding
more CO2 and other heat trapping gases, called greenhouse gases, to the atmosphere.
do scientists know about global warming, its causes and effects?
- In the 19th century,
the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere began to increase. It increased
more than 30% during the past century. Other greenhouse gases, notably methane
and several synthetic industrial gases, have also been increasing, especially
- The major source of
CO2 from human activity is burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.
The destruction of forests also contributes to increased CO2. The main sources
of increased methane are fossil fuel production, landfills, rice farming,
- Since 1900, global temperature
has increased more than 1 degree F, and global sea level has risen about 7
inches. The 10 warmest years since records have been kept have occurred since
1983. The warmest was first 1995, then 1997, and then 1998.
- The distribution of
vegetation and wildlife, and growing seasons for agriculture, are beginning
to shift. Outbreaks of dengue fever, malaria, and encephalitis in temperate
regions have been linked to global warming.
- In 1995, the 2500 scientists
of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) officially confirmed that
human activity is contributing to rapid climate change. In 2001, the IPCC
reported that there is now convincing evidence linking human activity to higher
land and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, and thinning of snow and ice
cover. The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that "global warming
is undoubtedly real" and requires policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- To stabilize atmospheric
CO2, the IPCC determined that global emissions must be reduced below 1990
levels by at least 60%. Since 1990, they have increased about 15%.
- The US, with about 4%
of world population, produces over 22% of the annual carbon dioxide emissions
resulting from human activity.
do scientists project about future warming and its effects?
- It is now assumed that
the equivalent of doubling atmospheric CO2 will occur by 2050 and lead to
a global temperature rise of between 2.4 and 10.5 degrees F by 2100. The longer
we wait to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the rise will
be. Land surfaces and higher latitudes will experience larger increases. Temperature
will continue to rise long after emissions are reduced and greenhouse gas
- Sea level will rise
10-30 inches by 2100, and will continue to rise thereafter. Wetlands will
be flooded. Many low-lying regions and small island states will have to be
evacuated due to storm surges and saltwater intrusion.
- Evaporation and precipitation
will increase about 1% for every 1 degree F temperature rise, and their distribution
will be increasingly uneven and unpredictable. There will be more frequent
and severe heat waves and droughts, and heavier storms and floods. Rapid climate
change will limit the ability of many plant and animal species to adapt. Insects,
rodents, disease organisms, and other species that reproduce rapidly will
has there been controversy about what is known and projected?
- The earth's climate
system is exceedingly complex. Determining global temperature and sea level
is not a simple matter. Determining how one factor affects others is more
difficult and subject to differing standards of evidence and interpretation.
- Predicting what will
happen in the future is even more complex because predictable changes will
have unpredictable effects. For example, warmer temperatures will lead to
more clouds, but it is not possible to know in advance if more clouds, which
both reflect light and trap heat, will hasten or slow the warming trend. The
IPCC makes its projections in numerical ranges because known uncertainties
make more specific predictions unwarranted. The biggest uncertainty is future
- A number of large corporations
have opposed the conclusions of the IPCC, and have helped fund and publicize
the work of a very few scientists who challenge its findings. As a result,
news reports that present "both sides" make it seem as though there
is much more disagreement among climate scientists than really exists.
is global warming a religious issue?
- First, as Psalm 24 tells
us, "the Earth is the Lord's and all that is in it." We do not own
it, but are to care for it as a sacred trust. Global warming will hurt God's
- Second, as God's people
we are "our brothers' and sisters' keepers" and are to attend to
the well-being of our neighbors. Global warming will hurt God's people.
- Third, God requires
us "to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly...." Because
we of the industrialized nations created the increase of greenhouse gases,
we have a special responsibility to do something about it.
tasks does global warming present us as people of faith and as citizens?
- To take responsibility
for dealing with global warming in our own choices and actions before expecting
or demanding this of others,
- To reduce our use of
energy and of things we don't really need that require energy to make and
- To help those in need
improve their quality of life without using more energy from damaging sources,
- To inform ourselves
about public policy relating to global warming at all levels - local, regional,
national and international.
has happened about global warming in international diplomacy?
- A UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change was adopted by more than 160 nations at the Rio Earth Summit
in 1992. It set a goal of stabilizing global temperature and provides for
annual conferences to negotiate agreements until this goal was reached. The
President signed and the Senate ratified the Framework Convention in 1993.
- At the 1997 conference
in Kyoto, the industrialized nations adopted the Kyoto Protocol, an amendment
to the Framework Convention, in which they each agree to make specific emissions
reductions by 2012. The US reduction is to be 6-7% below its 1990 level, which
is about 30% below the level of US emissions otherwise projected for 2012.
- At Kyoto, some important
decisions about implementation were postponed. At the Hague Conference, which
took place shortly after the 2000 US presidential election, the European Union
(EU) insisted that every nation should reduce its domestic emissions. The
US did not agree. The US also continued to press developing nations to limit
their emissions as a condition for US ratification. The developing nations,
led by China and India, insisted that the industrialized nations begin making
reductions before they would consider limits. The Hague Conference ended with
- Soon after taking office
President Bush stated his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds
that it could hinder the US economy. This position has generated a great deal
of negative publicity in the US and in Europe. In the summer of 2001, the
other 178 parties to the UN Framework came to final agreement on the terms
of the Kyoto Protocol without the US. The Protocol can take effect without
US participation, but it will not be possible to significantly slow global
warming without US cooperation.
the Kyoto Protocol work if the developing countries don't participate?
- Opponents of the treaty
in the US have repeatedly insisted it "wont work" if developing
countries "dont participate." This assertion is based on a
distortion of the Framework Convention and ignores the prior agreements that
led to the Kyoto Protocol.
- All nations that signed
the Convention must inventory their domestic emissions, create pilot programs
to limit them, and participate in the international efforts to reduce global
- In 1996 it became clear
that the 1992 agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions wasnt working.
That year in Berlin, all parties, including the US, accepted the principle
that agreeing to binding reduction targets for the industrialized nations
should come first, and then limiting emissions from the developing nations
- US per capita energy
use is about twice that of Western Europe and Japan, 12 times that of China,
and 20 times that of India. Since 1990, China's and India's emissions remained
about the same while US emissions increased over 15%.
- Simple justice requires
industrial nations, and the US in particular, to take the first steps to slow
global warming. Clearly, it is the US, not the developing nations, that is
failing to keep its agreements, and it is the US whose participation will
be essential if goal of reducing greenhouse emissions on an equitable basis
is to be reached. Let us begin to remove the beam from our own eye so we can
see more clearly how to help our neighbors consider the speck in theirs.
is happening in national policy and politics?
- In 1997, before the
Kyoto conference, the US Senate passed a resolution stating it would not ratify
an agreement that might harm the US economy or did not include participation
by developing nations. The Global Climate Coalition, a lobby for certain coal,
oil, and auto interests, was an active proponent of this resolution.
- Soon after taking office,
President Bush reversed a campaign pledge to begin limiting CO2 emissions
from coal plants. In the spring of 2001, the President released his energy
plan, which focuses on increased production of fossil fuels and a renewed
commitment to nuclear power. The plan largely disregards energy conservation
and offers little support to promote energy efficiency and renewable technologies.
It has been estimated that Bush administrations proposals would result
in an increase in US greenhouse gas emissions of as much as 35% above 1900
- Also in the spring of
2001, the House Foreign Relations Committee approved the Menendez Resolution,
which states: "The US should be taking responsible action to ensure significant
and meaningful reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide" and "continuing
to participate in international negotiations with the objective of completing
the rules and guidelines for the Kyoto Protocol." The primary voice for
leadership in addressing climate change within the federal government is no
long the executive branch, but is coming from concerned members of Congress.
- Reducing greenhouse
emissions must become a priority of US public policy, especially energy policy.
This is a reality that our leaders and our people must come to understand
and accept before global warming can begin to be slowed and eventually stopped.
are the alternatives to our present energy system?
- An essential first step
is to replace less efficient equipment and technologies now in use with more
efficient equipment and technologies that are already available.
- Natural gas is less
polluting as a fuel than coal or oil, but it still adds both CO2 and methane
to the atmosphere. Nuclear power is not a direct cause of greenhouse emissions,
but the problems and risks of radioactive contamination are incompatible with
caring for the earth as a sacred trust. Both natural gas and nuclear power
may help make a transition away from our present system, but neither is ecologically
- Wind turbines already
produce electricity at a cost that is competitive with fossil fuels. Photovoltaic
cells already produce electricity directly from sunlight and would be much
more widely used if the cost of using fossil fuels increases.
- Fuel cells are being
developed to produce electricity without combustion, using hydrogen as a fuel.
Hydrogen can also be used in a combustion engine with only water as an exhaust,
and electricity from solar, wind or other renewable sources can generate hydrogen.
Many people are coming to think a solar/hydrogen energy system can be a solution
to our present dilemma. Public policy decisions are needed to hasten the development
of a practical energy system based on renewable sources.
- However, any energy
technology used on a large scale will disrupt natural eco-systems. The more
population and affluence increase, the more disruptive human impacts will
become. Creating a culture in which all people can find fulfillment using
less energy and fewer of the earth's physical resources is both possible and
essential for sustainability.
complying with the Kyoto Protocol cost jobs and hurt the economy?
- The National Academy
of Sciences found the US can reduce energy use by 20% at a net economic benefit.
Eight Nobel economists and 2,400 of their colleagues concluded that cutting
greenhouse emissions would increase efficiency, add jobs, and reduce costs,
wastes, and oil imports. Predictions by critics of the Kyoto Protocol that
it will destroy the US economy are based on unwarranted assumptions about
public policy and economics.
- Compliance with many
existing environmental regulations, including recent reductions in sulfur
emissions, has cost much less than the industries involved had predicted.
But the Kyoto targets are
just a first step. Dealing with global warming will cost money and will change
the way we live our lives. We should not expect it will be easy, and we must
find ways to be sure the burdens of change do not fall primarily on the poor
and those who are most directly affected.
The longer we wait to deal with global warming, the more harm will occur and
the more will be the human and economic costs for our children and grandchildren.
Faithfulness to God means that we must protect God's earth and God's people
regardless of cost. "To whom much has been given, much will be required."
Other resources are available from NCC Environmental
Justice Resources, PO Box 968, Elkhart IN 46515, 800/762-0968:
- Gods Creation
and Global Warming This excellent video describes the threat of climate
change and why people of faith care about this issue. EJ0017 $10.00
- NCC Global Warming Information
and Strategy Packet - contains this briefing paper, two booklets ("Climate
Change: State of Knowledge," and "Our Changing Climate,") "It's
God's World" (see below), and suggestions for witnessing to global warming
as a religious issue in congregations and in public policy - $3 (EJ-9900)
- John Firor, Our Changing
Atmosphere, 1992, Ingram - $12 includes postage (EJ-9950).
- "It's God's
World: Christians, Care of Creation and Global Warming," a five session
study for congregations, by Vera K. White - single copy @ $2, 5 or more @
- Energy Stewardship
Guide for Congregations Suggestions for how your congregation can use
less energy, EJ9960, free
- "Your Health and
the Environment: A Christian Perspective," a study/action guide by
Shantilal Bhagat - 1 to 3 copies @ $7.50; call for prices on larger orders
- Ross Gelbspan, The Heat
is On, 1998, Perseus Books - $13 including postage (EJ-0012).
see these websites:
can you do?
- WRITE YOUR SENATORS
AND REPRESENTATIVE! Tell them that the US has a moral obligation, rooted in
all our nations faith traditions, to participate in strong and fair
international agreements and adopt strong national policies to reduce the
pollution that contributes to global warming. This is the most important
thing you can do right now!
- RESOLVE TO USE LESS
- Use electricity
and water, especially hot water, only when needed.
- Use thermostat settings
and insulation to conserve energy with heating, hot water and air conditioning
- Use a car and airplane
less and a bike, bus, train or the sidewalk more.
- Buy the most efficient
appliances, lighting equipment, and cars available.
- Discover new ways,
and rediscover old ways - to have fun, get things done and enjoy God's
creation without using electricity or fuel.
- ASK YOUR CONGREGATION
TO MAKE A COMMITMENT to care for God's creation through worship, teaching
and learning, congregational lifestyle, and community, national and global
involvement. For information about the NCCC Environmental Justice Covenant
Congregation program, call 212/870-2386.
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