Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Statement on Global Climate Change
an excerpt from the 1990 General Assembly policy paper

5. Area Five: Overcoming Atmospheric Instability - Global Warming and Ozone Depletion.

Background information on ozone depletion and global warming may be found in Part I of this report, in "Keeping and Healing the Creation," pp. 21-25, and in Church and Society Magazine (March/April 1990).

We note that the phenomena determining climate are very complex and that scientific opinion varies with respect to the reliability of models projecting temperature increases. The weight of evidence, however, justifies a serious response to the threat of global warming.

Ozone depletion and global warming have risen rapidly to head the list of concerns about the future of creation. They are significantly different from other problems in several respects. They have to do with global problems that lie ahead and cannot now be measured. No place on earth will be unaffected, however. Without united action worldwide, no nation can do much about global warming and ozone depletion. They represent the unintended consequences of proud industrial achievements. The gases released were not toxic. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have had all sorts of beneficial uses, and we breathe air with CO2 in it. Now in the upper atmosphere these gases are doing enormous damage. But we cannot get them down again. We can only stop sending them up and thereby limit the damage.

In the case of CO2, substantial reduction of emissions means changing the energy basis of our whole civilization. We knew that fossil fuels would not last indefinitely; but suddenly the danger is that they will last too long, that the world will not make the transition soon enough to simpler, more efficient, and renewable energy sources and technologies.

In August 1989, the United Church of Canada and eight European churches came to a "Covenantal Agreement Regarding the Threat of Global Warming." They did this in connection with the meeting in Basel, Switzerland, of Protestant and Catholic Christians from East and West Europe on the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation theme of the World Council of Churches. They agreed to work together on the problem of global warming and to give particular attention to the role of energy. They have already made an important approach to governments by advocating cooperation on reduction in the use of fossil fuels by means of energy-saving technologies and the development of renewable (solar) energy supplies. They presented comments and policy statements to the October 1989 environmental meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, of governments belonging to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

These are significant developments. An invitation has come to U.S. churches, through their representatives on the NCC Eco-Justice Working Group and through their delegates to the 1990 World Convocation on JPIC in Seoul, Korea, to participate in this international cooperative effort of churches on global warming.

The 202nd General Assembly (1990) recommends:

1. Ecumenical Participation and International Participation

  1. The Presbyterian Church (USA) declares its serious concern, in concert with ecumenical partners, that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems; and
  2. The church affirms its intention to participate in ecumenical efforts to address this challenge cooperatively with Canadian and European churches and the conciliar movement.
  3. The General Assembly affirms its intention to participate in the United Nations International Conference on Environment and Development, to be held in 1992, and requests a report to a subsequent General Assembly as appropriate.

2. Policies on Global Warming

  1. The United States, as consumer of nearly a quarter of the world's energy, must take the lead in reducing its own combustion of fossil fuels and shifting to renewable sources of energy which do not contribute to the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide.
  2. Appropriate response to the warnings of impending climate change requires an extended frame of reference for decision-making by governments, international agencies, industries, educational institutions, churches, and community organizations. The US government, other governments, the United Nations, and appropriate scientific organizations should increase their capability to monitor and project trends in atmospheric temperature and to make broad environmental and social assessments.
  3. The United States should work through the United Nations and appropriate diplomatic channels to reach firm international agreements and for halting deforestation and promoting reforestation. Some programs already in place should be given an enlarged role and increased funding - the U.N. Environment Programme, for example, and the U.N.'s programs on development and population.
  4. The United States government should adopt legislation and administrative policies, with adequate funding, for vigorously stepped-up research and development and energy-efficient technologies.
  5. The US government should promote the introduction and use of energy-efficient technologies by applying carefully targeted incentives and disincentives.
  6. Similarly, the US government should adopt legislation and administrative policies, with adequate funding, to step up research and development on the various sources and technologies for social energy. Appropriate incentives and disincentives to accelerate the transition to an economy based on renewable, safe, nonpolluting, affordable energy should be developed and implemented.
  7. The United States and other industrialized nations should assist developing countries to achieve the energy sufficiency necessary for the general improvement of living standards that these countries desperately need. This assistance should include appropriate technology transfers for pollution control and energy efficiency. In particular, assistance will be necessary to enable developing countries to find equitable solutions to the problems of debt and land use that figure heavily in the destruction of their forests.
  8. The US Environmental Protection Agency should act promptly to strengthen fuel economy and emission standards for automobiles, buses, and trucks by mandating and consistently enforcing a schedule of energy efficiency improvements, leading to a substantially higher standard of efficiency within a few years. Incentive and disincentives to encourage consumers to choose fuel-efficient vehicles will also be in order.
  9. Comparable standard-setting and incentive-generating measures should be advanced by the US Bureau of Standards with respect to efficiency improvements in lighting, heating, air-conditioning, appliances, building construction, the weatherization of existing buildings, and the co-generation of heat and electricity (with legislation as necessary where the bureau's powers do not apply). As more efficient technologies become available, public policy should encourage and facilitate their adoption and use by individuals and businesses.
  10. Public policy should encourage alternatives to private automobiles. Alternatives include municipal mass transit, railroads, bicycles, and walking.

3. Policies on Ozone Depletion

To a large extent the kinds of policies needed for reducing the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-destroying gases parallel the policies required for reducing the buildup of the greenhouse gases. The CFCs, which are the leading cause of ozone depletion, also add significantly to the greenhouse effect. To protect the ozone shield, there is clearly need for international action through

  1. leadership by the United States, which is the largest contributor to the problem;
  2. a longer-term and global frame of reference, with improved foresight capability by governments and international agencies;
  3. strong international agreements and cooperative arrangements; specifically, firm adherence to the Montreal and Helsinki agreements on phasing out the production of CFCs by the end of the century and discontinuing the other ozone-destroying chemicals as soon as possible, with continuing efforts to bring additional nations into the pact;
  4. improved technologies and development of acceptable substitutes for the chemicals that must be phased out; rapid shifts in production processes;
  5. assistance to developing countries by providing them with information, training, funding mechanisms, and technology transfers that will enable them to participate in the Montreal-Helsinki pact and have access to the improved technologies and substitute chemicals;
  6. strict standards, in line with international agreements but enforced by governments;
  7. incentives and disincentives that lead actors in a market economy to make environmentally rational decisions.

4. Church Support Through Personal and Institutional Practice

  1. The American people, beginning with members of our churches, must be challenged to form personal habits consistent with the need to cut back on the emissions of the gases that are causing the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer. This means energy conservation and cutting back on the use of fossil fuel energy. It means avoiding foams made with CFCs and making sure that CFC-based coolant is not released when air conditioners are serviced.
  2. The greenhouse and ozone problems reinforce the call to a less materialistic and wasteful style of life. It is unrealistic and self-serving to think that efficient and renewable technologies, now in the early stage of the transition, will take effect fast enough to provide sufficient insurance against the potentially disastrous consequences of global warming - unless there is also a move away from unnecessary and wasteful production and consumption.
  3. The church in its own life must teach, exemplify, and advocate the values and principles, policies and practices that break down the ozone. Obviously the church must be responsible in the construction and maintenance of its own buildings. If habits of conservation and responsible consuming are cultivated consistently, we shall discover many practical applications of our values.

As this report has repeatedly made clear, the affliction of the creation will not be healed unless that human part of creation undergoes significant personal and institutional transformation. Our recommendations suggest something of what the transformation may entail, but they fall far short of prescribing all that is needed. That will be the agenda for the coming years.

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