Church and State on Climate Change

August 25, 2009 at 8:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that in a poll on climate change conducted in 19 countries around the world by,  the majority of people  want their governments to make climate change a priority. The bad news is that the US was one of only three countries polled in which a majority of citizens do not want their government to do so. The other two are Iraq and the Palestinian territories, countries that could be said to have other things on their minds.  While 74% of Britons favor climate change as a priority, 44% of Americans do so. Good luck, President Obama.

Interestingly enough, one US group that does not fit into this profile is Catholics. Last April, a Zogby International poll  commissioned by the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change reported that 58% of US Catholics agree that “global climate change is an urgent problem that must be addressed now,” and   “66% say that we should act now even though we don’t know everything about climate change.” Zogby also reports that 65% of those holding these positions believe their faith calls upon them to care for God’s creation, while 51% say that their faith requires them to support public and government policies that address the causes and impacts of climate change. 

These percentages seem not to be the result of any specific efforts by the church. Only 31% of those polled were aware of statements on the environment made by recent popes. They are likely also not aware that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been speaking out on climate change since 2001,  that the bishops have called for a conversation about climate change in parishes, dioceses and other Catholic organizations, or that the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change  provides a wide array of resources for prayer, education and activism.  Indeed, in my frequent forays into the world of Sunday Mass, I have never once heard a preacher refer to climate change. If the US church were to make a concerted effort here, who knows? The country’s sixty-some-million Catholics might actually influence the terms of the debate.  

Whatever US Catholics do or do not do about climate change,  the situation seems to be about to improve. Sort of.  Experts at the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies now say that climate-induced crises such as violent storms, drought, mass migrations and pandemics could “topple governments, feed terrorist movements, or destabilize  entire regions.” The US must lead the world in reducing fossil fuel consumption and thus the emission of global warming gasses, or US security will be at risk. Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, destroyed Homestead Air Force Base in Florida; Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean that’s central to logistics in the Middle East, is in danger of flooding; and the shrinking of the polar ice cap is forcing us to defend an entirely new shipping channel.  According to General Anthony Zinni, we have to face up to this sooner or later. Either we’ll  pay the costs of reducing climate change now, or else we’ll pay for it farther down the pike. This argument “could prove a fulcrum for debate in the Senate next month when it takes up climate and energy legislation” we’re told.

Hot dog. Faith is all very well and good, but now we’re going to see some action.

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  1. This short film lays some of the hard realities of climate change:


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