November 22, 1999

Churches launch campaign to prevent global warming

By The Associated Press

Calling global warming the biggest threat to the Earth, church leaders have launched a campaign to save the planet by getting their congregations involved in the environmental movement.

The Oregon Global Warming Campaign is the first of 17 statewide efforts across the nation being organized by ministers, rabbis and other religious leaders who are concerned about the environment.

The Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a coalition of 15 mainstream religious denominations and faiths, is spearheading Oregon's campaign.

"We intend to move the challenge of climate change from the laboratories of science and halls of diplomacy to the pulpits and pews of the American heartland," said the Rev. John Huenink of Eugene, who is a top leader of the Presbyterian Church in Oregon. "Global warming will hurt creation."

Environmentalism, he added, "is a religious issue, fundamentally."

The Oregon global warming campaign is the latest in a growing movement to wed environmental protection with religion. The combination could prove to be a powerful lobby for persuading Congress, state legislatures and other politicians to better protect the environment, religious leaders said Thursday.

Already, a Vatican council has declared that "the world and humanity are at a mortal risk" from global warming, and materials on climate change have been sent to 50,000 religious congregations and synagogues in the United States.

The heads of 24 denominations have appealed to President Clinton and Congress to sign a global climate change treaty that calls for reducing greenhouse gases.

"Environmental activity in the faith community has been growing steadily over the past five years," said Paul Gorman, executive direction of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, which is helping organize statewide efforts on behalf of a broad coalition that includes the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches and evangelical Christian and Jewish organizations.

"Environmentalism didn't begin on Earth Day; it started with Genesis," Gorman added.

The state efforts are aimed at "reaching out" through mainstream religious congregations to workers and families that traditionally have not embraced environmental activism: auto workers in Michigan, coal miners in West Virginia, farmers in Wisconsin and wood-products workers in Oregon, Gorman said.

Global warming, the gradual increase in the Earth's average temperature that is largely blamed on our use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, is an issue that has broad appeal to congregations across Oregon and the nation, Gorman said.

The global warming campaign encourages churches to install more energy-efficient lighting and heating. Congregations also will be asked to lobby Oregon's U.S. senators, Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Ron Wyden, to support policies calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and around the world.

The campaign comes a week after the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group issued a report indicating that the Northwest could suffer more winter flooding and summer drought if temperatures rise as much as 5 degrees in the next 50 years.

Deani Anderson, a high school biology teacher and elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Salem, said it didn't occur to her until recently to combine her interest in environmental issues with her faith. But she believes churches can and should be powerful advocates for the environment.

"I feel like we have an obligation," Anderson said.

In May, seven Roman Catholic bishops of the Northwest and British Columbia released a document serving as a foundation for a pastoral letter on the Columbia River that will present a Catholic theological view of caring for the environment.

The bishops have spent six months collecting public comment, said Frank Fromherz, who is helping craft the document as director of the office of justice and peace for the Archdiocese of Portland.