Environment News Service / Climate Ark
May 21, 2004

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WASHINGTON, DC - An unprecedented group of 31 revered spiritual leaders and respected scientific leaders is calling on the federal government and the U.S. Congress to take action that will protect Earth’s climate from global warming. “Many of us share a deep conviction that global climate change presents an unprecedented threat to the integrity of life on Earth and a challenge to universal values that bind us as human beings,” they wrote in a Plea for Action.

“Earth’s climate embraces us all, “ the leaders affirmed in the statement issued Thursday. They call for “moral vision and leadership” in addressing global climate change. “Resources of human character and spirit—love of life, far-sightedness, solidarity—are needed to awaken a sufficient sense of urgency and resolve,” the leaders said.

Without naming the current administration, the Plea for Action faults as inadequate responses to the “crisis” of global warming “policies that devalue scientific consensus, withdraw from diplomatic initiative, and seek only voluntary initiatives.”

“We recognize that there are other perspectives than our own, the leaders say, acknowledging that “Societies and governments respond slowly to such challenges,” but also warning that, “Partisanship and acrimony have brought us no closer to solutions.”

The Plea for Action calls on the U.S. Senate to consider a bill now before it, the Climate Stewardship Act, S.139. “While we take no position on specifics of the legislation,” the leaders say, “we urge the leadership of the Senate to bring this measure forward and to provide sufficient time and reflective tone for debate. We ask our senators to step back from partisanship and consider what is needed here for the common good of humankind and our planet home.”

Introduced in January 2003 by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, the bill would provide for a program of scientific research on abrupt climate change. It would accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by establishing a market driven system of greenhouse gas tradeable allowances that could be used interchangeably with passenger vehicle fuel economy standard credits. Its nine cosponsors include both Republicans and Democrats.

The people who signed the Plea for Action acknowledge that they “travel diverse, individual paths in our search for truth,” and that scientists and religious leaders “have disagreed, sometimes contentiously, about fundamental questions of human origin, nature, and purpose.”

But they say “highly regarded institutions in the international scientific community” have reached broad consensus that climate change is a real and imminent threat to life on Earth. “Global warming is a universal moral challenge,” the leaders state.

Citing “discernable human influence on global climate,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that “the current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the main human-made greenhouse gas affected by human activity, has not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years and likely not during the past 20 million years,” a statement the religious and scientific leaders evidently believe.

When “discernable human influence” is determined to be a cause of destruction, they write, “we are dealing with moral and ethical concerns as well as scientific and policy issues. For many, these are shaped by religious conviction.”

The breadth of expertise in the group members calling themselves “people of religious life” ranges from Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr., Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop and president of the National Council of Churches USA; to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington DC, who is chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops; to Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The group also includes high ranking Evangelical, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Greek Orthodox leaders.

They quote the Bible to give their Plea moral force. “In Judaeo-Christian scripture, all creation, by God’s handicraft, is deemed ‘good.’ Because ‘the Earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof’ (Psalms 24:1), its gifts are intended for the benefit of all,” they write.

“Humans are called into covenant with their creator as stewards of life. In love, we care for the conditions of one another’s well-being; in justice we attend first to the needs of the most vulnerable. When significant danger threatens, the traditional value of prudence requires us to prevent damage to the common good. All these obligations apply to the protection of future generations,” the Plea states.

The “people of science” signing the Plea include the two 1995 Nobel Prize winning chemists Dr. Mario Molina, professor of environmental chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland, who serves as the Bern Research Professor in Earth System Science at the University of California at Irvine. These chemists were honored for their discovery of the link between chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and depletion of the ozone layer.

Other distinguished secular leaders who signed the Plea include Dr. Lewis Branscomb, Aetna Professor in Public Policy and Corporate Management, Emeritus, at the Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal “Science;” Dr. Peter Raven, Engelmann Professor of Botany at the Washington University in St. Louis; and Dr. George Woodwell, founder/director of the Woods Hole Research Center.

The group also includes ranking professors at the California Institute of Technology, Cornell, Duke University, MIT, Princeton, Rice University, University of Michigan, and Stanford, as well as physicist John H. Gibbons, currently president of Resources Strategies who served as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Bill Clinton.

The leaders point to the United States as having “both responsibility and opportunity.” With four percent of the world’s population, the United States has contributed 25 percent of the increased greenhouse gas concentration which causes global warming.

Now, having contributed the most greenhouse gases to the warming climate, “The wealthier nations of the planet have a solemn moral obligation to help developing countries protect the poor in their midst as they seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions,” the Plea states.

The global warming problem is “an unintended consequence of technologies which have made possible great human progress,” the leaders acknowledge, and “we uniquely possess technological resources, economic power, and political influence to facilitate solutions.”

“The same ingenuity that devised such benefits can redress their destructive consequences,” they say. “Extensive study and debate—in science, technology, commerce, and public policy—have led to significant agreement about measures that would indeed slow the pace of climate change. This is a challenge we can meet.”

The Plea calls for:

The leaders pledged to continue efforts to mobilize their communities, separately and in joint initiatives. “We do not have to agree on how and why the world was created in order to work together to preserve it for posterity,” they say.

“In this spirit,” they are reaching out to leaders in other sectors— commerce, labor, education, government and nongovernmental organizations, research and technology—“to join us in finding ways to communicate to their own communities the urgency of this threat to our global commons and the well-being of future generations.”

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