US evangelicals deny climate change because they're 'self-absorbed'

Unlike in the United States, there is little controversy among evangelicals around the world on whether climate change is real, said an evangelical representative at a press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

“They know it is real,” said Deborah Fikes, executive advisor of the World Evangelical Alliance – a global alliance of churches in 128 nations and over 100 international organisations. But in the United States, many evangelicals deny climate change is real because they are “self-absorbed” and “lack [the] spiritual will” to change their lifestyle to help solve a problem that is life threatening, she said.

Fikes was a member of the delegation of evangelical leaders and leading climate scientists that briefed top White House advisors and US Senate offices Tuesday about climate change. The self-described odd partners urged lawmakers to put aside their differences, as they had, and quickly act to address the climate change problem.

Pastor Joel C Hunter of the Florida megachurch Northland, A Church Distributed, touched on what Fikes said about the “inconvenient truth” of climate change to American evangelicals.

“We are the most unlikely characters” to take action on climate change, said Hunter, who noted his church members are mostly white and wealthy. “We are the most difficult to convince because we have an idea that if there are changes we will be the most likely to be able to insulate our lives."

But despite the challenges, the pastor said his church has taken action to spread awareness and address climate change by: watching movies about the issue, doing an audit of expenditures that could lower the church’s carbon footprint, hosting energy expos, and listing the changes congregants can make in their personal lifestyle.

Commending such efforts, Fikes commented, “We are encouraged that there are rapidly growing numbers of churches in America who understand that they are the key to solving these problems.”

But while some evangelicals are vocal supporters of efforts to stop climate change, others are skeptical and have described global warming as “hype”.

Nearly 100 conservative Christians, many of which were evangelicals, argued last year that there is no hard evidence that climate change is as devastating as mainstream media and society claims. The group – which included Dr James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Dr Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and radio host Janet Parshall – said that although they agree that humans are responsible to take care of God’s creation, policy changes meant to alleviate climate change could do more damage than good.

“The number of premature deaths, number of diseases, and the harm to the human economy that can be predicted from the policies used to fight the warming” is more destructive than even if all the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)-predicted global warming-caused disasters came true,” argued Dr E Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, at the launch of the “We Get It!” campaign last May.

But the Harvard and Smithsonian scientists at Tuesday’s panel discussion were adamant that climate change is real and mainly caused by human activities.

Nancy Knowlton, who is a marine science expert at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, said a third of all corals in the world are currently in danger of extinction because of the effects of climate change. Knowlton explained that corals are important because about one out of three of all ocean species are somehow associated with corals and they provide coastline protection.

“The decisions we are making today not only affect tomorrow because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades and sometimes centuries; it affects not only ourselves, our children and grandchildren but literally our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren," Knowlton said. "So these are incredibly important and long-term decisions that we are making.”

While the delegation spoke strongly on the US government taking bolder action on climate change, it clarified that it does not recommend or take position on policies.

The evangelical-scientist briefing with US lawmakers came weeks before a key UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the world’s governments will discuss setting limits for greenhouse emissions.

“If we scientists and evangelicals can put aside whatever differences we may have to find solutions to protect the global environment, then surely so can our elected officials, and we would urge them to do so starting now,” said Eric Chivian, the Harvard Medical School scientist who organised the coalition with the Rev Richard Cizik.

Chivian and Cizik, former vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, formed the alliance in 2007 after discovering their shared concern about the issue. The two quickly assembled evangelical leaders and top scientists to work together to find solutions to the climate change problem. The idea was that scientists would provide the latest facts and information about climate change while evangelical leaders would influence the American people by informing them what scientists have found and calling on them to change their lifestyle.

Tuesday’s evangelical-scientist event was the 22nd briefing of its kind on climate change.

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