Faith groups launch climate initiative

A flooded church in Bacabal, Brazil, is pictured in this May 12 file photo. Bouts of extreme weather have reignited debate about how warmer temperatures are affecting the planet, bringing on drought in some places and greater rainfall in others. (CNS/Reuters)

WASHINGTON -- With a media teleconference earlier this month, a wide coalition of U.S. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and interfaith groups launched a new poverty-oriented climate change initiative, The Internet-based project is a new effort to raise awareness of climate change among hundreds of thousands of Americans and engage them in a grass-roots campaign to increase U.S. funding to help the world’s poor adapt.

A climate change bill already approved in the House of Representatives devotes virtually all its funding to causes of climate changes, with only 1 percent, less than $1 billion, going to help developing countries abroad cope with the effects of those changes. Faith-based backers of the DaySix initiative are seeking to have the Senate version of that bill increase the poor-country-adaptation part of the funding package to $3.5 billion this year, ratcheting up to at least $7 billion a year in coming years.

“The effects of climate change are immediate and severe” on those poor nations, said Katie Paris, program and communications director of Faith in Public Life and its 100,000-member online community,

Catholic Relief Services’ policy and advocacy director, Bill O’Keefe, said, “At CRS we already see how climate change is affecting the lives of those in the 100 countries or so where we support [development] projects and are witnessing the real inconvenient truth: that those who contribute the least to the problem are going to be affected the most.” Said O’Keefe, “We see in East Africa, in Ethiopia, in Sudan and Kenya, increasingly serious and more frequent droughts, which are compounding themselves over time and making life very difficult for already very poor and marginalized populations.”

The immediate focus of DaySix is to get Americans of faith and conscience to lobby Congress for dramatically increased funding for programs to help some of the world’s poorest populations adapt to local effects of climate change -- programs that could affect not only their ability to maintain their current livelihood, but their very survival in the face of new challenges of hunger, drought, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters related to global warming.

The Rev. Jim Ball, senior director of the climate campaign of the Evangelical Environmental Network, said the chief moral and faith concern of evangelical Christians over climate change stems from the realization that its “impacts are going to fall the hardest on those whom Jesus described as ‘the least of these.’ ”

“We’re talking about 170 million people at risk of hunger and malnutrition in this century -- additional people simply because of global warming,” he said. “And then upwards of 2 billion people already in water-risk situations could see a further reduction in their water availability. Hundreds of millions will be impacted by health concerns. And the possibility remains of creating 250 million ‘climate refugees’ by 2050.

“It’s something that they didn’t cause, and yet they’re going to have to deal with,” he said. “Any morally mature person would say, ‘You know, I didn’t understand that I was helping to cause this problem that other people, the most vulnerable, are going to have to deal with. Yeah, now I understand that, and I’m obligated to help them deal with this problem that to some degree I helped to create.’ ”

Ball said that a recent World Bank study estimated it would take $75 billion to $100 billion a year to meet the climate change adaptation needs of developing countries in coming years.

“The House bill is woefully inadequate, but Sen. [John] Kerry [D-Mass.] has said he’s going to work to strengthen the funding in the Senate bill,” the immediate target of the DaySix campaign, Ball said. “We need to help Sen. Kerry be a leader on this. … It’s part of our responsibility to support people who are going to lead on morally important things like increasing adaptation funding.”

Paris said the DaySix name tag for the campaign is “a reference to Genesis, on the sixth day,” when God created the first man and woman and gave them stewardship over the earth. The idea was to highlight “that biblical focus for people of faith, to urge people to look at this issue through the lens of their faith.”

O’Keefe said a review of Catholic Relief Services’ project portfolio last year showed that “we were already doing $60 million of disaster preparedness related to climate change, agricultural development in areas affected by climate change, and watershed redevelopment, helping those to preserve their sources of water in drought-prone areas that are affected by climate change.”

“The good news, if there is any good news, is that we know how to address the situation. We and many other faith-based and private voluntary organizations know what to do to respond to the situation,” he said. “But it’s really going to take the sustained commitment of resources at the level that only governments can provide” to address the problem globally on the scale that is needed.

Jerry Filteau is NCR Washington correspondent.

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