[Episcopal News Service] When California Bishop Marc Andrus wants to engage people in a conversation about climate change he doesn’t throw statistics at them, rather he begins with a question like: When was the last time you had an experience of wonder in the natural world?
“If we can connect people back to it, or open them up for a fresh experience with wonder, it’s a great starting place for recovering a sense of why [climate change] is a moral issue,” said Andrus, during an interview with Episcopal News Service in Los Angeles, California.
Andrus made the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles to speak on a panel about reclaiming climate change as a moral issue. The panel was one of two that took place during a March 24 forum – hosted by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno – aimed at addressing the global climate change crisis.
A longtime environmental advocate, Andrus taught the first course on ecology and Christianity in 2013 at Virginia Theological Seminary and has long been engaged on the issue of climate change.
A few years back, he said, people involved in the movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming took a critical look at themselves, coming to the realization that the movement’s messaging was “so thoroughly negative” that it worked against it.
“People are frightened enough in their lives, they don’t want to be more frightened … it doesn’t enroll them into the effort,” said Andrus. “We actually know that fear is only a short-term motivator – as soon as you’re not quite afraid your effort slackens. If you ask what would be the opposite, love is a much stronger motivator over a period of time.
“So if we can help people understand how wonder is an experience of love, if we can remember when I fell in love with the earth … or if we can help people have an experience of love, and wonder, then you have people that will stick with the effort.”
The March 24, live-webcast in Los Angeles kicked off 30 Days of Action, an interactive campaign designed by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society that includes advocacy days, bulletin inserts, stories, sermons and activities to engage individuals and congregations around climate change. The campaign culminates on Earth Day, April 22.
Mary Nichols, who chairs the Air Resources Board of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and a member of Los Angeles’ St. James in the City Episcopal Church, spoke on the panel alongside Andrus.
“Climate change is a moral issue because as we understand it, human beings are the principal cause for the exaggerated effects of global warming that we are seeing on this planet, and therefore it is incumbent on us to take responsibility for that and to take action,” said Nichols.
Climate change is the gradual change in global temperature caused by accumulation of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, altering the earth’s temperature. Some areas are getting warmer, as others are getting colder. For example, the mainland United States experienced the coldest winter on record since formal record keeping began in the late 1800s, whereas Alaska experienced an unseasonably warm winter.
Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human beings through the combustion of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas. Industrial processes, including factory farms, transportation and electricity make up the largest human sources of carbon dioxide.
Moreover, the population of the world has doubled since 1970, going from about 3.6 billion to today’s 7 billion people.
“The human population explosion of recent millennia, accompanied by exploitation of fossil fuels in recent centuries, have moved this planetary system out of dynamic equilibrium. Human appetites are responsible for the collapse of that equilibrium particularly in developed nations, and many species are threatened with diminishment and loss of life,” said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in her keynote address at the start of the March 24 forum in Los Angeles. “We are making war on the integrity of this planet. The result is wholesale death as species become extinct at unprecedented rates, and human beings die from disease, starvation, and the violence of war unleashed by environmental chaos and greed.”
The church’s forum was timely, said Nichols, as it begins a needed conversation about climate change as nations prepare for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nov. 30 – Dec. 11, in Paris, France.
The goal of the Paris conference is to forge an international agreement aimed at transitioning the world toward resilient, low-carbon societies and economies. If accomplished, it would be the first-ever binding, international treaty in 20 years of United Nations climate talks, and would affect developed and developing countries.
“We’re already hearing the drumbeat in Congress that it can’t be done, it won’t work, if we do it the Chinese won’t and therefore they’ll eat our lunch economically … and that’s why this discussion is so timely because hopefully it gives us a chance to gather together and push back against those arguments,” said Nichols.
Climate change is an increasingly politically charged, polarizing issue in the United States. The day of the forum, for instance, U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, a moderate Republican from South Carolina who believes in climate change, blamed former Vice President Al Gore, one of the countries leading Democratic voices on climate change and a longtime supporter of initiatives to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for inaction on climate change because Gore has turned it into a religious issue.
Graham was quoted in the news media as saying, “You know, climate change is not a religious problem for me, it’s an economic, it is an environmental problem.”
Members of his party, he said, “are all over the board” when it comes to climate change, and that the party doesn’t have a clear stance on climate change or a plan to address it.
Graham’s remarks followed the revelation of a state of Florida ban on environmental officials from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming,” that came into effect with Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement of his upcoming bid for the presidency. Cruz is a Republican from Texas who denies the existence of climate change.
In December 2010, as the U.N. climate talks were underway in Cancun, Mexico, Andrus and Bishop Naudal Gomes of the Diocese of Curitiba, Brazil, convened a gathering in the Dominican Republic which explored the intersection between poverty and climate change, and aimed to change the conversation in the church from one of “climate change” to “climate justice.” The gathering included more than 30 Anglicans and Episcopalians from Cuba, the United States, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Addressing climate change from a global consensus doesn’t mean that developing countries arrest development, it just means that developing countries look to technology and alternatives to fossil fuels so as not to create the amount of waste developed countries have created.
“We have to look at economy and equity and ecology together, and how they work to reinforce each other, and that’s not a pipe dream,” said Nichols.
Throughout history, the church has partnered with social movements on equal rights and justice issues. By beginning the conversation now The Episcopal Church, which has observer status at the United Nations, can begin to talk about how to contribute to the larger conversation on climate change that will take place later this year.
“For the last decade and a half, The Episcopal Church has focused on LGBT issues, and now we’re having a growing consciousness about the enormity of the climate change crisis … and without letting go of any of the other justice issues, we’re seeing that this is the emerging need for our global engagement,” said Andrus. “We are an organization that has some capacity to be a partner to a movement, to be a supporter to a movement, a resource to a movement, from which energy and resources can come.”
— Lynette Wilson is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service.