It’s real, it’s urgent and it’s time to act!

The Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church testified before the Senate’s Environment and Public Work Committee June 7 bringing to bare her credentials as both a religious leader and a former oceanographer. The hearing entitled “An Examination of the Views of Religious Organizations Regarding Global Warming,” met on June 7 with an interfaith panel of witnesses including the Presiding Bishop.

“As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist I believe science has revealed to us without equivocation that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities. They are a threat not only to God’s good creation but to all of humanity,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said.

The Presiding Bishop joined other panelists in recognizing that the science of climate change is real and that urgent national action to respond to climate change is needed. In her testimony Bishop Jefferts Schori urged that reducing carbon emissions by 15-20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050 should be a national priority noting that inaction now is the most costly of all courses of action for those living in poverty and vulnerable communities.

“We cannot triumph over global poverty, however, unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related. Climate change exacerbates global poverty, and global poverty propels climate change,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said.

Joining the Presiding Bishop on the panel were John Carr of the department of social development and world peace at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops; the Rev. Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center.

Testifying at the invitation for the minority side of the committee were Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; David Barton, author, historian and founder/president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization; and Dr. Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Concern for those living in poverty was used both as an argument for climate change legislation and against. The minority witnesses and panelists argued that any legislation developed could hurt those living in poverty and vulnerable communities here in the United States and around the world. Bishop Jefferts Schori and her fellow majority witnesses made a clear case that inaction would inevitably hurt those living in poverty.

Congress is expected to begin work this summer on climate change legislation and a number of bills have already been introduced. Designed correctly, a number of measures could be set in place that direct funding to help those living in poverty and other vulnerable communities adapt to potentially higher energy prices or appliances as a result of carbon emission reductions.

A capacity crowd filled the hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Committee’s chair and ranking member Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) joined by other members of the committee in questioning all the panelists on a variety of issues and concerns. Several interesting exchanges occurred between committee members and panelists.

Senator Inhofe challenged the Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network for his organization having received funding from the Hewlett foundation. Inhofe complained that members of the Evangelical Environmental Network might find it difficult to receive money from a foundation that also supports organizations committed to pro-choice advocacy.

Ball responded, “We figure that every dollar that goes to us goes to a pro-life group and not a pro-choice group.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), an Episcopalian himself, used the opportunity to then question Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy on their funding. Tonkowich said that he would not reveal the names of individual contributors adding that the foundations that give IRD funding require them to sign a release saying that IRD will not release the name of their organization to the public

Near the end of the hearing Senator Inhofe declared that of the past 12 hearings the Committee had convened on the issue of global warming, this hearing was the most interesting.

(This special article was submitted by John B. Johnson, IV of the The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations)

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