The battle for climate change control continues
By Br. Steve Herro
In the film Amazing Grace, director Michael Apted and writer Steven Knight dramatically present the 20-year battle (1787-1807) by member of Parliament William Wilberforce to outlaw the slave trade in the British Empire. The film illustrates the importance of perseverance in legislative advocacy. The slave trade wasn't banned in one parliamentary session and the congressional response to climate change will not be accomplished on one vote, either.
On May 21, 2008, Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, declared that, "a central moral measure of climate change legislation is how it touches the poor and vulnerable. ... The real 'inconvenient truth' is that those who contribute least to climate change will be affected the most and have the least capacity to cope or escape. The poor and vulnerable are most likely to pay the price of inaction or unwise actions. " (See www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2008/08-077.shtml).
Less than three weeks later, the U.S. Senate literally ended the debate on national climate change legislation for this year when it failed to bring the Climate Security Act, S. 3036, to a vote. Wisconsin Senators Feingold and Kohl voted to end debate; 60 votes were needed to end debate and forward the bill, but the final tally was 48-36 (though six absent senators wrote in support of the bill).
In 2005, the Senate failed to advance a comprehensive climate change bill, 38-60. Like the British Parliament's decision to ban the slave trade, comprehensive climate change legislation will likely take multiple congressional sessions.
I realize that Catholics are divided on climate change. Some pastors have restricted the showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" in their churches; after I alerted parishioners on a Wisconsin bill to limit carbon emissions, an e-mail chided me for "... using the Catholic church to preach your own ... politics." Even my mother explains that God will take care of his created world, so why should we advocate for climate change control?
The Catholic Church and legislative advocates will not allow the discussion to die. Our bishops' conference has invested a lot of resources in its Environmental Justice Program: Caring for God's Creation (www.usccb.org/sdwp/ejp) and partners with the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change (www.catholicsandclimatechange.org).
Pope Benedict XVI has been labeled "the first green pope" by the Worldwide Watch Institute. Last year, the Vatican installed solar panels on its 10,000-seat main auditorium building, and it arranged to reforest land in Hungary to offset Vatican City's carbon emissions, making it the world's first carbon-neutral state. And Benedict has repeatedly urged protection of the environment and action against poverty in a number of major addresses.
So, prepare for the long haul. Engage your state and national officials on this issue and be aware of what this fall's candidates are saying and not saying about climate change. Remember, it is not just being debated at the federal level. Our own state Legislature considered the Wisconsin Safe Climate Act last session and Gov. Jim Doyle established the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming.
Don't let the length of the debate or the climate change theory's complexity deter you from studying the issues and forming a Christian conscience. For assistance in understanding the "science" behind the issue in "lay terms," see:
In addition to these sources, consider forming a JustFaith "JustMatters" group. JustFaith's JustMatters program provides an eight-week format for 8-15 Christian adults to study its module, "God's Creation Cries for Justice - Climate Change: Impact and Response." The Norbertine Center for Spirituality will offer it this fall (for registration information, call 920-337-4315).
For more information about starting your own JustMatters group on climate change, contact David Horvath, JustFaith Ministries, (502) 429-0865 ext. 227.
(Norbertine Br. Herro is director of social concerns for the Diocese of Green Bay.)