Will the Tide Turn Enough to Stop the Flood?

The tide is turning. With each passing week, more and more members of the scientific community and the public at large accept the reality that human activity is causing global climate change and that it is a moral imperative to take action to counter such. Yet despite the growing consensus and concern, despite the mounting scientific evidence, there are still those who prefer to selectively bury their heads in the sand, who see only the evil that they wish to see and remain blinded or indifferent to other ills. Writing in the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein highlights the burgeoning schism between Christian evangelicals who now count global warming as a real concern and those who discount it:

Evangelical's Focus on Climate Draws Fire of Christian Right

Leaders of several conservative Christian groups have sent a letter urging the National Association of Evangelicals to force its policy director in Washington to stop speaking out on global warming.

The conservative leaders say they are not convinced that global warming is human-induced or that human intervention can prevent it. And they accuse the director, the Rev. Richard Cizik, the association's vice president for government affairs, of diverting the evangelical movement from what they deem more important issues, like abortion and homosexuality.

The letter underlines a struggle between established conservative Christian leaders, whose priority has long been sexual morality, and challengers who are pushing to expand the evangelical movement's agenda to include issues like climate change and human rights.

"We have observed," the letter says, "that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time."

Those issues, the signers say, are a need to campaign against abortion and same-sex marriage and to promote "the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children." [full text]

While one might wish to dismiss these oppositional fellows as misguided zealots on the fringe, the unfortunate reality is that, despite their extreme views and minority status, they have undue influence on those who possess political power in America. Indeed, it is safe to say--though unsafe to ignore--that President Bush and many members of his administration (and many members of Congress) are closely allied with these evangelicals. As a result, public policy is failing miserably to keep up with the science on global climate change. Consider this news report by Andrew C. Revkin of the New York Times:

U.S. Predicting Steady Increase for Emissions

The Bush administration estimates that emissions by the United States of gases that contribute to global warming will grow nearly as fast through the next decade as they did the previous decade, according to a long-delayed report being completed for the United Nations.

The document, the United States Climate Action Report, emphasizes that the projections show progress toward a goal Mr. Bush laid out in a 2002 speech: that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases grow at a slower rate than the economy. Since that speech, he has repeated his commitment to lessening "greenhouse gas intensity" without imposing formal limits on the gases.

Kristen A. Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House on environmental matters, said on Friday, "The Climate Action Report will show that the president's portfolio of actions addressing climate change and his unparalleled financial commitments are working."

But when shown the report, an assortment of experts on climate trends and policy described the projected emissions as unacceptable given the rising evidence of risks from unabated global warming.

"As governor of Texas and as a candidate, the president supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions," said David W. Conover, who directed the administration's Climate Change Technology Program until February 2006 and is now counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a nonpartisan research group that supports limits on gases. "When he announced his voluntary greenhouse-gas intensity reduction goal in 2002, he said it would be re-evaluated in light of scientific developments. The science now clearly calls for a mandatory program that establishes a price for greenhouse-gas emissions."

According to the new report, the administration's climate policy will result in emissions growing 11 percent in 2012 from 2002. In the previous decade, emissions grew at a rate of 11.6 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report also contains sections describing growing risks to water supplies, coasts and ecosystems around the United States from the anticipated temperature and precipitation changes driven by the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. [full text]

Despite such dire threats, appallingly little of substance is being done in response. Nero continues to fiddle while the climate burns. What is truly frightening is that the lack of action and urgency--and, one might add, leadership--on the part of President Bush and certain of his evangelical compadres may be driven less by skepticism about global warming and more by the belief that such climate change is somehow God's will and thus ought not be meddled with. He will save us or not. If not, then the next flood of biblical proportions is meant to be and, indeed, may hasten the glorious Rapture.

How does one even begin to offer reasoned arguments against such unreasoning beliefs? Perhaps all one can offer is an allegory about God's will. There was a classic episode of the television series, The West Wing, entitled "Take This Sabbath Day," in which the President grapples with a moral and political dilemma and, failing to take action, seeks the counsel of a priest, who wisely offers:

You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, "I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me."

The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, "Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety." But the man shouted back, "I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me."

A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, "Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I'll take you to safety." But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety.

Well...the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. "Lord," he said, "I'm a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?"

God said, "I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?" [link]

What the hell are we going to do about global warming?

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