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Step up moral pressure over climate, Conference is told

31 July 2008

by Bill Bowder

BISHOPS were told that the climate was a moral cause that the Church was well-placed to champion, because politicians and economists had proved unable to give that leadership. If they waited until the next Lambeth Conference, they could be too late.

At a press conference on Saturday, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, said that every bishop in the Conference had a story to tell about climate change. One bishop in Alaska had lost his home because of the melting permafrost. In Haiti, deforestation because of poverty was exacerbated by climate change. Bishops from Sudan said that people found that they could no longer sustain themselves through farming. She was pressing for environmental legislation in the United States.

The Bishop of Vermont, the Rt Revd Thomas Ely, said afterwards: “We can give the moral leadership, and many of the bishops I have talked to say they are prepared to do that, but it has got to be a leadership from those who are already prosperous.”

The Bishop of Olympia, the Rt Revd Gregory Rickel, said that the Washington state legislature was proposing to cut carbon emissions in half. To ask people in Seattle to give up cars would be very challenging.

The Bishop of Canberra & Goulburn, in Australia, the Rt Revd George Browning, who chairs the Anglican Communion’s environment network, had told the Conference on Friday that Gordon Brown had “hardly mentioned” the seventh Millennium Goal about the environment” in his speech at Lambeth Palace, because he believed that Western self-interest would always prevail. As neither politicians nor economists could meet the challenge, it was up to the Churches to step in. This was their “core business”.

In a technical plenary presentation, Professor Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum, said that in ten years it would be too late to avoid massive climate change unless they acted now. Human activity that caused global warming was increasing by 3.5 per cent a year when it needed to decrease sharply. Oil had transformed the human ability to generate wealth, prosperity, and comfort. The capitalist system depended on it, but it was “the greatest market failure in history”.

Computer models had not predicted just how quickly change would occur. For instance, London would probably flood, putting it out of action for ten years, and costing £16 billion. “Just because something is unthinkable, it does not mean it won’t happen.” New Orleans would never recover from its flooding.

He hinted at the danger that strong leadership would enforce a solution, but said that moral leadership would be better. “That leadership is desperately needed, because this object is at great risk from our activities.”

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