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Global warming now literally part of religion

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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Global warming “skeptics” have long joked that belief in man-made global warming is a “religion.” Ironically, it has been part of some people’s religious practices for the past few years.

For years, environmental activists were pretty much the only ones who really cared enough to take personal action against global warming, but now religious communities are joining in on the climate fight. From the U.S. to the UK to the Vatican, global warming activism has become part of the religious conversation.

Carbon fasting in the U.S.

For years, some U.S. Christians have been doing what they call a “carbon fast” for Lent — the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During this time, thousands of people make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, whether it’s driving less or not investing in hydrocarbon fuels.

New England Regional Environmental Ministries (NEREM) launched the effort in 2011. The goal of the “carbon fast” is to wean people off carbon dioxide-intensive goods and foods in order to stem global warming.

Rev. Dr. Jim Antal is one of the founders of NEREM and currently writes daily messages to thousands of carbon fasters around the globe about how to lower their carbon footprint and be one with the climate.

Antal heads the president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, which, in 2009, became the first U.S. religious body to pass a resolution urging the government to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Last year, it tried to become the first U.S. religious body to divest itself of fossil fuels.

“I know I’m way out ahead,” Antal said. “That’s what leadership is all about. Leadership is about being far enough out ahead to cast a vision, to extend the horizon and to then invite people to come with you.”

“I tell congregations, ‘I want to trade a shriveled hope that you will recycle, or maybe walk or bicycle a little more instead of using your car — I want to trade in that tiny hope for a much grander hope,” Antal added. “I have 100 percent confidence that the people in this congregation know exactly where the railroad tracks are, and that soon enough you will put your bodies on the tracks and block the transport of oil from the Canadian tar sands to our processing plants.'”

Antal has long touted the religious significance of global warming. He has told other ministers that every third sermon should be about climate. Antal was also among those arrested at the White House last year protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. He has been arrested twice with environmentalist Bill McKibben, who founded the group 350.org.

“The thousands of young people through 350.org who have showed both surprise and respect at my leadership — getting arrested a couple of times at the White House, and other brands of leadership — it opens their eyes to say, ‘My goodness, maybe there is something in the church,'” Antal said.

The Church of England’s alarmist side

Is global warming a “great demon”? The Church of England says it is and has promised to divest itself of hydrocarbon fuels as a last resort in order to help cut Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Calls for the church to divest came from its own clergy in the wake of massive flooding and torrential rainfall that hit the UK last winter, as climate scientists debated whether or not the wet winter was caused by global warming.

Canon Giles Goddard of the church’s Southwark diocese said the religious body should “align the mission of the church with its investment arm and with the life of the parishes.”

“Climate change is a moral issue because the rich world has disproportionately contributed to it and the poor world is disproportionately suffering,” said Goddard. “Poor communities are least equipped to deal with the impacts.”

Goddard’s calls for divestment were echoed by Bishop Steven Croft of Sheffield who called global warming “a giant evil; a great demon of our day.”

“Its power is fed by greed, blindness and complacency in the present generation, and we know that this giant wreaks havoc through the immense power of the weather systems, which are themselves unpredictable,” Croft said.

The Church of England has so far not divested of hydrocarbons, but has said it’s still committed to tackling global warming.

The pope wants in on the action

It’s not just a small group of U.S. Christians that have been pushing for action on global warming, the Catholic church has been weighing in on the issue as well.

In his 20009 Encyclical, Pope Benedict wrote that it is mankind’s duty to respect the environment and sustainably grow economies so they are more equal and environmentally friendly. Benedict described the global economy as one “which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.”

Benedict’s message of caring for the environment and tackling global warming was also presented to the 2009 UN global warming summit. The pope told the summit it was important they “send the right signals to their citizens and succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment.”

Global warming activism has been carried on by Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis who was elected to the head the church last year. News reports say that Francis’s inaugural mass was full of references to environmental protection and indicated that fighting global warming would be a key part of his tenure as pope.

“We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation,” Francis told an audience on World Environment Day last year. “The implications of living in a horizontal manner [is that] we have moved away from God, we no longer read His signs.”

It’s not just the pope who has been more active on environmental issues in recent years. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also been a vocal environmental activist, calling for countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and stop using hydrocarbon fuels.

Tutu recently coauthored an oped in the UK Guardian with Former Irish president Mary Robinson calling for the European Union to do more to address global warming, labeling it as a civil rights issue as well as an environmental one.

“Addressing climate change is also a matter of justice. If we are to be true to our commitment to human rights, then rich nations owe a fair and honest deal to the world’s most vulnerable regions,” Robinson and Tutu wrote. “The people on the frontline of climate change have often done the least to cause it.”

“This means reducing the suffering of those worst affected and acting now to avoid further suffering in the future,” the two added. “It also means sharing technology, funds and solutions to help vulnerable countries and communities to engage fully in the transition to a low-carbon world. As the cradle of the industrial revolution, Europe created our carbon-heavy world and must lead the world into its next, low-carbon, safer and more caring chapter.”

Tutu has even come out against the Keystone XL pipeline which will bring oil from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Keystone has become a hot button issue in the U.S. and environmentalists have been trying to kill the project for years.

“The verdict on whether to approve or reject the Keystone XL pipeline could, in just one stroke, confirm or condemn America’s prospects for climate leadership,” wrote Tutu and other b-list celebrities and scientists to the State Department.

“This is a US policy decision that will have truly global significance. Keystone XL is his chance to set a correction course on US energy policy and open up a new clean energy future,” Tutu and the others added. “We hope he does.”

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