News Analysis 3
Global warming’s effects seen as a justice issue
Because it will hit the poor hardest, Catholics should watch debate and explore options for prudent action, experts say
By Stephen James
recent cover story in Time magazine featured the head-
A line “Be worried. Be very worried,” and proclaimed
that the debate about global warming is, or should be, over.
“From heat waves to storms
to floods to fires to massive glacial Related reading
melts, the global climate seems Just in time for Earth Day,
to be crashing around us,” Time find out how good steward-
said. ship of creation fits in with
The real-time seeming Catholicism and how to
Armageddon is the result of a effect change on both a
chain reaction of events origi- diocesan and individual
nating in the excessive generation level. In Focus, Pages
of carbon monoxide and other 11-14
gases that damage the protective
layer of the earth’s atmosphere.
The damage lets in harmful climate-friendly technologies.
energy, such as ultraviolet rays, Faith-based groups also have
and traps the sun’s heat, causing advocated for action to address
surface temperatures to rise, the problem of global climate Dealing with the effects of greenhouse gas on the environment is not so much a sci-
among other side effects. change. In January, a coalition of entific question as it is a policy question, said Edward Wassell, a professor at
For years, the immense com- evangelical Christians formed Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. Earth Day is April 22. KRT ILLUSTRATION
plexity of the problem delayed the Evangelical Climate Initiative.
an accurate assessment of the “Over the last several years many the bishops made and continue
cause-and-effect relationship, of us have engaged in study, to make,” he said.“This is a clas-
but long-term research com- reflection and prayer related to sic case of where we have to act Americans lukewarm about threat
bined with technological break- the issue of climate change,” the in pursuit of the common good
throughs has all but confirmed group said in a statement. “For instead of responding to one set
the stark reality of the situation. most of us until recently this has of interests or another.”
“I haven’t run into anybody not been treated as a pressing issue Should Catholics rush out and
that’s skeptical about it,” said or major priority.” buy gas-electric hybrid vehicles
Edward Wassell, a former The initiative noted that even and begin campaigns to lobby
researcher for NASA and now a small increases in global tem- their legislators and corporate
professor at Thomas Aquinas peratures could cause sea levels executives?
College in Santa Paula, Calif. to rise,more frequent heat waves, Not necessarily,say the experts. According to Gallup Poll results released earlier
“Mostly the question is what do droughts and extreme weather “We’re not part of the ‘What this month, 62 percent of Americans worry a great
you do about it. And that’s not a events. The poor would bear a Would Jesus Drive?’ campaign,” deal or a fair amount about global warming, a fig-
scientific question but a policy disproportionate share of the said Carr. ure that hasn’t changed much in the past 17 years.
question.” negative impact since the areas “Catholic teaching is more Source: Gallup Poll News Service
likely to be hardest hit are in the complicated than that. What we
Taking action poorest areas of the world,accord- drive and how we live is a chal-
It is time, researchers and ing to the initiative statement. lenge for each of us.Sacrifice and
activists say, for state and federal restraint, as Lent teaches us, are
elected officials to acknowledge Church response not only good for creation,they’re
the problem and enact initiatives The Evangelical Climate good for our souls.” of the public seems to be in researcher Jim Slater offers a dif-
to reduce greenhouse emissions. Initiative has striking similarities But Catholics should keep an denial. The disconnect may be ferent, less forgiving observation
Stories in the local and national to a 2001 statement from the U.S. eye on the big picture as well,said related to misleading media cov- on the public’s reluctance to con-
news media have echoed the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Carr, who suggests a three- erage which grants equal time to front the issue. Slater attributes
same concerns and conclusions. who, apparently, were ahead of pronged approach. “Watch the fringe elements who claim that the disassociation to self-interest.
Although the federal govern- the global-warming-acknowl- debate. Make the case for pru- the problem is grossly exagger- “This is something that turns
ment has been accused of foot edgment curve. Nearly five years dent action with a focus on how ated, or outright reject the over- out to be very difficult to deal with
dragging and even obstructing ago, the bishops emphasized the it touches the poor. And then whelming evidence, according if we decide that the greenhouse
progress to mitigate the problem, socioeconomic ramifications of shape our own choices in terms to Geoffrey Henebry a Catholic effect is a really important thing
much of the private sector has climate change. “We especially of sacrifice and restraint,”he said. professor and senior research and that we ought to take some
decided to pre-emptively begin want to focus on the needs of the “Because in Washington there are scientist at South Dakota State action,” he said. “That requires
changes. poor, the weak and the vulnera- a lot of voices at the table, the University. some real serious efforts to change
Cross sections of corporate ble in a debate often dominated environmentalists, the power “I think the media feels that the way we consume energy, and
America have recognized that it by more powerful interests,”they companies,industry and labor to it makes a good story to have a maybe the cars that we drive and
is good public relations,and even wrote. a certain extent. The poor aren’t couple of dissenting voices, and how big a house we live in,” he
fiscally beneficial, to confront John Carr, director of social at those tables. They’re not buy- if they’re presented pretty much said.“So it’s kind of easier to say
the business challenges presented development and world peace for ing 60-second TV ads.” on equal footing … the reader of ‘Well, it’s not important, the
by global warming; recognizing the U.S. bishops, is gratified to the article is saying ‘Oh, look, greenhouse effect isn’t really hap-
that greenhouse gas limits are see that consensus about the Public denial there’s two sides and they’re pretty pening.’ ”
inevitable and that they cannot problem appears to have reached But while scientists, corpora- much divided,’ ” he said.
risk falling behind their interna- critical mass.“I think people are tions and churches have accepted But Franciscan University pro- Stephen James writes from
tional competitors in developing coming around to the points that the problem as virtual fact,much fessor and greenhouse-effect California.
OUR SUNDAY VISITOR l APRIL 23, 2006