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Mallory McDuff, Ph.D.

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Playing Fair in Love and Climate Change

Posted: 02/14/2012 10:22 am

This week, my six-year old daughter Annie Sky labored over 20 pieces of pink construction paper, folding each piece in half, cutting the profile of a heart, and writing her double name in red marker to create cards for each child in her kindergarten class. "Everybody gets a Valentine," she said, "because if they don't, it's not FAIR."

During this season of undying love and cut-throat elections, we seem to have lost our sense of fair play as a country. The principles of fairness and justice are especially lacking in the discourse (or lack thereof) about global climate change. The impacts of global warming include food insecurity, rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, and public health threats.

As climate change has a disproportionate impact on the world's poor, one faith-based group, Interfaith Power & Light chose Valentine's Day weekend to highlight our moral mandate to protect the Earth and love our neighbor as ourselves. A coalition of 14,000 congregations from diverse religious traditions, Interfaith Power & Light hosted a National Preach-In on Global Warming, February 10-12.

In pulpits across the country, religious leaders integrated global warming into sermons, religious education, and advocacy, drawing from resources such as bulletin inserts about global warming, Valentine's postcards for legislators, and a Preaching for the Planet DVD. The Reverend Canon Sally Bingham, president of Interfaith Power & Light, says faith communities must "speak the truth" about climate change.

This truth -- the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change -- has been challenged this election season. Just last month, the Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., published a letter by 16 scientists who lacked expertise in climate science but who downplayed the seriousness of global warming. The publication sparked charges from bloggers about the "foxification" of the Wall Street Journal. (The paper finally published a rebuttal letter, despite initially refusing to publish the contrasting viewpoint from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences).

During the Republican primaries, voters have heard little about climate change from the candidates. Gingrich, a Catholic who has courted conservative evangelical voters, backtracked on an invitation to Dr. Katharine Hayhoe to write a chapter on climate science in the forthcoming sequel to his co-authored book A Contract with the Earth. A respected climate scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical, Hayhoe discovered through a reporter that Gingrich had dropped her chapter after Rush Limbaugh lambasted her on his radio show. Among her credentials, she wrote a book, A Climate of Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-based Decisions, with her husband, an evangelical pastor.

In a pointed response to the news, Hayhoe tweeted: "Nice to hear that Gingrich is tossing my #climate chapter in the trash. 100+ unpaid hrs I cd've spent playing w my baby." Of note, Hayhoe has gained national credibility for her ability to communicate the science of climate change to lay audiences and was a co-author on the Wall Street Journal rebuttal letter.

Certainly, those who profit from our addiction to fossil fuels, such as oil companies, have much to gain by perpetuating the stereotype of people who believe in God but not climate change. But in the long term, conservative candidates don't. That's because many of their constituents from faith communities are paying attention to the science. Both Republican and Democrats should consider the significant consequences of discounting religious voices informed about the science of global warming.

National organizations such as the Evangelical Environmental Network, GreenFaith, Earth Ministry, and Interfaith Power & Light collaborate daily with believers who understand the science of climate change and the religious values of love and justice for all. Putting faith into action, congregations have addressed climate change by creating church gardens, putting solar panels on the roofs of synagogues, decreasing energy consumption in religious facilities, and advocating for state legislation against coal-fired power plants. Preaching about global warming on Valentine's Day weekend is just another example of a sacred act.

As the Rev. Bingham often says, if we love our neighbor, we don't pollute our neighbor's earth, water, and air. Indeed, if all we ever needed to know, we learned in kindergarten, then every child deserves a Valentine and a future: it's only fair.