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Link Between Global Warming and Poverty Focus of Earth Day Sunday

Church members across America will hear sermons this Sunday on climate change on Earth Day Sunday, which is celebrated in houses of worship on the weekend closest to Earth Day on April 22.

Each year the National Council of Churches’ Eco-Justice Working Group focuses on a particular environmental theme and highlights a number of ways individuals and congregations can celebrate and protect God’s creation. This year’s emphasis is on the link between global warming and poverty.

“Our call as people of faith–to protect the vulnerable and to be stewards of God’s Earth–means we must act to stop global climate change,” says an Earth Day Sunday worship resource at the NCC Eco-Justice Web site. “Because the effects of global climate change are already impacting those who can least afford to deal with it, addressing global climate change is also a justice issue.”

The PDF resource is offered free of charge, but registration is required. It includes sermon starters, liturgy and group study ideas on “The Poverty of Global Climate Change.”

The resource cites growing scientific consensus that human activities are producing carbon emissions that are increasing the Earth’s temperature. The recent IPCC Report on Climate Change said some impacts of global warming are already being felt and more severe effects are still to come. According to the resource, global climate change endangers food production. Melting sea ice could produce coastal flooding. Warmer waters have devastated reefs throughout the Caribbean, creating the worst coral-reef bleaching event on record.

The resource says the world’s poorest communities bear the brunt of damage caused by global warming.

“Those living in poverty rely highly on the environment around them for food and shelter, and have a limited capacity to cope with climate variability and extremes,” the resource says. “As temperature changes increase the frequency and intensity of severe-weather events around the world, impoverished communities, which often lack necessary infrastructure like storm walls and water storage facilities, will struggle to respond to increased disasters. Warmer climates will also increase the spread of diseases like malaria and impact the ability of impoverished communities to respond adequately to outbreaks when they can’t afford the medication for those infected. Perhaps the harshest consequence will come from changed rain patterns. This will increase the prevalence of drought in places like Africa, where only 4 percent of crop land is irrigated. The resulting decrease in food production will leave populations without food and limit their ability to trade internationally to generate income.”

“Global climate change poses one of the greatest threats to the most vulnerable among us, especially people in poverty,” it continues. “The impoverished and vulnerable do not have the economic and technological resources to adapt to the expected impacts of climate change. Heat waves, droughts, storms, and consequent economic costs fall most heavily upon those in poverty. Addressing climate change must involve addressing the plight of those in poverty to be successful, while addressing poverty must involve environmental sustainability to be a long-term solution.”

An NCC white paper warns that climate change will have an impact on core church ministries such as refugee resettlement, feeding the hungry and disaster relief. If an expected rise in severe hurricanes occurs over the next 30 years, for example, faith communities will have to increase funding for relief and development by more than 42 percent just to maintain the current level of funding.

The Earth Day Sunday emphasis is part of a larger Communities of Faith Climate Campaign by the Earth Day Network, a group founded by organizers of the first Earth Day observed in the United States in 1970.

Last Earth Day Sunday the network succeeded in creating 12,000 sermons and religious events through outreach to leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. This year’s goal is to activate 500,000 parishioners in areas of the country that have not responded to the climate crises in support of climate legislation that invests in renewable energy and the creation of green jobs and helps low-income Americans transition to the new green economy.

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. have adopted a policy statement acknowledging responsibility for stewardship of the earth and a resolution urging both individual conservation and support for public policy to clear up pollution.

Not all religious groups are on the bandwagon to fight climate change, however. The Southern Baptist Convention last year passed a resolution urging caution in the debate over global warming and climate the science is not yet settled on how much humans contribute to climate change.

Recently a group of Southern Baptist leaders signed a statement calling the denomination’s resolutions on global warming too timid.

The conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy just introduced a paper suggests Christians adopt a “triage” approach to global warming, comparing the benefits and costs of various environmental policies and selecting those that do not restrict economic development.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Also see:

Corporate America Goes Green, Will Pulpits Follow?

Baptists Must See Crisscrossing of Race, Poverty and the Environment