by Catherine Woodiwiss
The statement, written and endorsed by over 1300 faith leaders, elected officials, civil rights groups, environmental activists, business representatives, and others, calls on both Presidential candidates to “act in the best interests of this and all future generations of American’s now by publicly acknowledging the climate emergency”; and committing to host a climate summit to craft actions for national solutions within their first 100 days in office.
This is only the latest step in a long, hot summer filled with faith groups demanding that climate change get its place at the table during the last weeks of the election season.
Since the spring, faith groups across the aisle have grown bolder in taking their demands for specific action on energy and climate change to political leaders. In connection with Earth Week last April, the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate released a Congress report card, which detailed each Member’s record on climate change and clean energy standards. Though each Representative scored differently, the overall grade was a miserable F.
“The U.S. Congress has failed to meaningfully address the rapidly deepening crisis,” said the group. “This is a moral and ethical failure of the highest order.”
And following an Earth Week declaration to the White House that climate change was an election issue, a coalition of young Evangelicals unveiled a new campaign in July: Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. The group’s main organizing effort, spearheaded by young author and former congressional candidate Ben Lowe, is a social media campaign calling on Presidential candidates to outline their plan of action for addressing climate change.
“The  Presidential election will be the most important one we’ve ever had, or may ever have, when it comes to climate change,” wrote Lowe in July, urging more action on comprehensive climate legislation that includes putting a price on carbon pollution, addressing deforestation and ocean acidification, and providing aid for communities to adapt to existing impacts.
“It’s crucial for President Obama and Governor Romney to make overcoming the climate crisis a campaign promise and a national priority. [But] currently, neither of the major candidates is showing the courageous leadership we need.”
Coming from faithful youth, this censure of failed leadership is a new development in a rising chorus of calls for climate protection from the typically-conservative Evangelical movement. And in this election year, their voices are particularly amplified.
In June, the Evangelical Environmental Network ran TV spots in key swing states – including Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio – asking viewers to “tell Senators that defending the EPA’s ability to reduce carbon pollution is the right thing to do.” Wrote Jim Ball, Executive Vice President of EEN, “as my colleague and EEN’s President, the Rev. Mitch Hescox, says: “So goes our community on this issue, so goes the country.”
Calls for political leadership on climate are not limited to the Evangelical community. On August 14th, the same day that the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a report showing that a majority of all registered voters say they will consider candidates’ views on global warming when deciding how to vote, the Franciscan Action Network issued a press release urging President Obama and Governor Romney to acknowledge the pending climate crisis as an ecological and moral issue and to outline steps they would take to address the problem.
“During this election campaign we cannot allow the candidates to simply bury their heads in the sand,” reads the statement.
It goes on forcefully: “We should challenge the media and our political leaders when they spread misinformation… Both President Obama and Governor Romney need to have the moral courage to use their voices as leaders…and provide a plan of action. The American people and all God’s children across this world deserve no less.”
As the calls from all faithful quarters become stronger, so it appears does the determination to highlight the collective ethical implications of climate change. “Climate disruption is a multi-dimensional, non-partisan, and moral issue,” says Jose Aguto, Legislative Secretary for the Quaker group Friends Committee on National Legislation. “Congress is silent on this issue, but many in the faith community are not. We cannot address climate disruption with anything less than a social movement.”
Indeed, this summer FCNL helped with Rep. Jim Moran’s introduction of a resolution – now co-sponsored by 10 Members of Congress and endorsed by a diversity of organizations – that urges Members to acknowledge climate change as a critical moral, environmental, and public health issue.
In signing yesterday’s petition, Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, said: “We have a clear choice in this election – between belittling climate change and doing nothing, or…speaking the truth about why urgent action is so critically important. …I signed the petition because it’s up to us, ‘we the people’, to hold both candidates accountable.”
The message is clear: faith groups are increasingly willing to put their vote on the line for climate action. Both candidates, and their parties, would do well to listen.
Catherine Woodiwiss is a Special Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative