A group of Evangelical Christians are calling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to create a plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change, hoping that their message will resonate with Scott’s staunch Christian values.
Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), is leading the group’s campaign for Scott to recognize climate change as a major threat in Florida. EEN is collecting signatures for a petition asking Gov. Scott to create a plan for climate change, one which so far has garnered about 12,000 signatures. Hescox told ThinkProgress that EEN chose to focus on Florida because of its vulnerability to climate change — Floridians, especially in the Southeast region of the state, are already struggling to adapt to rising seas that lead to sunny-day flooding and stronger storm surges.
“We wanted to help the evangelical church understand in Florida that climate change is not a liberal issue or any issue other than a people issue,” he said.
Gov. Scott, however, has expressed doubt before that climate change is occurring — in 2010, he told reporters he hadn’t “been convinced” that the problem existed, and last week, he avoided a question on whether his 2010 beliefs are the same today by responding, “I’m not a scientist.”
But Hescox said Scott’s faith gives him a connection to the governor, one that he hopes he can tap into to get the governor to pay attention to climate change.
“I think he’s gotten caught up — at least, this is just my own opinion — in some of the rhetoric that’s flying around of climate change being, you know, a polar bear issue.” Hescox said. “We’re hoping that with his values and his understanding of scripture, that helping him to understand climate change in a way that uses the values that he and I probably share — more conservative, pro-life values — will help him understand climate change is a real and very big threat to Florida.”
That way of looking at environmental issues in a Biblical lens is one that’s central to the EEN’s work. The group emphasizes creation care, the idea that humans have a duty to take care of the Earth, because the Earth and its creatures are the creation of God and to love God’s creation is to love God. The group also notes that the poor are often those who are affected most by pollution, and many Christians believe they have a duty to help the poor.
“The first real handbook of sustainability is the Biblical book of Leviticus. It talks about crop rotation, about how to care about animals,” Hescox said. “That’s why it’s a matter of life for us — everything we do, as human beings, to mess up God’s creation impacts human life.”
Hescox pointed to the suffering climate change has caused around the world as reason why climate change is something Christians should care about. Air pollution is linked to asthma, kidney disease and heart problems, and climate change is expected to cause a rise in vectorborne illnesses like malaria and West Nile. These are some of the most compelling reasons to act on climate change, Hescox said.
“For us, it’s a pro-life issue,” he said. “We are pro-life from conception to natural death, and we believe anything that affects the quality of life is something that’s a pro-life value.”
Hescox said he plans to deliver the petition to Gov. Scott in the coming weeks, and he’s also participating a panel at a church in Florida on Tuesday on why Christians should care about climate change. He’s done these types of panels in other states before, he said, and thinks churchgoers have been very receptive to his ideas. He’s hoping Gov. Scott will be, too.
“I can only knock at his door and see if he’ll open it,” he said. “We’ll pray that he will, and pray that we’ll be able to show him why this is an important matter to Florida evangelicals — and important to Jesus in my opinion.”
Scott, however, isn’t the only Florida lawmaker who needs convincing of climate change’s importance. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) made headlines last week for a series of comments casting doubt on the existence of man-made climate change. Some lawmakers have turned their attention to the issue, however — Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) held a hearing on sea level rise in April, and Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) held a panel on climate change’s impacts in the state a few days later.