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Evangelical relief organizations ready to respond to effects of global warmingcomment (0)

October 14, 2004

After taking part in an early October briefing by environmental experts, officials of evangelical Christian relief groups said they expect to address the impact of global warming on the poor.

The Evangelical Environmental Network and the relief organization World Vision hosted a daylong discussion on climate change Oct. 4. Relief group leaders said predictions of greater floods and drought will lead them to work with Third World populations to prepare for and cope with changing weather patterns as well as help Western donors understand the seriousness of global warming.

The briefing — featuring representatives of the scientific, religious and political communities — continued efforts by evangelicals to draw greater attention to their role in addressing environmental changes. “Climate change is, I believe, a moral, ethical and developmental issue rather than a simple environmental issue,” Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank, told the two dozen people gathered at World Vision’s Washington office.

Vulnerable to change

“Industrialized countries are primarily responsible for causing the Earth’s climate to change, but developing countries ... are the most vulnerable to climate change and the actions of today will affect our future generations,” Watson said.

He said the Earth’s temperature had increased by one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years, prompting dramatic changes in flooding and drought that particularly affect poor populations across the globe. He predicted worsening problems — both physical and human — given scientists’ expectations that the warming will continue, and discussed how they are urging reduction of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

Bruce Wilkinson, senior vice president for the international programs group of World Vision, said the briefing heightened awareness that relief organizations need to develop programs to address effects of climate change and help their donors understand its impact.

“It’s important that our constituents are brought along in terms of their understanding of the ... social justice issue here,” he said in an interview. “It is unjust that these (poor) communities suffer the impact of climate change, which is 80, 90 percent created in the West, and most of the negative impact ... is happening within their societies, on their health, on their food production, on their water sources.”

While some relief organization staffers were aware of the effects of global warming on the people they serve, others were not. Galen Carey, director of advocacy and policy for Baltimore-based World Relief, said the briefing reinforced his awareness that the devastation affecting flood and drought victims may only increase.

Keith Norris, director of economic development for the Asia Pacific region for World Hope International, wondered how the weather patterns would affect subsistence farmers his organization has assisted with small business programs.

“It’s an awakening for me,” said Norris, whose relief agency is based in Springfield, Va. “I didn’t really realize the impact that the climate change would have on the poor.”

The briefing followed a similar gathering in North East, Md., in June of top evangelical leaders who committed to work on environmental issues, including global warming.

In that same month, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a draft document on civic engagement that featured a section calling on evangelicals to “protect God’s creation.”    (RNS)

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