Evangelicals Accept Global Warming's Existence

Feb. 8, 2006 — -- "The question is, do we want to destroy the Creation -- with a capital C [as in the Bible's Creation story] -- because that's what we're doing, and at an accelerating rate."

The speaker was not one of the evangelical leaders at today's news conference in Washington announcing a major initiative to fight global warming.

The speaker was one of America's pre-eminent scientists, Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, who believes that "an alliance of science and religion" over questions of global warming and of the destruction of species can be a powerful force to prevent the catastrophe.

"It doesn't matter whether you believe Darwin got it right or that the Genesis story is literally true," Wilson said in his office on campus. "We can all agree that, however it got here, the living creation -- on which we all depend for our existence -- is something we don't want to see destroyed."

New environmental movements among conservative Christians suggest Wilson is right. One of them is named "Creation Care."

For decades, Wilson has been drawing attention to the extinctions of species and entire ecosystems caused by habitat destruction.

But now hundreds of scientists around the world are reporting that the rapidly rising average global temperature is already causing widespread extinctions of species and the dispersal of delicately balanced ecologies of plants and animals -- and doing so at a rate that may already be greater than that of habitat destruction.

"I am an optimist by nature," Wilson said. "But I have to admit, it's getting kind of scary."

Scientists also warn that the rising average global temperature, which the vast majority of them agree is caused chiefly by man-made greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, will continue to devastate the poorest on Earth first and, in the coming decades, have a catastrophic effect on civilization itself unless the oil, gas and coal emissions are sharply curtailed.

Today's Washington news conference announcing the initiative by 86 evangelical leaders seemed only to confirm the practicality of Wilson's hoped-for alliance.

"We are concerned about the degradation of the environment, and especially the smallest nations that have the smallest room for error," Wheaton College president Duane Litfin said.

"They are much more vulnerable," he added. "Our margin in the United States is much larger."

The Rev. Leith Anderson, senior pastor at the Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., said simply: "We are concerned about the effect of global warming on the poorest of the poor and the marginalized of society."

The Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, said that political and economic pressure would come from the group as well.

"We're calling for national legislation. … What's needed is a requirement that carbon emissions need to be reduced," Ball said.

President Bush has long counted on the votes of evangelicals, but has steadfastly refused to focus on global warming or offer any solution other than encouraging new technology. Climatologists say that will not be widely available soon enough to prevent serious climate disruption. They also say that voluntary emissions cuts won't work.

A growing religious sensibility on global warming -- especially coming from so conservative a base as America's evangelicals -- would seem hard for politicians to ignore.

Wilson, who won the Pulitzer Prize twice, has written a new book, "The Creation," due out in September. It's written in the form of a letter to a southern minister that explores the mutual concerns of science and religion in matters pertaining to the protection of "The Creation."