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Morality And Megawatts: Global Warming And Energy Policy Are More Than Politics And Economics

Op-Ed by: Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and
Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches

July, 2001

The greenhouse has turned into a hothouse for President Bush. His administration comes late to the understanding that we are entrusted by a generous Creator as stewards to "till and tend the Garden," not ravage and plunder it without regard for consequences.

We applaud the President for seeking sound scientific advice to guide his policies. The recent report by scholars of the National Academy of Sciences, drafted at Mr. Bush's request, is an excellent first step.

These distinguished scientists affirmed the reliability of international research that shows global warming to be a reality and indicated that human activity is a clear factor in this accelerating climate shift. Mr. Bush has said he will take his experts' advice seriously.

But the Bush administration's initiatives over the past months, particularly in the realm of energy policy, will likely make global warming worse. President Bush and Vice President Cheney proposed to increase the production of fossil fuels and to construct dozens of new power plants, a move that would enlarge our greenhouse gas emissions.

In response to the administration's initial claim that conservation was merely a "personal virtue," widespread public reaction led them belatedly to add conservation measures to their plan.

As a foundation for public policy, conservation should be a centerpiece, not an afterthought; a solemn vow, not a concession.

Many economists and scientists have shown the values of conservation to both the economy and the environment. Compelling as their arguments are, we would remind Mr. Bush that there are moral and spiritual imperatives that also pull us in that direction. Preventing harmful climate change is a preeminent expression of faithfulness to the Creator who has so blessed us.

  • Conservation is grounded biblically in the Judeo-Christian concept of stewardship. We have a moral obligation to choose the safest, cleanest and most sustainable sources of energy to preserve God's gift of creation.
  • Conservation is a responsibility to future generations. By depleting energy sources, causing global warming, fouling the air, poisoning the land, and increasing reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power, we jeopardize the health and well-being of ourselves and our descendents.
  • Conservation is an issue of justice. Energy policy must benefit not only the healthy and wealthy, but also "the least among us," the poor, the ill and the vulnerable - those whom God has called us to protect.
  • Conservation is an act of prudence. In order to assure economic security it is not necessary to risk environmental health or future sustainability. Investment in renewable energy and fuel efficiency thus becomes a moral imperative and a way to secure and enhance, not diminish, the future.
  • Conservation is a commitment to all of God's creation. With less than 5% of the world's population, our nation generates more than 22% of greenhouse gases. As the world's primary energy consumer and pollution producer, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to lead a transition to a new, sustainable global energy system. We must be a party to binding international agreements that set achievable energy conservation targets and timetables.

The religious community found the scientific evidence clear and compelling enough to mandate their engagement with this issue as early as 1988. Their concern has continued to grow. Last month, more than 350 local religious leaders from across the nation met in Washington under National Council of Churches sponsorship to address the issue and to meet with more than 200 members of Congress.

At the same time, 41 national Jewish and Christian leaders signed "Let There Be Light", an open letter to the President, the Congress and the American people on energy conservation and God's creation.

Political leaders addressed global warming as far back as 1992, when President Bush's father signed the international Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified by the Senate in 1993. This laid the foundation for the Kyoto Protocol, a timetable for action by the developed nations, which produce 85% of the world's harmful greenhouse emissions.

Many corporations, including Dupont, IBM, Enron and Maytag, have begun programs of conservation and energy efficiency as sound economic policy.

Thus it is clear that Presidential leadership on the challenge of climate change would be met with widespread, informed support and expert collaboration.

We invite President Bush to join the expanding ranks of Americans of faith who seek a moral and spiritual pathway through the intertwined issues of energy policy and global warming. Our choices in this matter may be judged by history as one of the fundamental legacies of Mr. Bush's time as our nation's leader. We call on him to set a standard of stewardship as he redirects our national energy policy toward conservation, efficiency, justice and prudence.

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