Speaker’s passion: ‘religious response to global warming’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury Post
The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham is a small woman. She had to lower the microphone every time she spoke in Hedrick Theatre as part of the “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” conference at Catawba College.
But when she gave a keynote address Friday night on “Bringing Faiths Together to Respond to Global Climate Change,” her voice was bold and her passion huge.
That passion to save the planet is what led Bingham ó a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of California and environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco óto start Interfaith Power & Light, which she described as “a religious response to global warming.”
In introducing her, Center for the Environment Director Dr. John Wear noted the impact of that campaign earned her the 2007 United States Environmental Protection Agency Climate Protection Award.
She was also the recipient of the 2007 Purpose Prize for outstanding social innovators over age 60, Wear told the 200 people in the audience, and the 2002 Energy Globe Award winner for working to create a sustainable energy future.
“The most important issues facing us today,” Bingham began, “and the two issues that will determine the future of the human species are 1), species extinction and 2), climate change.”
Every year, the earth loses 20,000 species. “Never before in history has anything even remotely matched this devastation of creation,” Bingham said. “Because of the interconnectedness of all life systems, species extinction at that level is frightening.”
The changing climate has a lot to do with species extinction. “And I think that if we begin to solve the climate problem,” she said, “we will save a great many of the species at the same time.”
In her 10 years of working on climate change issues, Bingham said she has seen people of all faiths come together to look at ways of reversing the global warming trends. Bringing people of faith together was not the goal of the Interfaith Power & Light campaign, she said, but it has been “a glorious outcome and something to celebrate.”
In launching the program in Utah, for example, she said, “We had Baha’is, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Quakers, Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Hindus and Mormons …
“The one thing that we all agreed on is that we are stewards of creation,” she said, “and that we have a responsibility to work for justice and peace … It just tells me that we’re on the right track.
“There have been struggles in our campaign, but there are far more affirmations to indicate that God is pleased with what we’re doing.”
When it comes to warnings about global warming, Bingham said, “Scientists are today’s prophets, and we need to listen to them.”
One by one, she said people can change the warming trend. “The problem, however, is that we don’t have time to go one by one.”
Scientists say “we have a scant 10 years to turn this trend around to avoid catastrophic weather conditions …” she said, “and that we only have two to three years to start making those changes.”
Changes like curbing the use of greenhouse gases and limiting carbon dioxide, the most dangerous of the greenhouse gases, are crucial, Bingham said. She joined a group of scientists and religious leaders in Washington at a gathering in the early 1990s led by then-Vice President Al Gore and late astrophysicist and astronomer Carl Sagan. When she and other clergy left, they put “green lenses” on their glasses and began reading through the scriptures again.
Until recently, Bingham said most of the religious community ó even with the green lenses ó has ducked the responsibility of being stewards of creation and disobeyed the commandment of loving one another. As a result, “We have watched creation be destroyed, and we’ve watched numerous species die.”
Repeating her message of the last decade, she said, “the issue of global warming is the most important moral issue of our time. It’s the slavery of the 19th Century. It’s the Civil Rights issue of the 1960s. It’s the biggest challenge facing this generation.”
Bingham asked members of the audience to think for a moment about someone or something they love. What if they found out that person was ill with a serious disease like she faced 10 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer? And what if the doctors said wait three years before starting treatments?
“Why would you wait?” she asked.
That’s what is happening with the laws to reverse global warming, Bingham said, because they won’t even begin to take effect until 2020. “Well, we don’t have that kind of time,” she said. “That’s 12 years from now.”
Despite the enormity of the challenge, Bingham concluded by saying she is optimistic.
“The religious community has such an important role,” she said. “We’re restoring a shared sense of purpose and sense of gratitude for our very existence.”
Isn’t it strange, Bingham asked, that people spend time preparing what to leave behind for their children and grandchildren: property, financial portfolios … but don’t think anything about leaving behind air, water, oil.
“Some people think that they will figure it out,” she said, “but many of us maintain, however, that we have this responsibility to future generations.
“I believe that we do care. If I thought we couldn’t do something or we didn’t care about the climate problems, I wouldn’t have dedicated my ministry and my life to this.”
All across the country, people are taking steps to curb energy use and reverse global warming. “They’re not waiting for the federal government,” Bingham said.
The faith community is now “a voice in the dialogue,” she said. Clergy are walking the halls of legislative buildings talking to lawmakers, she said, and their congregations are forming “green teams” to come up with ways to help save the environment.
“Doing the right thing is seldom the easiest choice,” she said, “but when it becomes apparent that it’s the only choice for people of conscience, we begin to heal and we will heal the environment.
“We are the caretakers of this planet, and therefore, stewardship of this planet and caring for each other is our greatest moral duty.”
The single most important thing people can do, she said, “is to vote for leaders who will implement policies that will provide us with a sustainable future.
“We’re in a very different place now, and I’m not saying that all environmentalists are becoming believers or that all religious leaders are giving up their belief in divine causes, but I am saying that the religious response to global warming is a powerful movement in this country.
“We are on our way to saving this fragile island that we call home.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.