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ELECTION-ENVIRONMENT Sept-12-2008 (1,330 words) With logo posted Aug. 15 and photo posted Sept. 12. xxxn

Campaign '08: Bettering environment may depend on political climate

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The difficulties posed by the fouling of the environment -- which takes in a wide array of issues such as climate change, freshwater availability, vehicle emissions, and pesticides and potentially fatal bacteria in crops -- are daunting for any president to tackle.

As Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain battle it out for the presidency, Catholic and other faith-based activists are studying the political environment to see how they can leverage environmental issues into policy come Jan. 20 and beyond.

In July, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, together representing more than 86,000 vowed men and women religious, jointly resolved to "seek concrete ways to curb environmental degradation, mitigate its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people and restore right relationships among all God's creation; and to foster a consciousness of care for God's creation among all our members, colleagues, institutions and those whom we serve."

According to a report by the Commission to Engage African-Americans on Climate Change, African-Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to live in cities where the so-called "heat island" effect is expected to make temperature increases more severe. At the same time, more blacks will be "fuel poor" as energy demand rises because of higher air-conditioning loads, population growth and urbanization.

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference, as a member of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, is involved in developing a climate change position paper that will include a section on recommendations for education and research.

The Iowa-based rural life conference also will conduct "Raise Your Voice" workshops in dioceses for a year starting this fall to increase knowledge about climate change and its effects, and to demonstrate how Catholics can affect local, state and federal policy through work with the media and elected officials -- "with an emphasis on the federal level," said conference science and environmental education specialist Tim Kautza.

One such federal effort will surely be the proposed Climate Security Act, which would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allow entities to buy and sell rights to emit such gases. Not enough time remains for the current Congress to pass it, said Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, of which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a member, but he said frank discussion with lawmakers kept the bill from being weakened.

Under the measure 10 percent of the revenues that would come from selling U.S. carbon emissions credits would provide assistance for poor nations affected by global warming. "Unless we can engage with developing nations you're not going to have agreements to curtail global warming," Gorman said, adding that $200 billion-$300 billion in revenue was at stake.

Yet retiring Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a co-sponsor of the measure, excised that provision "under a lot of pressure from Republicans in the Senate and the White House," Gorman told Catholic News Service. "When people in the faith community heard about this, there was really very, very fierce concern. They got together with Warner and with (Sens. Joseph) Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) ... and said, 'If you take out a provision like this, faith groups are not going to be able to support this bill.'"

Warner backed down and reinserted the provision. Why?

"For the first time in the 18 years I've been working on this, it was the first time the religious community was unified," Gorman said. "They were really committed to doing something about an actual piece of legislation, and they were able to constitute a significant political force and threat. The Senate committee got the message. They were really surprised."

Added Gorman, "We were coming from authentic moral principle, we had done our homework and we made the case."

In 1990, in the first paragraph of his World Day of Peace message, Pope John Paul II said that peace was threatened not only by war and aggression, but also by "lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources and by a progressive decline in the quality of life. The sense of precariousness and insecurity that such a situation engenders is a seedbed for collective selfishness, disregard for others and dishonesty."

Pope John Paul's successor, Pope Benedict XVI, continues to preach on environmental themes.

"The concerns for nonviolence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity," he said in Sydney, Australia, in July for World Youth Day. "They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself."

Although many point to Pope John Paul's message as the joining of Catholic social teaching to environmental issues, U.S. Catholics can point to antecedents in the 1975 pastoral letter "This Land Is Home To Me" by 25 bishops of the Appalachian region, and the 1980 pastoral on rural issues, "Strangers and Guests," by 72 bishops of the Midwest.

Since then, the U.S. bishops collectively, individually and in regional groupings have addressed environmental justice issues, including the USCCB's 2001 statement, "Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good."

"Caring for God's creation means not only saving the animals and trees, but protecting humanity as well. Of particular concern to the church is how climate change and the response to it will affect poor and vulnerable people here at home and around the world," said Cecilia Calvo, project coordinator of the environmental justice program of the USCCB's Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, in an online essay posted at the bishops' "Faithful Citizenship" Web site.

The bishops' 2007 document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility," Calvo added, "urges Catholics to consider environmental issues before going to vote."

Obama's campaign platform calls for the creation of 5 million new "green-collar" jobs. Other planks in his platform include increasing to 10 percent by 2012, and to 25 percent by 2025, the amount of electricity coming from renewable sources; weatherizing 1 million homes annually; making greater efforts at energy efficiency; prioritizing the construction of the Alaska natural gas pipeline; and developing and deploying "clean coal" technology -- although environmental advocates scoff at the concept, saying that mining practices and emissions from coal-fired plants means there's no such thing as clean coal.

McCain's campaign platform does not get into as many specifics as Obama's, save for a target for greenhouse gas emission cuts: returning emissions to 2005 levels by 2012, with subsequent benchmarks in 2020, 2030, and 2050, at which point emissions would be 66 percent below 2005 levels. McCain embraces the "cap and trade" process found in the proposed Climate Security Act.

"The key feature of this mechanism is that it allows the market to decide and encourage the lowest-cost compliance options," the McCain campaign's Web site says. McCain's energy platform further calls for market-based solutions, technological advances and international engagement to combat climate change.

"As the science has become clearer, the Congress and the current president have become more engaged in climate change. Most of those science questions are answered," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. "Congress needs to -- and the current and future president need to -- think about ways in which we can mitigate climate change."

The next president "will need to demonstrate some fairly serious and significant leadership in terms of the environment, but significantly, in term of climate change," Misleh added.

"Someone has to be able to designate through very concrete ways that we need to put less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," he told CNS. "Besides the regulations and public policy changes, they also need to include clear measures that will protect poor people from the effects of climate change, both at home and abroad."


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