Environment | Religious progressives look to help poor nations adapt to climate change, a plan others call ineffective and costly
by Alisa Harris
Posted 10/10/09, 01:17 am
A one-minute web video for the Day Six campaign shows black-and-white photos of scorched earth, floods, and wilted crops, with the message that most of us are lucky to have our lives uninterrupted by the effects of climate change: "But many aren't so lucky."
Religious leaders launched the Day Six campaign-named for the sixth day of creation in Genesis-to help poor nations adapt to climate change. It is launching web ads on Relevant Magazine and circulating a petition on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, asking Congress to support a climate bill that "addresses the root causes of climate change and makes needed investments in vulnerable communities already experiencing its devastating effects."
The leaders are calling it an area of common ground for people of faith. Others argue, though, that the aid Day Six proposes will be ineffective and costly.
Faithful America, an online community that aims to "end poverty . . . promote peace . . . [and] prevent the catastrophic events of climate change," is the group behind the campaign, working with other progressive groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network, Catholics United, Sojourners, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
While each group involved has different specific policy proposals, the main goal is to increase funding to help poor nations adapt to climate change. The leaders say they are advocating for those who had the least to do with causing climate change and suffer the greatest effects.
Bill O'Keefe, director of policy and advocacy with Catholic Relief Services, said in the climate change debate "there's been more attention to polar bears than people. It's not just an environmental question; it's a critical human development question."
Susan Stephenson, executive director of Interfaith Power and Light, said that global warming is a moral issue given "its disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable members of our society and our world-those who had the least to do with creating this problem."
Jim Ball with the Evangelical Environmental Network said that his organization is pushing for $3.5 billion in adaptation funding this year with a later increase to $7 billion. Ball said that adaptation funds can be an area of common ground for evangelicals, whether they believe that climate change is man-made or not: "If you think that global warming is happening but you're not yet sure about what the causes are . . . then you have to adapt to those things. And if the poor are going to be hit the hardest, then Christians who are not yet convinced about the causation can say, 'Yes, I'm in favor of the poorest of the poor being able to adapt to these consequences.'"
Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, disagrees with Day Six's approach. The groups involved have long pushed to mitigate the effects of global warming-an assertion they readily acknowledge. He said they are now focusing on adaptation funds "simply to make the bitter pill of mitigation spending easier for people to swallow."
Adaptation funds in the form of government-to-government transfers are ineffective, said Beisner (echoing the arguments of authors like Dambisa Moyo and William Easterley), since they often line the pockets of corrupt foreign leaders. In addition, the cost of the climate change bill-estimated by the Treasury Department to be $100 to $200 billion per year-would slow economic growth and leave poor nations worse than they were before.
"The best thing we can do to help the poor around the world is to stop trying to fight climate change and instead increase free trade and capital investment in poor countries to enable them to become prosperous countries," said Beisner, adding that affordable energy plays a vital role in development, "but it can't do that if climate legislation and treaties push energy costs through the roof."