Religious Group Responds to Global Warming An interfaith group of religious leaders has been converting congregations to more energy-efficient lifestyles. An environmental minister will talk about why he considers fighting global warming to be a moral imperative.
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Religious Group Responds to Global Warming

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Religious Group Responds to Global Warming

Religious Group Responds to Global Warming

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Turning from politics to religion in this political year. Up next in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples around the country, religious leaders are bringing a message to their worshippers that is a decidedly green one in nature. Stop global warming now. And it's not just responsible things to do, they say, but something we're required to do in our role as stewards of the planet. One groups of interfaith leaders is preaching this message as part of its Regeneration Project, with efforts in more than 20 states aimed at getting individuals to make more earth-friendly energy choices. And these leaders are practicing what they preach. For example, in one Catholic church south of Detroit, a windmill, solar panels and solar water-heating systems have helped the parish cut its energy use, it's CO2 emissions and its energy bills, of course. And in an effort to further spread the word, the organization has been holding free screenings of global warming films, including Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

So for the rest of the hour, we're going to talk with the founder of the Regeneration Project about the connection between faith and environmental stewardship and why fighting global warming is a moral imperative. And if you'd like to join our discussion, feel free. You're welcome. Our number is 1-800-989-8255.

Reverend Sally Bingham is an environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and founder of the Regeneration Project. She joins us by phone from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Welcome to the program, reverend.

Reverend SALLY BINGHAM (Environmental Minister, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco; Founder, Regeneration Project): Thank you, Ira. It's very, very nice and an honor to be on your show.

FLATOW: Well thank you. You and your fellow clergy believe that we have a moral obligation to take action against global warming. Why is that?

Rev. BINGHAM: Well, I know we do. The Buddhists believe that everything is interconnected, and if you harm some part of nature, you're harming yourselves. The Muslims believe in a balance that God set up between nature and humans, and Christians believe that all things came into being through Christ; therefore, everything will be reconciled to God through Christ. And every major religion has a mandate for stewardship of creation.

FLATOW: What about the phrase about dominion over the earth? Where does that fit in?

Rev. BINGHAM: Well, that I believe has been a misinterpretation. Dominion does not mean dominate or exploit, dominion is the same kind of perhaps dominion that God has over us, in that it's about care and love and stewardship. It's a mandate to be caretakers.

FLATOW: Tell us about the Regeneration Project. How widespread is that across the country, and how might our listeners find out about it?

Rev. BINGHAM: Well, the Regeneration Project was started in 1993, and our focus has been this interfaith power and light campaign, and we've developed affiliated state programs in 20 states around the country, and each state program has a leader. You mentioned earlier about the Catholic priest in Michigan. We ask congregations to join the program and then cut their carbon emissions - in other words, practice what they preach. We like to have the priest or the rabbi walk down the aisle and be able to say this congregation is cutting their carbon emissions in response to climate change, but also it has an economic value, too, because when you cut your energy use, you also are saving money.

FLATOW: Do you do anything as a leadership organization in your church or your parish or your buildings, yourself, to take - to show what you can do?

Rev. BINGHAM: Absolutely. The cathedral has compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout. They have sensors in the bathroom so that if someone is in but leaves, it doesn't remain on. After five minutes, the lights go out. We have all energy-efficient exit lights, you know the LED exit lights.

FLATOW: Right.

Rev. BINGHAM: What we do with our program is we notify whoever - whatever congregation has joined the program - we notify them when specific gas and electric or whatever their local utility is, when they have a rebate program or if they're giving out free compact fluorescent light bulbs - we notify all of our members that those perks are available.

FLATOW: Now, I know this fall, to raise awareness among your congregants, you've been screening Al Gore's global-warming movie, An Inconvenience Truth. How has it been received?

Rev. BINGHAM: We did do that, and we just had an overwhelming response to it. We showed it here at the cathedral, and we had expected between 50, perhaps at the most 75, people, but 300 people showed up to see this film. And I asked the question: How many of you have seen it before, thinking that maybe they were just coming in to see it for a second time, but in fact largely, they were people seeing it for the first time, and that tells me that folks are hungry for the science. We advertised it not as a film about Al Gore but as a film about the science of global warming. And to see the overwhelming response was extraordinary, and that happened all over the country. That was happening in Georgia, it happened in Arkansas. We showed this film in every single state in the country, 4,000 venues.

FLATOW: Wow. And you got the same reaction everywhere?

Rev. BINGHAM: Everywhere.

FLATOW: Wow. We've been talking this hour about science and the elections, and global warming is very political, often politically divisive as an issue. Are congregants reacting to the Gore movie on this level, or are they just taking a neutral view that this is apolitical?

Rev. BINGHAM: They are beginning to understand it as a religious issue. We, fortunately, have been doing this work for almost 10 years now. So the fact that we came in with a film on climate change didn't surprise anyone. We have always preached and taught that this is not a political issue. This is an issue - it's a moral issue, and it's a spiritual issue because how we respond to climate change is going to define what it means to be human today. What is it -how are we going to treat fellow walkers of the planet? What kind of a future are we leaving for our children? And this - we can take this out of the political arena and make it a religious issue.

FLATOW: Gary(ph) in Memphis. Hi, welcome to Science Friday.

GARY (Caller): Hi, thanks for having me. I'm a - like your guest, I'm an Episcopalian, and I'm with St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral here in Memphis, and I'm interested in setting up a creation-care-type ministry here, and it's, you know, I'm sure it will be fairly well received. But you know, it's a rather small congregation. And I grew up in a Baptist congregation here in town that has 25,000 members, and sometimes I feel like with those kinds of numbers there, it feels like I'm a rowboat going past a battleship sometimes regarding kind of clout and the ability to make differences. And I would love to see that kind of group do - get very interested in this cause. I know nationally, the Evangelicals are getting more interested in it, but it doesn't seem to be a very Southern phenomenon. I'm just curious what your thoughts are on the differences between the mainline Protestant approach and the Evangelical Protestant approaches for this.

FLATOW: Reverend Bingham?

Rev. BINGHAM: For me?


Rev. BINGHAM: Well, it's interesting that you're calling me from Tennessee. You said Memphis, and I'm going to be there on Monday. I'm doing a run through Tennessee because we're starting a Tennessee interfaith power and light program, and they did show An Inconvenient Truth there that first week in October in several congregations.

GARY: Right, I remember that.

Rev. BINGHAM: We have had a very, very active program in Georgia, and you can look at our Web site. You can go to the Regeneration Project and click on your state. Go to Georgia, and you'll see that they have a wonderful, active program in Georgia, and as far - those are the two main states in the south that have picked up on the interfaith power and light program.

Now as far as the Evangelicals go, they are getting a huge amount of attention because the represent an enormous population in America. And the fact that they are now talking about creation care is, I think, quite wonderful, and it may just be what we need to turn this whole thing around and get people all over the country that are sitting in the pews to respond to climate change in a religious and responsible way.

FLATOW: All right, Gary.

GARY: Thanks very much.

FLATOW: You're welcome. 1-800-989-8255. We're talking about religion and global warming this hour on TALK OF THE NATION Science Friday from NPR News. I'm talking with Reverend Sally Bingham, who is environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Do you encourage your congregants now, you know, on that voting Tuesday to go out and vote their religion?

Rev. BINGHAM: Well, there is a problem with lobbying, so we have a little difficulty on that. But we certainly talk about clean air and green energy and, if it's at all possible, we do want people to vote their conscience. And in Southern California, where they're going to be looking at Proposition 87 -actually all over the state, but in Southern California where the air is particularly polluted, we're hoping that the folks there will recognize that putting more money into research on renewable energy will help their health, and we feel that again, this is back to the morality and the religious response in that we are called to serve each other and serve the poor. And the poor people are disproportionately affected by dirty-burning power plants because they most often live near them. And that's - again, it's a social justice issue, and it's why religion needs to be involved in this discussion of solutions. And yes, we do think that Proposition 87 is something that folks should vote for.

FLATOW: Is this a good model for other issues? Would you tackle other issues besides strictly global-warming issues?

Rev. BINGHAM: Well, it's an interesting question, because we are right now just entertaining the idea of starting, using the model that we used with the interfaith power and light program, taking that same model and talking about human health and the environment because if we're going to be pro-life, we really believe that we ought to be pro-healthy-life. And if there are 187 toxic chemicals in the cord blood of babies, we know that we are not producing healthy children. And I think that the religious community has a role here, too. In fact, here at the cathedral in December, we're going to have an interfaith meeting with just a preliminary discussion with religious leaders about how involved we can become in human health, human health issues, and where it fits into a moral discussion.

FLATOW: Do you think it's - your time for these kinds of views have arrived now, and your influence, you know, in affecting the outcome of human health and the course of the environment?

Rev. BINGHAM: I do. I think our time is here. I also think that when there's a major cultural change that needs to happen, if the religious voice is not there, it won't happen. And look at abolition of slavery and women's right to vote and educate, and look at the civil rights movement. Once the religious voice was involved and people started seeing this from a moral perspective, things changed. And I believe that's going to happen now.

FLATOW: You might have heard our earlier segment where we had Scientists and Engineers for America. Do you think there might be some union of ideas with them?

Rev. BINGHAM: With the scientists?


Rev. BINGHAM: And religion. I do. I believe that the two things can go together. I always say that the scientists are today's prophets. I mean, they are Hosea, and Isaiah and Jeremiah and that we need to believe them. There is enough consensus in the scientific world that there's no reason for us not to accept what the scientists are telling us. I know that just from the Evangelical perspective, that that's probably a huge challenge for them because Evangelicals are taught from the very beginning to be suspicious from science -when they are talking about the difference between intelligent design and evolution. So now we're asking them to accept what the scientists are saying, and I believe that that's going to be one of the largest or biggest challenges for the Evangelical community.

FLATOW: Well, Reverend Bingham, I wanted to thank you for taking time to be with us today.

Rev. BINGHAM: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

FLATOW: Have a good weekend.

Rev. BINGHAM: Thanks.

FLATOW: Reverend Sally Bingham is an environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and co-founder - founder, actually - of the Regeneration Project.

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