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Religious Leaders Speak Out on Global Warming

Dozens of Oregon religious leaders at the Capitol on Tuesday said that global warming is not just a problem for the obviously affected: industries releasing carbon dioxide, people living in areas likely to be inundated by rising seas or environmentalists worried about major global issues.

Leaders from many denominations said they feel responsible for stopping the warming trend and educating others about how to reduce emissions.

"If we wish to love God, we must also love all creation," said Sister Pat Nagle of Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Energy Stewardship meeting was presented in part by Oregon Interfaith Global Warming Campaign, a project of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Dozens of other religious organizations and a handful of state legislators took part.

It was meant to be the start of a movement to change state policies governing where Oregon's energy comes from.

Keynote speaker Jack Graves of The Holland Co., which owns the Burgerville chain, said the company's decisions to switch to renewable energy and other sustainable practices aren't bad for business. In fact, 2006 showed a record pace of profits for Burgerville despite it paying 15 percent to 20 percent extra on utility bills for 100 percent wind power, he said.

"I think we are facing a challenge larger than any we've seen before," said retired Rev. Wayne Hill of the United Methodist Church in Oregon City. "It is overwhelmingly clear that we have a problem we created. And it is very clear that we can't go on increasing ... our petroleum output."

A sustainable-energy charter has been signed by more than 60 religious leaders and 12 congregations, denominations and faith-based organizations in Oregon. Once more signatures are gathered, the charter will be delivered to the Legislature, said Jenny Holmes of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

The charter outlines what it calls a problem: that Oregon's energy and climate policies haven't adequately addressed the global-warming threat. Then it offers solutions, such as requiring at least 20 percent of utilities' supplies to come from renewable resources by 2020.

"We hope to bring a spirit of cooperation and dialogue to issues of energy and climate change," Holmes said. "We are not the environmental community, and we are not industry. Our main concern is for the well-being of God's creation and humankind. We don't have the real narrow interest of a lot of the people legislators hear from."

Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, said that the work of the religious organizations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is good but doesn't touch bigger sources of emissions, such as those from Mount St. Helens. Given that, it is difficult for legislators to dedicate funding to reducing emissions from human activities, he said.

"I agree global warming is here," he said. "But from a politician's standpoint, I have to look at the huge demand (in terms of funding) for public services. ... One of the largest polluters is Mount St. Helens; what are we as legislators supposed to do about that?"

Holmes said that the religious groups are not proposing specific legislation but rather a show of support for policies that will create a "sustainable and just energy future."

And although the groups praised the governor's recent proposal to have state agencies rely on renewable-energy sources for all their electrical needs by 2010, more policies are needed, members said.

"It can't be the governor alone," Holmes said. "The Legislature needs to pick up where he had to leave off."

The groups still are garnering support among their own. But for the people at the Tuesday meeting, signing on to a global-warming resolution is as easy as following a faith.

"In the end, the way I read my Bible and the Jesus in whom I believe led me to think that we 'Christians' and Americans have the most to lose, spiritually and eternally, if we do not proactively address global warming," said Paul Louis Metzger, an associate professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary and also the founder and director of the Institute for the Theology of Culture.

"We could very well be risking a warm eternity unless we address the risks associated with global warming and build a sustainable and prosperous energy future, not simply for Oregon but also for 'the least of these' around the world."

bcasper@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 589-6994