Candidates mum on the environment

A growing number of socially conscious Christians say it’s time that both presidential candidates tell the country what they plan to do about the problem of climate change.

By Bob Allen

Heading into tonight’s third and final presidential debate between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, neither candidate is talking about the environment, a number of socially conscious Christians have observed.

Baptist blogger Brian Kaylor, an assistant professor in communications studies at James Madison University, participated in a recent panel discussion about the presidential candidates’ stances on the environment on the campus in Harrisonburg, Va.

“Regardless of who gets elected, this does not bode well for the next [few] years,” Kaylor said, according to the JMU campus newspaper The Breeze. “Neither of the candidates are talking about the environment, and their silence is setting the agenda for what the public cares about.”

Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, co-authored an Orlando Sentinel opinion article Oct. 20 calling on the candidates to “break the deadly silence in the final debate on Monday to tell us what they will do about the mounting dangers we face from the growing climate crisis.”

“Climate change is no longer mostly the province of climate scientists, energy experts and environmentalists,” Hunter and Cizik said. “Gripped by the magnitude of the accruing injustices -- with the world's poorest and most vulnerable affected the most, with animals and other organisms going extinct in apocalyptic numbers, and with the cumulative damage and dangers bearing down on future generations -- people of conscience are now rallying in increasing numbers and with solidarity to declare that these ethical transgressions must be corrected now.”

The two evangelical leaders said the final debate “can provide the opportunity for American voters to see who will lead us to a world powered by clean and renewable-energy sources, like wind and solar.”

At the second presidential debate Oct. 16, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action held a rally and prayer vigil outside the debate venue on the campus of Hofstra University. The group was founded in January at a retreat convened by Jim Ball, executive vice president for the Evangelical Environmental Network in Washington.

Ball, author of the 2010 book Global Warming and the Risen Lord: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change, is an ordained Baptist minister and graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary best known for originating the “What Would Jesus Drive?” educational campaign.

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action is a network for evangelical students and young professionals under 30 to mobilize their own generation to action and influence older evangelicals to set an example and support climate action.

“As young evangelicals, we are looking for a president who will lead our country and Congress in overcoming the climate crisis, through comprehensive climate legislation that centers around putting a price on carbon pollution,” the group says on Facebook.

Its message to both presidential candidates is simple: “Make overcoming the climate crisis a campaign promise and a national priority. Commit now to spearheading comprehensive climate legislation in the next administration.”

Kaylor, author of the 2011 book Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics, said he believes that environmental issues haven’t been a main topic of the election because most people see the economy and the environment as opposing ideas.

“Politicians are setting up this clash between the economy and the environment, and essentially saying that we have to take care of one or the other,” Kaylor said. “The candidates are not talking about the environment, and so we the public are not talking about it in our coffee shops and pushing the idea back to them as something important that needs to be a part of their policy-making.”