Faith, Science 'Must Intersect' in Climate Talks, Say Canadian Church Leaders

Two Canadian church leaders who will be attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference next month believe faith and science "must intersect" at the highly- anticipated gathering of world leaders.

"Science tells us what is and, given certain parameters, what will come to be. Spiritual values teach us what ought to be," says Mardi Tindal, moderator of the United Church of Canada.

"Only the two, working together, can see us safely through this perilous time," she adds.

In an open letter posted on the United Church of Canada's website, Tindal and former Member of Parliament and United Church minister David MacDonald make their case for religious faith in climate change talks, saying that religious faith offers a unique perspective.

"Faith groups, perhaps uniquely among human institutions, are predisposed to take a longer view," they write. "In responding to climate change processes, which play out over decades, if not centuries, these perspectives are an essential counterpoint to the pressure of thinking that can be dominated by the next quarter, or the next election."

That, they say, is why the Copenhagen meeting is unprecedented.

"It is where people of many faiths and no faith must come to terms with the kind of world we want for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren," the Canadian church leaders write. "Envisioning or creating the world we want means we need to work out a grand bargain that will allow life to survive in a hopeful and humane fashion. We will need to be prepared to make decisions, sacrifices, and gestures of good will toward one another and the planet."

According to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2009 is a crucial year in the international effort to address climate change.

From Dec. 7 to Dec. 18, national government delegations who agreed to shape an ambitious international response to climate change in 2007 will be meeting to agree on a post-2012 climate agreement that will replace the current Kyoto Protocol.

Under Kyoto, 37 industrial countries are required to cut emissions a total 5 percent from 1990 by 2012, and based on the current declarations from wealthy countries, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature estimates the total emissions cut will amount to 10 percent by 2020.

Some scientists, however, say industrialized nations must cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent climate disasters, such as coastal flooding from rising sea levels, severe weather events, and variations in rainfall and temperatures that will affect agriculture and wipe out species of plants and animals.

Though there is still notable disagreement over the exact causes of global climate change and its degree of devastation, most people – even in the United States – are in favor of policies setting limits on carbon emissions.

Even among Christians, there is a strong majority that believes it is the responsibility of mankind to care for God's creation, though there is no consensus over how to carry out that responsibility.

For MacDonald and Tindal, climate change doesn't require a "quick technological fix, but … a transformation in how we live our lives on this fragile planet."

"Finding a way forward will require that we attend to the best science available, so we are firmly grounded in reality. But it also demands that we recognize the spiritual values that have guided humans for centuries so we can work toward a vision of wholeness," they write in their Nov. 24 letter.

With this in mind, the Canadian church leaders stress how "vital" it is that people of faith participate in next month's talks to ensure future-shaping decisions are not determined only by short-term considerations, such as what is least costly or most expedient.

"While none of us may have a complete picture, together we can move in a direction that will be more life-sustaining and enhancing," they state. "Ultimately, how we respond is a matter of concern for us all.

"Whether we are there in person or in spirit, we all need to be in Copenhagen," they conclude.

Tindal and MacDonald will be attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference as part of an international delegation of religious leaders organized by the World Council of Churches.

The WCC has not yet publicly released a list of other members in the delegation.

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