WASHINGTON – What do you get when you put a lawyer, a scientist, two evangelical pastors and a photographer together? An unusual yet convincing team of experts that's able to make a multi-dimensional argument on the devastating effects of climate change on God's creation.
Such a team came together Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill to speak about the impact of climate change on plants and animals. They argue that if Congress, which is currently hammering out a climate change legislation, does not take strong action on the issue then there is the real possibility of some animals and plants becoming extinct.
"There are those who say what difference does it makes if the polar bear goes extinct," said the Rev. Richard Cizik, senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation and the director of the New Evangelicals, at the media briefing. "The fact that God created it alone means it deserves respect and to be protected from irreversible extinction. That to me, to allow that to happen to a member of God's creation, is sinful."
But beyond that, Cizik said, scientists he has worked with on the issue have told him that some of the endangered animals and plants may be the only way to treat human medical disorders, such as diabetes and leukemia.
Peter Illyn, founder and executive director of Restoring Eden, stated, "I think there is nothing more arrogant than to drive species to extinction – the things that God created."
As a former pastor of evangelical churches in Oregon and Washington state, Illyn pointed out that when God made a covenant with Noah it was not just between the two of them but with every living thing that was with Noah in the ark for all generations to come.
"I don't just take care of the Earth because it ultimately serves humanity," Illyn said. "I take care of the Earth because it has a right to be what God called it to be."
According to Dr. Thomas Brooks, vice president of Conservation Priorities and Responses for the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, human activity is causing species to become extinct at a rate of about 1,000 times faster than the natural rate in the planet's history.
"Extinctions are the only impacts that are wholly irreversible," Brooks emphatically stated. "We know how to clean up pollution. We know how to restore natural habits. We even – well this is an enormous challenge but we can do it – know how to mitigate climate change. What we can never do is bring a species back once it is extinct.
"Species extinction is irreversible. Species are irreplaceable," said the scientist, echoing the theme of the campaign.
The media briefing was followed by a guided tour of a photo exhibit titled "Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a Warming World" that is prominently displayed in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office building.
Images are taken by award-winning photographers at the International League of Conservation Photographers and have motivated more than 42,000 people to add their name to a letter addressed to members of Congress asking them to consider species impacted by global warming.
Some of the animals featured in the exhibit are the walrus, wolverine, mountain goat, desert big horn sheep, gray whale, and emperor penguin.
Through the exhibit, which is easily visible to members of Congress and visitors, the team hopes to make the lawmakers consider endangered species as they make their decision about the climate change bill.
This week, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee is working to pass a climate change bill that would include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents and opponents of the cap-and-trade system alike agree that this is the most important week for climate change legislation so far in U.S. history.
For the first time, a law capping emissions might actually become law in the United States with Democrats controlling Congress and a president who supports the cap-and-trade system.
Proponents of the bill limiting emissions urge Congress to quickly pass it before the international climate change talks in Copenhagen this December. Only if the U.S. passes regulations on emissions will it be able to make a case for big polluters such as China and India to also reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The House committee is aiming to pass the climate change bill by Friday before Memorial Day recess.