The highest ranking woman in the Anglican Communion has said that climate change denial is immoral and threatens the rights of the world’s poorest people. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told The Guardian that she believes those who deny climate change are not using God’s gift of knowledge. Her comments come at the start of a month-long campaign to encourage the church’s 2.5 million members to reduce their carbon footprint.
A former Oceanographer before her ordination at the age of 40, Bishop Jefferts Schori, one of the most senior women in Christianity, said that the campaign was needed to persuade her fellow Episcopalians of the need to do something about climate change personally, whether it was lobbying governments and corporations to fight climate change, or reducing their own carbon emissions.
“I really hope to motivate average Episcopalians to see the severity of this issue, the morality of this issue,” she said. “Turning the ship in another direction requires the consolidated efforts of many people who are moving in the same direction.
“It’s hard work when you have a climate denier who will not see the reality of scientific truth,” she added.
But for Jefferts Schori, the question isn’t only scientific, it’s moral too. Referring to those who do not believe in man made climate change theory as holding “a very blind position”, she compared the need to tackle climate change as a moral imperative, akin to the American civil rights movement.
“[Climate change] is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place. It is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.
“Episcopalians understand the life of the mind is a gift of God and to deny the best of current knowledge is not using the gifts God has given you,” she added. “In that sense, yes, it could be understood as a moral issue.”
She believes that evangelical strains of Christianity, more commonly associated with a conservative interpretation of the religion, are becoming increasingly concerned with climate change as a social justice issue.
“One of the significant changes in particular has been the growing awareness and activism among the evangelical community who at least somewhat in the more distant past refused to encounter this issue, refused to deal with it,” Jefferts Schori said. “The major evangelical groups in this country have been much more forward in addressing this issue because they understand that it impacts the poor.”
But unlike many Christian denominations which are divesting from fossil fuels – the United Methodist Church has just sold its holdings in coal companies from its pension fund – Jefferts Schori does not believe that divestment is the best way forward.
“If you divest you lose any direct ability to influence the course of a corporation’s behavior,” she said. “I think most pragmatists realise that we can’t close the spigot on the oil wells and close the coal mines immediately without some other energy source to shift to.”
Her words come as the Vatican is preparing an encyclical on climate change, due to be released in June, which the Pope is said to hope will inspire world leaders to adopt tougher measures on climate change in Paris at the end of the year.