Leading US christian lobbyist and climate change “convert” to visit Australia Media Review

Sep 02, 2008 - 11:27am

Reverend Richard Cizik, a respected American Christian leader dubbed the “Earthy Evangelist” by The New York Times, will visit Australia in November to highlight the need for urgent action on climate change.

Included in 2008 in TIME magazine’s list of “TIME 100” most influential people for his work in bringing together scientific and evangelical communities, Cizik brings a wealth of experience to advocacy on this critical global issue.

Rev. Cizik is Vice President for Governmental Affairs with the US National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and responsible for setting the NAE’s policy direction on issues before Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.  He is also a national spokesperson on issues for concern for evangelicals, and has earned a formidable reputation as an evangelical diplomat and peacemaker.  He will be in Australia to meet with Christian leaders and politicians, and to address a series of conferences and public gatherings on the need to work together to tackle climate change.

Cizik was first “converted” to the cause of climate change when he heard distinguished climate scientist and evangelical Christian Sir John Houghton speak in Oxford in 2002.  Since that time, he has been an advocate for action on climate change within the US evangelical community and beyond.  Though known as a proponent of a variety of conservative causes, his insistence that climate issues were a vital “pro-life” concern caused controversy among some conservatives.  Undaunted by the criticism, he was instrumental in creation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a coalition of evangelical Christians who work and pray together to combat climate change.

In his advocacy for urgently tackling climate change, Cizik is motivated by the conviction that there is a strong biblical mandate to care for the creation since Christians believe that “the earth is the Lord’s” and human beings are called to be stewards of the earth.  Biblical scholarship and environmental crises have both opened the eyes of many Christians that since the Creator’s ultimate will for the earth is renewal, environmental degradation is therefore an offence against God and even the current status quo of delay or inaction is a “sin of omission”.

However, climate change is not “just an environmental matter”.  It is also about the value of human life, and is thus a profound issue of human justice.  Climate change will affect everyone, including young people, the unborn, and the world’s poor.  Those who have contributed least to the problem will suffer most from its impacts. Some of the projected impacts of climate change in developing countries include declining crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa, increased risks of tropical disease, and hundreds of millions of people could be displaced by the middle of the century.

Already, islands and low lying areas in the Pacific, the Torres Strait, and south Asia are impacted by rising seas, storms, and storm surges.  These impacts include damage to homes and infrastructure, the salinisation of fresh water supplies, and crop losses.  Some communities in the Pacific have already been forced to move, and the entire populations of Tuvalu and Kiribati face the prospect of having to leave their homelands altogether.  Since Christians believe we are all called to "love our neighbours as ourselves", our responsibility to help people who are suffering from climate change is all the greater, and particularly because we are among those who bear a disproportionate responsibility for this situation.  As an example, Australia’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are over forty times those of Kiribati.

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and the window of opportunity to protect the world and all its inhabitants from catastrophic climate change becomes smaller by the day. Rev. Cizik’s visit, which is jointly sponsored by research organisation The Climate Institute, aid agencies World Vision and TEAR Australia, and the Australian Evangelical Alliance, comes at a very important time, both nationally and internationally.

The Australian government is set to release detailed plans for the introduction of its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme by December.  The world’s leaders have until the end of 2009 to reach an international climate agreement that will achieve the necessary deep global emissions cuts, and that will protect lives and livelihoods.  Previously a laggard internationally on taking action on climate change, Australia now has the opportunity to be a positive player and join a leading group of nations who are tackling climate change.  By committing to strong emission reduction targets, and providing funding to help developing countries switch to clean technologies and to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change, Australia can play an important role in achieving a global consensus.

It is clear that addressing the challenge of climate change requires a whole society response.  This includes not only governments, whatever their political shade, but also business, households, churches and community organisations.  Australian Christians are awakening to this challenge.  Many denominations have policies, statements and programs on climate change, and approximately 40 religious leaders, including heads of churches, recently sent an open letter to the Australian government on climate change and the Pacific.  A growing number of church congregations are taking practical action to reduce their environmental impact.

However, much more needs to be done for creation care to become recognised as a core part of Christian mission and witness.  Rev. Cizik is a Christian who has taken this call to heart.  He demonstrates that Christians have a distinctive voice on this issue, and that all of us can make a contribution within our day-to-day lives and our own sphere of influence.

Rev. Cizik will speak at the following public events:

  • Saturday 8th November 7:30pm, Canberra (venue tbc)
  • Tuesday 11th November 7pm, Brisbane (venue tbc)
  • Thursday 13th November 8pm, Castle Hill, Sydney (venue tbc)
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