Richard Cizik's speech at Climate Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Friday, June 22, 2012
Comments by Rev. Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, delivered at the People’s Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, on Thursday, June 21, 2012.
It’s a delight to be here from the United States to bring you a perspective from a “New Evangelical” leader. Most of you are aware that significant percentages of Christians in my country are not just in denial about the science of climate change but outright opponents of taking action on climate in the Congress. That’s the bad news, of course. But there is good news, and it’s not just that found in the Scriptures, which guide us in our search for answers about how to live in the 21st century.
This good news is that there is a movement of biblical believers in America who are committed to leading on climate and environmental sustainability. We are not the majority of our evangelical movement, but we are a dynamic, positive, and growing movement. As President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, it’s my honor to tell you just a little about what guides us on the issues at stake here at “Rio Plus 20.”
As you know, over one hundred heads of state are here in Rio right now to adopt a document to build on the efforts at the first Rio Summit in 1992. A sizeable number of non-governmental organizations are convinced that the final document will inevitably fall short, failing to mention the oil subsidies that countries like my own continue to provide, despite all the rational reasons to discontinue this unwise, unaffordable, taxpayer aid to wealthy oil companies.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone here that a news story out today from Think Progress Report [produced by the Center for Responsive Politics] states that the members of the House of Representatives who support big oil have received 38.6 million from the [oil] industry. Quite frankly, this is an indication of just how much the lawmakers of America are bought and paid for by Big Oil.
Whether one favors or not the final Rio document, there is a reason for spiritual leaders to be here which needs explaining. As for me personally, I’m here in Rio because I believe that the environmental challenges facing the planet are very serious and urgent, particularly climate disruption. And it’s critical that an evangelical voice makes this case in this forum. To not be here says that we [evangelicals] don’t think it’s important.
It is critical to say that millions of evangelicals, especially the “new evangelicals,” care a great deal about what we as humans are doing to the planet. You’ve asked me to speak on the spiritual principles guiding me on environmental issues. I will speak to five principles.
SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE # 1
First, we need to recognize that our biblical duty to care for the Creation is right in the Scriptures. God created the earth and told us to “care and protect, it,” (Genesis 2:15), and we cannot ignore this duty. After my speech yesterday here in Rio, I was approached by a Brazilian man who said, “I am so pleased and surprised to see an evangelical Christian speaking on care for the earth, as few of my fellow believers here in Brazil share this concern. It disturbs me that they are so silent.” I told him that there is a spiritual awakening occurring among America’s evangelicals, particularly among so-called “New Evangelicals,” who are committed to protecting the Creation and holding our own government accountable for its actions. My encouragement to him was very warmly received, and reciprocated with a big Brazilian hug between two followers of Christ. The bottom line here: we need to collaboratively work together, across national lines, to live up to our biblical responsibility. American Christians have a greater burden, in my opinion, than even believers here in Brazil, to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. Why?
SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE #2
Second, we must be accountable for our actions, and the consequences. We “reap what we sow,” says the Proverb. There is no way to avoid this. Unfortunately, however, millions of people are caught in the impacts of climate change that they are not responsible for, particularly in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and in small island nations of the South Pacific, where sea level rise already is taking them from their homes where they have lived for centuries.
Moreover, there are toxins and chemicals that are impacting our bodies, unbeknownst to most of us, that come from the products we buy or the circumstances of our work. For example, I am one of 25 people in America who were part of the Human Toxome Project, and discovered that my body contains 39 of the 84 chemicals that are known to impact human health, including mercury, methyl mercury, flame retardants, and the like. Scientists do not know the full impact of these chemicals upon the human body, but preliminary evidence indicates impacts ranging from infertility to cardio-vascular disease. And, we do know that mercury impacts upon the unborn in the womb seriously impair tens of thousands of infants born each year. This is a tragedy that should alarm us, as “pro-life” advocates. Happily, I can report that the United States Senate turned back this week an effort to restrict mercury emissions from coal burning utility plants. A good deal of credit goes to evangelicals for this success. But we will need to remain vigilant if we want to protect this legislative victory.
SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE # 3
Third, it is a biblical truth that our decision-making should reflect the Golden Rule, namely that “we do unto others what we would have them do unto us.” If we as citizens in the United States are one-quarter of the world’s population but emit more than fifty-percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, that’s hardly treating our neighbor as ourselves. Thus, evangelical Christians must be at the forefront of legal and legislative efforts to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. I testified a few weeks ago at the Environmental Protection Agency hearing in the nation’s capital on that Agency’s rule to restrict for the first time carbon emissions, and am proud that the Obama Administration and the head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, have courageously fought back efforts to stop this rule.
SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE #4
Fourth, we are to be trustees, or vice-regents on God’s behalf, to protect the “living trust” called this planet’s resources. Thus we need to examine our lifestyles and consumerism in light of whether or not we’re not in fact drawing down earth’s natural capital in a way that violates our role as trustees of what God has given us.
As my family and friends know, I made the decision a number of years ago to stop eating red meat. It is one of the practical steps taken on my part to “live out” the message that we all must live differently if we are to be “stewards” of creation. The side benefit, of course, is that my personal health factors, including blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol, have improved as a result.
SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE #5
Lastly, God has called us to act boldly and to live differently than the rest of the world, as His servants. The 19th century presidential candidate, and evangelical Christian, William Jennings Bryan, called the “Great Commoner” on account of his concern for the common man, put it this way: “Destiny is not a matter or chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain.” I believe that we must speak boldly. It is way past time for “business as usual.” We must act and act boldly. Here’s just one reason why.
Psychologists say that one of the ways that people change is when they experience a “cognitive dissonance” between their highest and best ideal and the status quo in which they are living. The voices that serve as “disturbers,” as my friend Bob Doppelt explains in his book “From Me to We,” is that spiritual voices challenge them to live differently. How are people to move from inertia to change unless they hear from authentic spiritual leaders who are living the change they urge?
Spiritual leaders are not exactly the “toast of the town” here in Rio, but we are making a difference and speaking “truth in love,” as the Bible commands. Leaders of governments are discovering that they cannot make the progress needed without civil society. It’s my belief that citizens around the world are looking for their religious leaders, most of all, to tell them the way forward. And, we are saying that the movement toward sustainability begins with us. It begins with me. May God help us if we do not act.
Author’s Note: I want to thank my friends Dena Merriam, and Marianne Marstrand, the leaders of the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW), which is hosting this gathering at Rio+20”, and brought me here as part of an interfaith gathering of believers from Hindu, Buddhist, and other faith groups, to testify to how we are in our different communities living out our care for the earth. They, each, are extraordinary leaders who teach sustainability to the members of their own religious communities. The world is a better place because of them.