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Presiding Bishop calls climate-change response a moral imperative

Presiding Bishop calls climate-change response a moral imperative

In an interview with the British newspaper the Guardian, Katharine Jefferts Schori, said that responding to climate change is a moral imperative similar to that presented by the Civil Rights movement.

“It 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.”

In the same context, Jefferts Schori attached moral implications to climate denial, suggesting those who reject the underlying science of climate change were turning their backs on God’s gift of knowledge.

“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 said. “In that sense, yes, it could be understood as a moral issue.”

She went on: “I think it is a very blind position. I think it is a refusal to use the best of human knowledge, which is ultimately a gift of God.”

The Presiding Bishop also acknowledged the difficulty of successfully addressing the issue, given the current political climate in the US, but also saw a growing willingness of evangelical churches to address the issue as a sign of hope.

“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.  The major evangelical groups in this country have been much more forward in addressing this issue because they understand that it impacts the poor.”

One strategy that many have sought to address the issue is divestment from energy companies, but she Jefferts-Schori opposes divestment because she believes those concerned have a better chance of influencing behavior by having a voice as investors.

“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.”


posted by Jon White

photo from Episcopal Digital Network



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Anand Gnanadesikan

By the way Bill, I was reacting to Chad’s statement and accepting his terms. The simple fact is that the skeptics have not been able to come up with models that explain the data as well as the current IPCC narrative. Doesn’t mean that they are wrong. But the real reason that they haven’t made more headway is that their hypotheses, when tested with the incomplete tools that we have, fail.

Just to give you an example. A few years ago I heard a talk from a senior professor at Caltech who was using variations in the brightness of the full moon to get at large scale changes in reflectivity. He argued that these changes showed a large variability in Earth’s albedo, and thus in the radiation balance which could drive large variability in Earth’s temperature.

But the rub was that in fact the reflectivity he was measuring was only that for about 1/3 of the earth. So I went to my climate models, and looked at how much variability there was over 1/3 of the earth. And what I found was that I could match the variability he found- but that it was always compensated by variability elsewhere. So in the end, an observation that was thought to invalidate the models ended up validating them. And the professor involved no longer argues that they do. If it had gone the other way, I’d have become a “denier” myself.


Chad McGrath

If climate scientists were able to prove their theories using repeatable and falsifiable scientific experiments producing measurable results, there would be no “deniers”. In the meantime, I will continue to use my God-given intellect to question their methods.

Anand Gnanadesikan


Mea culpa. I agree that I should have put “deniers” in quotes here….

I would distinguish “skeptics” and “proponents” from deniers and alarmists.

That said, the point I was trying to make was that when it comes to the core issue (are humans making potentially dangerous changes in the Earth’s climate) the skeptical position hasn’t gone further because its proponents haven’t made a scientifically convincing case.


Bill Brockman

Very gracious, Anand. I guess we’ll just disagree.

Shouldn’t the onus of proof lie with those who propose massive changes to every aspect of our economy in service to a “crisis?”

Anand Gnanadesikan

And if climate change deniers were able to reproduce the recent history of earth using testable models based on the best physics available, they would have a lot more credibility as well… The real reason why 97% of us in climate science believe we have a problem is that whenever we test their theories, they fail.

Though one problem is that the only truly repeatable experiment is the one we’re conducting on the planet. This is unfortunately true for a range of environmental health problems- a true control is impossible.

Anand Gnanadesikan

Hi Bill,

Again, I draw a distinction between skeptics and deniers. Skeptics say “I don’t the evidence is persuasive enough” or “I think there might be another explanation- here’s a possibility.” They then present *evidence* for their theories, build models, test them against data. And here’s the key, when the evidence contradicts their theories, when they find an error in their data, they correct it. Examples of people who do this are Judy Curry and John Christie. Dick Lindzen too, on his best days when he’s not being cranky.

What these folks don’t do is simply ignore the evidence. They either acknowledge that there is evidence but seek an alternative explanation, or try to see whether this evidence doesn’t hold up by looking for alternative data. They propose experiments. Most of all, they are intellectually honest. *None* of these folks denies that there is significant evidence that humans are affecting climate. And they can certainly be talked with- I’ve had productive interactions with such folks over the years.

The people I would term climate change deniers don’t do this. Instead, they present hypotheses (unsupported or very weakly supported by evidence) as fact. Or they argue that because the proposed response to climate change is too expensive, the problem itself must not exist. Both of these are intellectually dishonest. Because of this, it is almost impossible to have a discussion with them.

Note: this is also a critique I’d make of alarmists. They present everything as indubitably due to manmade climate change without doing the hard work of making statistical tests, examining the data for artifacts, etc.


Bill Brockman

I see you disagree with my argument that calling skeptical scientists “climate change deniers” is unhelpful to say the least – actually insulting and results in cutting off discussion. Thanks for clearing up the unpersuasive nature of my points – I’ll have to reconsider their usefulness.

Marshall Scott

Christopher, I take your point, but I would confirm my experience with Richard’s. There have been many fewer face-to-face meetings in the past triennium, and the Episcopal Church Center has invested heavily in conference technology. The value of meeting face to face exceeds what can be accomplished with videoconferencing, as helpful as it is. I would also note that this General Convention is taking a different tack, and is pushing to eliminate paper use as much as technology will facilitate. When I consider how much exercise I’ve had these past few Conventions with the added weight-bearing of literally pounds and pounds of paper – some of it replaced in toto several times due to editorial changes – I may not burn as many calories as I have in the past. It’s worth it, though, not to “burn” so many calories in paper production, reproduction, and disposal.

What I would note, too, is that the concept of an issue that takes years to develop and that requires a plan of years to address ought to be one that we in the Church can appreciate. For those of us who believe changes that can be made should be made, one of the other “inconvenient facts” is that it will take years to stabilize our human behaviors. All around us many folks seem to want instant results. I think that has had bad consequences for our society. To be part of an institution, a body, that believes not only that there will be a future, but that it is something that needs to be prepared for, is a perspective we have to offer to challenge the prevailing culture of “I have to have it now!”

Christopher Johnson

“Cutting the travel?” Call me when you eliminate it altogether. Then and only then will I regard what you believe that “we” need to do about to combat climate change as less than blatant hypocrisy.

By the way, I live in an apartment and I don’t currently own an automobile. Which I guess makes me a saint or something.

Anand Gnanadesikan


There are two ways of parsing your argument….

The first is to say that “unless people are willing to sacrifice everything, we can’t believe them when they say there’s a problem.” The problem with this is that it has nothing to do with whether the problem exists or not. Whether or not I’m willing to sell all I have and give to the poor does not change the fact that homelessness is a problem. The fact that I haven’t quit my job to join the Kurds in fighting ISIS doesn’t mean that ISIS isn’t a problem. This is how your argument comes across- as an argument for not caring.

On the other hand, if you are making the point that statements made by leaders are more about looking good than actually doing anything, I would agree with you. Most folks have no idea how big the size of the climate problem actually is.

Again, it’s as if on being diagnosed with diabetes, the liberal responds with. “OK, I’ll stop taking sugar with my morning coffee.” And the conservative responds with “Hell, no, that’s too much of a sacrifice, I’ll just live my life as if nothing’s wrong.” The fact that the first is a form of denial doesn’t mean the second isn’t also…

And yes, if you are an apartment living urban dweller, you are probably significantly less of a problem that the average elite liberal suburbanite like myself.


Richard Edward Helmer

Credit where credit is due. Much of the work leading up to General Convention has been conducted by video and phone conference, substantially cutting the travel undertaken for the inter-Convention triennium.

We’re not calling for purity here, but shared recognition and mutual effort. Climate change is not a problem that one isolated group will address by ceasing all fossil fuel use. We all have to pitch in together to make significant changes. And crying hypocrisy only conceals denial and delays substantive action.

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