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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
US evangelicals boost green lobby
By John Shields
BBC News

Reverend Jim Ball on a What Would Jesus Drive? tour (picture courtesy Evangelical Environmental Network)
Reverend Jim Ball is a leading green evangelical (pic courtesy Evangelical Environmental Network)
Environmentalists are blaming US President George Bush and his friends in the energy industry for wrecking a G8 deal on global warming before he has even boarded the plane to the summit in Gleneagles.

Coming from his usual critics, this is unlikely to trouble the president as he heads for the summit, but he faces growing pressure to give greater priority to the environment from one of his most loyal domestic constituencies: the religious right.

Evangelical Christians form a crucial plank in Mr Bush's formidable political base (he is an evangelical himself) and care for the environment is becoming an important part of their agenda.

Green evangelicals first hit the headlines in 2002, when Reverend Jim Ball launched a campaign called "What would Jesus drive?", claiming that gas-guzzlers are ungodly.

His call for the US government to take action to protect the environment has since been taken up by powerful leaders of the evangelical community.

'Protect God's creation'

The 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) published a landmark document in November calling on conservative Christians to "labour to protect God's creation".

It stated that "government has an obligation to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation."

Traditional environmentalists blame corporations where we want corporations and government to work together
Ted Haggard
President, National Association of Evangelicals
NAE president Reverend Ted Haggard discussed global warming with Tony Blair when the British prime minister visited Washington to drum up support for his G8 agenda last month.

Christianity Today, an influential evangelical magazine, backed a Senate bill calling for mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, something the White House opposes.

The "greening" of the evangelical movement has its roots in biblical references to mankind's responsibility to care for God's Earth.

While the presence of committed environmentalists among supporters of a president the left dubs the "Toxic Texan" may seem surprising, for Mr Haggard there is no contradiction.

"We came to the issue because of the Bible," he told the BBC News website.

"New scientific evidence is raising concerns and, since we have so many evangelical Christians in government right now, we wanted to highlight that the environment is a worthy concern for evangelicals."

Suspicions remain

The repackaging of environmentalism under the banner of "creation care" makes it more acceptable to Republicans suspicious of the secular, liberal types who have dominated green politics in the past.

But not all Christian conservatives are happy about this new departure.

Focus on the Family, which has been at the forefront of campaigns against abortion and gay marriage, says it cannot support "any issue that seems to put plants and animals above humans".

"Some worry that enthusiasm for some of the longstanding issues that political evangelicals have dealt with will be diminished if we take on too much," says David Neff, editor of Christianity Today and one of the authors of the NAE manifesto.

A Sports Utility Vehicle at a US gas station
The Bush administration stresses the "uncertainties" of climate change
This concern helps explain why "creation care" has yet to have an impact on White House policy. Energy security and economic growth have taken priority over protection of the environment in the Bush White House.

Although the president has promised certain reductions to greenhouse gases by 2012, using tax breaks and voluntary schemes, he opposes mandatory emission controls.

The State Department's 2002 Climate Action Report accentuates the alleged "uncertainties" of climate change science.

But Mr Haggard is convinced that green evangelicals will change Republican policy over the long term.

"It's a biblical mandate that this generation of Christians have to address," he says.

Evangelical power

Political scientist Professor John Green of the University of Akron agrees that "because evangelicals are so important to the Republican coalition" there is "great potential" for them to cause a shift in Republican policy in the next few years.

"The abortion issue is an example of how a well-organised constituency can bring about changes," he argues.

In the same way that the need for evangelical votes has pushed moderate Republicans to take up anti-abortion positions, sceptical Republicans may be persuaded to shift their position on the environment, Prof Green says.

According to the Pew Research Center, the political clout of evangelicals is on the increase - white evangelical Christians accounted for more than a third of all votes cast for President Bush in the November 2004 election.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Other powerful Republicans have leant their weight to the debate
While their electoral power alone may be enough to persuade fellow Republicans to give greater priority to the environment, evangelicals' distinctive approach to the issue could also help.

"Traditional environmentalists blame corporations where we want corporations and government to work together. The Republicans are missing it right now because they equate environmentalism with being anti-business," says Mr Haggard.

And evangelical Christians are not alone among Republicans who see global warming as a key priority.

Signing ambitious targets on cutting greenhouse gases into law last month, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the global warming debate finished.

"We know the science. We see the threat," he said.

While President Bush's trip to Scotland could leave the environmentalists disappointed, they can at least console themselves that one of the most powerful forces in Republican politics, along with the Terminator, may be on their side.

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