You are on page 1of 6

ELCA Global Warming Fact Sheet

ELCA Policy Base

"The earth is a planet of beauty and abundance; the earth system is wonderfully intricate
and incredibly complex. But today living creatures, and the air, soil, and water that
support them, face unprecedented threats. Many threats are global; most stem directly
from human activity. Our current practices may so alter the living world that it will be
unable to sustain life in the manner we know."

The ELCA recognizes that the threat of "dangerous global warming, caused by the
buildup of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide" poses challenges to the entire
world, and commits us as individuals, as a worship community, and as a public church, to
address this serious threat to God's creation.

SOURCE: ELCA, "Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice" (1993); ELCA Churchwide Assembly
Action CA01.07.57 (2001).


What is Global Warming?

Carbon dioxide and other global warming gases are collecting in earth's atmosphere like a
thickening blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to grow warmer. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program
(UNEP), issued a report in 2007 that confirms human use of fossil fuel is the main source
of these gases and the primary cause of global warming. Every time we burn fossil fuels
by driving a car, using electricity from coal- or gas-fired power plants, or heating our
homes with oil or natural gas, we release carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases
into the air.

Since pre-industrial times, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased
by 31 percent. Over the same period, atmospheric methane, another global warming gas,
has risen by 151 percent, mostly from agricultural activities like growing rice and raising

As the concentration of these gases grows, more heat is trapped by the atmosphere and
less escapes back into space. The increase in trapped heat changes the climate, causing
altered weather patterns that can bring unusually intense precipitation or dry spells and
more severe storms.

Though Americans make up just 4 percent of the world's population, we produce 25

percent of the carbon dioxide pollution from fossil-fuel burning—by far the largest share
of any country. In fact, the United States emits more carbon dioxide than China, India
and Japan combined. Coal-burning power plants are the largest U.S. source of carbon
dioxide pollution—they produce 2.5 billion tons every year. Automobiles, the second
largest source, create nearly 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Feb. 11, 2007 1

ELCA Global Warming Fact Sheet

SOURCES: Union of Concerned Scientists "Authoritative Report Confirms Human Activity Driving
Global Warming" (2007); Pew Center on Global Climate Change, "Climate Change 101"
(; Union of Concerned Scientists, "Frequently Asked Questions About Global
Warming" (

Hasn't the earth's climate changed before?

Although local temperatures fluctuate naturally, over the past 50 years the average global
temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history, and scientists confirm
that this is due not to natural causes, but rather to human activity. And experts think the
trend is accelerating: eleven of the last twelve years rank among the hottest years on
record. Global average temperatures have risen over the twentieth century, and when
scientists have attempted to reproduce these twentieth-century trends in their climate
models, they are only able to do so when they include emissions from human use of fossil
fuels in their models in addition to natural fluctuations in temperature. And scientists say
that unless we curb global warming emissions, average U.S. temperatures could rise 10
degrees by the end of the century.

SOURCES: Union of Concerned Scientists, "Authoritative Report Confirms Human Activity Driving
Global Warming," "Global Warming 101: 2005 Tied 1998 As World's Hottest Year," and "Frequently
Asked Questions About Global Warming" (; Pew Center on Global Climate Change,
"Climate Change 101" (

What are the impacts of global warming now and in the future?

Global warming is already causing damage in many parts of the globe. In 2003, extreme
heat waves caused more than 20,000 deaths in Europe. In many parts of the western
United States, severe drought has led to increases in wildfires and drops in water
reserves. The 2007 IPCC report confirms that the intensity and extent of droughts have
increased in the past four decades "particularly in the tropics and subtropics." Droughts
have been linked to changes in sea surface temperatures, wind patterns, and decreased
snowpack and snow cover. The IPCC report also confirms that the Arctic ice area has
shrunk by about 2.7 percent per decade since 1978 and that "average Arctic temperatures
increased at almost twice the global average rate over the past 100 years."

If nothing is done to halt this warming trend, we will see even more serious impacts
around the globe, including severe drought in many areas with accompanying disruptions
in food and water supplies, rising sea levels and coastal flooding, warmer sea
temperatures leading to more intense hurricanes and typhoons around the globe, the
unchecked spread of pests and diseases, and the extinction of many plant and animal

The 2007 IPCC Report states clearly that if nothing is done to curb global warming
emissions "[i]t is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events
will continue to become more frequent." These impacts will be felt most strongly by
those least responsible for climate change and least able to respond—people living in
poverty around the globe.

Feb. 11, 2007 2

ELCA Global Warming Fact Sheet

SOURCES: Environmental Defense, "Global Warming Myths and Facts" (,

and "The Latest Myths and Facts on Global Warming" (2005); Union of Concerned Scientists,
"Authoritative Report Confirms Human Activity Driving Global Warming" (; IPCC,
"Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policymakers" (February 2007)
(available for download at

What Can You Do?

Learn More

Why should people of faith be concerned about global warming? The National Council of
Churches Eco-Justice Programs offer resources for group study, worship and sermons,
including "It's God's World: Christians, Care for Creation and Global Warming," a five-
session study guide on global warming that interweaves information on Climate Change
with relevant biblical passages.

The ELCA social statement "Caring for Creation" states our concerns about global
warming and its potential impacts on God's creation and calls us to act. The social
statement and a study guide for congregations are available on the ELCA Web Site

Learn more about the science of global warming, how, where and why it's happening, and
what we must do to stop it. The Union of Concerned Scientists (, the
Pew Center on Climate Change (, and Environmental Defense
( all have detailed education materials on their Web

Advocate for Change

Businesses, farm groups, scientists, state governments, environmentalists, and the faith
community have all spoken out about the immediate need to address climate change. In
order for the United States to take a leading role in addressing climate change, Congress
must pass legislation that puts mandatory caps on U.S. emissions and supports research
and development of sustainable renewable energy technology. Find out more about
ELCA advocacy on this issue. (

You can raise your voice on this and other critical issues by joining the ELCA e-
Advocacy Network ( By joining, you can learn about the latest
legislative developments on global warming and be informed of timely opportunities to
urge your members of Congress to support helpful legislation on this and other issues.

Make Changes in Your Life and Your Community

Global warming is a big issue that will require individuals, communities, businesses and
local, state, and national governments around the globe to make a serious commitment to

Feb. 11, 2007 3

ELCA Global Warming Fact Sheet
change their behavior. But the magnitude of this issue, though daunting, should not
prevent us from acting: even though this is a big problem, individual and community
actions can make a difference and help to halt global warming.

"Our tradition offers many glimpses of hope triumphant over despair. In ancient Israel, as
Jerusalem was under siege and people were on the verge of exile, Jeremiah purchased a
plot of land (Jeremiah 32). When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world
were to end tomorrow, he reportedly answered, ‘I would plant an apple tree today.' When
we face today's crisis, we do not despair. We act." ELCA, "Caring for Creation: Vision,
Hope, and Justice" (1993)

What individuals can do:

You can take action, in your home, church and community, to reduce global warming
emissions by reducing your energy use—changing from conventional bulbs to compact
fluorescent lamps; weatherproofing your home, and buying more energy-efficient
appliances and fuel-efficient cars. The Department of Energy offers excellent consumer
guides to saving energy ( Tax credits and other
programs may even be available to help pay for energy-efficiency upgrades or the
installation of renewable energy systems in your home (check out the Database of State
Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at

You can become a "zero emissions" supporter by calculating your annual emissions of
global warming gases ( has a good calculator) and then
buying emissions "credits" to offset your individual emissions. These "credits" support
renewable energy development and other projects that reduce global warming emissions
(Environmental Defense has a list of projects that they have evaluated on their Web site).

In your community, you can support local agriculture through farmers' markets and
community-supported agriculture (CSAs). Most food travels long distances to reach our
plates and those travels require a significant consumption of fossil fuels. Find a farmers'
market or CSA in your community with the Local Harvest searchable database

In some communities you can choose to buy electricity from renewable sources like wind
or thermal energy, which do not generate any emissions of global warming gases; check
with your local utility company to see if buying renewable energy is an option for you.
To find out if green power is available in your state, check the Department of Energy's
clickable map (

What congregations can do:

Connect with an "Interfaith Power & Light" (IPL) organization in your state. Visit the
Regeneration Project's website at to find out if your state
has an IPL organization. IPL works with congregations to offer energy assessments,
consultation on energy efficiency steps, and provide support for forming congregational

Feb. 11, 2007 4

ELCA Global Warming Fact Sheet
"Earth Care" or "Green Teams." The Web of Creation's Green Congregation Program, at, also has resources to help in forming such teams. Another
source of information on reducing your energy use (and other environmental impacts) is
the ELCA Environmental Audit Guide

Consider organizing a carpool for congregation members, to share rides to worship or to

congregational events and meetings. Every gallon of gas saved helps make a difference!

Congregations can take steps to reduce their energy use (and, as an added bonus, their
utility bills!) by making more energy efficient choices. Changing light bulbs may seem
like a small step, but if every household in the United States replaced just five
conventional light bulbs with compact florescent lights, it would keep more than one
trillion pounds of greenhouse gases out of our air—equal to the emissions of more than
21 coal-burning power plants. Think of what could happen if every ELCA congregation
in American replaced their conventional light bulbs with energy-efficient lights! Find out
more about compact florescent lighting from the government's Energy Star program

Congregations can also save money and help care for God's creation by making better
choices when they replace appliances and heating and cooling systems. Energy-efficient
appliances, furnaces and air conditioners can save thousands of dollars in utility bills
while keeping tons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. The Environmental
Protection Agency has an excellent guide to help congregations reduce their energy use
( Reducing
energy use is not only good for the environment, but also good for your congregation's
bottom line!

Congregations can help prevent global warming when they make decisions about
remodeling or adding on to church buildings. "Green" buildings are built with care for the
environment in mind, using environmentally-friendly and often money-saving techniques
that also can reduce emissions of global warming gases. Find out more about green
buildings from the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program
( and the National Green Building Council

State and federal tax credits and grants may be available to help your congregation install
energy-efficient building upgrades or to install solar panels or other renewable energy
systems. Local utility companies often have programs that may help to defray the costs of
these projects. A good resource for finding out what's available in your state is the
Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (

In some communities you can choose to buy electricity from renewable sources like wind
or thermal energy, which do not generate any emissions of global warming gases; check
with your local utility company to see if buying renewable energy is an option for your
congregation. To find out if green power is available in your state, check the Department

Feb. 11, 2007 5

ELCA Global Warming Fact Sheet
of Energy's clickable map

What the ELCA is doing:

In 2003, ELCA Corporate Social Responsibility published an issue paper on global

warming and climate change.

On Earth Day 2005, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson confirmed our church's commitment
to addressing global warming. You can read his letter at

In January 2007, Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop Craig Johnson testified before the
Minneapolis State Legislature about the moral and human impacts of global warming.
Watch the testimony here:

In February 2007, three ELCA college presidents signed the "American College and
University Presidents Climate Commitment," a pledge to take a leadership role in
addressing global warming. Two presidents who signed as members of the commitment's
"Leadership Circle" are Dr. Richard L. Torgerson of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, and
Dr. Loren J. Anderson, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash.

Feb. 11, 2007 6