He’s got the whole world

Local pastor preaches action on global warming

The Rev. David Thompson will join scientists, industry reps and urban planners at a public forum on climate change in Sacramento next week.

The Rev. David Thompson will join scientists, industry reps and urban planners at a public forum on climate change in Sacramento next week.

Photo By Larry Dalton

You can attend the climate-change forum Monday, September 25, at 7 p.m. The event will be held at the SMUD Auditorium, 6201 S Street.

The Rev. David Thompson begins and ends every day in prayer. Ten minutes each morning and 10 minutes each evening, minimum. The pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, at 13th and N streets, Thompson is part of a denomination especially concerned about social issues. These days, he says, his prayers focus a lot on global warming.

Gone is the time when clergymen would quote the Book of Genesis to endorse subduing Earth. Thompson learned of global warming in the 1980s, when he wrote his dissertation, while at the Toronto School of Theology, on how society justified the environmental impacts of the British industrial revolution. To him, global warming is not only real, but also something humans created and must fix, as good stewards of the Earth.

“There’s a marvelous verse in Psalms [24:1], and it goes, ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof and they that dwell therein.’ So, it’s not ours,” Thompson said.

On Monday evening, starting at 7 p.m., Thompson will join in a public forum being held at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Auditorium on global climate change and energy challenges. The discussion, followed by a question-and-answer period, is open to the public and is being hosted by the Sacramento chapter of the League of Women Voters.

The panel will include scientists and planners from the Sacramento Air Quality Management District, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and representatives for California manufacturers and technology companies. Mayor Heather Fargo is scheduled to deliver the opening remarks.

Thompson will represent the sole religious perspective on the panel, though he’s far from the only faithful person concerned about the state of the planet.

In increasing numbers, religious leaders and their congregants are becoming aware of things like climate change and the need for alternative energy. Even skeptics admit that belief in global warming has become an issue of faith. And some of the top scientists who would warn of the perils Earth faces don’t try to hide their religious beliefs.

A member of California Interfaith Power and Light, which includes religious leaders from several different denominations statewide, Thompson said it’s imperative that religions “collaborate with the sciences and support themselves against special interests.” Fellow panelist Genevieve Shiroma, president of the SMUD Board of Directors, welcomes the viewpoints of Thompson, his CIPL colleagues and others, if they will help curb fossil-fuel use.

“Whether it’s secular or non-secular, it doesn’t matter,” Shiroma said. “There’s plenty of room at the table.”

That doesn’t mean skeptics aren’t still out there. And some skeptics are quite powerful. James Inhofe, a Republican U.S. Senator from Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” in a July 2003 speech on the Senate floor. In January 2005, he reiterated this:

“Put simply, man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith,” Inhofe told the Senate. “Therefore, contending its central tenets are flawed is, to them, heresy of the most despicable kind.”

But fellow panelist Larry Greene, executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, praised Thompson.

“I really think it’s excellent when we have religious leaders who are putting a balanced viewpoint forth,” Greene said.

Though Thompson said some religious people are excited to let the planet decay, to speed Christ’s return, Thompson urges taking action. He said individuals could use the Internet to check their “carbon footprint,” which shows what can be done to reduce environmental impacts. Possible changes people can make include driving and flying less, eating locally grown food and relying on alternative energy.

Thompson’s advice doesn’t differ markedly from that of Pete Hathaway, a fellow panelist, who works for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. A proponent of carpooling and hybrid-vehicle use, Hathaway said downtown areas need to be created in places like Orangevale and Arden-Arcade, so residents of those areas need not travel so far for entertainment or groceries.

But other panelists are skeptical of more government regulations to fight climate change. Dorothy Rothrock, of California Manufacturers and Technology Association, cautioned that imposing tighter emissions standards in California could cause businesses to relocate to less-regulated states.

When asked if she believed in global warming, Rothrock said, “I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.”

But Thompson says it’s time to do something.

“You ask, ‘What is the most loving thing to do, all things considered?’” Thompson said. “And then you do it.”