Catholics Unveil 'Unprecedented' Earth Day Initiative

Catholics are being urged to minimize their carbon footprints.

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Catholics worldwide will be heeding a new call beginning on Earth Day - one to care for all of God's creations by reducing their impact on our planet. The Catholic Climate Coalition today unveiled a campaign for Catholic families, parishes, schools and hospitals to consider their environmental impact and its effect on the disadvantaged, who bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change.

The effort, if met by the participation of the 67.5 million registered Catholics in America, and the 1 billion Catholics worldwide, will be "unprecedented in its scope," said Bishop William Skylstad, honorary chair of the covenant. "[The initiative] brings two fundamental principles - care for God's creation, and care for the poor and vulnerable." Catholics across the U.S. are being urged to take the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor, which encourages them to pray, learn, assess, act and advocate for environmental justice. Zogby poll data shows that Catholics are ready to act. More than half of Catholics identify global warming as a serious problem, and more than two-thirds believe that we know enough about global warming to act now. Two-thirds of Catholics also believe that future generations will be affected by climate change.

"Catholics are a large swing vote, and this shows that Catholics have swung on this issue," said John Zogby in a press conference call.

The Catholic Climate Coalition hopes to influence key members of committees on Capitol Hill regarding climate legislation, and cap-and-trade. The Catholic Health Association, with a network of hospitals that serves one in six Americans, will also be revamping hospital practices to minimize waste and emissions. On an individual level, though, the coalition hopes that Catholics will consider their own carbon footprint, and how to minimize it at home. "For Catholics, the call to restrain and sacrifice is not a new call," said John Carr of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The poll is encouraging in that many Catholics are willing to respond to a call. In some ways, what we may be talking about is a very long Lent."

[Read about how Lent reduces our carbon footprint]

There's one area in which scientists and Catholics do not agree - population control. Though organizations such as the Sierra Club have argued that climate change can be curbed by better access to birth control and family planning, the church obviously does not agree. "We believe the problem is not the number of people, it's sustainable consumption," said Skylstad. "We're asking people to begin with their faith, not their politics," said Carr. "This is not the Sierra Club with prayer."