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Green days

Campaign 2006 | Democrats hope a final-hour focus on global warming will attract evangelical voters

Issue: "Demsnami," Nov. 4, 2006

The Nov. 3 national release of a new documentary film on global warming has Democratic strategists rubbing their palms together. Whereas former vice president Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, preached mostly to the environmentalist choir earlier this year, The Great Warming directs its message of impending climate disaster at evangelicals-particularly those planning to vote in the upcoming midterm election.

Employing a similar marketing strategy to that of recent religion-themed films, promoters of The Great Warming are offering special screenings for churches-no matter the spiritual qualifications of narrators Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette. Producers hope that such supportive voices as Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals and Joel Hunter, the newly appointed president of the Christian Coalition, will convince pastors to take up the message. The movie's website includes a printable church bulletin insert and resources for Bible studies and sermons on the topic of environmental stewardship.

In conjunction with the film, prominent religious leaders, celebrities, and scientists have issued a "Call to Action," promoting political candidates who favor cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050. The group is running ads on Christian radio in states with hotly contested House and Senate races, hoping to elevate the creation-care issue in the minds of evangelical voters.

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Democratic strategist Eric Sapp believes the effort could tip the election in his party's favor: "We've been hearing from a number of evangelicals who are saying, 'This is something I feel I need to factor into my vote,'" he told WORLD. "Especially in areas where Democrats are running who are pro-life and have a traditional understanding of marriage, that's where you'll see this have the greatest impact."

Pennsylvania hosts the only seriously contested Senate race featuring a pro-life Democrat in Bob Casey Jr. But a significant number of pro-life Democrats are fighting for seats in the House, including several-such as John Cranley in Ohio and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana-who are challenging incumbent Republicans. Casey, Cranley, and Ellsworth all support federal policies aimed at significantly reducing CO2 emissions.

Most Republicans, on the other hand, support the wait-and-see approach of President George W. Bush, who has kept the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol, a voluntary emissions-reduction pact between all seven of the other G8 nations. Bush is unconvinced that the negative consequences of potential future warming would outweigh the economic consequences of the extreme emissions caps believed necessary to stop it. Further scientific uncertainty remains as to how much climate change is human-induced rather than merely part of the earth's natural climate cycle. Three decades ago, scientists warned of global cooling and an impending ice age.

Like all Americans, evangelicals are divided on the issue of global warming, with about half supporting significant federal emissions caps, according to a recent study from Ellison Research. A high-powered cadre of evangelical leaders, including The Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, attempted to increase that number earlier this year by signing the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a statement espousing scientific consensus on the harmful impacts of greenhouse gases and calling on government to reduce them. Hunter was among the more outspoken signatories, appearing in television commercials and telling WORLD at the time that "we need to do this regardless of what the science of it is. We need to take care of the earth and do what we can to stop the pollution and accumulation of greenhouse gasses, because it's just the right thing to do."

Hunter concedes that evangelical concerns such as abortion and gay marriage remain critically important. He claims that his election-season push for creation care is not meant to pull votes away from pro-life candidates but instead to broaden the evangelical agenda. He expressed that aim in a statement earlier this month upon taking over the Christian Coalition, an organization built on the strength of fighting for clear biblical mandates. Roberta Combs, who as the former president of the coalition hired Hunter, told The Washington Post that Hunter's involvement with the Call to Action is an individual decision and does not represent the organization's position.

Democrats hope the impact of Hunter's efforts stretches beyond races with two pro-life candidates. Sapp, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy and former youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Durham, N.C., says evangelicals ought to consider candidates committed to reducing abortion as viable alternatives to those favoring an outright ban: "If you're pro-life, you want to see abortions reduced. Ultimately, we want to see them disappear, but you know that in a fallen world that's just never going to happen." Sapp believes significant numbers of pro-life Republicans could vote for abortion-reducing Democrats in this election because of the global warming issue.

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