Within fifty years, 150 million people could be made refugees as a result of man-made climate change. This was the stark warning delivered by the eminent scientist Sir John Houghton to a conference of 160 participants at Belmon Abbey, Hereford, on 21st February 2004. Sir John, who before retirement had been Chief Executive of the Met Office and a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, showed how the world's poorest would suffer most from increasingly erratic weather. Yet it was the richest countries of the world which were responsible for the problem, by consuming fossil fuels which release greenhouse gases. He said Christians could help in the effort to avert the worst effects of global warming in the coming decades. He called on them to 'sell a package of measures' to the wider world, including greater energy efficiency, switching to non-fossil fuels, sustainable rates of consumption, and even simply planting trees. The conference, entitled 'Faith and the Environmental Imperative', was organised by the Newman Association and Christian Ecology Link. Its aim was to help people respond to The Call of Creation, a document published by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales in 2002, and to take the next steps in the Church's 'ecological vocation', which the Pope has said is 'ever more urgent in our time'. The Bishops had offered their reflections to 'all people of goodwill, including Christians of other denominations', and the conference succeeded in attracting a large and diverse ecumenical audience - it had been fully booked several weeks ahead. Robert Williams of the Newman Association said he was 'greatly impressed' by the level of interest: 'The Bishops have really struck a chord with The Call of Creation - both in the Catholic Church and beyond.' Opening the conference, the Abbot of Belmont, Paul Stonham OSB, shared his experience from the developing world. Describing the environmental degradation and rising poverty in Latin America, he said that it was now more truthful to talk of 'un-developing' countries. Rt Rev John Oliver, the former Anglican Bishop of the agricultural diocese of Hereford, drew attention to some of the difficult decisions to be made in protecting nature in the modern world. His talk was followed by a lively discussion on the risks and potential benefits of genetically modified crops, and the injustice of patents on life. A wealth of practical steps which Christians could take were represented by Christian and secular agencies working in the environmental field. The eco-congregation programme, in particular, was urged for parishes. Sir John Houghton singled out Operation Noah, the Christian-inspired campaign to protect the poor and future generations from the threat of climate change. Operation Noah is a project of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland's environmental issues network, promoted by Christian Ecology Link. The campaign invites people to encourage their neighbours and fellow church members to sign a 'Climate Covenant'. This urges the British Government to lead international negotiations on a long-term global treaty for a safer climate. Signatories also do their bit by reducing their own use of fossil fuels, for instance by switching to 'green' electricity. Fr Frank Turner, Assistant General Secretary responsible for international affairs for the Bishops Conference, welcomed the participation of so many people at the conference. He acknowledged the limited resources the Bishops were able to make available for this area of work, but hoped that an advisory group might be established to help the Bishops push some issues forward. Commenting afterwards, Paul Bodenham of Christian Ecology Link said: 'Christians believe in a gospel of life - and the ecological vocation is a gospel which future generations urgently need us to proclaim. The Bishops should be encouraged by the interest in today's event - the church is clearly ready to answer their call.' The Newman Association, founded in 1942, exists to promote open discussion and greater understanding in today's church. A member of Pax Romana, the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, it works principally through local 'circles' of members and special interest groups on particular issues. The Association's contribution to this conference was led by its Environmental Group. For further details see www.newman.org.uk. Christian Ecology Link (CEL), founded in 1982, is the oldest membership organisation in the UK linking faith and environmental concerns. A registered charity, it has approximately 500 members nationwide, including many churches and Christian agencies. See www.christian-ecology.org.uk.
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