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October 26, 2007
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NOW Transcript - Show 343
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Transcript - October 26, 2007

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.

We're about to go on the road to Alaska to do two things: first to see for ourselves what scientists say are the effects of what spews out of that cityscape behind me, carbon dioxide. The effects are on the Alaskan ice—and people who live on that ice.

But here's why I really want you to stay and watch with us...it's the journey of an influential evangelical minister who arrives in Alaska convinced that people have become too alarmist about global warming. He travels with a group of other ministers and scientists to the edge of the Arctic Circle.

And...well, take a look and see. My colleague Karla Murthy went to Alaska and produced the piece.

Thousands of tourists every year drive about an hour from Anchorage, Alaska to see a real, live glacier. The visitor center used to be a good spot to see the face of the glacier. So where's the ice? Way...over...yonder. Since portage glacier began melting, it's retreated over three miles.

CHIVIAN: What was originally here for the last 18,000 years is now there.

CIZIK: Utterly astonishing. Utterly incredible.

BRANCACCIO: Richard Cizik and Eric Chivian see this as a sad consequence of global warming. Both consider climate change to be the greatest man-made threat to the environment—and have been working together to fight it.

CHIVIAN: The rate of melting is speeding up.

BRANCACCIO: Who would have thought? One is a big time scientist, the other a big time evangelical Christian. They might not agree on how the world began - but they both believe it's in serious jeopardy.

Reverend Richard Cizik is the vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

CIZIK: Would we have debates over creation versus evolution? Look, do we disagree about that issue? Most assuredly. But do we fight over it? No. Because we have something we can do more important than fight over that. And it's called care for planet earth.

BRANCACCIO: Dr. Eric Chivian is a scientist at Harvard University and he's got a Nobel Prize.

CHIVIAN: Scientists, I must say, are not terribly good at communicating with the general public. I mean, we're taught to speak in technical language.

BRANCACCIO: Chivian says science alone has failed to stir people to real action. So they are reaching out to a different voice: the spiritual and moral voice of evangelical Christians. Together, they hope to forge a compelling message that will wake people up to their cause.

CHIVIAN: The moral example of, and sense of urgency that these two groups, that may still have differences, are saying this is so fundamental, so important to all of us, I think becomes a—a very powerful message to everyone.

BRANCACCIO: This August, Dr. Chivian and Rev. Cizik organized an expedition to Alaska. They brought together a group of nationally renowned scientists and evangelical Christians—to show them what climate change is doing. And there's no better place to see those effects than Alaska. Temperatures here have risen faster than anywhere else in the country.


The expedition began at Anchorage Airport - where many of them met for the first time. They come not only from different cities, but from different world views. This journey will be a test to see if this alliance between evangelicals and scientists can actually work.

JACKSON: It's going to be a great, great week together.

CHIVIAN: It's going to be amazing. It's going to be amazing

BRANCACCIO: But let's be clear, not everyone on the trip is convinced that climate change is an urgent problem. Among evangelicals, there are deep divisions about what role the church should take in the environmental movement. Bishop Harry Jackson, an evangelical minister, has come on this trip as a skeptic.

JACKSON: Seems like, to me, that there is a huge scare that's going on. And that's what I'm concerned about.

BRANCACCIO: Jackson believes the earth is heating up, but he's not sure what the church should be doing about it right now.

JACKSON: And—that's not to discount the stewardship of the earth and being a responsible citizen of the planet, but—how much do we take this as though it's the—something we've got to deal with right now? Or how much do we look at this as a little bit of alarmism.

BRANCACCIO: As the senior pastor at Hope Christian Church - just outside of Washington DC, Jackson's an influential voice. There are roughly 100 million evangelical Christians in America today... who view the world through the lens of the holy bible. Jackson says, there are some in his community that see global warming - not as a man-made environmental crisis, but as a message from God.

JACKSON: The teachings of Jesus clearly talk about that in the last days, there would be all these storm like traumatic—dramatic, if you would, natural calamities that would come upon the earth. And these things are to—supposed to bring people to awareness about God.

BRANCACCIO: But Reverend Cizik says the Bible also calls for Christians to care for God's creation and protect the environment - and he's been speaking out about this biblical imperative that he calls "creation care."

But Cizik's environmental activism has angered many prominent evangelicals - who say global warming is not the man-made threat to the planet Cizik and so many scientists believe it is.

James Dobson - founder of Focus on the Family - a powerful evangelical group said he believes that quote "Richard Cizik and his colleagues are dividing evangelicals" and said "the net effect is anti-capitalistic and an underlying hatred for America." But Cizik would not back down.

CIZIK: Everybody on this celestial globe potentially is a victim, potentially is a victim of climate change in one way or another. And so that, in my estimation, is a cause so important I would jeopardize even my job for it.

BRANCACCIO: And that's what he did. Earlier this year, a group of prominent evangelicals wrote a letter asking Cizik to resign from the National Association of Evangelicals. One of the signers... was Harry Jackson.

JACKSON: Rich was out there—trumpeting his cause. And he's a great guy. But we said, "hey, as you speak for evangelicals—let's make sure we're on the same page."

BRANCACCIO: Richard Cizik's supporters came to his side, and he kept his job. And now he's trying to win over one of those skeptics.

JACKSON: Rich basically came to me and said, "hey, you sound like you're open. Do you want to see more? Hear more?"

BRANCACCIO: Cizik believed that if Jackson came to Alaska with the other evangelicals, it would make all the difference.

CIZIK: If they can see and feel and touch and hear all the senses of climate change and its impacts, then they will inevitably decide, I think, to do something about it.

PARK RANGER: Let's see some ice.

BRANCACCIO: After Portage Glacier ... next stop Exit Glacier this time a chance to walk right up to what they call "big ice."

PARK RANGER: And we're gonna hoof it down the road here, so that we can get to see some ice.

BRANCACCIO: Exit glacier is also melting back and the trail to the glacier is a timeline of its retreat.

PARK RANGER:
This is where the trail in 2000 -the ice was just on the other side of the ice and you could touch it. The ice was just the other side of the rope right here and you touch it. And very shortly after, it started melting back much more quickly.

BRANCACCIO: After the steep windy hike, they finally get to the face the glacier's big.. blue.. ice. But all around, evidence of the melting. Alaska has about 100,000 glaciers and nearly all in rapid retreat.

CHIVIAN
: Looking at something that has been there for at least 20,000 years. Melting before our eyes—to see that change is—is very (noise) profound. And to realize that we are helping that happen.

BRANCACCIO:
It was a moment to reflect, but, it was also a small victory in itself.

CIZIK: This isn't Mt. Everest, but for evangelicals on climate change, it's pretty nearly that (people laugh).

BRANCACCIO: Back on the bus, it's four hours to the next stop—perfect time to chat with your pick of some of the top scientists in their field.
Jim Mccarthy, climate expert. Peter Raven, botanist, Camille Parmesan, biologist, and Carl Safina - oceans expert.
They'll all tell you different versions of the same dire story. But for some evangelicals - there are many stumbling blocks to accepting the science. One of those is evolution.

Deborah Fikes works with the Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas.

FIKES: For many evangelicals, evolution is offensive because it removes God from the creative process.

BRANCACCIO: Because scientists accept evolution, some evangelicals have a hard time accepting scientists.

FIKES: The evangelical community, many of them don't trust science. So just to point out that there is a consensus amongst the experts science it doesn't hold the same weight as it would for the secular community.

BRANCACCIO: But even if you do believe the science of global warming, Harry Jackson says, he's not sure how some of those facts and figures relate to his own life - relate to people.

JACKSON: The way people talk about this whole scientific arena is so disconnected from real people that it—I didn't have any sense of real urgency concerning the problem. So I hope to see something that frames this or puts a context around what everyone is talking about.

BRANCACCIO:
And that's where the group is headed today. They are going to meet native Alaskans whose entire way of life is threatened by the effects of climate change - right now.
Carmen Field - a local biologist—has helped plan this part of the trip. They are going to a remote island - and there are no hotels or restaurants. So the group has to bring their own supplies. But of course, a few things were left behind.

FIELD: We were not able to find towels—for those of you that needed a towel. But we did get some paper towels. So it—if nothing else, you've got some paper towels to bathe with a little bit. Or find a friend and share. (laughter)

RAVEN: Let's all be very tolerant.

JACKSON: Ok.

BRANCACCIO: The village of Shishmaref is located on a small barrier island . You get there by chartered small plane.

JACKSON: I really don't' want to ask some of the really dumb questions like, whether or not there will be electricity.

SAFINA: You don't need to know now. You'll find out when you get there..

JACKSON: That's the only thing I'm sure of. That I'll find out when we get there.

BRANCACCIO: Shishmaref is just 20 miles from the Artic Circle. 600 people live in there. They are Eskimos, or Inupiaq - and their people have made this tiny remote island home for centuries.

KOKEOK: Hi Carmen. Nice to finally meet you. Welcome to Shishmaref. Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: The people here live close to nature and without much of a carbon footprint. They hunt and gather most of their food as did their ancestors. They pick wild greens and gather berries. They hunt bearded seal, wales and caribou. They call the land and sea their grocery store. But the island and their way of life are now in danger.

They villagers take the group to the local preschool, where they will cook, eat and sleep for the next few days. Eric Chivian and Richard Cizik have first dinner duty - but everyone will get their turn. It starts to feel a bit like camp.

CHIVIAN: Give another puff for the camera.

BRANCACCIO: Just what the earth needs, more CO2.

CHIVIAN: But don't inhale. (everyone laughs)

JACKSON: That is so funny. I didn't know you scientists had a sense of humor.

BRANCACCIO: The next day, one of young hunters, Norman Kokeok takes 2 scientists, Carl Safina and Jim Mccarthy and Peter Hetzel, a minister to see their summer hunting grounds.

KOKEOK: Springtime, we go maybe 90 something miles to go hunting seal and walrus. 90 miles down coast.

BRANCACCIO: Springtime in Shishmaref looks a lot different than summer. More than half of the year, the ocean is iced over, and they use snow- mobiles to hunt. But since the early 1990s, they've noticed that the ice is getting weird. The freeze is coming later and is breaking up earlier in the spring. So it's boats more and more.

KOKEOK: Sometimes it takes all day just to see one seal.

BRANCACCIO: But when the ocean does finally freeze, they've noticed the ice has become weaker, thinner, and therefore more dangerous to hunt on for their food. Just a few months ago, one of the hunters, fell through the ice on his snow mobile and died.

KOKEOK: He fell through. He couldn't make it through the ice. Ice kept breaking when he tried to go up.

BRANCACCIO: He was Norman's first cousin, but they called each other brothers.

KOKEOK: He was pretty good all around guy. He was a good hunter. Good person.

BRANCACCIO: The hunters say the ice is getting harder to read. It's dangerous work, but their families got to eat.

Even on land things are giving way under foot. The thing is, that sea ice also shields Shishmaref from the winds and waves of storms. Without that ice - the island's left vulnerable to violent storms that eat away at the coast.

Stanley Tocktoo is the mayor of Shishmaref and Luci Eningowuk is a tribal leader. They're taking the group to see what's left their battered coastline.

SAFINA: In your lifetime how much farther did the beach extend.

TOCKTOO: Oh I'll show you when I was young kid I was running around way out there. We had beach stretch we had a long beach.

ENINGOWUK: We had three rows of rolling sand dunes out there in the 50's.

BRANCACCIO: This house used to sit on a large sand bluff. But the storms came and scoured it away. The house collapsed the day the group arrived on the island.

SAFINA: How much land might you lose in one storm?

TOCKTOO: We could lose 20 feet in one or 2 hours.

SAFINA: 20 feet in one or 2 hours.

PARMESAN: Wow.

BRANCACCIO: They've also noticed that the storms have also been getting more frequent and more severe. One storm in 1997 washed away 125 feet of land. Many houses have been destroyed, and they've had to relocate some to the other side of the island.

TOCKTOO: Man this is weird. Because we never see this kind of stuff growing up.

BRANCACCIO: The frozen permafrost is also thawing. The villagers dig into the permafrost to store their food. 10 years ago it was about 3 feet down. Now they have to dig 5 or more feet to find the frozen layer.

PARMESAN: I mean all your talking about are huge changes during your lifetime. You're not talking about stories of your father and grandfather right? These are things you've actually seen. So in 20 years. That's incredible.

BRANCACCIO: Life has gotten so precarious, that the people of Shishmaref voted to move their community - to leave this ancient island for safer ground on the mainland. The move will cost an estimated 180 million dollars. To date, they've only been able to raise around 30 million. So for now, they are doing what they can - like building this sea wall - to protect what they have left.
But the idea that these families—Americans who live most in tune with nature - are the ones getting hit by climate change first—has deeply touched the group.

CIZIK: You are my neighbor, and if I'm called by Jesus to love my neighbor, I have to be concerned about what's occurring here, and your future.

BRANCACCIO:
Harry Jackson has now come to the view that what's happening to shishmaref can not be ignored.

JACKSON: Our friends back home need to know that this is not just an isolated situation. We do have a responsibility. We do need to help them now. But the greater lesson is protect against this happening in the future. That's what I'm getting of this now.

BRANCACCIO: The problem is much bigger than Shishmaref. The British humanitarian group, Christian Aid issued a report estimating that global warming left unabated will displace one billion people by mid-century.

CIZIK: Climate change raises questions about who we are as people. And if we are not people who are related to others, because we are human, and care, then we aren't anything if we're not that. We will have lost our essential humanity.

JACKSON: Heavenly father, we thank you...

BRANCACCIO: They end the day in prayer.

JACKSON: We believe that it is a prophetic time. A time in which we are called upon to choose whether we will be good stewards of the earth or whether will see continued erosion of that which you have entrusted into our hands. In Christ name in Jesus name, amen.

CHIVIAN
: I think Shishmaref was very powerful for our evangelical friends on this trip. Because the—the human dimension. They are so concerned with, you know, Christ's teaching of helping the poor.

CIZIK: We watched as a house fell into the ocean, just—the day before it began to fall. And we watched as, you know, the ocean came in and began to sweep parts of it away. That's real. That is—that is not hypothetical. It's not in the years to come. It's now. And it's happening to people that God loves.

BRANCACCIO: And their time in Shishmaref moved the relationship between scientists and evangelicals onto new ground.

CHIVIAN: I think a trust has developed. I think there's nothing like, you now, sleeping on air mattresses and nobody showering to develop trust. (laughter) It goes a long way, you know?

BRANCACCIO: It's the last leg of the trip back to Anchorage. The conversations have turned from discussing the effects of climate change to how to actually fight it. Jackson has been worried about one solution to global warming he's heard about. If population growth has been leading to the production of more global warming gases - what if the solution is controlling the population?

JACKSON: The evangelical community hears that and they say "ah ha!" We are going to have to deal with abortion and euthanasia. Somebody's going to come up with this idea that you are going to have to stop these people or stop this population growth as a way of accommodating for the warming of the planet.

MCCARTHY: It doesn't have to do with number of people or lifestyle as much as it has to do with how we fuel that lifestyle and if we move away from coal, oil and natural gas. That's how you bend the curve, you don't' have to have half as many people or half the lifestyle.

JACKSON: To me you make a strong case. (overtalk)

MCCARTHY: That's why I can be so optimistic.

CIZIK: Even churches, for example, Harry. If the nation's 300,000 houses of worship were to cut their energy consumption by 25% it's the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road.

JACKSON: Wow (off camera)

MCCARTHY: So all of that in the first instance makes not only good sense in terms of the climate but it also makes good economic sense

JACKSON: I'm with you.

BRANCACCIO: The week long expedition has come to an end - it's a time to talk about what they've learned the past few days - and what lies ahead.

FIELD: I think it's our responsibility to share what we've learned and what we've experienced with the masses. With those people who can't take a trip to Alaska and go to Shishmaref, who can't fly over a glacier, who can't walk up to big ice. We need to inspire others.

JACKSON: It seems to me that preaching can shape the way people think and feel in this culture and that that is so important. That's one of the things that hit me over these days. It is very important for us to take a stand.

BRANCACCIO: But for reverend Cizik—it was the last night in Shishmaref that hit him most. At 2 in the morning, the group scrambled out of their sleeping bags to watch two of nature's great wonders. A lunar eclipse .... And the Northern Lights.

CIZIK: And so there I am looking into the heavens, and I've got with me, arguably the top scientist in America helping me understand it. What better metaphor for what we need to do together as Americans to solve and address the serious moral spiritual crisis that climate change is.. Together. What a wonderful metaphor.

MCCARTHY: Together.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for now. From New York, I'm David
Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.



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