Karenna Gore: Religious Leaders Should Urge Climate Activism on 'Moral and Spiritual Level'

Center for Earth Ethics Director Karenna Gore leads a Dakota Access Pipeline protest

WASHINGTON – Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, urged the Catholic Church and other “faith communities” to become climate change activists and preach about taking action on the issue.

“I actually think that [preaching is] one of the main things that could actually break through on this issue. One of the ways that we could break through on this issue is if people really start to think deeply on another level about it; on a moral and spiritual level and are moved from a different kind of place to take action, to raise it with their elected representatives, to make it inform their individual choices but also our political agenda, to be constantly saying, why are we building up more fossil fuels? Why don't we switch to a new renewable energy?” Gore told PJM following a discussion at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University on Monday evening.

“But preaching is, I mean, in the history of this country. And it is complex, but one of the things that has been observed from the beginning is that there are – well, I don't want to give a theory on American history but basically I do believe that church communities are places in which people can sort out deep values and then have conversations in a way that help us come to conviction on certain things,” she added.

Gore, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, compared the climate change movement to the civil rights movement.

“Look at the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement was, obviously there are many factors, but the sermons of Martin Luther King and his speeches in the language that he used evoked a kind of a moral power that really was able to galvanize people to action,” she said. “And I think that there's so much material for that in this moment of ecological crisis and climate change that surely there are those voices from pulpits that we'll be hearing more and more talking about this issue.”

Gore said the Catholic Church is “already a major player in the climate movement” because of Pope Francis.

“His words and the way in which he consistently carries this message and the beautiful document Laudato Si' have really been prophetic and important. And so I think that the best thing would be if the Catholic community in the larger sense, schools as well as houses of worship in faith communities, could really begin to go underneath the surface and teach a lot of those principles and start to be activists – because we don't have a lot of time, unfortunately, on this issue,” she said.

“It's a matter of how much more damage we're going to do. I mean, we know that eventually we'll change from fossil fuels to renewable energy, it's just how much more damage are we going to do? And when we get to a certain point there's a tipping point and so right now I think it will be, Laudato Si' and the leadership of Pope Francis gives us so much hope because of the reaching power of the Catholic community to follow up,” she added.

The Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act, introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), contains a “zero-emission vehicle mandate” that would amend the Clean Air Act to require 80 percent of vehicle manufacturers’ U.S. sales to be derived from zero-emissions vehicles by 2027. The requirement would reach 100 percent of sales within the U.S. by 2035.

Gore was asked if she agrees with the concept of banning gasoline and diesel powered vehicles by a certain date.

“Yes, actually, I think, I like that idea,” she replied. “I haven't thought about it before, but I've noticed that some people when they hear a proposal, they generally think about, is it politically feasible to do this? And unfortunately that usually leads to putting it out of the question, but we shouldn't be framing this conversation by what is politically feasible on Capitol Hill right now. We should be framing it by what is necessary to solve this crisis and so because of that, I answer that does sound like a good idea to me and we can do it.”

“Obviously equity is important, to not have it be only to rich people, they can afford a transition, and if you're too poor you get fined for having an old car or something like that. I mean, I wouldn't want that to happen, but provided that we could take care of folks who need help getting off of the gasoline cars, then I think it would be a good idea,” she added.

Gore was asked if 2035 would be an appropriate target date.

“Well, we really have to do something. We have to act in much more clear and deliberate ways because it's hard for us to see the future of human civilization is at stake, but that is what is at stake. It's long term but it's up to us. So I mean in a way it's extraordinary that we who are alive here today on this planet have this occasion to rise to,” she said.

“Almost 100 percent of scientists, 97 or something peer-reviewed studies, have come back with this science telling us all of this. And what they told us 10 years ago, whenever it was, has been exactly as they said so we're starting to feel these impacts now as they said they would come – that should mean that we should pay extra-close attention to what they're saying about what's coming in the future,” she added. “And instead, the people who are in charge of our government, in the White House and Congress, are actually not even paying any attention at all. It's extraordinary.”

Gore told PJM “I don’t think so” when asked if she plans on running for public office.

“I have no plans to do that, and when I say that it's like really no plans. I mean, I highly, highly doubt it,” she said.

When asked if she would serve in local government, Gore replied, “I don't think so. I do respect people that are willing to offer themselves because it's a tough life, but I grew up around politics quite a lot and I don't think it's for me.”