Paul H. Carr
Air Force Research Laboratory Emeritus
Philosophy Department, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Second Annual Science and Religion Colloquium:
"Water in New England: Religious and Scientific Perspectives"
12:30-5 P. M, 26 April 2001, Boston University School of Theology,

"The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) aims at transforming our fundamental relationship
with the earth from one of destruction  to redemption by combining our
(1) knowledge of earth sciences with                                                                                                                                                                                           (2) the forces of spiritual values."
Adnan Z. Amin, Director, UNEP


Can the sacramental power of water cleanse and motivate us to meet the challenges of global warming and flooding? In the past two decades, average temperatures have climbed as much as 7F in the arctic. "The Big Meltdown" article in TIME Magazine (1) reported that sea ice is 40% thinner and covers 6% less area than in 1980. Permafrost is becoming less permanent. The glaciers are retreating as we turn up the heat. If this and the melting of the polar icecaps continue, the seal level will rise and flood low lying islands and peninsulas, such as Cape Cod, MA and Florida. When this happens, 50 to 100 years from now, the loss of valuable shoreline real estate will cause us to take drastic measures. Unfortunately, it will take hundreds of years for these measures to reverse the present trends. Climatology models show that global warming is accompanied by weather extremes, like the excessive flooding we experienced this spring.

In February 2001, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change concluded: "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is due to human activities. (2.)". Every automobile owner is involved. For every 12,000 miles driven, the cumulative carbon dioxide emission is equivalent to the weight of the vehicle. The United States, with only 4% of the world's population, produces 23% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. The United States emission of 6.6 tons of greenhouse gases per person per year is the largest in the world and twice that of industrialized Europe and Japan.

We have already depleted about one half of our fossil fuel reserves and can expect prices to increase in long term. The tripling of oil prices from 1973 to 1980 together with waiting in line to buy gasoline got our attention and caused us to conserve and be more energy efficient. For example, during this time the average gas mileage of passenger cars rose from 15 to 24 miles per gallon. Federal and state tax incentives increased the use of solar hot water heaters.

Since 1980, oil prices have been relatively stable. We have responded like a frog thrown into a pot of hot water. The temperature shock makes him jump out. If the water temperature is increased slowly, he will cook. We are presently cooking in our false state of complacency in which the fuel economy of vehicles has decreased from 26 miles per gallon in 1986 to 24 mpg at present, due to increases in light trucks and sport utility vehicles. Can the forces of spiritual values reverse this tend to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Accord that the US decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 7% before 2010?


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who earned his Doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955, once said: "Through our scientific genius we have made the world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In real sense, we must learn to live together as brothers, or will perish together as fools."

This statement intended for the brotherhood between the races is equally valid for our brotherhood with all the species and our communion with nature and the earth. Science, whose technology has unintentionally caused the environmental crisis, must nevertheless cooperate with religion to solve the problem. Science can give us the know-how, and religion the wisdom, motivation, and moral guidance. The John Templeton Foundation is committed to advancing our moral and spiritual understanding.

Science tells us that we can reduce the emission greenhouse gases in the future by using passive and active solar energy for heating and by generating electricity with windmills, semiconducting solar cells, and hydropower. Nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases, although the disposal of nuclear waste remains a challenge. Fusion power, the combining hydrogen nuclei to form helium and higher elements like in our sun, has no nuclear waste. The problem being researched is finding a container that does not melt at solar temperatures. New hybrid electric automobiles are more fuel-efficient than our present internal combustion engines. The way to generate energy without carbon dioxide is to combine hydrogen with oxygen. The only byproduct is water. The problem is storing the hydrogen.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made a study (3) and concluded that sense of urgency resulting in

can enable us to stabilize our increasing carbon emissions.

        The carbon emission tax gives an economic incentive to develop and favor nonpolluting solar and windpower. It also discourages the use of coal, which emits twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas as well as the pollutants in acid rain. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the industrialized countries could achieve these goals at a cost of no more than 2 percent of the gross national product.  Chet Raymo in his Science Musing "Bush is not looking at the big world," published in the Science Section of the April 24, 2001 issue of the Boston Globe states that he spends about 2 percent of the value of his home in the Bahamas for hurricane insurance. He recommends that we do the same "to protect ourselves against the potentially severe economic and environmental consequences of global warming."

The religious community can motivate us to pursue this plan. Hopefully water's sacramental power can cleanse us from the unintended consequences of our past sins, give us new vision for the future, and the courage to conserve and sacrifice for the good of our children and their descendents. The story of Noah in Genesis 6 tells that the Lord saw how wicked and evil everyone was. He was so filled with regret for having made humans that He destroyed them with a flood. God's covenant with Noah was that God would never do this again. We need to uphold our responsibility to this covenant by reducing our excessive use of carbon emitting fuels which is in to process of making our own flood. We must do this "less we perish together as fools." (M. L. King, Jr.)

The water used for baptism symbolizes cleansing from our sins. Process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (4), defines sin as (a) the violation of relationships, (b) the absolutizing of the self and the denial of INTERDEPENDENCE, and (c) rebellion against the creation. This environmentally responsible interpretation of sin should be incorporated into our liturgy as well as our religious education. Our environmental sin is that of omission rather than commission, of ignorance and neglect rather than bad intention. Nevertheless, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The Interreligious Sustainability Project of Metropolitan Chicago (supported by a grant from the United Church of Christ) is organizing discussion groups called Circles, which have the following goals:

Locally, "Clean Air- Cool Planet" (, is building an alliance of institutions, business, faith-based organizations, and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It includes Shaw's Supermarkets, which has also reduced its energy usage, as well as the Tufts University Climate Initiative, which is committed to "meet or beat" the targets of the Kyoto climate accord. The University has accurately determined an emissions baseline and is working to bring its emissions down and to educate students and staff about climate change and energy efficiency. We can contribute by joining with them. These projects remind us that none of us may be here except by the whisper of God's grace.

Martin Luther King's activism, as well as the sacrifice of his life for the brotherhood in which he believed, can be a model for what we must do to prevent environmental disasters. Margaret Mead said:

"Never doubt that a small, committed group of people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

The Jesus Scholars do us a disservice in asking whether Jesus really rose from the dead. The resurrection power we just celebrated this Easter is not so much about dead bodies as about a spiritual transformation and a "good news" that changed the world. May we follow the example of the 12 apostles and of St. Paul in meeting the challenges of our moment in history. Let us update our religious stories and liturgy, which celebrate our being "created in the image of God" with a conscience, so that we will conserve and sacrifice for the good of creation.

"And God saw that it was good." (Genesis 1)


1."The Big Meltdown," TIME Magazine, pg 53-56, (4 September 2000)

2. "Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis," Report by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,, (Geneva, Feb 2001)

3. "Costs of reducing carbon emissions in the U.S.: Some recent results," Jonathan Koomey, Ph.D., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, AAAS Meeting, San Francisco, CA (February 20, 2001). Vugraphs of this talk can be downloaded from

4. "God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology," Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, New York: Crossroad, 1982