Clergy-Legislator Urges End
to Denial of Global Warming

United Methodist News Service

WASHINGTON (UMNS) -- A United Methodist minister who is also a member of the Oregon legislature expressed both optimism and pessimism after attending the White House conference on climate change at Georgetown University here Oct. 6.

"We're in deep denial in this country," said the Rev. Frank Shields, minister of the Sunnyside United Methodist Church in East Portland, Ore. He contrasted the clear skies he saw on his first flight across the country some years ago with what he sees now, when every city is cloaked in haze.

On a day when the temperature in Washington soared to near record levels, President Clinton opened the conference by urging decisive action to counter the threat of global warming, which he said had the "potential for serious climate disruption."

Vice President Gore and most of the president's cabinet were present. Also in attendance were congressmen and at least two hundred invited guests, including many business executives.

Shields said a Harvard professor presented information at the conference that reported agreement by 2,500 scientists that the greenhouse effect is a real threat.

Jaydee Hanson, United Methodist Board of Church and Society staff person who also attended, said that most of the scientific denial of the threat originates from about four scientists who are heavily subsidized by the oil and coal industries. He added that a Texaco executive emerged from the conference to say he saw no need for the company to change anything it was doing.

Shields cited a cartoon he saw recently in which the people on the Russian space station Mir called to earth with an emergency message saying their system for manufacturing oxygen was failing and they did not have enough water and food, but the people on earth radioed back that the same conditions prevailed on the planet's surface.

Shields, who is vice chairman of the environment and energy committee of the Oregon legislature, said people "do not want to admit that we have an effect" on the climate.

"There are individual things people can do," he stressed.

When people have a short drive to work, they release less carbon dioxide into the air -- an important factor in global warming. If their car gets 32 miles to the gallon instead of 15, that is cutting the emission of this gas in half, he said. But using public transportation is even better, he added.

Portland has done a lot with mass transit and is developing more light rail, he said. But an essential factor is the effort "to contain our urban growth boundary," he explained.

"Some of the most fertile land in the world" is located just outside that boundary, Shields said, so by law it is reserved for farming. When there is pressure to extend the urban boundary for development, the discussion takes place in a public forum and hilly sections not good for agriculture are rezoned for building. Fertile land is preserved in "exclusive farm-use zones," he added.

Instead of urban sprawl, the city has "very pleasant neighborhoods" that he likened to those of a European city.

"It's a wonderful city to live in," he declared.

Oregon, he said, has led the way in legislation, having been one of the first states to pass a bottle law -- which requires beverages to be packaged in recyclable containers with a mandatory deposit to encourage their return -- and the first to legislate against the use of chloroflourocarbons, ozone-depleting gasses.

Business keeps urging slow or no change, predicting dire consequences for the economy, Shields said. But, he stated, this year Oregon passed a law requiring new power plants to be built with a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions. The bill was written by the bi-partisan environment and energy committee.

"Nobody's panicked about it," he said. "Utility prices haven't been affected."

Posted October 14, 1997
Copyright ©1997 UMNS

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