Clergy, scientists encourage moral stand on environment Congressional panel told moral view is needed.

May 13, 1992|By David Saltman | David Saltman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Call it "environmentalism with a human face."

Clergy and scientists, including Dr. Mark Sagoff, of the University of Maryland's Center for Philosophy and Public Policy, counseled a special congressional panel yesterday to sell the American public on environmental spending through moral as well as scientific arguments.

"Much of the environment erodes because we have not yet sunk roots into it," said Dr. Sagoff.

He asserted that encouraging a sense of long-term community among the fast-lane, fast-food lifestyles of the nation's middle class would galvanize support for environmentalism.

Dr. Sagoff also argued that environmentalism cannot begin to have meaning for the majority of the public if people lack a connection with places around them. Humans, he said, depend on culture to make places habitable and are unaccustomed to depending upon culture to preserve nature in its virginal state.

On the day President Bush said he would attend a world environmental meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Sagoff joined luminaries representing the Joint Appeal By Religion and Science for the Environment.

The Joint Appeal is a group of scientists and theologians who

joined together in 1989 to press for environmental activism at government's highest levels.

"The power of our technology is such that, not just on purpose, but also accidentally, can we make changes in the global environment," Dr. Carl Sagan, the eminent space expert, told the panel, which Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn, chaired.

"I have to believe," said the Rev. James Parks Morton, dean of New York City's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, "that the environmental challenge will profoundly affect the nature of religious life in many ways."

Senator Gore and a number of other representatives and senators who walked in and out of the hearings during the morning complained that the urgent need for action -- on global warming, on deforestation, on land buys -- was stymied by administration intransigence and public resistance to higher spending on virtually any program.

"We are on the hinge of history, and we are swinging in some very new directions. But very few of our national political leaders recognize this," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., in a veiled attack on President Bush for his recent indecision on attending a global environmental conference.

Representative Lantos' remarks came as Mr. Bush, after weeks of wavering, said he would attend the United Nations-sponsored conference on global warming.

Beset by controversy, the president agreed to attend after the U.N. agreed to take a weaker position on carbon dioxide emissions, as the administration had sought.

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