If Jesus drove

Religious groups in the US campaign for fuel efficiency

Published: Monday 30 November -0001

-- What Would Jesus Drive? Linking fuel efficiency to morality USA

A number of Christian and Jewish religious groups in the US have got together in a grassroots effort to campaign for energy conservation and fuel efficiency. As part of their programme, they are meeting with Ford and General Motors (gm) executives to drive home their point.

In a letter to the chief executives of Ford and gm, they claim that they have the biblical mandate to be "faithful stewards" of all of god's creations, particularly with a responsibility towards the poor, who are more affected by the harmful effects of pollution. The letter asks, "We write now to ask you in the automobile industry a more explicit question. What specific pledges - in volume, timing and commitments to marketing - will you make to produce automobiles, suvs [Sports Utility Vehicles] and pickup trucks with substantially greater fuel economy?" The coalition also decries the us government's support to "autocratic, corrupt and violent" oil-producing governments.

Paul Gorman, executive director, National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an umbrella body of Christian and Jewish groups, says, "This is a crisis in God's creation at the hands of God's children." The coalition plans to send study materials to about 100,000 congregations to "Train hundreds of clergy and lay people as spokespeople for energy conservation and fuel economy."

One of the groups in this coalition, the Evangelical Environmental Network (enn), has launched the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign. The enn plans to distribute magazines, pamphlets and bumper stickers on Christianity and fuel economy. Their advertisement in the Christianity Today magazine shows an image of a plaintive-looking Jesus next to a photograph of a crowded motorway. "When we look at the impact on human health, it's significant, and when we look at global warming, the projected impacts are going to be the hardest on the poor," Reverend Jim Ball, head of enn, said. "How can I love my neighbour as myself if I'm filling their lungs with pollution?"

The campaign, however, has not found support among all religious groups in America. An article on the Christian Coalition website, for instance, claims that toughening fuel economy rules would lead to increased safety hazards with only minimum environmental gains. John Carr, director, Catholic Conference of Bishops, said, "We share some of the goals and welcome the dialogue. [But] we would be less likely to talk about what would Jesus drive and more likely to talk about how to advance the common good of workers, consumers and the poor, who pay the greatest price for environmental degradation."

Meanwhile, Ford spokesperson Jon Harmon said, "We know that environmental issues are important to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. Our first thing is that we want to make sure they have an understanding of the good things we have done."

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