The Bush administration is famously sceptical over global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and notoriously cosy with big business, especially the oil companies. Mr Cizik is, however, in the vanguard of a striking new movement: evangelicals prodding President George W Bush to take action on global warming. And his stance cannot easily be dismissed as radical nonsense, as the Green cause is traditionally mocked by the Right. He is the Washington representative for the National Association of Evangelicals, America’s largest evangelical group. With 30 million members, the NAE is possibly the most powerful voting bloc in the country.
“It is,” Mr Cizik concedes, “a head-turner.” But, he points out, there are two pressing reasons for evangelicals to lobby for the environment: first, the Bible enjoins man to look after what God created; second, the poor may be the first to suffer from climate change.
“When we die and each one of us meets our maker, He is not going to say, ‘How did I create the world?’ He is going to say, ‘What did you do with what I created?’ And why do I know that? Because Genesis 2:15 says we are stewards in charge of creation ‘to watch over it carefully’. How can you ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ if you are willing to let millions be subject to flooding and droughts caused by greenhouse gases which we, Americans, are responsible for?”
Nicknamed the “earthy evangelist”, Mr Cizik has to tread carefully. His comments have provoked outrage from some Right-wing congressmen and church leaders. The NAE position is heresy to many in the White House, which has close links to major corporations. A senior aide, who previously worked as a lobbyist for the oil industry, recently resigned after rewriting government papers to play down the threat of global warming. Inevitably he went to work for Exxon Mobil, the oil company.
Ted Haggard, the NAE president and senior pastor of the giant New Life Church, in Colorado Springs, the evangelical capital of America, takes part in a telephone conference call with the White House every Monday, but he does not force his views on the presidency. “I’ve never brought it up. . . I think they’ve read about it. . . and they are very respectful.” He also distances himself from environmentalists. “I do not return their calls. We are not their allies.”
Mr Cizik, who now drives a hybrid Toyota Prius car, is more critical about the role of the oil companies. After years of reflection he decided at a conference in Oxford in 2002 that the science linking global warming to greenhouse gases was incontrovertible. He says only “genuine contrarians” and “those on the payroll of multi-billion-dollar corporations who have vested interest in taking no action” dispute it now. After persuading prominent evangelicals to endorse a sweeping document, For the Health of the Nations, that talks ambiguously of the need to “protect God’s creation” he is trying to gain support for a statement on global warming. The new environmental drive is prompting a reappraisal of the Christian Right, as it becomes clear that the stereotype of them as a unified army is inaccurate.
Mr Cizik is confident that the mood in the pews is far more “green” than in the pulpits. Senior officials in Brussels see the conversion of some of the American religious Right to the cause of fighting climate change as one of several indications that public opinion in America is changing rapidly. EU officials admit that the Kyoto protocol is dead, as far as America is concerned. But they are increasingly optimistic that talks could begin on some form of post-2012 global climate treaty arrangement that would include America, and possibly China and India, within a year or two.