Church steepleIf you still view global warming as a threat to a few polar bears and folks on low-lying tropical islands, it’s time to update your outlook.

An editorial in Thursday’s Seattle Times by Jessie Dye of Earth Ministry in Seattle calls climate change “the great moral challenge of our time.”

Dye notes that religious leaders worldwide are calling for action to slow the release of greenhouse gases, to “reduce overconsumption and protect Earth’s poorest people from drought and despair.” At Sightline we’ve been making a similar case, calling for climate policy with built in measures to protect consumers (and avoid windfall profits by big polluters).

In the relatively affluent and climatically temperate Northwest, this idea can require a little explaining.

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  • Back when I was covering environmental issues at the Seattle P-I, I had a colleague who was a smart, interesting guy, but who, as another friend described it, “didn’t believe in the environment.” A former resident of New Orleans, he more or less saw global warming as an upgrade for Northwest winters.

    That was until Hurricane Katrina trashed his former home town. While weather events like Katrina can’t be blamed directly on climate change, he began to understand how vulnerable, low-lying areas and low-income people with few limited resources similarly could be hammered by the extreme weather patterns, droughts, disease, hurricanes, and other problems expected with climate change.

    And that’s why Dye, of Earth Ministry, supports action on climate change and specifically a cap-and-trade approach to reducing planet-warming pollutants that also helps folks adapt to the changing world.

    Quick review: a fair way to design federal climate policy would put a cap on carbon dioxide emissions and polluters would bid to buy permits allowing them to release the gases. Permit holders could trade their permits depending on whether they were going to beat or exceed their projections. The proceeds of the auctions would be returned to US residents as rebates or go to public investments in a clean energy economy, including home efficiency measures and renewable energy technology.

    Dye calls on elected officials—she singles out Washington Congressman Dave Reichert—to support this sort of climate policy. She and other religious leaders are in favor of the lead climate legislation being debated in the US Congress, a bill by Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey called the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.”

    Other legislation up for debate at the national level takes on the question of fairness more aggressively with a Cap and Dividend approach (where all the permit revenue is rebated to citizens), including Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s bill and a measure being worked on by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell.

    Check out the rest of the Northwest’s top 10 sustainability headlines at Sightline Daily, or get the news delivered via email each morning by clicking here. All of today’s news can be found here.

    Steeple photo courtesy of Flickr user byrdiegyrlunder the Creative Commons license.