Eco-Justice Ministries
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An Inconvenient Truth
A Discussion Guide for Churches
Prepared by Eco-Justice Ministries
© 2006 non-commercial distribution is encouraged.
This guide is also available as a Microsoft Word document.

NOTE: This guide may be updated and expanded. Please check back for revised versions.
This version was revised on September 26, 2006.

 

An Inconvenient Truth is a documentary film about global climate change which has been shown in theaters across the United States during the summer of 2006. The Regeneration Project is making copies of the film, and other resources, available to congregations in October 2006. It is expected that a DVD of the film will be released for purchase and rental in late fall of 2006. There is also a book of the same name which covers essentially the same material.

Eco-Justice Ministries encourages congregations to study and discuss this excellent presentation. This discussion guide is intended specifically for church-related groups.

To the leader:
As you schedule a discussion of the film and/or book, there are several matters for you to consider before your group meets.

  • Will you schedule one session, or several? As a general rule, it will probably be helpful to have more than one session, but one is much better than none! Note that part of the discussion will involve decisions about what participants can do about climate change one possible action strategy is more meetings of study, sharing and planning.

  • Should you have your discussion immediately after viewing the film, or hold it at a later date? Immediately after a viewing, there may be a vivid emotional and intellectual impact which can make the discussion more personal and compelling or meeting right after the film might have the viewers in a state of overload and needing some time to process their reactions. A two-stage discussion, with one gathering right after the film, and a second meeting later, might be best if your can schedule it that way.

  • Know your group or be sensitive to the variety in your group. Some groups may be composed almost entirely of "true believers" who are ready to move very quickly to the "what can we do" stage. Other groups may have much more of mix of backgrounds and commitments who need to process thoughts and feelings. Don't move too quickly to action because the other topics are important in building commitment; don't move so slowly through the conversation that topics are over-developed.

  • Is your goal an open-ended discussion, or advocacy? Some groups may want to use the film to allow participants a chance to learn about the issues and to explore a variety of perspectives and policies. Other groups may be more focused on using the film as an opportunity to push a particular agenda about action on climate change. Either approach is legitimate although Eco-Justice Ministries hopes that these discussions will lead most participants toward personal commitments and shared actions. As you head into the discussion, it is important to know which sort of approach your group will take.

  • How "churchy" do you intend to be? The amount of theological and ethical content could be quite variable. Some groups will want lots of very direct religious reference, and others will be more comfortable with a more secular style.

  • What do you need to do to prepare as a group leader? (1) You, as the leader, should preview the film (or the companion book) so that you are well acquainted with the images, facts and action strategies. Note that the credits at the end of the film also includes suggestions for action strategies, and be sure to watch that section. (2) Review the suggested discussion questions and decide how many of them, and in what sequence, to present to the group. Consider both the time available and the character of your group. (3) Be ready to actively manage the conversation. The discussion is being held for the benefit of the whole group. A few people with a dominant agenda can keep others from benefiting from the experience. You may need to be gentle but assertive in keeping one person or perspective from being overwhelming.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

When the film is shown in a congregational setting, instead of in a public theater, it is appropriate for the community to pray both before and after the film is shown. The wording suggested here may be used to help you compose prayers appropriate to your group.

Before the film:
We come together today, O God, out of a shared awareness that global climate change is a topic of great importance, and with a shared conviction that our faith calls us to deal with these difficult matters. But we also come, each with our own perspectives and interests -- some are curious and concerned, some are skeptics, some are advocates, some are experts and some know very little. We pray that you will speak to each of us through this film, and we pray that we may each be open to your Spirit and your wisdom at work among us. Help us to perceive what is honest and true within this presentation. Remove the barriers that will make it hard for us to hear and feel what is true our fear and our guilt, our ideology and our self-interest. When we have questions, may they guide us toward awareness and understanding, and not be used to deflect and distract. In the coming hours, may our faith touch us with humility and compassion as we open ourselves to intellectual and emotional challenges. We are here today, loving God, because you love all of your creation, and we want to faithfully serve you as we live within your created realm. Be with us, God, as we face this very hard issue. We pray in the name of Jesus, by whom all things were made, and through whom all of your creation is redeemed. Amen.

After the film, allow a short break before re-gathering for prayer, quiet, then discussion:
O God, creator of heaven and earth, we offer you the complex mix of thoughts and feelings that are so present within us in this moment. We have been challenged by so many details, so many images, so many problems, and so few possibilities. We offer you our confusion and our pain, knowing that you are with us as we come face-to-face with the earth's distress and with our own jumbled reactions. Do not let us move too quickly from this discomfort and disorientation, but help us find new insights and awareness while our defenses are down and our assumptions are pushed aside. We do confess, O God, our longing for easy and painless solutions, our wish that you would make it all go away, but we know that you call all of us to act as your agents of healing for your beloved world. As we gather now to discuss this film, may we embody the love and compassion that we hold as central to our faith. May we each speak honestly and gently, and may we each listen openly. May we strive to hear what is true in the opinions and feelings that are expressed. May we look deeply into our faith and ethics to discern how you would have us live as part of your earth community in these difficult times; may we be open to profound transformations in our lives if such changes are necessary to serve you in this crisis. Be with us, O God, as we center ourselves in a few moments of quiet; be present among us, O God, as we open ourselves fully to each other in conversation. Amen.

This discussion guide groups questions into several sections (emotional, scientific, ethical, action). It is important to touch on each of these aspects, because each form of knowing and acting is involved in having a strong and lasting commitment. We suggest that the discussion begin with emotional content, and end with options for action. The sections on emotional impacts and ethical considerations might work best in small group conversations; the sections on science and action strategies might be best in larger group settings.

Within each of the four heading, one or two questions are highlighted as getting at a core part of the issue. Other questions within the section might serve to lead up to the core topic, to develop the theme in more detail, or clarify disagreements and confusion. If you are only able to use a limited number of questions, focus on the highlighted ones.

Emotional Impacts and Personal Commitment:

  • What in the film -- a fact, an image, a story -- triggered a strong reaction for you? What feelings did it evoke?

  • The film has lots of information. What was your overall feeling at the end of it, or as you think back to the full effect? How does that feeling shape what you want to do next?

  • What sort of world do you want to leave for future generations? How has the film shaped your awareness of the importance of the question?

  • Sen. Gore mentioned that it can be easy for people to jump from denial to despair. Where do you find hope that allows you to face this problem in personal or community action, the rightness of the cause, affirmation from your friends, etc? (Depending on what your group says, you may find it helpful to draw the distinction between "hope for" which looks for ways of addressing the problem, and "hope in" which focuses on the beliefs, values and commitments which call us into involvement. These two approaches are developed in an article on our website, A Matter of Hope.)

The Science:

  • What did you learn from watching the film that you didn't know before -- or that is more compelling for you now?

  • Why is the science important to you? Do you want proof that climate change is happening and that humans are having a decisive impact? Do you look to science for predictions about what might happen under different situations? (These are very different questions to ask of the science -- see the article, What Does It Mean?, on our website for a discussion of the differences.)

  • What information in the film made climate change more real to you? Or, why was it not compelling?

  • What made the information in the film trustworthy for you, or what made you question the information? What characteristics of the research, the data, and the people presenting it influenced your trust levels?

  • Not all people look to science as the ultimate authority. What sort of sources would be most compelling and trustworthy for you in considering the problem of climate change? Would testimony from business leaders or religious authorities have more punch? (The resources section of this guide points to sources for that type of information.)

  • The story of "doubting Thomas" in the Bible tells of someone who had a hard time believing the "unbelievable" fact of the resurrection. Is some ways, climate change is as much of a challenge to our experience and thinking, with an event that we've never seen or imagined before. What sort of proof do you need to make the facts compelling and believable? (When Thomas finally believed, his life was changed. What does it mean for us when we accept the reality of climate change?)

  • In the US Declaration of Independence, the authors wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident " Even though King George didn't accept that all people are created equal, the authors of the Declaration indicated that they didn't consider those "truths" to be open to debate. When is it appropriate to assert that the truth of climate change is "self-evident"?

  • What standard of evidence is necessary or appropriate before taking dramatic action on climate change? By way of analogy, should a hurricane evacuation be ordered only if it is absolutely certain that it will strike a city? When a sweeping economic policy is being launched, is there an expectation that there must be consensus among economic experts?

  • How do those of us who are not experts in climate science sort out the reliability of the research? How do we know who and what to trust?

Moral and Ethical Considerations:

  • Sen. Gore says that climate change is a "moral issue" as well as a technical and political one. What difference does it make if we approach it from a moral perspective?

  • Why should churches, in particular, be concerned about climate change? Does the climate crisis have anything to do with our faith and ethics?

  • What moral or ethical norms (principles) shape your thinking about climate change? Are there passages from the Bible, or lines from a hymn, or lessons that you learned in Sunday School which inform your decisions? Are there other ethical teachings (from our civic society, from other religions, etc.) which have informed you? How do you sort out your decisions if those principles don't agree with each other?

  • The movie has two stories drawn from the Gore family history -- when his son was hospitalized after an accident, and when his sister died of cancer. What do those stories have to do with climate change? What moral message might we draw from those situations? In both of those cases, the Gore family made dramatic changes (dropping everything to spend a month at the hospital, and ending a family business). Do you think we feel morally compelled to make dramatic changes in the face of climate change?

Action Strategies:

  • At the end of the film, tucked in with the credits, there are several suggestions for things that individuals can do. (More extensive lists are found in the book, and on the movie's website see the resources section, below.) Have the group list, or talk over a prepared list of, some actions that might be taken by:
        * individuals and families
        * businesses and other institutions (like your church or school)
        * in political policy locally, at the state and national level, and globally
    Which of these will you make a specific commitment to work on?

  • How can your church help people take action on climate change, personally and in public policy? What are some things that churches can do, specifically "as church", beyond the practical steps which can be taken by any small business? Are there areas of moral leadership, community involvement, worship and education which your congregation will take on?

  • Much of the material in the film, and in other advocacy settings, has to do with what we can do to reduce the effects of climate change, mostly by the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and those reductions are essential. Much less has been said about ways to mitigate the effects of climate change that will happen, and are already occurring. One dramatic mitigation example is the evacuation of low-lying island nations in the South Pacific which are being flooded by rising seas. What are some steps that you can imagine to mitigate climate change effects, including, perhaps steps that your congregation can take in the local community. (One contributor to this guide suggested church members checking in on "at risk" members of the community on hot days to ensure their safety.)

  • Who else do you think should see this film? What difference would it make if you could get that person to see and discuss the movie?


TOPICS FOR MORE IN-DEPTH STUDY:
The discussion topics and questions listed here provide a good starting point for a church group which wants to deal with global climate change, based on the "teachable moment" presented with An Inconvenient Truth. A few sessions discussing the film, however, will not be enough for a group which wants to delve deeply into the issue, or make significant changes. For many groups, this discussion will be a starting point for deeper involvement. It is important that the group be given the opportunity even be encouraged to continue their study and action planning.

The videos, websites and curriculum resources listed below will provide many more options for ongoing study and action.

In September, 2006, Mr. Gore presented a detailed recommendation for US policies to address climate change. The Bush administration is also formulating new policies, and a number of bills are being shaped in the House and Senate. A detailed examination of these policies within the context of faith and ethics will help members of your congregation and community deals seriously with pending legislation.

Some congregations will feel called to other areas of study, reflection and engagement which go beyond the immediate issue of climate change. Topics which clearly relate to the climate crisis include:

  • How do we envision a society in which the transition to a more just and sustainable world can be achieved? What steps need to be taken to care for the most vulnerable? How can the costs and benefits of the transition be shared fairly?

  • How does our economic system shape our ability to address climate change? What are the economic incentives and roadblocks both direct and indirect which influence our impact on the climate, and define our choices?

  • Transportation is a major factor in greenhouse gas emissions. How can we envision a society which makes dramatically less use of automobiles and airplanes?

OTHER WAYS TO ADDRESS THE TOPIC IN CHURCH:
A congregation which has shown and discussed An Inconvenient Truth has acknowledged that global climate change is at the very least a topic deserving of serious study and moral reflection. It is imperative that such an acknowledgement be followed with ongoing, serious and faithful programming.

Beyond continued study, there are many ways that congregations can, and should, continue to address this issue.

  • The congregation should take close look at its own energy use (lighting and other electrical uses, heating and cooling, and transportation). As a matter of simple financial stewardship, all available steps should be taken which reduce waste and increase efficiency without major costs (changing light bulbs, turning off lights and computers, thermostat settings, car pooling to retreats, etc.). Serious consideration should be given to more extensive changes which reduce climate impacts, but which may not have a short-term financial return (replacing furnaces, water heaters and refrigerators with high efficiency models). As the congregation makes these changes and explores options, members of the congregation should be encouraged to take similar steps at home and at work.

  • The ministerial staff should consider ways in which global climate change raises new questions of pastoral care, and how their ministries can help to address factors such as fear, uncertainty, anger, grief, guilt, hopelessness and powerlessness. Clergy can be assertive in raising these matters in individual and group settings.

  • The worship life of the congregation should address climate issues and should do so very directly in the weeks immediately after the film is shown. Prayers of confession are important, and easy forgiveness should not be offered; cheap grace will not bring the changes that we need. Prayers of petition and compassion for those people, species and systems impacted by climate change are appropriate. Hymns and readings which affirm the complexity and interconnections of God's creation are helpful; those which see humanity as separate from creation should be avoided or critiqued. Preaching can speak on many different levels (pastoral, theological and practical) see the short article on the Eco-Justice Ministries website, Three Layers of Environmental Preaching, listed in the Additional Resources section below.

  • In the US, non-profit corporations including churches may not endorse political candidates. They may take stands on legislation and matters of public policy. Congregations should keep informed about pending legislation; they may take official stands for or against proposed laws and rules. Members should be encouraged to contact policy-makers with their opinions and faith commitments. Key legislators could be invited to meet with congregational or denominational leaders.

  • Climate issues can touch on the mission life of the church. Engage in actions in your local community which can help energy conservation (insulation and weather stripping of low-income homes, support for "bike-to-work day") and in more distant settings (include funding for small-scale solar energy projects in connection with global mission work).

  • The publications of the congregation (bulletins, newsletters, web pages) should be used to share information and to call members of the community to study and action.

  • Church leaders both clergy and lay have an essential leadership role in keeping climate change visible as an issue for the congregation. Frequent and public statements that "this is something we need to deal with", combined with strong affirmation for the church programs which provide for education and action, give legitimacy and urgency to the cause.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
Videos:
The materials which are being provided to congregations by The Regeneration Project include two other DVD presentations, both of which can be used for additional study: the HBO movie about global warming, Too Hot Not to Handle, and Interfaith Power & Light's short film, Lighten Up! These are easy and sensible follow-up options for churches which showed An Inconvenient Truth, either in group settings, or to loan to church members for personal study.

Another major film on climate change, The Great Warming, is available to congregations in a special, low-cost arrangement. This film has sections with more explicit religious content than what is found in An Inconvenient Truth, and may be especially helpful for churches with a more evangelical or conservative theology. See www.TheGreatWarming.com for more details.

A number of television specials have been aired in 2006 which address global climate change. Members of your congregation may have taped the shows for personal use.

Websites:
www.ClimateCrisis.net the official website for "An Inconvenient Truth" has sections on science, and an extensive list of action strategies. As a basic starting point for personal actions, note the 1-page flier on "Ten things to do" [in PDF format].

www.ProtectingCreation.org The Interfaith Climate Change Network, with ethical background and a mix of action steps

www.theregenerationproject.org - The Regeneration Project is the core website for the Interfaith Power & Light movement. This is the agency which has arranged for thousands of congregations to receive copies of the DVD, and their website has additional resources related to An Inconvenient Truth. There are IP&L projects active in several US states which can provide detailed assistance to congregations in their region.

www.PewClimate.org The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is an excellent source of information about climate change science & policy. Note to options on the side menu about "Businesses Leading the Way" and "What's Being Done" which provide information which is not developed as deeply in the film

www.Eco-Justice.org A featured article on Three Layers of Environmental Preaching helps pastors understand the diverse ways that preaching can touch on controversial issues. Several issues of our e-mail newsletter have addressed information and perspectives related to climate change. The archive of those newsletters is arranged chronologically, and includes the following:

  • 9/29/06 - Thou Shalt Not Kill -- An ethical mandate which goes to the core of addressing climate change.
  • 9/22/06 - Babel Fish and Global Warming -- Carbon Calculators translate the confusing details about energy use, and tell us how big an impact we have on the global climate.
  • 9/15/06 - Offset Your Impact -- Buying renewable energy and carbon offsets are ways to reduce our global warming impacts.
  • 9/8/06 - I See the Light! -- Energy efficient light bulbs are one part of a faithful response to global warming.
  • 9/1/06 - What Does It Mean? -- As the reality of climate change is more widely accepted, we need to change the discussion to consider what global warming means for us and our children.
  • 7/14/06 - A 30-Second Revelation -- A TV ad for Hummers shows why it is hard to get people to change their behavior.
  • 6/30/06 - An Inconvenient Truth -- Al Gore's film has two essential scenes that speak of his family history.
  • 2/24/06 - Climate Questions -- Three fresh questions are offered which shift the terms of the climate conversation.
  • 2/17/06 - A Matter of Hope -- When there is no easy fix for climate change, it may be important to see the difference between what we hope for, and what we hope in.
  • 11/4/05 - Avoiding Cultural Suicide -- How is it that our society can continue on the self-destructive path toward climate change?
  • 2/27/04 - Climate Collapse -- Facing up to the possibility of abrupt climate change.
  • 8/14/03 - French Toasted -- The heat wave in France is a glimpse of the changes we may all see.
  • 4/18/03 - Doubting Thomas -- What do we do when the news violates everything we thought we knew about how the world works -- and what happens when we believe?
  • 8/16/02 - Crying at Camp -- Considers the emotional factors of environmental degradation, and finds insights in the experience of children at church camp.
  • 7/19/02 - Will God Save Us? --Addresses theological questions about God intervening to stop climate change.
  • 12/13/01 - Insights from Outsiders -- Draws parallels between the Magi who announced the birth of Jesus and the climate scientists who bring news of global warming.

Faith-based Curriculum resources:
The Cry of Creation (with readings and discussion questions for 3 or 4 sessions) is available for free download [PDF format] from ProtectingCreation.org. The film/book of An Inconvenient Truth may be able to substitute for, or add to, some of the scientific readings in the curriculum.

It's God's World: Christians, Care for Creation and Global Warming" 5 sessions. This curriculum dates from 1999; a bit of the science, and much of the immediacy, has changed. Because the film will have provided much of the science background, a shorter series could be conducted with theological topics and action steps based on this resource. The curriculum book can be ordered from the National Council of Churches / Church World Service (item #EJ-9701) at 800-762-0968. [A review of this curriculum is available in Eco-Justice Ministry's Eco-Curriculum Reviews.]


Many thanks to the members of the extended community of Eco-Justice Ministries who joined in the conversation which shaped this discussion guide. Their rich diversity of perspectives and experience have been invaluable in composing these materials.

  • Tish Bogan-Ozmun, Federated Community Church, Flagstaff, AZ
  • Anne D. Burt, Quaker, Maine Council of Churches, Edgecomb, ME
  • Christine Caseres & Julie Hubble, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Overland Park, KS
  • Al Cohen, Southern California Ecumenical Council, Pasadena, CA
  • Betsy Flory, United Church of Christ, Atlanta, GA
  • Anne Galli, Ladera Community Church UCC, Portola Valley, CA
  • Kate Goodspeed, Park Hill UCC, Denver, CO
  • Bill Harvey, Parker, CO
  • Vicki Hesse, St. Barnabas Episcopal, Denver, CO
  • Molly Ireland, Community UMC, Aspen, CO
  • Roland James, Santa Rosa, CA
  • Sarah Legge, Boulder, CO
  • Lee John Milligan, Church of the Painted Hills, Tuscon, AZ
  • Pete Palmer, First Congregational UCC, Boulder, CO
  • Linda Rimer, Chapel of the Cross Episcopal, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Anne Shumway, Cambridge, MA
  • Laura Slitt, Bartlett, NH
  • Don Thompson, Unitarian, Alamosa, CO
  • Nancy True, Lakewood UCC, Golden, CO
  • Gail Erisman Valeta, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, CO
  • Nicholas Vanderborgh, Grace Lutheran Church, Boulder, CO
  • Joyce Wilding, Episcopal Environmental Network, Kingston Springs, TN


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Home Page: www.eco-justice.org   *   E-mail: ministry@eco-justice.org