Tellingly, before the advent of Gershon's book, several congregations around the country spontaneously embarked on carbon-reduction programs of their own. The Michigan IPL worked out a deal with suppliers to sell compact fluorescents to members at a lower price, and the Georgia IPL came up with a program called "preparing for a new light" whereby for each candle lit during holidays such as Hanukkah or Christmas Eve, participants change one incandescent bulb in their home for a compact fluorescent. And three congregants at St. Luke's in Cedar Falls, Iowa, started a comprehensive, step-by-step program like Gershon's called "cool congregations."
This growing interest in measurably reducing one's footprint is a textbook case of how new ideas spread throughout society, say sociologists, and how new movements are born. In the abstract, if a problem is to be acted upon, it has to be recognized as a problem, says Christopher Henke, assistant professor of sociology at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. Generally speaking, problems are not recognized by a group until the leaders of that group acknowledge them as such. In this sense, a problem matures and grows up, says Mr. Henke, citing examples such as the civil rights movement in the 1960s and more recent antismoking campaigns. "It becomes something that we take on as our own set of beliefs, our own moral issue," he says, "and then it becomes a reality."
In the case of global warming and faith networks, the past year has seen some important steps in this regard. In February, evangelical leaders around the country broke with the Bush administration and, in an open letter called the Evangelical Climate Initiative, said something had to be done. In August, Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said that, because of the summer heat wave, he was a "convert" to the idea of human-driven global warming.