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The rise of Evangelical environmentalists could reshape US elections

Neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama mentioned climate change in the presidential debates. Yet rising sea levels and rising frustration with the GOP’s failure to protect the environment mean that the evangelical vote is not necessarily a sure thing for Republicans.

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An activist dressed as a polar bear holds up a sign at the Moon Palace Hotel during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, Dec. 9, 2010. Op-ed contributor Anna M. Clark writes: 'The science on climate change is vital and readily available, but we need fresh voices – human faces and stories – to imbue it with spiritual meaning if we want to speak to the core values that inspire people to act.'

Israel Leal/AP/file

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Demographics are destiny, some say, and there’s plenty of truth to that. If you live in the South, you’re more likely to be an evangelical Christian than if you live in San Francisco. And if you live in San Francisco, you’re more likely to be an environmentalist (or at least recycling your soda can) than if you live in San Antonio.

More unusual are people who combine the two: Evangelical environmentalists. Rare, but rising in influence, evangelical environmentalists are equally well versed in ecology and theology. They and other proponents of the “creation care” movement may be harbingers of a cultural shift, albeit a slow one.

Numbering as many as 100 million, American Evangelicals have long been a critical constituency within the US electorate. While once the evangelical voter was almost guaranteed to vote Republican, a new poll from Public Religion Research shows that evangelical voter is now as likely to oppose cutting federal programs that help the poor and approve raising taxes on those who make more than $1 million a year.

A recent Pew study found that 57 percent of Evangelicals feel “Government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt.”

Rising sea levels and rising frustration with the GOP’s failure to protect the environment also mean that the evangelical vote is no longer necessarily a sure thing for Republicans. According to Pew, the majority of Evangelicals now believe that “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.”

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