John Carr, the secretary of the bishops' panel on social development and world peace, addressed a Senate committee on Thursday with the message that the poor are those made most vulnerable by climate change.
"We see with our own eyes that poor people in our country and in poor countries often lack the resources and capacity to adapt and avoid the negative consequences of climate change," Carr said. "Their lives, homes, children and work are most at risk.
"Ironically, the poor and vulnerable generally contribute much less to the problem but are more likely to pay the price of neglect and delay and bear disproportionate burdens of inaction or unwise actions."
The bishops' representative told the Senate that U.S. bishops accept the growing consensus on climate change, but recognize debate about its speed and severity.
"It is neither wise nor useful to minimize -- or exaggerate -- the growing consensus, the continuing uncertainties and policy challenges," Carr said.
He added that the climate change phenomenon is not about politics or economics but about the future of God's creation and the human family.
The bishops are "voicing the principled concerns of a community of faith, not an interest group. […] The Catholic bishops seek to help shape this debate by drawing on traditional moral principles of Catholic teaching: prudence, the common good and a priority for the poor," Carr continued.
He said the bishops' statements and approach were "nuanced, not alarmist; traditional, not trendy; an expression of faith, not politics. For us, this concern began with Genesis, not Earth Day."
"This priority for the poor cannot be a marginal concern in climate policy, but rather must be a central focus and clear measure of future legislation and policy choices," Carr said. "If we do not address climate change and global poverty together, we will fail both morally and practically."