Orthodox patriarch meets Obama on U.S. visit

Tue Nov 3, 2009 5:19pm EST

* Patriarch alarmed by disregard of "God's creation"

* Obama reiterates U.S. fight against climate change

* Visit takes place amid Capitol Hill climate debate

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the "green patriarch" who leads 300 million Orthodox Christians, spoke with President Barack Obama on Tuesday about the fight against climate change.

"We view with alarm the dangerous consequences of disregard for the survival of God's creation," His All Holiness told a gathering at Georgetown University after his White House meeting.

Given the name "green patriarch" by former vice president and environmental crusader Al Gore, Bartholomew also will meet this week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

His meeting with Obama was private, but the White House noted afterwards that the president reaffirmed "the U.S. commitment to confronting global climate change." It took place as the debate over climate-warming carbon emissions bubbled at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hours after the patriarch's visit, Obama said the United States and European Union had agreed to redouble their efforts to achieve success on climate change at a December meeting in Copenhagen.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic members of the pivotal Senate Environment and Public Works Committee took up possible amendments to a bill aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions, while Republican members of the panel boycotted the hearing.

RAISING CONSCIOUSNESS

The bill before the committee would require U.S. industry to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels.

Against this political and diplomatic backdrop, Bartholomew said the Orthodox Church, which has its seat in Istanbul, has more than "platitudes" to offer to combat climate change and other environmental ills.

"We believe that our first task is to raise the consciousness of others who most use the resources and gifts of the planet," he said. "Ultimately it is for us to see our every action in the world as having a direct effect on the future of the environment."

The patriarch arrived in the United States on Oct. 20 for a symposium on restoring balance to the Mississippi River, including a discussion of the ravages of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He also visited New York, where he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Atlanta. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)