By Sebastien Malo NEW YORK, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly 500 U.S. churches built in low-lying coastal areas are in danger of flooding at least once a year by 2050 should seas continue rising amid unchecked climate change, scientists said Thursday.
States with the highest levels of church attendance - including Louisiana and North Carolina - figure among those with the most houses of worship at risk, said a report by Climate Central, a non-profit science and communication organization. Louisiana, North Carolina and Florida - all coastal states - have the highest number of places of worship at risk of chronic flooding by mid-century - about 80 each, the group said.
The risk of losing sacred ground to the effects of climate change potentially could begin to shift the views of some evangelical Christians who deny global warming is a problem, predicted Alfred Cioffi, a Catholic priest and biology professor at St. Thomas University in Florida. "The houses of worship are surely of value to whatever denomination," said Cioffi, who was not involved in the research.
"This may impact, say, evangelicals a little more closely, bring it home to them," he said. About a quarter of American adults identify as evangelical Christians, according to the U.S. think-tank Pew Research Center.
If global average temperatures increase 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) above pre-industrial times, sea levels could rise as much as 30 inches (77 cm) by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That presents a growing threat to a range of coastal infrastructure, including churches.
In all, 499 houses of worship risk yearly flooding by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change continue to grow at their current pace, the Climate Central report found. The United States is home to about 400,000 churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, the report said.
The findings, which have not been peer-reviewed, were reached by comparing localized sea-level-rise projections with geographic records of churches nationwide, said Maya Buchanan, Climate Central's sea-level-rise scientist. The study's authors encouraged at-risk congregations to lead by example, such as by raising the level of their buildings if possible.
"The examples of environmental stewardship set by congregations can resonate far beyond (the house of worship's) walls," said Climate Central in a statement. In the state of Maryland, Old Trinity Church- the nation's oldest Episcopal church that still has an active congregation - was among those likely to face chronic flooding driven by climate change, the report said.
(With inputs from agencies.)