Climate Corner: Many faiths, many paths to climate action
Dec 17, 2022
For many people the commitment to address climate change derives from their strongly held personal faith. Many faith traditions refer to their respective holy scripture to document the case for treating the earth and its creatures with the care, love, and stewardship that the deity has prescribed. Members of these religious communities are carrying out a labor of love to promote a more sustainable way of life than our world is currently pursuing and protecting those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has produced a document, “Season of Creation,” in which he states, “It is necessary for all of us to act decisively…For we are reaching a breaking point.” In his ongoing commitment to disadvantaged communities, he has also stated, “The poor feel more gravely the impact” of climate change.
There is also a movement among evangelical Christians as part of their “pro-life,” family friendly mission for “creation care,” as an expression of their love of God. This faith community has adopted a “Pro-Life Clean Energy Campaign” which seeks to reduce pollution from environmental hazards like methane emissions and heavy metals like mercury because of their risk to pregnant mothers and their unborn children.
Believers of Islam have noted that the Prophet Muhammad advocated walking “softly” on the earth, using resources sparingly, and showing restraint in personal consumption. In launching its Green Initiative in 2014 Islamic scholars referred to a verse from the Qur’an: “As for the earth, we have spread it out, set firm mountains on it and made everything grow there in due balance” In utilizing the word balance (mizan) Muslim scholars invoke a principle which environmental scientists have assumed in discussing the delicate ecological equilibrium in planet earth and how it is threatened by climate change.
Among followers of Judaism there is a phrase, “tikhu olam,” which is an expression that assumes a responsibility to repair what is broken in the world. Many Jews, including those of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, have endorsed the principles of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which is pursuing its practical interpretation of tikhu olam through projects such as restoration of coral reefs.
Some concerned Buddhists have founded a group called One Earth Sangha, which urges its followers to draw upon many years of Buddhist scholarship and practice to promote something they call “active hope.” This personal commitment for Buddhists should lead to taking immediate, useful steps to address climate change.
For Unitarian Universalists addressing climate change is a high priority. It is reflected in the seventh UU principle to “affirm and promote…respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” UUs have a Ministry for Earth and for a Just Economic Community, and a UU Service Committee, which is responding to climate-forced displacement.
Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is an international grassroots environmental group that trains and supports volunteers to build relationships with their elected representatives in order to influence climate policy. As a large organization comprised of individuals from many backgrounds and interests, CCL has numerous Acton Teams. Among the faith-based Action Teams are: the Catholic Action Team, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Evangelical Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist, Quaker, Latter-Day Saints, and UU.
There are people of good will, some of whom are spiritual but most of whom do not follow any faith tradition but who endorse what they regard as common human values. One organization that speaks for such people is the American Humanist Association, which is composed of humanists, atheists, and freethinkers. This group has endorsed several principles involved with addressing climate change including: affirming its support for the development and proliferation of renewable sources of energy and fuel, particularly wind and solar, and affirming its support of sustainable land use, forest conservation, and reforestation, and affirming its support for personal and commercial transition toward a plant-based diet.
What all these disparate groups have in common is a deeply rooted commitment to responsible stewardship of our planet and a just arrangement for the use of the earth’s resources and protection of the most vulnerable from the impact of climate change.
George Banziger, Ph..D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, Citizens Climate Lobby, and of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team.