Climate change & faith communities

May 31st, 2012 2:27 pm

We are discussing climate change in a variety of ways. The approaches differ and religion or common spiritual values are more and more present in those debates.

The religious context of the climate mitigation is being underlined not only by the religious leaders. The former UK’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in 2007 that

‘climate change is not just an environmental or economic issue, it is a moral and ethical one. It is not just an issue for politicians or business, it is an issue for the world’s faith communities’.

Even though he was talking at Vatican, I think that there is certain level of consensus among the political elites that religious communities can be one of the channels through which climate mitigating policies can be implemented more successfully than it used to be. As usual, it is the issue of framing. If the discourse of climate change is based on the ground that we need to care for the next generations and destroying planet’s atmosphere is a violation of human rights, than the religion can come become very close to the action part of the problem. The wrong behaviour should be addressed.

It corresponds well with what some of the statements from the religious authorities convey. The profound way in which we affect the planet is not left outside the theologians’ thinking. For example the Quaker tradition is firmly opposing any violation of nature: ‘We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of all at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures (…)’1. They underline the importance of conserving what we have for the future.

The Pope John Pole II has been always underlining the importance of ‘the healthy environment’ as ‘our very contact with Nature has a deep restorative power’2 No matter how differently the Catholic efforts (or the lack of effort) is perceived, there is an obvious theologian thought about these issues.

The Orthodox tradition calls for consideration for the environment differently. It uses the discourse of blame and guilt. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I said that ‘for humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy biological diversity of God’s creation… to degrade the integrity if the Earth by causing changes in climate… those are sins’ 3. Apparently, there is culpability embedded in each and everyone who does pollute or uses the nature in any way. Virtually, this mean every human being is to be blamed. The accountability touches all the individuals with no distinction between their lifestyles.

These little examples show that there is an avenue that can be followed. The personal transformations with regards to consumption or more eco-friendly lifestyles can be backed by the religious authorities. Of course, a pending issue is the degree, to which those elites are behaving in line with what they say. That is however a whole different story.

WSCF-Europe Publication Editor-in-Chief and Procrastinating PHD student in Cardiff.

  1.  Advices and Queries No. 42 (1994) The Religious Society of Friends in Britain
  2. Pope Paul John II (1990) ‘New Year Message: The ecological crisis – a common responsibility’ 1. January 1990. Rome.
  3. Bartholomew I, Speech to the Religion, Science and Environment Symposium on ‘The Black Sea in crisis’, 20-8 September 2007.
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