Religion and Climate Change

The president of a religious institution isn't the first person you think of as a likely EDF spokesperson. But in a recent television ad sponsored by EDF, Dr. Dan Boone, the president of Trevecca Nazarene University in Tennessee, made an impassioned plea for Congress to pass climate change legislation. "Please somehow find a way to let this global concern rise above partisan politics," Dr. Boone said.  He's descended from frontiersman Daniel Boone—clearly the pioneering spirit lives on.

Dr. Dan Boone pleas for Congress to address climate change.

The conflict between politics, religion and science has been with us for centuries; think of Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin. Today there is rampant confusion between faith, something you believe in, and science, something that requires only connective leaps between hypotheses and demonstrable evidence. We seem to have lost our trust in the authority of scientists, no matter how impressive their level of training and achievement. A fascinating new Pew poll showed that Republicans are overwhelmingly less likely to "believe" the science of climate change than Democrats, who aren't entirely persuaded either.

With every passing week, the scientific data gets more precise, and more frightening. Yet this has proven insufficient to move people to action. All the more fascinating, then, to watch the growing movement among religious leaders who use their pulpits to venture into environmental action. More than 10,000 congregations of Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and other faiths are working in 30 states as members of Interfaith Power & Light (IPL). These religious leaders are clearly having an impact on people across the country who would never call themselves environmentalists.

IPL sees climate change as a profound moral issue, a matter of values—something many environmentalists have been wary of addressing, preferring to focus on technological or economic solutions as being less politically charged and ultimately more effective. But no matter what our approach, we all have something to learn from faith communities about how to bridge divisions and instruct, inspire and mobilize people.

The powerful message of Interfaith Power and Light—one that unites all faiths—is that people have a duty to be stewards of the earth. In loving God, we must love his creation. This is not, as some critics claim, about turning environmentalism into a religion; that is a perversion of what is actually happening. The fact is, in order to succeed in significantly altering the global course of climate change, we are going to have to harness all the power we have, whether it is the power of the market, the power of technology, or the power of heart and soul.

IPL is the brainchild of the Reverend Sally Bingham, a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of California. Bingham is also a trustee of EDF. She founded The Regeneration Project whose mission is to deepen the connection between ecology and religion. IPL is the primary campaign and is a religious response to global warming. State chapters respond to a call to action: they agree to give sermons that explain the danger of climate change, reduce their own emissions, support public policy that cuts greenhouse gases, and promote the adoption of renewable energy technologies.

"Most people want to do the right and moral thing," Bingham wrote to me recently in an email. "They just don’t sometimes know what that is. It is for that reason that religious leaders have such an important role. We need to take this issue out of the hands of the politicians and get it into the hands of the people at the grass roots level. Clergy can do this."

Communities of faith, in other words, can provide moral leadership, something we desperately need amplified from many quarters. Think of the two major moral issues in America's past – civil rights and slavery; the fight over these issues was led by communities of faith, united on moral grounds. "There are millions of people who don't listen to politicians and who are skeptical of science, but who will listen to their clergy," notes Bingham.

"The powerful message that unites all faiths is that people have a duty to be stewards of the earth."

I spent my holidays reading some fascinating books on the subject of the climate crisis and our values, as I've long wondered what is keeping us, as a society, from wholeheartedly accepting the danger we face, and doing whatever it takes to ward it off. Many thinkers claim the human brain isn't wired to handle long-term catastrophe; we need to see a real and present danger. Somehow, this isn't a very good excuse.

I found a provocative and wide-ranging discussion of these issues in Down to the Wire, by David W. Orr; I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Orr argues that we must learn to cultivate "the arts and sciences of gratitude, which is to say, applied love." We must be grateful for the gift of this world; that is the first step towards taking responsibility for the damage we have done to the planet. In a moving passage in his new book, Our Choice, Al Gore envisions the necessary social transformation: "Our way of thinking changed. The earth itself began to occupy our thoughts." As Stephen Jay Gould writes, "We will not fight to save what we do not love."

Martin Luther King Jr.Religious communities have often mobilized themselves to act in the name of love. (And, sadly, it must not be forgotten, the opposite.) They are well equipped to talk about values—those "habits of the heart", as DeToqueville called them. The clerical message of members of Interfaith Power & Light is bracingly straightforward: help the poor, who suffer disproportionately from drought, flooding, famine and pollution, because it is the just thing to do; and heal the planet, because it is God's gift to humankind, and we have no right to destroy it for future generations.

Love may be the common theme among these scientists, thinkers and clerics, but it's not exactly the basis for a political platform. Nor is it scientifically measurable. But that's why it is the most potent message of all, embracing the kind of idealism that can unite and inspire. We are daily bombarded with messages making us desire what we haven't got. But going forward, the power will be with anyone who can persuade us to love what we do have, and what we are in danger of losing: the hospitable beauty of our planet. May the earth itself occupy our hearts—if not our prayers—in the coming year.

Personal Nature
Take action! Tell the Senate that you believe in our moral obligation to stop climate change and protect our planet.

75 Responses

Comment from Wayne Douglas Pickette
January 10th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I cannot afford to donate more money to the environmental defense because I'm putting all my money and time into registering the invention which disconnects the world from oil. This system directly imports Solar Thermal Energy, then transports this energy to a new engine which is designed to work from any source of caloric energy including nine fuels: (Hydrogen, Methane, Gasoline, Gasohol, Kerosene, Butane, Propane, Natural Gas, Alcohol.) The system can combine fuel and solar energy if required. The engine stores excess caloric energy inside, can keep it for weeks. The engine drives a new type of generator that supplies electricity through electronics to an electric motor to power a vehicle. The system also works from geothermal energy and has extended caloric energy storage for non-vehicle applications. The system is reliable, economical, may be moved from vehicle to vehicle. It requires no maintenance for five to twenty years depending on the amount of dust and use of fuel an air filter may have to be changed periodically.

Comment from Ellen Jordan
January 10th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

You're very right in saying that harnessing the power of faith and love in religious based groups is key to involving masses of people in the environmental movement. Have you looked at the Green Reflections blogspot at http://greenreflections33.blogspot.com?

Comment from Dean von Germeten
January 10th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Dear Wayne Douglas Pickette:

Sounds complicated. There are more direct ways using less hardware. See: resonance. Also you may want to consider copyrights over patents; they're cheaper and offer better protection overall, and for a longer period of time. Also
some of what you describe sounds pretty redundant to what's already out there if you do a thorough search. Mind your pennies, as Ben Franklin said.

Comment from Anne Nielsen
January 10th, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Many, many of us feel this message of responsibility toward God's creation with our hearts and acknowledge it with our brains, and are fighting for policy change with our strength and political savvy. My church now has a Creation Care Group that has been operating for two years. Our pastor/coleader has just published his take on global warming in Nepal on the website of Mennonite Creation Care Network, and helped organize the first Mennonite/Brethren "Green Faith" Conference in Harrisonburg last spring. The local Climate Action Alliance of the Valley has an IPL speaker for Earth Day, April 22, Joe Stanley, and we are looking forward to it.

Comment from Rob Sisson
January 11th, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Today, Pope Benedict condemned the lack of progress on climate protection: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-501316/The-Pope-condemns-climate-change-prophets-doom.html

Here is an interesting article by my colleague titled, "God's Climate Plan."
http://www.rep.org/C.E.P.Quarterly_spring09.pdf

Comment from Eddie Collins
January 12th, 2010 at 10:32 am

We need all the forces we can muster to attend to the global warming!!!!

Comment from Chung-Chieng Lai
January 13th, 2010 at 4:59 am

Human had finally believed that the Earth is round instead of flat. If the Moon does not always have the same hemisphere facing the Earth, then, our ancestor would see a rotating Moon. That might inspire the idea of "Earth is round" easily. The issue of climate change needs a visionary philosopher to point out the clue. So, now, please, let so many scientists have the time and resources to research the truth of global warming. Before any theory claiming the capability to predict the global warming, it should explain the mechanism of the past glacial cycles. Let's wait for evidences that support a winning theory.

Comment from Kelly
January 14th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Christians worked with people of other faiths and belief systems to plant 4.6 million trees last year through Eden Reforestation Projects (www.edenprojects.org). We employed hundreds of nationals in Ethiopia, Madagascar and just began in October 09 in Haiti to plant native, non-invasive species.

We agree with Rev. Bingham, that this needs to stop being a political issue, and assert itself as a moral one. The poorest of the poor, as we are seeing in Haiti, are disproportionately suffering from the devastation of environmental degradation. We must work together to stop the spiral.

Comment from Mike P.
January 21st, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I have a moderate math and science background. To me, it's unconscionable that mankind could dig up trillions of tons of coal, and trillions of gallons of petroleum, burn a large fraction of it in our atmosphere and expect nothing to happen. If course, burning fossil fuels in our atmosphere, that could have taken millions or tens of millions of years to form, has irreversibly affected our planet.

But the climate data fits none of the models. None. The climate models "fit" for a few years here and there, then trail off into error bands.

Using our scientific, or at least critical thought processes, we must come to the conclusion that we don't understand even a small portion of why our climate is changing, and there is no doubt that it is changing.

We've all seen reports from the Copehnagen summit, where members decided arbitrarily that a two degree change is the maximum we can tolerate. That statement is absurd as saying, we will tolerate no more than 19.5" of rain fall in Charleston, or no more than 33 mph wind speed in Michigan.

We have to realize that, as much as we'd like to 'know for certain' that there is a simple, direct correlation between manmade CO2 emissions, and the near surface temperatures on earth, no such simple system exists in nature.

We also have to realize that there are people who stand to benefit greatly if we implement 'cap and trade'. And its not the bulk of society. Banks and hedge funds are gearing up to trade carbon credits world wide. They are very anxious to get their hands on what little money we have.

If we *are* going to do something, then at least let us take actions that actually affect the planet in a positive way. Cap and trade does no such thing. Research on alternative, and non polluting (at least non air polluting) energy sources are well within the reach of almost every country, even China and India.

Instead of throwing laws together that drain society of its wealth, for the benefit of a few, why not pass laws that use some of the tax money we already pay to research and build new sources of energy?

Comment from Thirdrail
January 25th, 2010 at 11:45 pm

The main reason for denying that global warming is real is because it's understood that the transportation habits so dear to this culture are the main culprits. The automobile, truck and airplane are the major contributors to global warming due to those modes being necessarily fueled by petroleum.

The alternative fuel schemes touted as saving those modes of transportation will likely result in even more environmental and other problems. The vast amounts of rare earth materials needed for such technologies as batteries or the near food shortage already seen with attempting to use otherwise food crops for bio-fuel and wasting cropland for that misuse are examples. Many of the rare earth materials are cited as being mostly resourced from foreign sources. Foreign dependence is only one drawback to their mass use.

Our transportation problem is one of insistent expediency and the selfish demand for personal motorized transportation. Besides personal driving resulting in some 40,000 needless deaths each year in the U.S., the emerging undeniable environmental and untold economic blows from the combined costs of automotive purchases, insurance, fuel, maintenance and repair question the wisdom of the automotive and aviation culture.

The stark solution is in bicycling (including perhaps highly developed "velomobiles"), ideally, rail mass transit and passenger service and freight, and a return to sail shipping for world travel and freight. All these modes are the lowest impact, best resulting forms of transportation for their appropriate tiers of use ranging from local to long distance and light to heavy.

Comment from COBERTON MORRISON
February 9th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

BIOSPHERIC GEOTHERMODYNAMICS is the study of how mining and otherwise redistributing our subterranean resources can effect our environment by OVER HEATING EARTH FROM THE INSIDE OUT because man has changed the thermal gradient between the subterranean level of earth and the upper crust of earth.

Pingback from Religion, Faith & Climate Change | Climate Change HEALTH
February 27th, 2010 at 9:18 pm

[…] opinion piece published yesterday by Dominique Browning (EDF) about religion and climate change. Her article describes an organisation called Interfaith Power & Light that calls itself […]

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March 14th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

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Comment from Chris Colenso-Dunne
March 26th, 2010 at 8:38 am

Not sure that the Galilean is an especially good prototype for those of us having intelligent concerns about our environment, in any shape or form, given that he was apparently unaware of when fig trees came into fruit; couldn't for all his powers of miracle making overcome the wretched tree's stubborn perversity; and then blasted the unfortunate plant for its intransigent refusal to bear fruit out of season:

11 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.

12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:

13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it.

[Mark 11:11-14 (King James Version)]

Or if you prefer Matthew’s somewhat different version:

18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.

19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

20 And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

[Matthew 21:18-22 (King James Version)]

And please spare me all the usual spurious waffle that the Galilean's followers have invented to try to justify such petulant behaviour as a metaphor for the lack of preparedness of the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah, blah, blah, blah.

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Comment from Wayne Douglas Pickette
April 8th, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Dear Dean

That sounds a lot like what people said to me in 1968 when I promoted the idea of a computer on a chip…some said I was crazy!

There is nothing out there like my system, the Stirling requires all kinds of expensive hardware to gain the focus the sun's energy.

My system works from much lower temperatures because I have engineered out nearly all waste of energy! My engine work from 5 degrees to 155 degrees, anything over that would compromise the refrigerant. I dynamically mix the hot with the just used to get the temperature I need. My engine generates it's own electricity to run the computer and other components used to control it. My engine is very lightweight.

There is no engine out there except this one that can use all those fuels without a moment of adjustment!

Need I to go further?

There is so much different in my stuff than what's out there the patent office had difficulty determining which classifications to put it under.

The Stirling engine cannot store caloric energy for later use.

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Comment from Trein naar londen
May 13th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

In all, if religions have now seen the error of their ways, fine. But they are too to save our planet now. After prayerfully plundering it for 2000 years. Great comment seen earlier.

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