Can religious leaders steer public opinion towards climate action? | Earthbeat
Windmills wind turbines are seen in this illustrative photo. (CNS / Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)
On April 22, Earth Day, some world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, made more ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote environmental sustainability.
But experts say more is needed and we don’t have much time to act to save the planet. Surveys show that believers recognize the urgency of climate change, but are more reluctant to act.
The leaders of the world’s major religions have spoken out forcefully in recent years. Could they do more to get their followers to take action?
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018 released a report that the world a little over a decade to control climate change.
To avoid warming the planet beyond the danger level of 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, the panel said that by 2030 there would have to be a “rapid and profound” transformation of human behavior to a rhythm the world has never seen.
In the recent UNESCO “The World in 2030” survey report, 67% of the more than 15,000 respondents, more than half of whom were under 35, considered climate change and biodiversity loss. the biggest challenge facing humanity.
But while 95% believed that cooperation between countries was essential to address these challenges, only one in four believed it would happen. The results indicate a strong appreciation for multilateralism, but a “crisis of confidence in its effectiveness,” the authors said.
More than eight in 10 people on the planet (84%) identify with a religious tradition – including 2.3 billion Christians, 1.8 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion Hindus, 500 million Buddhists and 14 million Jews. These five major religions represent almost three-quarters of all people affiliated with the religion in the world.
Given the lack of belief that humanity can act in time to save life as we know it on the planet, can the world’s religions provide guidance and motivation for governments to take collaborative action? effective?
The answer may be – but there is still a long way to go.
Raise environmental awareness
The good news is that in recent years, leaders of many world religions have issued forceful statements urging their members to make the environment a major moral issue.
Ahead of the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015, leaders of the five largest religious traditions argued that it was a moral imperative for their members and all people of good will to act now to save the planet.
Encyclical of Pope Francis “Laudato Si ‘, on caring for our common home “is perhaps the best known, followed by the” Rabbinical Letter on the Climate Crisis “signed by over 300 American rabbis and the World Council of Churches” “Statement of Faith and Spiritual Leaders on the Upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference“All of them were published in the months leading up to the key 2015 UN climate summit, which led to the Paris Agreement.
Muslim spiritual leaders and academics have also issued a call to action, an “Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change”. The same was true of Hindu and Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama – “Hindu declaration on climate change“and”It’s time to act: A Buddhist statement on climate change. “
This is the cover of the English edition of Pope Francis ‘encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home”. (CNS / courtesy United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
All of these statements endorsed scientists’ findings of severe environmental decline and drew upon the scriptures and values of each respective tradition, which make environmental action a necessary part of their commitment to the faith.
These major religions have created their own national and international institutions to educate their members and support environmental action, and various international interfaith consortia are also cooperating globally to promote environmental sustainability.
Local religious leaders, especially in developing countries, often combine religious rituals with conservation efforts, attracting more local residents. Many projects are taking place in remote areas where neither government nor international agencies penetrate.
Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology follows many sustainability projects around the world supported by religious institutions of major denominations. These projects are a sign of hope that the world’s religions will put their words into action to promote education and environmental sustainability.
High awareness, but slow acting
As impressive as these declarations and programs are, the main actors in climate policy are governments and intergovernmental institutions.
Studies indicate that people who identify with these five great religions – roughly three-quarters of the world’s population – are aware of the problem, but do not yet demonstrate sustained support for strong multilateral action to address it.
According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of the world’s population consider “climate change … a very serious problem“The figure is higher in regions where religious practice is relatively high – 74% in Latin America and 61% in Africa.
Even in 2010, Pew Research Center Report that in the United States, strong majorities of major religious traditions favored stricter laws protecting the environment – 85% of Catholics, 79% of Black Protestants, and 73% of White Evangelical Protestants.
This is the good news. The question is: what are conscious religious doing to help resolve it?
In developing countries where religious worship is higher, the suffering of environmental pollution is greatest, but the power to solve the problem is the least.
In the United States – a major polluter – there is the power to influence the government to act, but clerics do not hear about it regularly enough in their places of worship. The clergy also do not give them advice on how to act responsibly to save the environment.
It’s time for leaders to act boldly
Now is the time for religious leaders to act boldly, because saving the environment is a pro-life issue.
The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that climate change will cause around 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050. The elderly, children and residents of coastal towns are expected to be particularly vulnerable.
Catholic bishops regularly speak about abortion and the sanctity of traditional marriage. Several dioceses have recently held webinars to highlight what they see as morally questionable parts of the equality law.
If they started to support environmental protection policies and called pollution an “ecological sin” (as the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon did in 2019), those on the bench could be mobilized. to channel their awareness and environmental concerns into action.
Members of the hierarchy are sometimes very specific when reporting what they believe is wrong with public policies affecting the unborn child. There is no serious reason why they could not make saving the environment a major moral imperative for Catholics as well. It is one of the most critical pro-life challenges of our time, and time is running out to prevent massive deaths in the decades to come.
If we are “pro-life” for the unborn child, we cannot remain “pro-choice” in environmental matters. Without bold action now, millions of humans born will die in the next 20 years due to inaction in the face of this global crisis.
Churches and synagogues have traditionally mobilized their members around public moral challenges, such as civil rights and peace a generation ago. Environmental degradation is becoming a major killer in the world.
Liturgies at the parish / congregational level, adult education seminars in places of worship, webinars by clergy and lay experts, joining forces with environmental groups to influence public policy – so many feasible strategies to translate the goodwill of believers into influencing policy and lobbying for effective international cooperation.
So many religious Americans are unaware of the environmental claims and actions of leaders of their religious traditions. How many Catholics, for example, are familiar with the important work of Global Catholic Climate Movement and Catholic Climate Pact?
That these statements and actions are among the best kept secrets of American religious communities is a great loss. Educating local parishes and congregations on what their fellow believers are saying and doing in the world could inspire them to act locally and internationally in this global movement to save planetary life.
Mobilizing networks of major religious denominations to cooperate globally could also stimulate greater multilateral action by governments and businesses.
One last observation: according to a recent Gallup report, 31% of Millennials (1981-1996) “have no religious affiliation” 33% of Generation Z adults (born in 1997-2002) “have no religious preferences”. These younger “nuns”, aged 18 to 40, are not linked to religious communities. The clergy are concerned about finding ways to involve them.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles created the Word on Fire online programs to reach them. How about a World on Fire ecumenical effort among major denominations, nationally and internationally, to promote greater environmental action among their members?
Such an effort would not only help mobilize many people of faith to positively influence government policies. It could also attract a significant participation of these young “nuns”, deeply concerned about the environment. This could demonstrate to them that religion can be a vital moral force and rekindle their belief that institutions can act effectively and multilaterally to save the planet.
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