Science-loving folks and religious folks must work together in order to address the climate crisis. In realizing climate change as an existential threat to humankind, we must make a devoted effort to use the strengths of both to guide us in the right direction. While scientists are concerned with the changes that need to happen in the physical world, religious and spiritual leaders around the globe are teaching people about the spiritual, inner changes that must happen as well.
We often frame the issue of climate change by focusing on the facts presented by scientists, technological advancement, and political activism. Discussing the horrible situation we’ve found ourselves in can be met with the feeling of impending doom. However, the wisdoms of spirituality and the faith of religious communities can allow us to remain hopeful and motivated to pursue sustainable lifestyles. Here, I would like to explain the perspective that spirituality can bring progress to the table, and how some religious communities have reacted to the findings of climate scientists.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, climate change is negatively affecting our drinking water and food supply, increasing the occurrence of extreme weather events, damaging ecosystems, threatening human health, and causing sea levels to rise – just to name a few.
Scientists have shown that climate change has mostly been due to human activities. According to NASA’s website, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed, “1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world… concluded there’s a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.”
Before I get into discussing the subjective reality of climate change, let me make this clear: I do not intend to flat-tire scientists who have framed the issue with an appeal to morality rather than just present the facts.
In fact, those who have truly listened to scientists’ are more likely to be alarmed and support sustainability policies, according to a survey report from George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. The study found that those who believe climate change to be real tend to accept scientific explanations over religious beliefs, and those who don’t exhibit the opposite position. The scientific community plays a very important role in ensuring that the general public is aware of and concerned about the issue.
Now, how does spirituality and religion factor into the discussion? Well, climate change is not only affecting the physical aspects of our reality, but also our spiritual wellbeing. The climate crisis is the product of a spiritual crisis. Religious leaders have also addressed the ethical and moral implications of climate change. Those leaders who get “dismissive” individuals on board by using both scientific facts and subjective understandings can benefit climate change activism to a large degree.
We have largely forgotten our deep spiritual connection to the Earth’s magnificent spirit. A big part of the problem has its roots in ideology that asserts human beings into a reckless position of dominance over the natural world and economic systems that award people for their careless exploitation of natural resources.
The spiritual concept of “oneness” with nature and the interconnectedness of all creation will help us realize our shared responsibility to care for the Earth. There is a spiritual connection between all living creatures and the environment. According to “A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change,” spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness. We need to wake up and realize that the Earth is our mother as well as our home … when the Earth becomes sick, we become sick, because we are part of her.”
Sallie McFague, a Christian theologian, illustrates this interconnectedness as well by saying, “We might put it this way: the world is my body. Who I am does not stop with the limits of my own skin, or with my own family or nation or even with all human beings, but stretches to include all living creatures.”
Another problem that has plagued society and contributed to climate change is consumerism and the impacts of over-consumption. This problem has its roots in the greed of industrialized, developed nations where people are taught to believe that their social worth is dependent on the things they can afford to buy. Spiritual and religious communities can provide guidance for living more gently and leading a simpler life.
Eco-justice ministries, a Christian organization dedicated to helping churches “go green,” advocate for programs within the church that aim to enhance the mission of climate change activism. They profess the need for transformational ministries that seek to criticize the status quo of social and political systems. Their perspective is centered on “voluntary simplicity.”
According to their website, “Programs on voluntary simplicity demonstrate that living more gently on the planet also enhances our relationships and reduces stress. Teaching youth and adults how to resist consumerism allows us to claim more control over our lives, and to discover gratitude.”
Lynn Schambach, who chairs the Environmental Stewardship Ministry at St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, found a calling and responsibly to care for the environment through her faith. Schambach said, “I have learned and believe that God has loved everything into existence. By caring for the environment, I am honoring God and putting my love for God and faith into action.”
Schambach said the Ministry at St. Mary’s by-the-Sea works to educate and inspire fellow parishioners and the larger community on how to practice environmental stewardship. They do so by screening documentaries on environmental issues, encouraging participation in environmental cleanups, presenting faith-based reminders to care for God’s creation each week at worship, and updating the church’s utilities to reduce their carbon footprint.
Religious communities also stress the importance of social justice and human rights violations that have arisen from climate change. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “The negative impacts of climate change are disproportionately borne by persons and communities already in disadvantageous situations.” Climate change has a greater impact on the poor, indigenous populations, and other marginalized groups of people.
According to Pope Francis’ letter on climate change, “Laudato Si’,” which is also subtitled, “On care for our common home,” the Pope teaches, “ … We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
Spiritual and religious direction can be beneficial and a necessary component in securing the widespread changes in behavior that need to happen in order to curtail the impacts of the climate crisis. Science and religion don’t need to be like chocolate and yellow cheese. In fact, as I have tried to show, they can pair up quite nicely. Religious leaders have reacted to the findings of the scientific community by highlighting the ethical and moral implications of climate change.
Mahatma Gandhi warned against “science without humanity.” We must not forget to address the spiritual aspects of the climate crisis. We must seek the wisdom of our religious leaders. After all, I believe the combined efforts of the scientific and religious communities to address the climate crisis can foster further collaboration and lead to astounding new perspectives.