Environmentalism and religion: The climate of faith

Originally an op-ed in the University of Maryland newspaper Diamondback.

You might be surprised who just encouraged Catholics to go green for Lent: the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI has been called “the green Pope” because of his efforts to make the Vatican carbon neutral and his use of religious doctrine to advocate for humanity’s moral responsibility to care for the planet. In 2008, one of the new sins announced by the Roman Catholic Church was “polluting the environment.”

It’s important not to view the leadership of Pope Benedict on environmental issues as an anomaly in the religious community.  Despite the stereotype that environmental disputes such as climate change pit religious conservatives on one side versus godless liberals on the other, environmental stewardship is meteorically rising as a top issue in the religious community.

An organization, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), has taken up the Pope’s challenge, launching the Facebook campaign “Go Green for Lent.” Several Anglican Bishops are calling for a “carbon fast” to reduce their environmental footprint, and the Archdiocese of Washington has made a calendar listing 40 ideas for reducing that footprint.

But it’s not just Catholics and not just for 40 days. Evangelicals, considered some of the most conservative Christians around, have formed several organizations in recent years such as the Evangelical Environmental Network, Evangelicals for Social Action and The Evangelical Climate Initiative. In 2006, 86 Evangelical leaders signed a document titled “Climate Change: A Call to Action.” This included Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, the largest Evangelical church in America.

And it isn’t just Christians. Green Muslims is a local Washington environmental network founded on educating communities on implementing sustainable ways of living while at the same time relating it to their faith. As part of an event called “No Impact Week” last fall, they created a guide which placed quotes from Islamic texts next to tips on a more sustainable lifestyle and related the two.

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life is the leading Jewish environmental organization in the United States that links Judaism and the environment. Their website has a wealth of resources and information on what’s Jewish about protecting the environment, such as commandments to protect God’s creation and Bal Tashchit (do not waste) to conserve resources. Last fall when I was tabling on the mall for my environmental group, a rabbi from Hillel walked over to talk about getting the Jewish student community more involved. He said, “A green Jew is a good Jew.”

The cross-cutting themes I’ve seen in the rationale for religion and environmental protection are those of morality, being stewards of creation and conserving resources. The moral argument is centered on the threat of climate change, “not only an urgent public policy challenge, but also a profound moral issue,” the Pope explained in his circular last week. “It is the poor that are most affected by this grave threat to human dignity.”

There are some things all of us should be able to come together on. This is one of them. Before the seas rise too high, before deserts sprawl across the Earth, before the oceans acidify, before we’ve cut down the last tree and caught the last fish … put your faith into action.

Cross-posted at: The Dernogalizer

2 Responses to “Environmentalism and religion: The climate of faith”

  1. 1 Marla Mar 3rd, 2010 at 12:58 am

    Great post, Matt! Just wanted to add the United Methodist Bishops (a global body) issued a pastoral letter last fall called “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action” http://hopeandaction.org/ The bishops themselves make several pledges in the letter.

    The foundation document (available at the website) is really solid, and United Methodists all over the world are using the Lenten study guide to work through the letter and foundation document throughout Lent.

  2. 2 Jay Mar 3rd, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Matt, thanks for bringing this up in IGHIH. We here in Massachusetts are working hard to bridge the youth and faith movements in our work on the Leadership Campaign and Climate Summer. In fact for both of these projects the Massachusetts Council of Churches is a strong partner!

    As was seen in the 350.org work this fall, the faith community is THE natural ally of the youth climate movement, and an incredible organizing opportunity. Tons of people in the faith community want to know what they can do that will make a real differnece and not be overly politial. These two communites together, I think, would be incredibly powerful. We need to help our half of the movement be comfortable in working with people of faith and understanding their perspective.

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About Matt

I'm currently a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Public Policy with a focus in environmental policy at the University of Maryland Public Policy Program. I'm have a Bachelors of Arts in Government and Politics from of the University of Maryland College Park. I blog largely about politics relating to energy, and the environment. I'm the former Campaign Director of UMD for Clean Energy at the University of Maryland, and am still a member. My undergraduate time in college was full of climate activism including pressuring my university to commit to and finalize a climate action plan, petitioning to get the University School System of Maryland to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, helping pass one strongest pieces of statewide global warming legislation in the country, pressuring federal leaders to pass federal climate legislation, and leading a campaign to push a green platform in our local city council elections while mobilizing students to vote in large numbers for candidates that supported it. On top of that, I'm a big political junkie. Currently, I'm the Campaign Director for Prince Georges County Council candidate Mary Lehman. During my time as an undergraduate, I wrote bi-weekly opinion columns for our college paper The Diamondback on college, statewide, and Federal issues pertaining to energy and environment. This isn't all my life though, just like err...90% of it! I'm a long distance runner, I love watching sports, I play poker etc...but there won't be much in this blog about any of that.

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