Political action has so far proven ineffective in stemming the rise of earth’s temperature, a crisis whose future is made more dire in a landmark U.N. report on climate change released earlier this week. The trouble is political measures likely will never amount to much so long as the debate settles in the valley between mountains of private interests. The impetus for action must take on a moral tone, and this is where faith leaders and pious followers have a unique role to play.
Discussions about climate change took center stage during the G20 Interfaith Forum held in Argentina at the end of September, where religious leaders assembled to address how political and economic policies aren’t complete without regard for and input from faith groups around the world. Their concern is ours — that government leaders are missing the mark in the way they debate climate change.
Political behavior treats symptoms without much success, and the U.N. report admits the same. It notes vulnerable geographic areas and populations will start experiencing irreparable damage by 2040 should the earth warm to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. Successfully dropping the temperature is a technical possibility, it concludes, but is unlikely in the present political arena. Quarrelling about specific emission numbers or rebuting scientific conclusions, especially when re-election is on the line, brings the world no closer to the kind of individual behavior needed to truly care for the environment.
Faith traditions, on the other hand, have the capacity to set aside symptom-oriented debates and zero in on true principles. All major world religions believe in some sort of divine origin or espouse reverence for creation, which leads practitioners to concede Mother Nature is not anyone’s to own or corrupt. “Faith offers a light that allows us to see with greater quality that (the earth) is our common house, a gift given by God for all men and women,” said Cardinal Pedro Barreto at the forum. What follows is an inclination to individually focus on stewardship and conservation. Small daily acts of stewardship come from a place of veneration for God’s creations rather than mandates from a government — tackling the issue then becomes a moral responsibility.
What can people of faith do to change the conversation? For starters, they can give some humanity to the realities of hardship felt around the world by “replacing facts and figures with the faces of those who are suffering,” writes Deseret News religion reporter Kelsey Dallas, who attended the event. They can utilize their moral obligations to make small changes in their lives and by invitation help others do the same.36 comments on this story
Of course, faith groups alone are unlikely to reverse a century and a half of environmental degradation, just as political efforts are hollow without the power of outside influencers. But faith leaders are positioned to reach beyond political boundaries and build consensus with government partners who can benefit from a little more morality in their decision-making.
Fighting this crisis needs input and action from all sides and all groups. Environmental activist Wendell Berry said it this way: “We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities.” It’s clear a better moral understanding of the issue will go a long way in conserving the planet.