The Global Call to Action

Religious institutions addressing the common dangers we face

Posted Jun 04, 2014

Milan Duomo under electronic billboard lights © 2014 Nalls

In America, those observing the changes in the ecosystems and in wildlife, and who began reading the science tracking the mounting effects of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, have long understood the reality: Earth systems have boundaries and we cross them at our own peril.

We have done this. Humanity has entered the Anthropocene era. It is a term championed by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen that describes a new epoch in the geological timeline. It began with the Industrial Revolution when human activity started to alter the planetary biosphere. There are both natural variations in climate change and vast increases in global warming brought about by human activities.

The United States’ carbon footprint from fossil fuel is second only to China. President Obama’s recent regulation to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, the most significant environmental action of his term, seems a subdued response in light of the recent serious, irreversible impact of the Antarctic ice melt and warnings of rising seas. Many people are perplexed and frustrated by the negligence and delays of more decisive action.

However, in this ongoing effort, humanity has an unexpected and powerful ally in the war on climate change from established social structures with a honed and heightened focus: climate crisis consciousness. 

Faiths and spiritual traditions around the world are reaffirming their responsibility to the environment and inacting their unique ability to play a role in addressing climate change. They are also prepared to help the world’s most poor and disadvantaged regions.

Religious infrastructures are becoming organizations of conviction, advocacy and action, addressing concerns and educating their members and partners to the complex interrelated issues of natural ecology, creative adaptions, and social behavior, including lifestyle and consumption habits.

The truth is that we have been deliberately cautious for too long and now churches are accelerating the needed focus. In the gripping, anxiety-provoking mental landscape of the Anthropocene, mass humanity must move past the diatribes of denial and cast themselves urgently into epic transformative change. It is for posterity that we secure and preserve the vital environments, rescale population to a sustainable size, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy consumption while also moving to renewable energy to wisely shape our common future. We must go far in a timely manner and it is religious institutions, who have long spent time understanding the interchange of humankind and nature, that can aid us in our resilience, adaption and need to mobilize.

We all depend on these same earthly resources: the interdependent systems of air, food and water. In our swiftly changing world, the human race confronts challenges such as water, food and energy management, along with human displacement–our most basic needs. The Vatican recently called for a joint workshop between The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Their mission? “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.” They sought pathways to confronting climate change by teaming the expertise of both natural and social sciences. Our future depends on a collective and collaborative mindview regarding how we treat this planet we inhabit.

A highly illuminating book on the subject of religion, social dynamics and climate change is Religion and Dangerous Environmental Change: Trans disciplinary Perspectives on the Ethics of Climate and Sustainability, edited by Sigurd Bergmann and Dieter Gerten. Religious studies and theology have been tracking the ethical and spiritual dimensions of the environment over the last 30 years and have established international networks in the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa. This book provides the evidence of how religion, as a cultural system, can offer “tools for critical analysis of the deeper driving forces implicit in the social dynamics of producing environmental change.” 

Firstly, we must be guided by the best of all science, but we also will urgently need collaborative effort from religious and spiritual institutions as part of the “cultural mobilization” required to address civilization’s local and global needs. It will take all stewards to address the tasks at hand.

Follow Gayil Nalls, PhD, on Twitter @olfacticinkblot

About the Author

Gayil Nalls, Ph.D.

Gayil Nalls, Ph.D., is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York.

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