For many people the world over, climate change presents an existential crisis. Some fall back on faith to ground them in the face of climate change’s magnitude, even to guide them through it. For others, faith precludes an acceptance of climate change’s harsh realities. The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology has an incredible archive of articles on religion and climate change from 2009 to present
In recent history, a prominent narrative has positioned religiosity as antithetical to environmentalism and climate denialism has flourished in right-wing, white Christian communities. It has been effective -- only 24% of white evangelical Protestants agree that the US is warming due to human activity, according to a 2020 poll, compared with 64% of religiously unaffiliated adults. Politically prominent and powerful Christian interest groups, such as Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, have launched campaigns denouncing environmental movements. Despite the rhetoric from these groups, some researchers have argued that, it is the confluence of these religious movements with conservative American politics, which has determined their stance on climate change. In other words, for these folks, their political identity has affected their religious convictions as a driver of their environmental convictions.
Many people of Christian faiths have pushed back on the toxic narrative of denialism. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, for example, is an evangelical Christian and leading climate scientist who has garnered substantial attention for her ability to bridge the political divide, profoundly explaining the way that her faith has driven her work. Climate change, she argues, is a blatantly Christian cause because of the ways it will disproportionately affect the poor and cause the extinction of so many of God’s creatures. This ethos has been reiterated in the international Christian community. Already in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI spoke strongly urging climate action. And, in 2020, Pope Francis, quoting science specifically, clarified that action was needed now.
Aligning faith with environmental stewardship is key for many in driving environmental action and believing in the possibility of a more sustainable future. The International Islamic Climate Change Symposium drafted an Islamic Declaration on Climate Change in 2015. The declaration makes clear the threat climate change poses to one of Islam’s pillars: the Hajj. A group of Jewish leaders published a Rabbinic Statement on the Climate Crisis in January 2020. In fact, statements on climate change have been released from a multitude of international and interfaith communities, including Baha’i, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. In early 2021, The Mind and Life Institute moderated a fascinating conversation between the Dalai Lama, Greta Thunberg and leading scientists.
For many indigenous communities, faith is a thread which runs through a resilient history and a pathway toward a sustainable future. The legacy of colonialism is vivid both in modern dynamics of faith and within the dynamics of the climate crisis. The struggle of Native communities to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline, is just one explicit example of this intersection. The rallying cry ‘Defend the Sacred’ was prominent in resistance to the pipeline and summarized a key legal argument that the pipeline violated the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s right to religious freedom. The integrity of Lake Oahe and surrounding areas, a site sacred to the tribes, would have been gravely threatened by the pipeline. Respect of indigenous spirituality and epistemologies, long subjected to colonialist erasure, is a key to combatting climate change and pursuing climate justice. As of April 1,2021, the future of the pipeline is still being resolved in the courts.
The idea that religion and climate science are inherently opposing forces is myopic and harmful. On the contrary, faith is unquestionably sustaining and sustainable.