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 the present.
IS THERE A CONNECTION IN THIS COUNTRY BETWEEN RELIGION AND POLITICS?
In recent years, 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 -- according to a report in 2022, only 32% of white evangelical Protestants agree that the US is warming due to human activity compared with 66% 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. Indeed, there is support in some surveys for that opinion: for example, early in 2023, another Pew poll surveyed Catholics only to discover that 82% of Catholic Democrats take climate change extremely seriously whereas only 25% of Republican Catholics feel the same way. Another, in 2022, explored the conflict Christians feel as they try to sort out their sense of responsibility for the Earth with their skepticism about climate change.
WHAT HAVE THE POPES SAID ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
Many people of Christian faiths have pushed back on the toxic narrative of denialism. Certainly recent popes have. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI spoke strongly urging international climate action. In 2020, Pope Francis, gave a TED talk on the moral imperative to act on climate change. Support for his call to action has been lukewarm at best. As the leader of 1.4 billion Catholics globally with one in four people in the U.S. identifying as Catholic, Pope Francis has recently pondered why getting people to care is so harder that he thought.
HOW DOES CLIMATE CHANGE RELATE TO CHRISTIANITY
In this country, perhaps our most profound spokesperson to successfully marry faith with a deep understanding of climate change is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. She is an evangelical Christian and leading climate scientist who has garnered substantial attention for her ability to bridge the political divide, clearly 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.
HOW DOES FAITH ALIGN WITH ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP?
Aligning faith with environmental stewardship is key for many in driving environmental action. 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.
WHAT RELATIONSHIP DO INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE?
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 May 3, 2021, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would keep the pipeline operational while preparing a court-ordered environmental impact study. It has, as of 6/1/2023, not yet been released. In the meantime, Harvard U reports that the pipeline still lacks a key permit from the Corps to cross under Lake Oahe in south Dakota.
The idea that religion and climate science are inherently opposing forces is myopic and harmful. On the contrary, faith is unquestionably sustaining and sustainable.
This section explores all the ways in which faith intersects with global warming.
The Pew Research Center is a valuable place to visit to follow the changing positions Americans take when it comes to climate change. A recent 2022 survey concluded that 8% of Americans are both highly religious and very concerned about climate change.
CREDIT: THE YEARS PROJECT