Religion”™s Role in the Climate Challenge | IDEAA IT

Religion”™s Role in the Climate Challenge


November 3, 2009, 5:38 PM


A remarkable conclave of leading figures from nine of the world”™s major religions is under way at Windsor Castle in Britain, under the auspices of Prince Philip and  the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. Called “œMany Heavens, One Earth,” the meeting is intended to generate commitments for actions by religious organizations, congregants and countries that could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases or otherwise limit the human impact on the environment.

Stanislav Saling/UNDP

Representatives of nine of the world”™s major religions met at Windsor Castle in Great Britain to pledge actions aimed at stemming global warming.

Much of the discourse over climate has been focused on gigatons of gases, megawatt hours of electricity, miles per gallon or details of diplomatic accords or legislation. But  Olav Kjorven, an assistant secretary general at the United Nations involved with the meeting, spent the last year visiting religious orders around the world to see what faiths could bring to the climate table. The answer, Mr. Kjorven told me, is a lot, and not simply in prayer.

Religions, he explained, run more than half the world”™s schools, so tweaking a curriculum to include more on the environment can have a big impact. Their vast financial holdings provide leverage and capital for investments with environmental or social benefits. At the conference, which ends on Wednesday, many faiths will be  announcing long-term plans to make more of an impact in an arena that has not tended to be a top priority.

An  EcoSikh movement is one result. Mr. Kjorven noted a plan to  reduce the environmental impact of the hajj, the  annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

“œWhat religion has to offer when it comes to mobilizing for action on climate change or any environmental issue has been completely not taken into a count so far,” Mr. Kjorven said. “œThe environmental agenda has always had an anchor in science, facts and data. Religion tended to be seen by secular science-oriented people as superstition. Besides, those are the guys who think evolution never happened.

“œAnd religions sometimes have not been very interested, either. For decades, several faiths were looking the other way even though in their traditions, when you go further back in Scriptures, have a lot to say in terms of caring for creation. There are segments of the evangelical movement that certainly are still not interested, but by and large religions are becoming a major voice, and you can hear them in a powerful way in Windsor.”

I sent the following question to some of the participants:

Science delineates what is likely to happen as humans increasingly dominate Earth systems. But data are not a prescription. It is values, including religious views, that shape responses, both personal and societal. Has the reality that decisions on climate and related matters will be made as much based on values as science been adequately conveyed?

If not, why not?

If yes, how can a common global goal on avoiding climate instability and safeguarding the planet”™s biological patrimony realistically be sought given the variety of views and values around the world?

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