97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that it is man-made. With all this scientific data floating around, why does religion play such a crucial role in convincing people of these findings? Some suggest that it has to do with climate change being outside the scope of the everyday person's comprehension. Humans have traditionally placed the earth's climate outside the realm of their control, often turning climate occurrences into phenomena.
Religion may contribute to climate awareness in four way:
1) Genesis provides some of the most profound verses on stewardship, showing how creation care is already a thread in our religious fabric: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Creation care isn’t something we have to search for, it’s a foundational teaching in our scriptures.
2) Trajectory: The Catholic Church alone has 221,000 parishes around the world. Religious institutions simply have a farther reach than secular mechanisms, making the dissemination of creation care easier.
3) Religion has forever been an explainer of the abstract, often exploring concepts that advance beyond our scope of reason. Faith assists in explaining these abstractions in ways that are digestible for the everyday person.
4) And lastly and perhaps, most importantly, compassion. Those capable of doing the most good, are often the least affected by climate change. Climate change has, and will continue to, affect lower income and less developed regions more severely than affluent societies. Therefore, empathy is crucial to curbing climate change.
Gary Gardner said it best in his article, A Churchwide Strategy for a Sustainable Planet:
“More than any other asset, Christian scripture and church teaching can be used to open hearts in favor of more just and sustainable societies.”
In the “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis thoughtfully asked for suggestions for church reform that might better meet the needs of evangelization today. I trust he is getting a strong response! As an observer at the Vatican conference Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, I would like to offer a suggestion for how the church might focus her works this century and advance the interests of the world’s poor—and the church’s mission as well.
At the meeting, hosted by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and of Social Sciences at the Vatican last May, participants reviewed the latest sustainability “signs of the times.” The news is not good. The sustainability challenge is huge, and will require wholesale changes to the world’s economies. Because of its potentially devastating impact on the poor on all continents, the church has a strong interest in mounting a robust response this century to the challenge of sustainable development.
To appreciate the magnitude of the emerging challenge, consider first what human activities are doing to the abundant home that God has given to us: