Are Religious Conferences Contributing to Climate Change?

We could create an A.A.R. Sabbatical Year,” suggested Dr. Laurie Zoloth, president of the American Academy of Religion, during her opening remarks at the organization's recent gathering in San Diego, California. Falling in line with this year's theme, ‘fighting climate change,' Dr. Zoloth's plea recounted the various ways in which the annual meeting has contributed to a grave ‘moral crisis'. 

Every year, religious scholars and theologians from around the U.S., board carbon emitting airplanes to discuss the moral implications of religion. In attendance are some of the most influential religious ethicists who spend their entire lives mulling over the greatest moral dilemmas of our time. Alas, the convergence of these great thinkers is having a drastic impact on the environment.

While I will personally miss the buzz of excitement that floats through the hallways of each convention, I agree with Dr. Zoloth. As someone who has attended many of these conferences and other meetings like it, I often ponder my own carbon contribution. An irony that was never more apparent than the time I sat on an 11 hour flight to Iceland (burning an ungodly amount of fuel) to deliver a speech at a conference on the impact of climate change

Undoubtably, something will be lost by canceling the grand event, but in doing so, something even more meaningful will be achieved. Scholars of religion and thinkers everywhere must start to address their own personal role in climate action. This will require us to dig deep and draw on the teachings our own religious faith if we hope to become true stewards of God's creation. 

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Setting Aside a Scholarly Get-Together, for the Planet’s Sake

By Mark Oppenheimer for The New York Times

SAN DIEGO — If the bioethicist Laurie Zoloth, the president of the American Academy of Religion, has her way, she’ll be remembered as the woman who canceled her organization’s conference, which every year attracts a city’s worth of religion scholars.

Two weeks ago, at her organization’s gathering, which is held jointly with theSociety for Biblical Literature and this year drew 9,900 scholars, Dr. Zoloth used her presidential address to call on her colleagues to plan a sabbatical year, a year in which they would cancel their conference. In her vision, they would all refrain from flying across the country, saving money and carbon. It could be a year, Dr. Zoloth argued, in which they would sacrifice each other’s company for the sake of the environment, and instead would turn toward their neighborhoods and hometowns.

“We could create an A.A.R. Sabbatical Year,” she told the crowd in a ballroom at the San Diego Convention Center. “We could choose to not meet at a huge annual meeting in which we take over a city. Every year, each participant going to the meeting uses a quantum of carbon that is more than considerable. Air travel, staying in hotels, all of this creates a way of living on the earth that is carbon intensive. It could be otherwise.”

And they could use the traditional days of the conference, always held the weekend before Thanksgiving, to offer talks to “the poor, in local high schools, community colleges, or the prison, the hospital, the military base, the church, mosque, synagogue or temple.” They could work at planting an orchard, or a garden, or serving food to the poor. “What if we turned to our neighbor — the woman who cleans the toilets, the man who sweeps the sidewalks — and included them in the university to which we are responsible?”

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