Your Faith Tradition Influences Climate Attitudes, Whether You Like It or Not

Howard Zinn famously wrote, "you can't be neutral on a moving train," a declaration that once again finds application in the relationship between faith and climate. The recent global survey, Religion Does Matter for Climate Change Attitudes and Behavior, found that religion holds an overwhelming influence on climate opinions, with slight variance by region. In America, most people of faith label their attitude(s) as either 'alarmed, concerned or cautious' in regard to climate change, with distinct ties back to religious affiliation. 

Why are we guided by our religious traditions on climate change? As the report states, religions "influence their members to bring an ethical dimension which is sympathetic to climate change policy." In this sense, practitioners are dependent on faith leaders to assist in navigating an age of too much information. They need a clear, sharp and distinctive voice that will cut through the inundation of political infighting and bring them to what really matters, morally guided climate action. At the end of the day, positive climate attitudes are nice, but as James 2:20 declares, "Faith without works is dead," or if you're Catholic, 'barren,' a translation perhaps more relevant to the current discourse. 

Religion Does Matter for Climate Change Attitudes and Behavior

Mark Morrison , Roderick Duncan , Kevin Parton | Plos One 


Little research has focused on the relationship between religion and climate change attitudes and behavior. Further, while there have been some studies examining the relationship between environmental attitudes and religion, most are focused on Christian denominations and secularism, and few have examined other religions such as Buddhism. Using an online survey of 1,927 Australians we examined links between membership of four religious groupings (Buddhists, Christian literalists and non-literalists, and Secularists) and climate change attitudes and behaviors. Differences were found across religious groups in terms of their belief in: (a) human induced climate change, (b) the level of consensus among scientists, (c) their own efficacy, and (d) the need for policy responses. We show, using ordinal regression, that religion explains these differences even after taking into account socio-demographic factors, knowledge and environmental attitude, including belief in man’s dominion over nature. Differences in attitude and behavior between these religious groups suggest the importance of engaging denominations to encourage change in attitudes and behavior among their members.

Views on climate change and policy relating to climate change in the Australian population are extremely diverse [1]. In forming their views, people are influenced by many factors, including both situational variables and their own socio-economic and socio-political status [2]. In this paper we focus on religious affiliation as a potential determinant of attitudes to climate change and climate change policy.

Research conducted, principally in the United States (US) and Europe, has indicated that religious affiliation is a key factor to take into account in developing climate change policy and designing messages about policy [3]. Based on an examination of teachings of nine major religions, covering issues such as other-person centeredness and environmental stewardship, Posas [4] argued strongly that religions from Bahá’í to Buddhism and from Islam to Christianity should be able to influence their members to bring an ethical dimension which is sympathetic to climate change policy. White [5] contended that there is a link between a Judeo-Christian perspective and a desire for dominion over nature, and that it was this dominion attitude which explained the scale of environmental destruction in the modern world. This dominion perspective has its basis in Genesis 1:26, ‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”‘. In the US, a number of studies have revealed that this perspective manifests itself in a conservative Christianity effect, under which those who have a strong literal interpretation of the bible have a lower concern about the environment and a stronger belief in their own efficacy in controlling outcomes (e.g. [6, 7]). This effect has a considerable influence when measuring the overall level of denial of climate change and the perceived need for policy. While clearly embedded in this discussion are the theological positions of the major religions, our focus throughout this paper is on climate change attitudes and behavior of those claiming affiliation with particular religious groups.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *