Sat, Nov 04, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Can religions help in the fight against climate change?

Religious leaders from many faiths have come together in Switzerland this week to discuss the role of religion in climate change, which could help mobilize people in a fight in which facts and politics have failed

By Anna Pujol-mazzini  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, LONDON

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

In Sikh temples the world over, community kitchens offer free meals to anyone regardless of color, creed or caste.

However, the langars — as the kitchens are called — often distribute food grown with chemical pesticides, which can contribute to pollution and leak into rivers and streams.

In 2015, a push by Sikh environmental groups drove the Golden Temple, the Sikh faith’s holiest, which feeds 100,000 people daily, to start growing its own organic food to reduce its impact on nature.

“There are many hints in our holy book to protect mother Earth and to commit to the betterment of society for all life on Earth,” said Ravneet Singh, South Asia manager of EcoSikh, a Sikh environmental group.

“The most vulnerable entity on the planet is the planet itself — the forest, the water, the air, the soil,” he said in a telephone interview.

Many of the world’s religions consider nature sacred and religious leaders have increasingly come out in favor of protecting it — including by acting to curb climate change.

Experts say religions, which connect with people’s emotions and personal lives, could help mobilize people in the fight against climate change where facts and politics have failed.

Faith groups also control trillions of dollars in assets, which could support that fight. A range of religious organizations are meeting this week in Switzerland to issue rules on ethical investment — including backing away from fossil fuels and moving toward “green” projects.

A growing share of the 6 billion believers around the world are getting personally involved in the fight against climate change as well, from eco-friendly mosques in Britain to river clean-ups by Hindu groups in India to tree-planting projects on religious land in sub-Saharan Africa.

EMOTIONS FIRST

Under a Paris climate change deal agreed by nearly 200 nations in 2015, countries pledged to keep the rise in average global temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

Despite mounting evidence that global warming will reach catastrophic levels if planet-warming emissions are not drastically cut, governments globally are falling short of the efforts required, experts said.

Average surface temperatures are already 1.2°C above pre-industrial times, the World Meteorological Organization said.

This — combined with an uptick in record floods, hurricanes and other weather disasters — has led a growing number of religious authorities to speak out in favor of climate action.

In September, Pope Francis and Orthodox Christian leader Patriarch Bartholomew called for a collective response from world leaders to climate change, saying the planet was deteriorating and vulnerable people were the first to be affected.

Their words could more effectively change many people’s minds than scientific reports, experts said.

“All big faiths talk about caring for the most vulnerable and caring for the Earth,” said Cynthia Scharf, a former senior staff member on the UN secretary general’s climate team.

“What really motivates people is not facts, but values and emotions. Those are pretty universal feelings,” said Scharf, who was raised in a Christian Protestant family and whose brother is a missionary.

“Religious communities can address some of the questions which are at the heart of climate change, such as fairness,” she said.

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