The faith community is far from monolithic, and there are many individuals who argue against climate change action on faith-based grounds. However, in my experience, there are also so many voices calling for rapid and comprehensive climate change mitigation and adaptation on faith-based grounds that they form a chorus. I have worked for Texas Impact, specifically on the Texas Interfaith Power & Light (TXIPL) project, since August. Interfaith Power and Light describes itself as “mobilizing a religious response to global warming in congregations through the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation;” TXIPL is one of 31 affiliated State IPLs. I have seen members of the faith community express profound concern about climate change on the basis of their beliefs; advocate strongly and enthusiastically for policies to address carbon emissions; and take direct action within their own communities to reduce emissions. I want to take a moment to recognize their efforts.
I am not a theologian, but in my experience, the most-repeated faith-based reasons for climate change action are Creation care, and caring for the least among us. A responsibility to future generations is a third major concern.
• Creation Care
Many faith traditions embrace the concept of “creation care,” a term of art that encompasses environmental stewardship. The Earth and its resources are a gift, and it is our responsibility as stewards to honor and protect that gift and not to spoil it.
• Caring for the Least Among Us
Many faith traditions consider it part of their mission to protect and serve vulnerable populations, including low-income populations and communities of color in the United States as well as residents of developing nations. The disproportionate climate change burden that the poor will bear is a major concern.
• A Responsibility to Future Generations
Closely tied to both of these concepts is a sense of responsibility for future generations. As with caring for the creation and for the poor and marginalized, people of faith today have a responsibility to preserve resources, the environment, and opportunity for human growth and development for future generations.
These principles are not exhaustive. However, many of the other theological groundings for climate change action connect to one of these concerns.
Members of the faith community – perhaps understandably – tend not to be “down in the weeds” so much in terms of policy specifics. However, that does not mean they do not seek information or sit on the sidelines as policy debates pass them by. In part because the faith community is so heterogeneous, common voices tend to simply emphasize the importance of action to address climate change now, as opposed to a specific policy platform.
COP15 in Copenhagen prompted many efforts by members of the faith community to convey their principles and the importance of mitigation to policymakers. Weeks before the negotiations, world religious leaders held a conference with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to advocate for climate action; the World Council of Churches sponsored a series of events as part of its “Countdown to Copenhagen;” and many IPL and State IPL members attended the conference to voice their concern and report their observations.
Yes, Even Technology
As mentioned above, Interfaith Power and Light promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation, and many faith communities take these concerns to heart by focusing on changing their own consumption patterns first. IPL offers a Cool Congregations survey for houses of worship to calculate the size of their carbon footprint and recommends ways to become more efficient; it also has a ShopIPL section of the website that sells energy efficient products. Some State IPLs sell Renewable Energy Credits so congregations can offset their carbon footprint. My primary responsibility last semester was to author a handbook for Texas houses of worship interested in installing PV modules, as faith communities from San Antonio to many in Austin to Edinburg have already done.
More Information (by no means exhaustive):
Interfaith Power and Light
Texas Interfaith Power & Light
National Council of Churches: Climate Change and Global Warming
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Climate Change Justice and Health Initiative
The Evangelical Climate Initiative
Muslim Association for Climate Change Action
Unitarian Universalist Association Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change Statement of Conscience
Friends Committee on National Legislation: Global Climate Change