Priests, pastors and ministers nationwide are spreading the gospel of climate change — as are imams and rabbis.
In recent years, faith-based advocacy has emerged as a powerful tool in the environmental movement. By reframing climate change and sustainability as moral issues, religious leaders hope to advance environmentalism by elevating it above the political fray.
“I believe that all religions, all faiths share a common goodness,” said Zerqa Abid, founder of My Project USA, a Muslim youth organization in Columbus. “All of us have to look within our houses, within our cities, in our everyday lives.
“We take care of the Earth, or we destroy it.”
Americans report fairly high levels of spirituality, but most do not view climate change as a moral issue, according to a 2015 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Presenting climate change as a spiritual issue could be a successful strategy for attracting religious folks to environmental causes, the report suggests.
In Ohio, three-fourths of voters identify as religious, but little more than half say environmental laws are worth the cost, according to 2016 Pew Research Center surveys.
“Hitting people in the head with science doesn’t get them in the heart,” said Deborah Steele, fiscal officer for Clinton Township who previously worked for three years as an Ohio Interfaith Power and Light coordinator. “What gets people is a matter of conscience and not the logic of science.”
As leaders of intimate community spaces, religious officials are beginning to address the human-rights implications of climate change.
For example, exploitation of natural resources severely affects the world’s poorest populations and violates divine dictates on how people should treat the planet, said Rabbi Alex Braver of Tifereth Israel.
“The big-picture view, that’s what religion can offer,” Braver said. “I think (environmentalism) has very deep roots in ancient text and tradition, but it’s been lifted up in a different way now that we’re seeing the immense power we can have over the environment.”