Global Warming a Moral Issue, Say Interfaith Panelists

trees and light
Speakers at an Interfaith dialogue say caring for creation is part of religious peoples’ duty.

Representatives from a variety of world faiths discussed the role of religion in addressing global warming and other pressing environmental challenges at a September 18–21 conference on climate stabilization in Washington, D.C. Sharing a panel on “Achieving Intergenerational and International Equity,” speakers from the Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical, Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, and Presbyterian faiths described the progress their communities are making in tackling climate change.

Reverend Sally Bingham of the Episcopal Grace Cathedral in San Francisco noted that her job as a religious leader is to “introduce people in the pews to the fact that they are environmentalists.” If a person attends church and professes a love for God, then caring for creation is his or her duty, she explained. “If you love your neighbor, then you don’t pollute your neighbor’s air.” According to Bingham, who is also Executive Director of the Interfaith Power & Light climate change campaign, enormous potential exists for involving religious communities in the environmental movement. If the 300,000 or so houses of worship in the United States reduced their energy use by just 25 percent, this would save 13.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, five million tons of carbon dioxide, and US$500 million in costs, she noted.

Bingham compared the popular argument among climate skeptics that the United States is “economically dependent” on fossil fuels to the South’s economic justification of slavery prior to the U.S. Civil War. “When the moral aspect of [slavery] was introduced, the hearts and minds of the people were changed.” We need to move beyond the economics, she says, and tap into the ethics of the issue.

Jo Anne Lyon, Executive Director of World Hope International, discussed the participation of Evangelical Christians in the environmental movement, an involvement that dates back to the early 1970s. According to Lyon, Evangelicals identified the environment as a “pro-life” issue as early as the 1980s.

A third panel speaker, Walter Grazer, Director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Environmental Justice Program, reaffirmed the view that “Science has been used as a weapon and not a source of wisdom.” A common theme among panelists was that climate change adversely affects America’s “poorest global neighbors,” a group whom the faithful are called upon to protect.

Worldwatch Institute Research Director Gary Gardner echoes many of these perspectives and highlights the potential synergies between organized religion and the environmental movement in his new book Inspiring Progress:  Religions' Contributions to Sustainable Development, released today. “The world’s religions have many assets to lend to the effort to build sustainable progress,” he writes, “including moral authority, a long tradition of ethical teachings, and the sheer political power that comes from having so many adherents.”

Once seen largely as a liberal, or secular, matter, climate change has recently surged to the forefront of religious communities’ priorities. “Global warming,” says Reverend Bingham, “is one of the greatest moral issues of our time, if not the greatest.”


This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.