*Climate Change:  The Pope’s Encyclical and the Dominion of Religion

The thinking person, Walter Benjamin had occasion to remark, appears to experience crisis at every juncture of her or his life.  How can this not be so if one were to experience the pain of someone else as one’s own?  How can this not be so when, amidst growing stockpiles of food in many countries, millions continue to suffer from malnutrition, and the lengthening shadows of poverty give lie to the pious promises and pompous proclamations by the world’s leaders over the last several decades that humanity is determined to achieve victory in its quest to eradicate poverty?  With war, violence, disease, and the myriad manifestations of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination which man’s ingenuity has wrought all around us, how might a person not be experiencing crisis?  One Foundation after another—whether it be named after Bill and Melinda Gates, the Clintons, Ford, Rockefeller, or other tycoons—has claimed to have helped “millions” of people around the world, but the crises appear to be multiplying.

There is, yet, a larger crisis that engulfs us all, even those who are sheltered from the cruel afflictions to which a good portion of humankind is still subject, especially in the global South.  Pope Francis, singularly among “world leaders”, has dared to address the “crisis” that overwhelms all others in his recently released encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”), which poignantly sets the tone for a conversation that ought to engage the entire world with its declaration at the outset that the subject of his letter is “the care for our common home”.  Over the last few years, a consensus has slowly been emerging among members of the scientific community that climate change is presently taking place at a rate which is unprecedented in comparison with the natural climate change cycles that have characterized our earth in the course of the last half a million years; moreover, as successive Assessment Reports of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have affirmed, global warming is, to an overwhelming degree, the consequence of human activity.  IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007) suggested that scientists were reasonably certain in their finding that global warming had been produced by the increasing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere owing to the massive burning of fossil fuels, the industrialized use of animal stocks, and significant changes in land use.

Source:  Cook, John (2010) Ten Human Indicators on Climate Change - See more at: http://blogs.law.widener.edu/climate/category/us-congress-and-climate-change-ethics/#sthash.lxq2hc8I.dpuf

Source: Cook, John (2010) Ten Human Indicators on Climate Change – See more at: http://blogs.law.widener.edu/climate/category/us-congress-and-climate-change-ethics/#sthash.lxq2hc8I.dpuf

The recently issued Fifth Assessment Report (2013) describes the environmental risks in even more unequivocal language:  “It is extremely likely (95-100%) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.  Scientists and increasingly other commentators—various practitioners of the social sciences, journalists, and policy makers—are now inclined to the view that this anthropogenic climate change is of such a magnitude that we might reasonably speak of a new geological epoch, defined by the action of humans, that the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen termed the Anthropocene.  Signs of the acute malady—among others, record temperatures in much of the global North, intense heat waves and droughts in Australia, melting glaciers in the Himalayan mountain range, cyclones of increasing ferocity, rising sea levels, massive flooding—began to proliferate over a decade ago and could no longer be ignored.  Speaking just before the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the chief scientific adviser to the UK government would be bold enough to hazard the view that climate change poses a greater threat than does terrorism to the ability of humans to “live safely.”

The Pope has, with his eloquently and passionately argued encyclical, justly intervened in a matter which cannot and must not be left only to the jurisdiction of scientists and policy makers.  It is, in the first instance, notable that Francis speaks not so much of ‘global warming’ as of ‘climate change’, though in common usage the two terms are often used interchangeably.  Neither term was part of the global vocabulary until the late 1970s, even if the geochemist Wallace S. Broecker warned, in a 1975 piece entitled “Climate Change:  Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”, that the complacency about the warming effect of carbon dioxide produced by the burning of chemical fuels was not warranted.   The NASA scientist James E. Hansen is sometimes credited with having made the term ‘global warming’, which is much less encompassing than ‘climate change’, referring as it does only to the increase in the earth’s average surface temperature as a consequence of rising levels of greenhouse gases, acceptable to a wider public with his 1988 testimony before Congress where he asserted that scientists could “ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming.”  Pope Francis is astute in directing his attention at ‘climate change’, recognizing that the environmental catastrophes which are upon us take myriad forms and have repercussions which extend to the entire question of the future of all species on this earth and the moral implications of present human conduct.  Not only is ‘climate change’ in the ordinarily understood sense of the term a palpable reality, but there has been at work for some time a change in the climate—of thought, feeling, and opinion—that has brought humankind to the brink of ecological, social, and moral devastation.

Beginning, as Francis does, with the claim that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” it is not surprising, and is indeed heartening, that his letter is attentive to the grave and pervasive inequalities between countries.  “The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned,” the encyclical states, and Francis adds that “in different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”  Francis recommends that the developed countries “help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.”  Not many have dared to suggest that equality cannot be gained only be attempting to raise the standard of living in the countries that comprise the global South; those who are rich, wherever they may be, will surely have to curtain their extraordinary levels of consumption.  (This reprises a debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi in India—but we leave that aside for the present.)  The Pope goes on to offer an indictment of the shallow market-based solutions proffered by the economists—when, one might ask, were the economists not shallow—and suggests with considerable astuteness that “carbon credits” are to rejected as they “may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”  It is these remarks which prompted Jeb Bush, a Presidential “hopeful” as they are characterized in the US, to tell his adoring audience somewhere on Main Street in Anytown, America, that “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.”  The enlightened soul that he is, Jeb doubtless gets his economic philosophy from George W., the light on the hill that has been shining on baby brother since he came into this world and blinding him ever since.

Source:  CDC, Atlanta

Source: CDC, Atlanta

Francis rightly rejects the view that the question of climate change must be left only to environmentalists, economists, and policy makers.  As I have argued at some length in a recent article, “Climate Change:  Insights from Hinduism”, in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (June 2015)—and I shall in the remaining part of this blog be drawing entirely upon my article, which is a contribution to a roundtable discussion on climate change and religion—students of religion must be particularly sensitive to what climate change portends for the future of humankind and all of creation.  In a world beset by extraordinary calamities, it is difficult for most people to turn their attention to something called climate change.  But it is not only those who are devastated by war, sexual violence, grave civil unrest, disease, a deadly virus, or a natural calamity such as an earthquake who see themselves as without the luxury to ruminate over the afflictions engendered by climate change.  Suffering is in the here and now; the privations that are effects of climate change, such as they are understood, happen—or are likely to happen—elsewhere, at a remote distance, and to others.  No doubt some people are aware that melting glaciers and rising temperatures have already wrought havoc, but nevertheless those who issue warnings about the calamitous consequences of climate change are unable to derive much emotional or spiritual purchase from arguments that invoke the future of our children, grandchildren, and generations to come when they speak solely or predominantly in the language of science.

More so than other practitioners of other disciplines and areas of inquiry, students of religion ought to consider the question of climate change their special provenance.  In many respects, religious studies scholars are especially equipped to address the social, cultural, and ethical implications of climate change.  First, the notion of an afterlife, howsoever it may be interpreted, occupies a critical space in every religion:  the religious sensibility is one that insists not only on the imperative of ethical conduct in the present, but also on the persistence of good outcomes of such conduct in the long run.  Religion helps us to think of different registers of temporality and it holds up the future as a mode and space of being that is of at least as much critical importance as the present; similarly, the ecological awareness that proponents of climate change seek to elicit in every person rests in part on the idea that proper custodianship of the earth will yield rich dividends for those who are to follow us.

Secondly, there is another idiom of temporality in which the student of religion, or more particularly of Hinduism, can hope to render understandable an argument about the reality of climate change.  As the scholar of religion, Harold Coward, reminds us, “it took all of human history up to the early 1800s for the earth’s population to reach one billion.  It took 130 years to add the second billion, 30 years to add the third, 15 years to add the fourth, and 12 years to add the fifth.”  A like argument may be advanced apropos of climate change:  the first several decades of the industrial revolution led to greater accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than the preceding tens of thousands of years, and it is quite likely that the last two decades—which have seen not only increased levels of consumption in most of the major economies, but exponential growth in China and a substantial increase of the middle class in India, Brazil, and elsewhere—have contributed as much to global warming as the preceding century.  However, what is equally germane is that a phrase such as “all of human history up to the early 1800s” evokes gargantuan periods of time—a notion that is remote to ordinary human experience but rather more readily available to the practitioners of Hinduism, who have long been habituated to the idea of the Yugas, or the four ages—Satya Yuga, spanning 1,728,000 years; Treta Yuga, lasting 1,296,000 years; Dwapara Yuga, spanning 864,000 years; and Kali Yuga, which is half the duration of the Dwapara Yuga and a quarter of the Satya Yuga—through which human history is said to have passed.  The point here is that even if the scientific evidence for climate change is compelling, there is a different sensibility at work in the suggestion that the very idea of climate change also commands us to think of strikingly varying temporalities—both of the eons of time that have passed and the eons of time well into the future.  Hinduism’s mytho-geological conception of time immensely facilitates such leaps of imagination.

Thirdly, whatever the inclination of adherents of each religion to prize their own faith as the correct and wholly distinct path to emancipation, the religious-minded generally recognize that every religion affirms the oneness of humankind.  Arguments that draw attention to the precariousness of human existence, an existence rendered all the more fragile by widespread, devastating, and often unpredictable changes in nature that can be explicitly traced to human activity, are likewise predicated on the idea that climate change provides yet another affirmation of the oneness of existence.  The common maladies that afflict the poor, the marginalized, and the disempowered, mainly in the global South and certain pockets of the affluent North, are after all not our maladies, even if activists, social workers, and idealists choose to alleviate their suffering and occasionally even partake in it as the most meaningful gesture of solidarity.  Yet what does the recognition of climate change entail if not precisely the notion that there are certain forms of suffering that are indivisible, that the problems of one might well be the problems of all?  If religion may be defined as an attempt to teach us how we can share in the suffering of others, can it not be said that awareness of climate change leads to the same outcome?

In a sequel to this piece, I shall take up the question of the insights that Hinduism has to contribute to our understanding of climate change.  Though Pope Francis did not draw upon any Hindu texts, his encyclical displays the same ecumenism that he would like to see characterized in human relations and in the dialogue between nations rich and poor.  He draws, quite expectedly, upon the Bible, the teachings of St. Francis, the insights of  Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and his two most recent papal predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI; but also upon the ninth-century Sufi mystic, Ali al-Khawas, and such international conventions as the Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development (2002).  Home is where one begins from; after the journeying of the last two hundred years, Francis’s letter seeks to ground humans so that they may once again become sensitive to the earth, sky, air, water and the dust to which everything returns.

23 thoughts on “*Climate Change:  The Pope’s Encyclical and the Dominion of Religion

  1. Thank you, Vinay, for this excellent piece that should be widely circulated; I’m doing my part by posting it on several sites of facebook and by forwarding it to friends … With love and best wishes, always …

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    • I hope, my dear friend, that climate change can be come a part of the inter-faith dialogues in which you are engaged. This is one subject on which every one should be able to weigh in, and we should be wary of leaving everything to the ‘experts’. The Pope has adopted,if I may use these words, a “healthy” and intelligent approach to this subject, though, as David Brooks’ op-ed piece in the New York Times (June 24) amply suggests, it will disturb and rankle all those who are unthinkingly accustomed to thinking of technocratic and managerial solutions to all of life’s problems.

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  2. The very first thing that popped up in my mind reading this article were the words of Diego Maradona addressed to Pope John Paul II that the latter should “sell the gold ceilings if he is concerned with helping poor people”. However, as we know, his faith was restored after meeting Pope Francis. The second encyclical of Pope Laudato si’ enlightens more profound issues, unlike Lumen Fidei, criticizing man-made environmental degradation and climate change simultaneously calling mankind to unite in the action of prevention of irreversible changes that can soon happen. I consider that the notions emphasized by Professor are indeed essential, including the questions of afterlife, arguments about temporality and acceleration of human impact as well as similarity of all religions in their pursuit to be the only correct one.
    Out of the six chapters that the encyclical comprises, I have found Chapter II especially intrinsic. This part provides biblical quotes and general concepts of the Christian and Jude traditions, stating that the human was created as the absolute master of the world, who is at the same time responsible for cultivating the flourishing garden of the Earth. For indeed, these lines illustrate that mankind has not merely the right to live on the planet, but also obligations that must be followed solemnly and strictly.
    Not having enough knowledge of Hinduism, I can add about Islamic ecologism. Over 200 verses of the Holy Qur’an are dedicated to various elements of nature. God has created the world in the pristine harmony of all its parts and humans are indeed obliged to preserve this balance. Undoubtedly, all religions call for a careful attitude towards the environment. The only issue is that everyone knows what to do and how to do it, but the majority doesn’t owe to consumerism described in the encyclical. The ongoing overpopulation of the Earth, with predictions stating the number of people, will reach 10 billion within 50 years only aggravate the situation and no documents probably will deal with this issue, eugenics in any form is prohibited. Who knows, maybe one day the theory of Thomas Robert Malthus about the principles of the population will become a guidebook on how to deal with the ecological problems if it hasn’t yet considering the current pandemics.

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  3. Climate change is a serious issue affecting the whole world and requires the cooperation of everyone. Usually, when referring to an authority on the subject of climate change, most people would look to academics. Scientists and economists understand the true nature of climate change and can give practical solutions to this problem. However, when I read this article, I started to see the possibility of a link between religion and climate change. In particular, religion could allow individuals to understand climate change better and be more sensitive to its effects due to its impacts on others.

    Due to the long history of climate change, it can be challenging to wrap our heads around the time scale of it. However, students of religion have an improved understanding of these large time periods. In particular, practitioners of Hinduism are accustomed to the idea of Yugas, which can span over a million years. This facilitates their understanding of the temporal aspect of climate change. Furthermore, religion also allows people to empathize with those suffering from climate change, enhancing global cooperation.

    However, I also see a flip side to this. Religion could also result in a distorted view of climate change. Christians and several other religions believe in the creation of the earth and humans by God. Some religious people believe that since God is omnipotent, if climate change was a real problem, he could take care of it. This limits public cooperation that is crucial to reducing climate change. Due to the nature of faith and religion, this view will be tough to change. Therefore, I believe that religion is also a barrier to solving the world’s climate change problem.

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    • Hello Thomas,
      You are absolutely right that a religious outlook can, in certain circumstances, be a detriment to taking climate change seriously. One can argue, for instance, that inherent to Christianity is the idea that man rightfully occupies dominion over nature, and this can be an impediment to trying to resolve the problems raised by climate change. If nature exists for the enjoyment of man, then it follows, according to some, that man is free to exploit nature. But there are Christian thinkers who think otherwise. We would similarly have to assess where religious thinkers belonging to other faiths stand on this matter and whether their religious traditions offer resources to tackle climate change. I am not attempting in my brief blog essays to speak comprehensively about these matters but you are right in pointing to this problem.

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  4. As a non-religious person, I find your explication of religion’s role in climate change awareness quite interesting. I often see my contemporaries at school and online believe that we as a global (at least Western) society have “outgrown” religion, degrading older generations or even their own peers for leading religious lives. Yet there is nothing else, at least that I have experienced in my short life thus far, that allows its patrons to imagine the scope of our climate change’s implications in a more humanistic view. The scholarly articles of science and the haughty public maneuvers of political figures do nothing to broaden my own point of view – I am still caught up in my own present. I find myself agreeing with you, having never experienced the feeling myself, that religious teachings present that unifying gesture of the“eternal oneness” of humanity that so much of the rest of our world is lacking.

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    • I myself write from the standpoint of a non-believer and, as you have surmised, have only attempted to suggest that even the supposedly secular West, which believes itself to have (as you say) “outgrown religion”, should attempt to see how religious traditions may be deployed in the fight against climate change.

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  5. I feel as though when it comes to climate change, its relations with religion often goes unaddressed. It seemed to be a common trend (a little less common now) that extremely conservative, religious individuals tended to deny the problem of climate change. Whether it’s due to their media exposure, anti-expert sentiment, or lack of will to change their lifestyles, statistics had exposed this correlation for a significant amount of time. Thus, Pope Francis addressing the issue is a notable event towards positive change. As stated in the blog, Francis “rejected the view that the question of climate change must be let only to environmentalists, economists, and policy makers.” I believe that this was very important, as while the climate crisis furthers, the authority and messages of Christian leaders and groups play huge roles in altering the public’s opinion on the issue and how policies are formed to take action toward or away from it. With an extremely prominent Christian leader, Pope Francis, stating what he did, hopefully the masses start to realize the true consequences of human activity upon our environment (specifically how it is affecting the generations to come) and start to initiate revisions.

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  6. What I found particularly intriguing about this essay was your discussion about the relationship between climate change and religion. In the United States, it is often seen that the most conservative, often religious individuals are the ones who condemn climate change and environmental issues to be fiction, somewhat creating the association in my mind that there are many religious individuals in this country that do not believe in climate change. Thus, I found it particularly significant that Pope Francis openly commented about climate change, emphasizing that this travesty and destruction of the environment is a problem to every human being around the world.

    Additionally, I greatly enjoyed reading your comments on how climate change affects everyone, and how this relates to religion. If there are issues in the global South, for example, people in the Western world could easily ignore them, saying that it’s “not our problem”. However, the destruction of the environment is something that cannot be escaped and will affect everyone. While there are many ethnic, political, and countless divisions between people around the world that can prevent people from unifying behind a common goal, religion is one of the few institutions that fosters the ability to unify behind a common belief system among people with incredibly different background. Thus, I found it monumental that such a prominent religious figure like Pope Francis could potentially convince people to unite behind such a critical issue, with religion as the backbone allowing the pursuit of this goal to prosper.

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  7. For me, this article definitely brought attention to the more nuanced role that religion can play in the development of climate change/measures taken to slow its effects. I find that my experiences with religion in the U.S. have demonstrated that religion and action against climate change tend to oppose each other. As you brought up in a response to a previous comment, the fundamental beliefs in certain religions seemingly center around the entitlement of humans to the natural resources around them. This, in turn can serve as justification for the unbridled exploitation of nature. However, as this blog points out, religion can also play a positive role in the fight against climate change. For example, the idea of morality and a shared humanity might make people more willing to take action to protect the planet as they feel it is their obligation to aid their fellow humans and discard their “not my problem” mentality. This blog demonstrated to me that religion certainly has a degree of value in what is considered the more “scientific” world, and that in order to reach a larger audience, it must be used in conjunction with science. Additionally, religion provides a sense of humanity, connection, and spirituality that is awarded less space in scientific communities.

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  8. For me, this blog definitely brought attention to the more nuanced role that religion can play in the development of climate change/measures taken to slow its effects. I find that my experiences with religion in the U.S. have demonstrated that religion and action against climate change tend to oppose each other. As you brought up in a response to a previous comment, the fundamental beliefs in certain religions seemingly center around the entitlement of humans to the natural resources around them. This, in turn, can serve as justification for the unbridled exploitation of nature. However, as this blog points out, religion can also play a positive role in the fight against climate change. For example, the idea of morality and a shared humanity might make people more willing to take action to protect the planet as they feel it is their obligation to aid their fellow humans and discard their “not my problem” mentality. This blog demonstrated to me that religion certainly has a degree of value in what is considered the more “scientific” world, and that in order to reach a larger audience, it must be used in conjunction with science. Additionally, religion provides a sense of humanity, connection, and spirituality that is awarded less space in scientific communities.

    Like

  9. For me, this blog definitely brought attention to the more nuanced role that religion can play in the development of climate change/measures taken to slow its effects. I find that my experiences with religion in the U.S. have demonstrated that religion and action against climate change tend to oppose each other. As you brought up in a response to a previous comment, the fundamental beliefs in certain religions seemingly center around the entitlement of humans to the natural resources around them. This, in turn, can serve as justification for the unbridled exploitation of nature. However, as this blog points out, religion can also play a positive role in the fight against climate change. For example, the idea of morality and a shared humanity may make people more willing to take action to protect the planet as they feel it is their obligation to aid their fellow humans and discard their “not my problem” mentality. This blog demonstrated to me that religion certainly has a degree of value in what is considered the more “scientific” world, and that in order to reach a larger audience, it must be used in conjunction with science. Additionally, religion provides a sense of humanity, connection, and spirituality that is awarded less space in scientific communities.

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  10. While reading this particular essay, I could not help but think of the role religion plays among climate change deniers. I certainly agree that religious scholars should not ignore climate change and its effects on humankind. The act of linking an environmental issue to religion could lead to more people around the world recognizing the severity of the issue. However, many continue to believe that climate change is not a pressing issue due to their religious beliefs. After living in a very religious county for the majority of my life, I have frequently heard individuals quote specific verses from the Bible to display that climate change is not a problem for humans. While Christians believe it is their duty to care for the environment, many interpret climate change as an entirely separate issue. Climate change is viewed rather frequently as an issue that God will resolve. In other instances, a mixture of strong religious views and conservative political stances lead people to deny the existence of climate change altogether. Unfortunately, it appears that these beliefs will likely not go away for an extended period of time. Even if all the religious scholars on the face of the Earth began to focus more on climate change, there will still be many people in the world that will continue to stick to their views. While I believe religious scholars are making great progress in connecting world religions to climate change, on the other hand climate change denial seems to be growing simultaneously.

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  11. I always thought that religion was closely related to climate change because religious texts say that humans are meant to be “stewards of God’s creation” (Genesis). With the environment rapidly degrading from greenhouse gases accumulated from fossil fuels, deforestation, etc., help is needed more than ever. Therefore, I agree with the article on how climate change is not a question for only environmentalists, economists, and policymakers. Moreover, the statement, “proper custodianship of the earth will yield rich dividends for those who are to follow us,” was very intriguing to me. There are many people, in the past and present, that believe climate change is not an urgent issue because they think it is a distant threat. Thus, people make decisions for what they want today, not tomorrow or for future generations. There is this long-lasting cycle that society is not able to escape. In my opinion, religion would foster morality, resulting in people becoming more aware of their actions and their implications on the future. However, climate change will not be an issue that could be solved easily. There will always be division among countries and individuals due to complications in externalities, free-riding, and collective action.

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  12. While reading this article, I found myself agreeing with many claims that you have laid out about an holistic effort towards addressing climate change. As Pope Francis had eluded to, it is the responsibility of not only political and scientific leaders, but religious ones as well. Furthermore, I found even more interesting the notion you had brought up in the beginning of the article. As many powerful figures are voicing their opinions on global crisis’ and putting forth resources to combat them, we still see a large amount of them. As we see today, the United Nations, non-profits, and other global institutions have been able to unify many nation-states to solve these matters, but there seems to never be an end. Even in a global crisis such as climate change, which can affect all nations, there seems to be a lack of movement. Although, the United Nations laid out a 10 year plan to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, these goals seem largely out of reach. As the United States, we are one of the most influential and powerful countries, yet we cannot agree amongst ourselves about the imminent danger of climate change. I believe that only when the interests of economic success and climate change align, then society can make valiant efforts forward.

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  13. For me, reading this blog essay definitely brought attention to the more nuanced role that religion can play in the development of climate change/measures taken to slow its effects. I find that my experiences with religion in the U.S. have demonstrated that religion and action against climate change tend to oppose each other. As you brought up in a response to a previous comment, the fundamental beliefs in certain religions seemingly center around the entitlement of humans to the natural resources around them. This, in turn, can serve as justification for the unbridled exploitation of nature. However, as this blog points out, religion can also play a positive role in the fight against climate change. For example, the idea of morality and a shared humanity might make people more willing to take action to protect the planet as they feel it is their obligation to aid their fellow humans and discard their “not my problem” mentality. This blog demonstrated to me that religion certainly has a degree of value in what is considered the more “scientific” world, and that in order to reach a larger audience, it must be used in conjunction with science. Additionally, religion provides a sense of humanity, connection, and spirituality that is awarded less space in scientific communities.

    Like

  14. Personally, I believe that religion can persuade the attitudes and morals of people. I read this post as a non believer. However, during the early stages of my teen life, I did go to church because I was trying to figure out if religion was an important aspect of my life. Most of my visits to the church consisted of prayers, reading scriptures from the bible, singing, and etc. Never was there a time when modern world problems were discussed, which is astounding. I would believe that important matters were to be brought up, but the were not. I believe that if religion exposed their followers to modern world problems, then people would start to care; more people would try to make a change.

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  15. This article opened my eyes to the potential positive role that religion could play in climate change. I’ve heard many arguments that connect religion with climate change denial but the Pope’s encyclical shows the potential for religion to help fix environmental issues. I think that using religious arguments could be incredibly effective, especially if widely discussed in religious circles. Part of how climate change denial became so widespread was mass efforts by oil and coal companies to dispel information that favored their causes. If religious leaders spread information about the importance of climate change and its moral and social issues I think we could make great strides in our efforts to fix environmental issues. Similar to how oil and coal companies have immense power in politics, so do many religious groups and if they used their power to push for positive change I think they could drastically affect environmental policies.

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  16. Any issue that deals with people as a whole should not be left to, as it is stated above, “the jurisdiction of scientists and policymakers.” I agree wholeheartedly with this because whenever this is done, rather than advancing together and finding a solution for the problem that we, as humans, have created, it turns into a political game where someone might agree with the statement of another policymaker, but never state that they agree with them because they are from a different political party. It becomes a very dangerous game and it is never the policymakers who feel the consequences, rather it is the people who actually care about the issue and are directly impacted by the issue. Whatever the topic of discussion may be, there is always the same result, where the policymakers make policies benefiting themselves and the wealthiest of society, while the majority of the population feels the consequences of policies that are not backed up by any sort of evidence other than, that it will benefit the people writing the policy. I think that climate change is the biggest problem that we face today, but there will never be an advancement in the direction of trying to fix the problem while the policymakers say things such as “‘…I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.'” This is ironic because when it is convenient, the above-mentioned people are always quoted, but once they make a statement the policymaker, in this case, Jeb Bush, does not agree with, then the sources they once quoted from are no longer valid.

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  17. I definitely agree that a religious voice in the fight against climate change is valuable, especially with regards to ideas of universal humanity and the afterlife. However, despite the view of universal humanity being a religious one and having its advocates among religious authorities, I fear that such a view of might be more readily taken by secular liberals (who already fight against climate change) than every-day religious people, at least in America. The rhetorical question – “If religion may be defined as an attempt to teach us how we can share in the suffering of others, can it not be said that awareness of climate change leads to the same outcome?” – is appealing in theory, but I think conservative religious Americans may take issue with this. Ultimately I believe that moral entreaty (religious or otherwise) will not be enough to inspire action on climate change, and that a more pragmatic argument must be asserted. I talked with an author of the American Psychological Association’s report on climate change during my senior year of high school for an independent study I conducted on the issue. His analogy about climate change really resonated with me: it is best treated like a health problem. Scientists are as sure about the negative effects of climate change as they are about smoking cigarettes – they do not know exactly how the negatives effects will manifest, but the sooner we stop smoking / emitting CO2, the less likely those negative effects are to occur.

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  18. The idea that humans hold the dominion over the natural world is an idea that I haven’t given much thought to, however after seeing the direct correlation between the rapid population growth compared to the escalation of our earth’s deterioration, it is evident that humans blindly take advantage of what nature has to offer. I thought it was interesting to see this thought then turn into a conversation about religion; as mentioned, many religions preach the sharing of one’s pain, and why wouldn’t that same offer reach out to the natural world? We disregard the thought that nature and animals should even receive rights as they do not have a high faculty of reasoning, and it is notable that religious thoughts that would be thought of as immoral are unacknowledged when given in context with ecosystems.

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  19. I love this article, and Pope Francis – most people I know have thought of him as the “cool” Pope since he refused to condemn homosexuality years ago, and it was also great when he gave a more lenient position on abortion, all part of his mission of making Christianity less conservative. The last time I was made aware of one of his positions was when he spoke out against neo-nationalism, another statement which I agree with. However, I do not follow him too closely – I tend to hear about him by chance instead of looking for his statements. This encyclical makes me want to keep up more with him. Though climate change is an indisputable fact at this point, it has become a facet of conservatism to deny or at least question it heavily. Considering the close association of the right wing and Christianity, it is refreshing to see Pope Francis speak out on the opposing side to conservatism on yet another issue. I was not too aware of the differences between climate change and global warming, but it shows that Pope Francis is actually diligent in learning about these issues and does not just bend the way the wind seems to be blowing when it comes to public or scientific opinion. Another point for Pope Francis in my book!

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    • I forgot to mention the importance of him mentioning the disproportionate harm that climate change does to developing countries, which are basically pillaged by stronger countries for their resources. Many people who live in areas where the global changes brought about by climate change are not as severe as in these countries, though they may agree that climate change is a threat, do not see it as as immediate of a threat as it is.

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