Can religion save the planet?

Can religion save the planet?

According to the Koran, believers are the protectors of the earth.[1] In various religions, the earth is a gift from God, and human behavior has led to the current dangers of global warming. Recent years have therefore seen religious institutions becoming more involved in tackling the issue of climate change. For instance, Pope Francis has urged world leaders to pay more attention to combating climate change. Besides encouraging others to take charge, however, more and more religious organisations are also taking action themselves.

Praying for change
Pope Francis regularly encourages world leaders to do more to combat climate change, and has been clear in criticising those who have not taken enough action. Back in 2015, Francis published a letter called ‘Laudato Si: on care for our common home’, calling for an economic, political, social and religious focus on respecting and taking care of the earth.[2] In December 2019, Pope Francis argued that not enough has been done in terms of fighting climate change since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2016.[3] Moreover, in a message to the participants of the UN Climate Change Conference, Francis once again urged world leaders to commit more resources to the climate change crisis.[4]

Besides the pope, many other Catholics have also expressed their concern about the climate crisis. In December 2019, prior to the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, 500,000 people participated in a march in the city. They demanded global leaders to take action against climate change. Marching among the protestors were numerous bishops and a large number of Catholics. Before the march, the Church organised a prayer for climate change.[5] [6]

Taking action: energy efficient churches and eco-friendly mosques
However, urging world leaders to take action is not all that religious institutions are doing. They are also taking their own responsibility for combating climate change. This is, for instance, the case in Denmark. Denmark has long been seen as one of the leading countries in Europe when it comes to the issue of taking action on carbon emissions. This reputation seems to be accurate when we look at the actions of the Danish church. In December 2019, Denmark passed a new climate law that forces all governments in the next ten years to work towards a 70 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. Several national churches have been quick to express that they will also commit to this goal.[7]

In Cambridge, United Kingdom, the first European eco-friendly mosque was opened in April 2019. By using different technologies, such as solar panels for electricity and rainwater to flush toilets, the mosque has no carbon emissions. Besides illustrating how religious buildings can be eco friendly, the mosque was mainly build to show Muslims and others the importance of a focus on the holiness of the earth, and the importance of preserving it.[8] [9] [10] [11]

As well as clear statements from the Pope, the Vatican has tried to find other ways of expressing its concern about climate change. One example of this is how the Vatican set up its 2019 nativity scene on St. Peter’s square. The crib was made from biological materials, such as wood, straw and recycled waste.[12] Similarly, in the United States, a nativity scene was used to make a point about the danger of climate change. In the scene, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were shown as sitting on an island in the sea, with plastic floating all around them. On the stable was written: “God so loved the World. Will we?”,[13] demonstrating how tackling climate change has religious importance.

“Saving the planet is a religious value”
It is clear that numerous religious institutions have taken strong positions about the importance of taking responsibility for caring for the world. But why are religious institutions so involved in the issue of climate change?

After facing criticism for their sustainability initiatives, as some believed the church should not get involved in climate politics, but should rather focus on traditional values, many Danish priests voiced their opinion.[14] [15] They argued that sustainability goes hand in hand with Christian or religious values. According to them, the earth is a gift we have received from God, and we need to take proper care of it.[16] Similar views are held by Muslims, as the Koran states that God has made believers the protectors of the earth.[17] Also the Church of England has stated that Christians should set an example in protecting God’s creation.[18] Finally, Cardinal Turkson, the most important advisor of the Pope on climate, has explained that one cannot claim to love God, yet exploit the earth at the same time. Therefore, Turkson called on all Christians to take responsibility for protecting the earth.[19]

Religious institutions are taking the lead
In the last few years, religious leaders are not only accepting the danger climate change poses to society, but also take the lead in the fight against it. Whether it is by building eco-friendly buildings, cutting emissions, or encouraging others to take their responsibility, religious leaders and institutions are using their power to limit climate change. In the coming years, it will be interesting to see whether religious people take the lead in climate-friendly behaviour and are among the first to really change their habits and personal behaviour, to take the lead to change.

Anne Clerx

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[1]Cambridge to Build Europe’s First Eco-Mosque
[2] Laudato Si’ – De zorg voor ons gemeenschappelijk huis | Welkom
[3]Papa Francesco e l’allarme inascoltato sul clima, finora troppe parole e pochi fatti
[4]Clima, il Papa a Cop25: “Azione ancora troppo debole, serve volontà politica chiara”
[5]“¡No hay planeta B!”: la Iglesia sale a la calle para defender la tierra de todos
[6] Marcha por el clima… con la Iglesia también presente
[7] Biskopper kaster folkekirken ind i klimakamp
[8] Turkey’s President Erdogan opens Cambridge ‘eco-mosque’
[9]Gb, Erdogan e Cat Stevens insieme per inaugurare “la prima moschea ecologica al mondo”
[10] Europe’s first eco-friendly mosque, Cambridge Mosque
[11]Erdoğan inaugurates landmark eco-friendly mosque in Britain
[12] Inchiesta. Il Vaticano fa la scelta green: plastica via anche dal presepe
[13]Een opzienbarende kerststal in de VS vraagt aandacht voor vluchtelingenproblematiek
[14] Biskopper kaster folkekirken ind i klimakamp
[15]Ja, naturligvis bør folkekirken opføre sig ansvarsfuldt på klimaområdet
[16]Klimagudstjeneste og affaldssortering hitter: Flere kirker bliver grønne
[17]Cambridge to Build Europe’s First Eco-Mosque
[18]Church of England could stop heating cathedrals to hit 2045 emissions target
[19]Kardinaal Turkson: Je kunt niet van God houden en de aarde uitbuiten