Insights from the Dashboard: What are religious leaders doing about sustainability?

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Insights from the Dashboard: What are religious leaders doing about sustainability?

Over the past year, religious leaders have given a faith-based perspective on a number of issues. To see what their impact was on issues of sustainability, we find some key insights on the EARS Dashboard.

Over the past year (1st July 2020 – 30th June 2021) 4,681 articles were uploaded to the EARS Dashboard. Of these, about 1% (44 articles) featured the topics of both leadership and sustainability.

Leadership and sustainibility


Many religious leaders have spent the last year focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is clear from a simple EARS dashboard search:

Sustainibility, leadership and corona

However, sea levels have continued to rise and the ocean is still choked with tonnes of plastic every day. People living in low lying areas, many of whom live in poverty (especially in Bangladesh and islands in the South Pacific), are facing life and death decisions.[1]

The EARS dashboard highlights that some religious leaders have not forgotten about the environment and continue to use their platforms to encourage change.

Pope Francis: sustainability celebrity
Pope Francis made by far the most headlines, as this word cloud from the dashboard demonstrates:

The pope has indeed pushed the environment up the agenda of the Catholic Church. In papal audiences and other statements, Francis has denounced humanity’s “predatory attitude” towards the planet,[2] and even said that the world faces another “great flood” if the climate crisis continues to worsen.[3] Just as the first flood came as a result of humans’ injustice and immorality, so our exploitation of the planet and each other will bring another.[4] The pope also recently ordered the very first electric popemobile, complete with carpets made from recycled plastics found in the ocean.[5] Elsewhere, Francis has stressed the importance of renewable energy for the planet’s well-being.[6]

Pope Francis’ biggest contribution to the discussion surrounding sustainability was the publication of his encyclical Fratelli tutti in October 2020. Released just before the US election, it was widely interpreted as a criticism of the leadership style of Donald Trump, and a tacit commendation of Joe Biden.[7] But Fratelli tutti also built upon Francis’ previous encyclical about caring for the environment, Laudato Si’. In both, the pope criticised the world’s “throwaway culture” and “limitless consumerism,” which leaves people isolated and the planet broken. We are all “children of the same earth which is our common home.”[8]

It is likely that Pope Francis is overrepresented in the media because of his worldwide celebrity status. Whereas nearly anything he says makes headlines across the world, other religious leaders need to act more dramatically to draw attention. This bias is naturally reflected in the EARS dashboard’s findings.

Not only Francis…
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I of Constantinople spoke about the threats facing the environment on the International Day of Prayer in 2020 (1st September). The main reason we are in such a terrible situation, he said, was because we worship ourselves, not God. The nuclear bomb is a symbol of how humanity has come to believe itself omnipotent like God, with the power to destroy vast territories at will. He stressed that since all people depend upon the environment to live, caring for it should be the responsibility of us all.[9]

Several priests from various Christian denominations were arrested in the Extinction Rebellion climate protests in October 2020, and former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was among the demonstrators.[10] They were presenting a united Christian demonstration that the exploitation of the planet for profit and greed is against the principles of their faith, and demanded government intervention.[11]

Pandemic a trigger for environmental action
While the Dashboard shows that COVID-19 has brought religious leaders into the spotlight more than sustainability, it also suggests that the pandemic has acted as a trigger for environmental action, not a distraction.

For example, according to Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, the pandemic demonstrated the need for European countries to make amends for their exploitation of African nations. He said that much of Europe’s wealth was taken from Africa, throughout decades of colonial oppression and resource-grabbing. If the cardinal’s propositions were implemented, Europe would rebuild the environments that they once desecrated, and the refugees who are fleeing Africa for Europe would be able to remain in their home countries.[12]

Crises often contain hidden lessons. The pandemic has highlighted how interconnected all countries and people are with one another. Planet Earth is another thing that links every single human being. So what is the moral of the story according to religious leaders?

Many, but especially Pope Francis, have considered it their duty to speak out about the impacts selfishness and greed are having on the environment. Otherwise, it is future generations and the poorest communities that will suffer the worst consequences.

Learn more
The EARS dashboard allows you to gain insight into a large number of topics, including religion, leadership, and sustainability. It is a free tool that enables you to make similar connections as described above, and to find out about new relationships between interesting subjects across Europe. Please visit the dashboard to learn more.

Frazer MacDiarmid

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[1] UNHCR: ‘Climate change is the defining crisis of our time and it particularly impacts the displaced’

[2] Pope launches green initiative, decrying “predatory attitude” toward planet

[3] Humanity faces ‘great flood’ caused by climate crisis, says Pope Francis

[4] Humanity faces ‘great flood’ caused by climate crisis, says Pope Francis

[5] Pope Francis to get first electric popemobile from U.S. firm Fisker

[6] Pope Francis: saving the Earth with renewable energy

[7] How Pope Francis’s encyclical could shake up the US election

[8] 10 references of Laudato Si’ in Fratelli Tutti: Everything is connected.

[9] Bartholomeus I: ‘Nog nooit eerder werd de schepping zo bedreigd’

[10] Priest among Christians arrested at Extinction Rebellion

[11] Priest among Christians arrested at Extinction Rebellion

[12] Cardinal Hollerich says COVID-19 right time to settle European debt with Africa for having exploited its resources