On Nov. 9, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State held a symposium on religion and climate change in the Healey Family Student Center.
The symposium featured a panel discussion on climate concerns in a religious context. Moderating the panel was Professor of Ethics and Global Development Drew Christiansen, S.J. The panel included a number of academic experts on issues that intertwined religion and the environment including Mary Evelyn Tucker, research scholar at Yale University, Akbar Ahmed, professor at American University, Julia Watts Belser, professor at Georgetown University, and Willis Jenkins, professor at the University of Virginia.
A major theme of the panel was placing climate concerns in the context of the different world religions. Tucker emphasized that Catholicism’s attention to the environment didn’t start with the recent concerns posed by Pope Francis. “I want to suggest that this movement is at least two decades old,” she said. She cited statements by various leaders in the Church that related to the environment dating back to 1987 when a bishop in the Philippines made a statement calling for environmental protection.
Tucker also noted that more religions than just Catholicism see the importance of mitigating climate change. “It was in 2000 and 2001 that [my husband and I] held one of the first conferences on religion and climate change at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge and published a volume, Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change? Views of All the World’s Religions,” she said.
Others panelists went on to explain various religion’s doctrine that related to climate change. Ahmed discussed Islam’s relationship with the Earth. “Islam is the religion of green. It’s color is green,” he said. “From early Islam, read the rules of war from the time of the first caliph Abu Bakar. A Muslim in the midst of war cannot touch the foliage because nature and the Earth belong to God.”
Watts Belser spoke of Judaism by relating an ancient Jewish story to globalization where one group of feasters celebrated safety from Caesar while Caesar’s men slaughtered Jews on the other side of the mountain and the feasters did not know. “I think of globalization like a light which shines brighter and brighter on a few people and the rest are in darkness wiped out, they simply can’t be see. So, one side did not know about the other,” she said, quoting author Arundhati Roy.
The panel also talked about a number of other climate issues, including the possible solutions to the climate crisis, and Jenkins warned the panel of some solutions’ intentions. “We have a high incentive to do something but not that much, and to pass off the problem as much as possible to future generations under the cover of having done something,” he said. “We could take [climate change] as a problem to be fixed and … the North Atlantic World has some really great ways of fixing it – they all involve climate engineering and carbon markets. What will these things do? They will reinscribe the advantages of the North Atlantic World into the climate. That’s a real peril.”