Our earth home is running a fever. Time has run out for arguing over climate science. The window for reducing greenhouse gases is still open, and nearly all climate scientists advise decisive actions to slow climate change. Such is the content of the Clergy Climate Letter (http://clergyclimate.org) that emerged from the National Center for Science Education (http://ncse.com). Some months ago, I signed the Clergy Climate Letter. Since then, I have been encouraging my network of clergy colleagues to sign and to become active in a range of efforts to address and reduce climate change.
Why is it important for clergy to sign the Clergy Climate Letter and to share it? The Clergy Climate Letter provides one way for people of faith to rally around common moral and religious values centered on earth stewardship and care for creation. As Pope Francis has done at length in Laudato Si, the Clergy Climate Letter lays out in brief – climate science is sound, and people of faith bear a moral responsibility to heed this science and act to protect our only earth, home to 7 billion human beings and countless creatures, and to preserve its complexity, health, and beauty for future generations.
The Clergy Climate Letter also affirms science as a friend and dialogue partner of faith and morality. As a scientist myself as well as a pastor, this relationship between faith and science informs my vocation to promote stewardship of the earth, sustainable growth, and social justice. We hope that the Clergy Climate Letter project will encourage spiritual leaders to get to know scientists and science teachers in their community and offer one another support for their important work.
The Clergy Climate Letter does not offer a prescribed set of solutions to reducing the effects of climate change. Instead, we believe that there are many avenues to be pursued toward a renewed and healthy earth, EXCEPT a course of no action. Spiritual (along with other trusted) leaders who preach and teach about earth stewardship and who choose action on climate change may prove to be pivotal in activating persons (religious or not) who have been silent or apathetic in the face of this complex, daunting global challenge.
George Marshall, in his book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, suggests that human beings are skilled at mental and emotional gymnastics to keep climate change threats in the background. Climate denial rhetoric, minimizing likely consequences of climate change, and demonizing enemies have served to harden group identities rather than changing hearts, minds, and behaviors. These strategies often have imposed an intimidating silence around open discussion of climate change and negotiation of responsible solutions in the corporate, policymaking, and consumer spheres. Our hope as spiritual leaders is that breaking this silence and reframing our future as a cooperative quest will elicit maximum participation from all corners of the globe and levels of society.
Despite the gloomy title of his book, Marshall concludes that we human beings can be “wired” to privilege our pro-social, supportive, and altruistic behaviors under the right circumstances. Religious and spiritual leaders have a vital role to play in this “re-wiring” process, as voices that articulate messages of meaning, purpose, and hope with and for their communities. Building resilient, adaptive, and cooperative communities is crucial to overcome the anxiety and avoidance/denial that climate change triggers. Spiritual leaders are able to acknowledge fear, anxiety, and grief as evidence that people deeply care about the earth and its inhabitants. Engaging loss is prerequisite to imagining a different future and committing to the hard work of sacrifice that doubtless will be required to achieve sustainable living standards for the global poor and future generations. Spiritual leaders are in a position to invoke the shared values of love, generosity, creativity, and wonder that motivate human beings to cooperate in building a healthier world for all creation.
I hope that spiritual leaders will sign the Clergy Climate Letter as one springboard to sustained action on the deep threat that climate change poses to the quality of human life and to sustainable, diverse communities of the beloved creation. Let us draw upon our respective faith traditions in partnership with science to shape a new ethic of sustainability and care for creation.
Rev. Dr. Deborah K. Meinke is an evolutionary biologist/vertebrate paleontologist (Ph.D Yale University) and also a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is the Stated Clerk for the Presbytery of Cimarron in Oklahoma, a supporter of evolution and climate science education, and an advocate for action on climate change.