I recently touched on the interest among local faith communities in the challenge of becoming a One Planet region. But that local interest is part of a wider national and global movement across many faiths that links concern with ecological change — especially but not exclusively climate change — and social justice.
Faith communities are important holders of values in our communities, and in society at large. If they can bring their moral and spiritual weight to the discussion about how we can address the massive social and economic challenges we face as a result of human-induced global ecological changes, that is a very helpful contribution.
Here in the West we are perhaps more familiar with Christian statements, such as the Pope’s 2015 Encyclical on Care for Our Common Home, the World Council of Churches’ Statement prior to the 2015 Paris climate change summit or the Canadian Council of Churches’ 2015 statement “On Promoting Climate Justice and Ending Poverty in Canada,” which was also signed by Buddhist and Sikh leaders. This statement identifies “a spiritual, moral and ethical human crisis that can be expressed in this question: How will Canadians act as a good neighbour in both the natural and human communities since in the long run the health of one depends on the health of the other?”
But the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University lists statements on climate change from fourteen of the world’s major religions, from Baha’i to Judaism, Buddhism to Shinto.
For example, a Hindu Declaration on Climate Change was adopted by spiritual leaders at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne in 2009, and recently updated. The Declaration calls on all Hindus to “consider the effects of our actions not just on ourselves and those humans around us, but also on all beings. We have a dharmic duty for each of us to do our part in ensuring that we have a functioning, abundant and bountiful planet.”
Similarly, an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change was issued at the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in August 2015. The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, a U.K.-based organization that championed the declaration, notes that: “The Qur’an is inherently conservationist and much of it has to do with how human beings relate to the natural world and the benefits that accrue from protecting it.”
At a global interfaith level, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which seeks “a more just, peaceful and sustainable world,” held its seventh global Parliament in Toronto in 2018, with more than 8,300 people from 118 spiritual and secular traditions and 81 countries in attendance.
The Parliament’s Declaration on Climate Change states: “As members of religious and spiritual communities, we affirm these values and principles, which are taught by all our traditions.” The principles relate to humanity’s profound interconnection with nature, the need to respect and care for nature and all life, and our duties to future generations, “who will bear the consequences of our action or inaction.”
The United Religions Initiative, a global grassroots interfaith network, has identified the environment as one of fourteen global challenges it is addressing. The URI seeks common ground among all faiths because “every member of every faith tradition depends on necessities like clean water and access to natural resources to survive.”
URI has over 1,000 Co-operation Circles worldwide, of which over 300 identify the environment as a focus. It is noteworthy that of the seven circles in Canada that identify the environment as a focus, the five which are clearly locally based are all in B.C.: Squamish, White Rock, Surrey and two in Vancouver.
The importance of faith communities in the fight against climate change was underscored by the UN’s Climate Change Program back in 2015, at the time of the Paris Summit. They referred to a study from the Pew Research Centre that reported that “around 84 per cent of the world’s population are religiously affiliated.” Imagine the impact if the world’s religions can engage those 6.8 billion people in the fight against climate change and other important global ecological changes.
Imagine the impact locally if our many faith communities could come together to protect the Earth and our local part of it.
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.