Could Religious Leaders Help Save the Planet?

“The truth is that blind faith in the ability of technology to sustain a growing global population—hard-wired to materialism—that has already breached environmental limits is bonkers,” writes Nick Reeves, executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, in a piece on religious environmentalism in today’s Guardian. “Faith group leaders must be more vociferous in challenging this—they have unique access to governments and institutions. They must exercise that influence by holding them to account.” According to Reeves, who’s responding to an earlier profile of Archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople, a spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians and an environmental campaigner, “faith groups have been silent for too long on this crisis, and should do far more to remind us of our moral duty to restore and protect the fragile ecological balance of the planet.” —Heather Wax

Religion & Environmentalism

Earlier this week, 25-year-old seminary student Jonathan Merritt, with the support of many influential leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a proposal of action and conservation in response to the challenge of climate change. The “Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative” makes four points on the issue: Humans have a responsibility to care for the environment, addressing the problem is prudent, environmental stewardship is required of all Christians, and individuals and organizations should act now. The proposal conflicts with a resolution on global warming passed last June at the South Baptist Convention‘s official annual meeting, which urged caution on the issue in light of what it saw as conflicting evidence. (The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and occurring; the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found, with more than 90 percent certainty, that global warming has begun and is a result of human activities.) Ultimately, no one group speaks for all of the 16.3 million members of the Southern Baptist denomination, who leave final decisions to the local churches, but Merritt’s declaration will likely have a strong influence as congregations begin to address the issue for themselves. —Stephen Mapes

Giving Up Carbon for Lent

Eco-theologians and religious environmentalists got together this past weekend at the “Renewing Hope” conference at Yale University, sponsored by The Forum on Religion and Ecology, to discuss new and creative ways religions can help encourage environmental activism and awareness. Religious environmentalism is on the rise, and now The Boston Globe is reporting that a number of Christians across New England have pledged to “go green” and give up carbon for Lent, using clotheslines rather than dryers and candles in place of lights, eating only locally grown food, and carpooling more. These “Lenten environmentalists,” as they have come to be known, recognize that their small, individual actions will do little to slow global warming, but say the 40 days of penance and sacrifice leading up to Easter is the perfect time to re-examine consumption and to take greater responsibility in caring for creation. —Kaitlin Shimer

Church Wood Gives Climate Clues

Old wood from historic churches has become a new resource for researchers hoping to reconstruct weather patterns and climate history. When the Salt Lake Tabernacle, a sacred Mormon building built from local trees beginning in 1863, was renovated in 2005 and the structural timbers were replaced with steel beams, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave Matthew Bekker, an assistant professor of geography at Brigham Young University, the opportunity to study the wood. By studying and dating the growth rings of these timbers, a science known as “dendrochronology,” Bekker discovered that when Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, it was one of the driest periods in the region’s recent history, meaning Utah’s first Anglo settlers faced the hardships of a severe drought. —Kaitlin Shimer

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