December 3, 2009
Faith and Science: At War No More
— Martin Davis
Since Galileo first turned his telescope skyward, faith communities and science leaders have routinely clashed. But scientists committed to climate change are finding a partner, not an enemy, in faith.
In early December, the world’s powers are meeting in Copenhagen to map out the future for carbon emissions law and policy post-2012, when the Kyoto Protocols expire. The degree of change that scientists are talking about is staggering – keeping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 350 parts per million; eighty percent reduction in total GHG emissions by 2050 – and beyond the ability of most people, myself included, to process. We want to help the environment, but what’s a reasonable response for the average homeowner? What types of practices can communities implement to address the problem without breaking the bank? Though many groups are working to develop practical responses – the EnergyStar program in the United States is a shining example –religious organizations may well be doing some of the best work. Large religious organizations and small religious communities have been addressing climate issues for more than thirty years. And they have distinguished themselves by providing practical steps that houses of worship and parishioners can take to be part of the climate change solution
The Many Heavens, One Earth conference recently wrapped up at Windsor Castle, where representatives from more than thirty religious traditions spelled out seven-year plans for reducing carbon footprints. These plans are notable not for their grand objectives, which are many – the Muslim plan, for example, includes proposals to develop ten major Muslim cities as green city models, the most prominent being Medina in Saudi Arabia – but for the practical ideas that they provide, which many congregation can put into practice. For example, Daoists in China are installing solar panels at all their temples in China; the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore is developing its new forty-one-million-dollar church to be energy-efficient, and its garden a center for teaching people about growing their own food as a means of returning to a simpler lifestyle; the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania is implementing an intensive tree planting campaign, with 8.5 million trees to create community forests across the region, of which two thirds will be raised locally.
Such proposals have come not from religious leadership, necessarily, but from local congregations determined to do something to make a difference. Some are taking small steps: Several years ago, at tiny St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, the parish’s children built a worm-bin so they could convert food wastes into rich soil for their gardens. The idea was so well received that now the church has launched an annual blessing of the worms that is drawing state-wide attention and showing that all efforts on the environmental front matter. Others are taking bigger steps: The Reverend Tri Robinson took his desire to live a simpler life to its logical conclusion, building a totally sustainable home and a faith community dedicated to doing the same at Vineyard church in Boise.
The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology has long been gathering these practical applications, accumulating hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of faith communities living out a lifestyle committed to preserving the earth. The marriage of faith and science around climate change is key to reversing the downward ecological spiral the earth finds itself in. And as a nice aside, the climate change issue may well prove a key to finally ending the faith and science wars that have raged for 400 years.
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Martin Davis is Director of the Congregational Resource Guide and blogs on environmental issues at CRG Green. He was the principal author of the 2009 ICT Green Report: Energy & Environmental Trends & Forecasts.