The Limits of Religion and How It Informs the Religious Response to Climate Change

Part of addressing climate change is the technical challenges. The methods of science and engineering have proven themselves to be far more capable in providing probable solutions to climate change than religion. The sacred foundational texts and the subsequent holy documents were never envisioned as scientific directives. Even when droughts threatened and bubonic plagues charged down the Silk Road, all the religions from China to Europe were not capable of investigating the sources and resolving the crises. Modern science and engineering are late in the history of religion, and all our technical solutions are recent.

Another part of addressing climate change is a question of which government policies to implement. The Hebrew Bible knew only kings and tyrants, judging monarchs good or bad based on their worship of Adonai God. Solomon is mentioned as imposing heavy taxes and forcing onerous conscription to build his temple, but he is judged as a good king based solely on his choice of building a temple to Adonai God. Economics and government policies are not part of the religious foundations.

When a recession descends upon a country, whether the country is Iran, Saudi Arabia, India or Italy, there are only a few reasonable choices the government has available to effectively address the crisis. Bringing a country out of recession looks similar around the world and the dominant religion of the country has no bearing on the government course of action. Certainly, believers pray to God that the policies work, but the choice of policies is not a religious call.

Religions are at its best when they identify the sacred values of solving a crisis such as global warming. Religion has always had a unifying power, bringing people together for a cause. Religion at its best creates identity and nobility of the cause. Religion can drive the conversation in the public square and religion can reframe cacophony of self-interested voices (such as the fossil fuel industry), giving clear perspectives on the choices we must make.

The world does not need or want a Jewish, a Muslim, or a Christian solution to the global climate pandemic. The world needs a religious voice clarifying the sacred tasks that must be undertaken. The world needs a clear moral direction that can overcome the forces of greed and nationalism at this critical juncture.

Raising a religious voice in a time of unchecked nationalism and political partisanship is daunting. Religious people are dismissed with causal disdain, which is why the moral vacuum must be reclaimed. We must raise our religious voices in the public square and in our legislator’s offices (even if remotely). What good is all our protestations and claims of piety if we do not speak our faiths to our governments and our fellows to address the climate?

“We won’t get fooled again!”

While the United States has been locked down, carbon emissions have decreased by 5.5 percent. The skies have cleared over major metropolitan areas and the sunny days are simply gorgeous. However, sheltering Americans in their homes left the rest of the nation producing carbon emissions at an incredible 94.5 percent of the rate before the pandemic struck. How could this happen?

The answer is the fossil fuel industry. The utilities are still running at full tilt. Diesel trucks and trains are still crisscrossing the country at steady rates. Essential manufacturing and cattle management are continuing unabated.

We have been taken for idiots.

For decades, climate change advocates have worked at the grassroots level, encouraging individuals and households to become involved in the fight to save the planet from global warming. The most common method of raising volunteers is teaching them individual responsibility, of reducing their own carbon footprints. Our websites, toolkits, and workshops are full of strategies and advice for individual choices and household choices for green living. Most of material is good and worthy.

In fact, many of the best suggestions for individual greening are also promoted by the fossil fuel industry, particularly utilities. They offer promotions for digital thermostats and LED lightbulbs nearly every month. We should have been more suspicious.

The utilities have been emphasizing their customer’s individual responsibility for climate change while remaining silent about their own outsized culpability. “Don’t look at us,” they are saying, “look at what you are doing. You are guilty of not doing enough.” At a time when households are absolutely doing their part by staying home, the carbon emissions only dropped 5.5%.

The utilities are responsible for most of the rest of the carbon pollution, 60%, 70%, or 80%. The reality could not be starker. Utilities were, are, and will be the worst polluters until we stop them. At this time of pandemic, energy sector bailouts should be targeted at clean renewable energy sources. Natural gas and coal powerplants should be wound down as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the only path out of the pandemic-caused recession/depression is government spending. FDR’s New Deal was a spending plan focusing on infrastructure, of which the United States is already in great need. The new energy structure necessary for the 21st century needs to be built and it must be built for a green energy economy.

Individual responsibility is a still a great entry into the green activism. However, the ultimate goal is not individual actions, but government and industry actions. Let us not allow ourselves to be taken for malleable idiots again.

Addressing Climate Change Simulator

Can we save the planet from its current projection of 4.1 degrees centigrade by 2100? You bet. This interactive simulator lets you tinker with all the possible solutions that are available today. Experiment! (Look for the big blue button on the right for the SIMULATOR, which is often updated.)