Religion and the Environment

Religion and the Environment

Religion and the Environment: A Campaign to Raise Awareness of the Environment and Discover Common Ground in the Judeo-Christian and Buddhist Communities

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spiritual Environmentalism

While reading "The Death of Environmentalism" I was intrigued by the suggestion that environmentalists need to focus less on legislation and more on ideology. The authors argue that a problem as enormous as climate change requires a dramatic solution - reducing carbon emissions 70% - and that this can only occur with a large shift in our the American collective conscious. This alternative paradigm for environmentalism is even more overwhelming than the thought of trying to pass meaningful environmental legislation under our current administration. Despite the enormous scale of changes the authors suggest, I was persuaded and encouraged by their argument because they offered the work of conservatives over the past 40 years as proof that dramatically shifting the national mindset is possible.

The authors encourage environmentalists to focus less on specific initiatives (like fuel efficiency standards) and more on a "set of core beliefs, principles, or values." (32) In an attempt to articulate an environmental American dream the authors joined with progressive and labor organizations to create the Apollo Alliance. In their conclusion they write, "Environmentalists need to tap into the creative world of myth-making, even religion, figure out who we are and who we need to be." (34) I found their use of the phrase "even religion" to be reflective of the general discomfort of progressives when discussing religion. Despite setting up an argument throughout their paper that demonstrates that a successful environmental movement will focus broadly on principles and values, the authors are somewhat reluctant to suggest the involvement of religion. Many people's value systems are rooted in their faith, so from my perspective it seems like a natural alliance--not something that needs to be approached reluctantly.

I visited the Apollo Alliance website and while I found their plan innovative and inspirational, I was discouraged that their list of community partners that supposedly included faith centers, did not in fact, have a single faith center listed. I do not know if this is because they were unable to find a national religious partner or because they did not pursue this avenue strongly enough. After doing research on religion and the environment I am inclined to think the later, because there seems to be a lot of interest among religious communities to work on environmental causes.

After reading George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant" I am more convinced than ever that for progressives to win national victories they need to embrace religion. Of course I am not advocating an alliance with a specific religious tradition, as the Republicans have formed with conservative Christians, but simply more comfort discussing the values which transcend tradition. Many of us are moved by the facts describing our current environmental crisis; to reach an audience beyond those who consider themselves environmentalists, however, we need to focus on the moral catastrophe in addition to statistics on carbon emissions.

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