Faith leaders held a forum on the roles Christians should play in addressing climate change, as diplomats from more than 190 nations meet in Paris to debate the global response.
The session, which was held in the “green zone” (or public area) at the COP21 United Nations climate conference on Dec. 4, considered how Christian leaders can impact public policy and personal discussions about climate change.
Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, talked about the challenges she faces as she attempts to convince many of her fellow Christians that climate change is real.
She argued that despite the scientific consensus on climate change, the data alone will not convince many people.
“I’m a scientist,” she stated, “[but] facts are not enough when it comes to issues like climate change.”
“Science can tell us that climate is changing, science can tell us that humans are responsible, science can tell us that the more carbon we burn, the greater the risks, but science cannot tell us what to do,” Hayhoe explained, noting that people’s hearts must be addressed along with their heads.
“It’s a choice we have to make based on our values, based on our priorities,” she added. “I don’t argue the science. I start with the values that we share.”
Hayhoe explained that what is needed is helping people “connect the dots between the science of climate change and our Christian faith” by paying attention to the Bible’s teachings on creation care.
A sought-after speaker on climate change and faith, Hayhoe co-authored the book, “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions,” and appeared on Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” in 2014.
Bishop Efraim Tendero, secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance, echoed Hayhoe’s call on the importance of religious leaders in bringing meaningful change in climate talks.
Tendero told how his home country of the Philippines already faces devastating impacts from a changing climate.
Noting that Christians value “the preservation of human life,” he emphasized that saving lives from climate devastation “is a moral issue.”
“There’s a moral dimension to climate change,” he argued. “Jesus came that we may have life in its fullness, but we’re destroying this life that God has given us.”
Tendero hopes COP21 will lead to “climate justice,” which would help vulnerable countries – like the Philippines – who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of climate change even though those countries are responsible for very little of the harmful carbon emissions.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), which represents the 43 nations most vulnerable to climate change impacts, made what appeared to be a key move last week at the U.N. talks.
They laid out an ambitious plan to push for a warming cap of just 1.5 degree Celsius instead of the general international push for 2 degrees (the Earth has already experienced 1 degree of warming).
The CVF, which is currently chaired by the Philippines, also pledged to use fully renewable energy by 2050, demonstrating their intention to be viewed as critical actors and not merely victims.
A member of his country’s delegation in U.N. negotiations, Tendero is disappointed that more clergy are not part of the official talks. He believes religious voices must be heard if climate change is to be tackled.
“People will listen more to their religious leader than to their scientist,” he explained.
As an example of what could be done, Tendero noted the work he helped lead in the Philippines as an interfaith group of religious leaders came together to dialogue and act on climate change.
With 1,500 religious leaders joining the effort, they have advocated governmental changes and undertaken environmental projects like reforestation. A future goal includes having each house of worship installing solar panels on its roofs that can be used by those living nearby.
Catherine Pomeroy, director of Climate Stewards, also offered a practical step Christians could take.
Climate Stewards serves as a carbon offsetting program, which enables people to give a donation to support a project that reduces carbon in the atmosphere as a way of making up for emitting carbon on flights, car trips or home use.
“The atmosphere is a global commons,” she said, in explaining how supporting programs in another part of the world could offset one’s emissions.
Pomeroy biked 186 miles (300 kilometers) from her home in England to Paris for the COP21 gathering as a “climate pilgrim.”
She said the work of Climate Stewards is “based on love of God and his creation and love of neighbors.”
“[Offsetting] enables people to move from being powerless parts of ‘the problem’ to being a small but important part of a communal solution,” Pomeroy noted.
Editor’s note: Kaylor is in Paris for the COP21 United Nation’s climate change conference. Pictures and videos from his trip are available here. Previous news stories on COP21 are:
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.