Religion has nothing to say about climate change, right?

In June, 2015, the pope issued a formal report called an Encyclical, on climate change. Some were puzzled, he’s not a scientist, they said. Why is a religious leader weighing in on climate change? Climate change isn’t just a scientific issue. It is also a question of right and wrong. And for more than 80% of us around the world, we often get our sense of what is right and wrong from our faith. That’s why leaders from across the entire spectrum, have issued statements on climate change. And on the importance of caring for creation and for other people on this planet. Informed by our science, it’s our hearts that tell us we must act. I’m a scientist, and as a scientist I can tell you science is awesome. But it can’t do everything. When it comes to climate change, here’s what science can tell us. That climate is changing. Science can also tell us that for the first time in history, humans, not natural cycles, not the sun, are the main cause of this change.

Science can also tell us that the choices we make going forward will shape our climate future. If we continue to depend on old, dirty, polluting fossil fuels for most of our energy, we’re gonna be following a much higher and faster pathway to change. On the other hand, if we can transition, in a sensible, sustainable way to clean sources of renewable energy that don’t produce heat-trapping gases and other pollution, we’re gonna be heading much more slowly towards a safer future that will be easier to prepare for. Science can tell us what’s likely to happen. To our food, our water resources, our health, even our economy depending on how much fossil fuels we burn. But this is where the science stops. Science can’t tell us what’s the right thing to do. Should we put a price on carbon? Or should we cap emissions and allow polluters to trade? If so, how much and how fast? Should we shut down the fossil fuel industry or encourage it to transition as well? Invest in new technology or help poor countries to adapt? Ideally, all of the above, but practically we can’t do it all.

We have some tough choices to make. And for that, we need to engage our hearts. And for many of us here in North America and around the world, what’s in our hearts has a lot to do with our faith. Faith and science are not in competition. They are not two alternate and mutually exclusive systems of belief. As one atheist put it, “Scientists do not join hands “every Sunday and sing ‘yes gravity is real, “I will have faith.'” In the same way, sacred texts like the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, they’re not science textbooks. These books are intended to serve as guides, giving us a perspective on where we came from, where we’re going, and how to live our lives here and now. That’s why we need our science and our values when it comes to difficult thorny issues, like climate change. Speaking for myself, I’m a christian. And I believe that as a Christian, I’m called to help people who are suffering. Who is most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate? The poor, the world over.

From the single mother in Mcallen, Texas who can’t afford to keep her family’s apartment cool as the summers get hotter. To an elderly fisherman in the Maldives who will soon have to find a new place to live as sea level rises. To the Syrian family in the refugee camp. Their land and their home long gone, desperate to just find a safe place to live. But here’s the good news when it comes to climate change, the desire to care for and help others is not exclusive to any one denomination, or religion, or even faith. Atheists, agnostics and humanists share these values too. How do I know? Because when it comes to making statements about climate change, it’s not just the Pope. Nearly every major Christian denomination, and world religion has something to say about it. From the Episcopal church, they say, “We are painfully aware, that those of us “living in the Northern Hemisphere are responsible “for the majority of climate change. Accordingly, “we hold a particular responsibility “for the changes that will reverse the trajectory “of atmospheric warming, and safeguard the sanctity “of what our God calls ‘very good.'” From the other side of the world, here’s part of the Hindu declaration on climate change.

“We must consider the effect of our actions, “not just on ourselves, and those humans around us, “but on all beings. We have a dharmic duty “for each of us to do our part, in ensuring “we have a functioning, abundant and bountiful planet.” There’s even an Islamic declaration on global climate change. “Our species, “those selected to be a caretaker or steward of the earth, “has been the cause of such corruption “and devastation on it, that we are in danger “of ending life as we know it on our planet. “This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, “and the Earth’s fine equilibrium may soon be lost.” Faith and science, data and sacred texts, on climate change, they’re painting the same picture. Unless we’ve signed up for that trip to Mars, this is the only planet we have. It just makes sense to care for it. And to care for our brothers and sisters who share it with us, particularly those who are less fortunate than us, and who are already suffering the impacts of a warming world. I truly believe, that just about every single one of us no matter our religious background or lack thereof, we have all the values we need to care about climate change built into us.

Every human on this planet is born with a sense of responsibility, appreciation for our world, and often an instinct to care for others too. And that’s exactly what we need to make good choices and to inform our actions on climate change today. As scientist Jane Goodall says, “It’s only when our clever brain “and our human heart work together in harmony, “that we can achieve our true potential.” Thank you for watching Global Weirding. Be sure to go to every other Wednesday so you don’t miss the new episode. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel, follow me on Twitter, and check out our Facebook Live discussion every other Thursday after each new episode at 7 pm Central. See you next time. (ambient music).