In an address at the Religion’s for the Earth Summit in September, 2014, the Parliament Board Chair made a public commitment that the 2015 Parliament would emphasize climate issues and sustainable living as a prime focus.
As promised, the care for our common home was a priority that permeated every plenary and area of programming.
The subject commanded focus in each track. Giving an interview preceding the plenary session, United Nations Messenger of Peace and Anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall warned that the razing of forests and polluting of waterways will play a direct role in the conflicts of the future:
“[Even] If we could have everybody lay down their weapons, they’d soon pick them up again to be fighting over the last water if we don’t do something for the environment.”
Goodall joined another climate keynote speaker, Global Security Institute President Jonathan Granoff, on a panel exploring the most critical man-made threat to creation in the threat of nuclear weapons.
The indigenous peoples of the Great Basin, whose influence and spirit ran through and strengthened the entire Parliament, brought with them an ancient connection to, and communion with, the land and a concern for its degradation.
Of the Parliament’s mission to achieve a more peaceful, just and sustainable world, no issue pressed for more urgent action in 2015 than climate change. Participants surveyed prior to the convention agreed, stating it would be their primary reason for attending.
Contrary to popular opinion, religious communities and faith-based partnerships have been leading animated environmental initiatives for decades. The Climate Change plenary would express why scientific and spiritual teachings on climate equally call for investment in and stewardship of the earth. Efforts of interfaith partnerships make lasting global contributions.
The Green World Campaign opened the 2015 Parliament plenary on climate change, “Protecting the Only Earth We Have,” by uplifting attendees with a hopeful story from Director Marc Barasch about how a simple gesture of planting trees yielded tremendous benefits for a community. In the preceding year, 500,000 trees planted in Kenya and 100 school programs were maintained through the promotion of green compassion.
Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, served as emcee for the plenary which also featured an excusive video address from her father, former United States Vice-President Al Gore. Upon closure of the Parliament, Karenna Gore accepted a role as the official Parliament of the World’s Religions Ambassador on Climate Change.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse (leader of the Lakota) and Dene elder Francois Paulette reminded us that spiritual traditions have been interwoven with the care of the earth since the beginning of history, and that sustainable living can be found at the root of every religion. Now, we are starting to see more noticeable action from organizations around the world working together to combat climate change from a distinctly religious framework. At the Climate Change Plenary, we sought to mirror this model by bringing together the best of science and spirituality.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas-based professor, shattered myths that Evangelical Christians or women cannot contribute on the frontlines of climate science and activism. Transforming what she dubbed the “airplane-hanger” plenary hall into a college classroom, Hayhoe’s keynote served a stream of digestible statistics that helped put to rest any climate skepticism remaining in the room.
In his first visit to the United States since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Sheikh Saleh Abdullah bin Humaid, Imam of the the Grand Mosque of Mecca, shared these words: (translated)
“Material greed has meant that the environment which God created in perfect balance to provide mankind with all the natural resources he needs, has become of little importance, creating windows for disorder and a negative impact on the life of human beings and animals alike.”
The Sheikh’s home country of Saudi Arabia is the top oil producing country in the world. His message was a reminder that, even in the midst of a country whose very infrastructure rejects sustainability, voices of faith have the power to rise.