By: Gracie Mannion and Anna Farber
On Thursday, June 6, “Focus on Faith”, a conference on Planting & Nurturing the Seed of Climate Responsibility was held at the United Nations Headquarters. The goal of the meeting was to help change the climate crisis through a religious lens. At first glance, climate and religion might not seem correlated, but with 85% of the population practicing various religions, this could not be further from the truth. Faith is going to be a major contributor to fighting the climate crisis. The “Focus on Faith” panel provided a great platform for faith-based organizations to express their commitment to climate responsibility.
The meeting had five different speakers from various ethnic and religious backgrounds who all worked protecting the environment. It was moderated by Felipe Queipo from the DGC, and included Hindu, Buddhist, and several denominations of Christian panelists.
The first speaker was Gopal Patel, Director of the Bhumi Project, an international initiative that works with Hindu communities to address environmental concerns. Patel spoke from a Hindu perspective about the best way to approach fighting climate change. According to him, we must first help usher into the world a new spirituality that helps to cope with disaster, and then advocate and act boldly through our dharma (duty) to keep further disaster from happening. The second speaker was Jillian Abballe, a global advocacy and policy professional who currently serves as the UN Advocacy Officer and Head of Office for the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations. She focused on creating a common theology, which allows everyone to recognize the importance of the planet, and will help shift paradigms toward more productive thought and action on climate change. She also discussed the work of the Anglican Communion, which, through the Big Shift Campaign, has changed 700 churches to renewable energy in England. The third speaker was Karenna Gore, the founding director of the Center for Earth Ethics (CEE) at Union Theological Seminary. She discussed how galvanizing faith-based activism will help fight the challenges presented by climate change and help people recover from the tragedies to which the climate crisis has already led. She presented staggering figures, stating that the difference between global warming of only half of a single degree in the next few years could result in the loss of thousands of lives. The fourth speaker was the Venerable Youwang, the executive director of Fo Guang Shan temple in New York and the director of UN affairs of the Buddha’s Light International Association. She talked about the fact that we are all products of nature, and discussed the healthy environmental benefits to eating vegetarian. The final, and fifth speaker, Tina Eonemto Stege, serving as Climate Envoy for the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, explained the influence of the climate crisis on the Marshall Islands. She then outlined how community leaders in the Marshall Islands use religion as a common language to discuss climate change.
The biggest takeaway from the diversity on the panel was that everyone needs to do their part in fighting climate change and bettering the environment. The panel, especially its facilitator Felipe Queipo, made sure to emphasize how interfaith work facilitates communication and engagement across diverse communities. Because many communities are led by their religious leaders, gaining the trust of those leaders becomes increasingly important in allowing for support for any initiative, including environmental protections. This kind of inter community communication also allows for sharing strategies and support. In this time of climate crisis, every community and every faith relies on each other to fight the existential threat that is the climate crisis.