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God is Green and the Religions are too

February 12 2007:

Faiths are getting greener

Tonight Channel 4 is broadcasting a programme in the UK called “God Is Green”, presented by former Catholic seminarian Mark Dowd, who criticises religions for not doing enough for the environment and to stop climate change.

USA evangelicals are off the hook (after their bumper sticker campaign “What would Jesus drive?” which made many Americans reconsider their car choices) but most other faiths are assumed to have not done very much for the environment or for climate change.

At ARC, and in our earlier phase within WWF, we have been working on exactly these issues for more than 20 years. And we believe the religions really are getting green. For example:

* The World Council of Churches in Geneva has had a department to investigate climate change since 1990 - earlier than almost all the environmental groups. They were alerted to the issue when a group of Pacific Island women approached them and said Our Islands are sinking, please help.

The Benedictines produced a handbook in 2007 showing how their communities can reduce their carbon footprint
* Many religions participated in compiling ARC's Climate Change Handbook, which has been actively used for five years.

* In 2001-2 UNEP sponsored a survey to look at how religions in Mongolia, Mexico and Zambia (chosen because of their wide climatic and cultural variations) could make a difference to climate change. In Mongolia where it can get to minus 26 you have to heat the buildings and gers (felt tents) - but ARC formed an alliance with Buddhist monasteries to bring in fuel-efficient stoves. We also found that traditional buildings were much more energy-efficient and alongside the monasteries we are promoting and subsidising their use and construction.

* In Mexico there's been a successful multifaith alliance on climate for several years, and in Zambia they are looking at cutting energy use through working with the mosques - seeing how cooking and energy and travel can be shared and pooled. Many tribal leaders trust the religious leaders more than they trust the government (and this is a common pattern throughout many parts of the world) and the Zambia Council of Churches have developed a countrywide programme of consultation alerting communities to the issues and more importantly the solutions.

* In Latin America we have just launched a handbook in English, Spanish and Portuguese written by the Benedictines discussing energy use and audits, which we hope will be used or adapted by many religious as well, perhaps, as secular communities round the world.

* The Episcopalian churches in the US have set up a company to trade green energy.

* Only last week the Jewish Board of Deputies in the UK launched the Big Green Jewish Website, which has generated huge interest and support from the UK Jewish community. We hope that this will later be duplicated in Israel. The Jews internationally responded recently to climate change by reevaluating Tu B’Shevat – New Year of Trees on February 3 – and organising large scale tree-planting.

It might be happening slowly, but one of the features of the world’s great religions is that they do change slowly. However once changes have been made, they tend to be made for generations.

Read Martin Palmer's Thought for the Day about some of the issues raised in the programme.

Link here for news of a multi-faith walk which took place in July 2008 across Clifton Suspension Bridge with a Jewish Rabbi, a Christian Bishop and a Muslim Imam.

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