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Inspiring quotes from scientists and others about religions and climate change

December 9, 2009:

In 2009 award-winning film maker Mary Colwell created an inspiring 10-minute film about the work of ARC and the faiths on protecting the environment.

The video cannot be posted on YouTube because of BBC copyright issues. However it has been shown at meetings and conferences. It shows the beauty and wonder of the earth – and the terrifying consequences of our destruction of the natural environment. With interviews of faith and environmental leaders, it offers a compelling argument for why religions and scientists could provide a powerful united force in protecting the living planet.

Here are some of the film's wonderful quotes:

Professor E O Wilson, Harvard University: “If the religious people of the world who make up, of course, the vast majority of people, could become interested in saving biodiversity which is, after all, the 'creation' and make it part of religious faith as it should be, then they might be able to join scientists in an alliance and really make conservation important enough spiritually, even religiously, to gain the kind of support needed to actually save what is left of life on earth.”

M A Sanjayan, lead scientist, The Nature Conservancy: “The two forces that have guided human social development through the ages have been economic growth - how do you make yourself richer - and religion. These are the two big engines that have developed and forced us into where we are today, or shaped us into where we are today. Religion is starting to play a bigger and more vocal role in talking about protecting God’s creation and I wholeheartedly welcome that engagement.”

Robert Watson, chief scientist, World Bank: “The role of the churches could be very, very powerful. It would be great if the world’s community of religions would become a powerful voice working with the communities on how to protect the environment and influencing decision makers in both the private sector and in governments to recognise that we need to protect our environment, not destroy it.”

James Leape, head of WWF International: “We are now at the point when we have lost half of the world forests, half of the world’s wetlands, half of the world’s grass lands, I think we are systematically eradicating many of the habitats that make up the world’s eco systems.”

Jeffrey A McNeely, chief scientist, IUCN: “If you look back 15,000 years ago, when people first came into North America, within a few thousand years there were 43 genera of large mammals that became extinct. In the Pacific, when humans first went in the Pacific… the Polynesians, 2,000 species of birds became extinct. So it’s really at certain moments in history when humans have a massive impact. Right now is one of those times when we are having a massive impact.”

Professor Robert May, Oxford University: “During all our recorded history, the last 6,000-8,000 years, the climate has been unusually steady. With the dawn of the industrial revolution when we first started burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels have risen - 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide for thousands of years, up to 330 by 1969, 360 by the 1990s, 380 today.

"The last time the planet came to equilibrium with green house gas concentrations of the kind that we’re looking toward - 500 parts per million by the middle of the century - was 20 to 40 million years ago, and the oceans at that equilibrium point were about 300 feet higher.”

Martin Palmer, secretary general of ARC,: “The environmental movement I think walks a very delicate and sometimes dangerous line between giving a clarion call to wake up and see what’s happening but at the same time there is a tendency in the environmental movement to say it’s all disastrous, it all absolutely hopeless, there’s nothing we can do - we're all going down the pan.

"And what the faiths bring in is a remembrance of celebration - that if you don’t say 'isn’t this fantastic?' and if you don’t to some extent allow nature itself to hold you and celebrate that, then you’ve lost the point.”

Jonathon Porritt, chair, UK Sustainable Development Commission: “You’ve got to tell people what the reality is out there. The problem is compounded by the fact that far too many people in the environment movement are really gloomy beggars anyway, they don’t cheer up very often, and they don’t give themselves much of a chance to be as humorous as I think sometimes they ought to be.

"So that slightly downbeat, dowdy approach to the environment hasn’t helped to engage more people, to get more people fired up with the sense of excitement about what it would look like to live responsible, environmentally friendly lifestyles. That would make such a difference.”

Martin Palmer, secretary general of ARC,: “People do not change overnight, or if they do, very often… it’s like the parable of the sower; it may spring up quickly but it hasn’t got roots. And I think what the faiths know is that if you’re going to do anything and you’re going to do it for a long time, it takes a long time to root.”

Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury “I think it’s precisely in that area that religious leaders may have most to contribute simply because - rightly or wrongly - we don’t have to get re-elected every couple of years' time and we’re there to take a longer view. We’re there to take a view that doesn’t just depend on opinion polls or even on voting. So I think that religious communities ought to see themselves as trustees of questions like this.”

Dr Roger Payne, President, Ocean Alliance “This is an opportunity for greatness which has never been offered to any civilisation, any generation in any civilisation in human history before - to act as a generation to do the right thing.

"If we fail to receive that opportunity, to act on it, then my feeling is we will become the most vilified generation that’s ever lived in human history. If we do act then we will become heroes that we can’t even imagine the intensity of.”

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