The Role of Religious Environmentalism

The Role of Religious Environmentalism

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Mary Evelyn Tucker, codirector of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology, discusses the role of faith-based organizations in global efforts to address climate change, as part of CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.

Learn more about CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative.


Mary Evelyn Tucker

Codirector, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program & Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy conference call series. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president for the national program and outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us. As a reminder, today's call is on the record and the audio will be available on our website,


We're delighted to have Mary Evelyn Tucker with us today to talk about the role of religion and ecology and to explore how faith-based organizations and global efforts can address environmental issues. Mary Evelyn Tucker is co-director of Yale University's Forum on Religion and Ecology. The website for that is, and it really is a network and a place for religions to be in dialogue with other disciplines to seek solutions to both global and local environmental problems. She is also senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale, where she teaches in a joint master’s program between the University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Divinity School.


Dr. Tucker is the author or editor of numerous volumes on religious environmentalism, and most recently she completed a new overview of the field with John Grim entitled Ecology and Religion. You can find more of her work and information about the forum, the Web site, as well as sign for their monthly newsletter there. So Mary Evelyn, thank you very much for joining us today. It would be great if you could give us a glimpse into, or talk about, how you got into this field. And, over the course of you career, how you've seen it evolved and where you see it going.


TUCKER: Well, thank you very much, Irina, for this opportunity to speak with so many of you out there. And what a wonderful mixture of both academics and religious leaders, community leaders, laity, NGO organizations, media and many interfaith groups. So welcome.


And I know many of you have been doing this work for a long time, and I just wanted to give a little bit of an overview of the last twenty years to begin. Of course, I was very much inspired by Thomas Berry, whom many of you know is a historian or religion at Fordham. But it was about twenty years ago that a range of groups came together to try and insecure religious voices, religious concerns, ethics and values, theology with the pressing environmental problems of our day. And that included our work that began at Harvard from '95 to '98. But is also included the Alliance on Religion and Conservation from the U.K.; Religion, Science and the Environment that was a movement largely in the E.U. but spearheaded by the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew, the Greek Orthodox tradition.


Here in the U.S., the National Religious Partnership for the Environment began; the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life; the Islamic scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr was speaking widely on these issues; and the Baha'i, as well, for a long, long time. In Latin America, there was a very interesting movement that brought together liberation theology with ecology, and that was spearheaded by Leonardo Boff in an Orbis book series on ecology and justice. Eco-feminists joined in the movement – Ivone Gebara in Latin America – but also people in North America – Mary Daly, Mary Hunt, Rosemary Ruether, Heather Eaton in Canada. And they engaged Buddhists, too; Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Ken Krafts (ph) and Stephanie Cozit (ph) here in the U.S. talking about that profound interconnectedness of all life that the Buddhists teach.


So in this period of '95 to'98, John Grim, my husband and I did this series, as many of you know, at Harvard to try and pick up on that energy and to try and explore and investigate what are the resources of the world's religions, the Abrahamic traditions of the West, the Asian traditions of India and China and Japan and Southeast Asia, and the indigenous traditions. So this series, over 3 years, brought several hundred scholars and laity and activists together. And out of that, over 7 more years, 10 volumes were published. So the spirit of these Harvard conferences was very much a sense of theory and practice. That theology and engagement had to go together.


In fact, that's what was already happening. But the traditions were reexamining their texts and their ritual practices, their symbolic ways of knowing and so on. But they also were doing movements on the ground; activism, new rituals, new prayers and so on. So the 10 volumes had this mix of theology and engagement. In fact, we call this "engaged scholarship," very much so. So the forum Web site, which we hope you'll find as a useful resource, has this presence of an academic and an activist integration. So on the Web site, there's bibliographies that are annotated of all the books that have been published over these last twenty years, and it's an astonishing explosion, actually. And there's syllabi and teaching and video materials.


But then there are listings of engaged projects. Of course, many of them have to be updated because so much has happened in each of these traditions. And there are statements of all the world's religions. None of this was here 20 years ago. So that is the marker of how far we've come: the explosion of books, the syllabi, the teaching, the engaged projects on the ground and the statements. What we were trying to do was retrieve and reevaluate and reconstruct these great wisdom traditions; to bring forward their beliefs and their practices for renewal and for engagement with these challenging problems of pollution, of biodiversity law, of climate change. How would these traditions, with their values and attitudes towards nature that have guided them through the millennium, begin to intersect their spiritual energy and their moral concerns with the most pressing problems facing all future generations and the planet as a whole.


We felt that we needed to create a field within academia, but also a force within society. And this has come of age just as of last year, in some ways, as a marker. The American Academy of Religion, the largest group of teachers of religion in North America -- about 10,000 largely college professors – came together in November in San Diego. And of the panels over the three or four days, a third of them were on the environment and religion, climate change, and ethics and so on. A major watershed.  The force within society was also evident, I think we can say, with the People's Climate March in September in New York. It was an amazing event.


John and I were with there with our students from Yale; 400,000 people came, again, from all over North America and different parts of the world.  But 10,000 of those have been attended by as (ph) most likely religious leaders and laity. There was a conference at Union Seminary, two hundred religious leaders came. There was a major celebration ritual at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that evening. So all of this is coming together right now in another kind of remarkable event. Which is the fact that in the middle of this year, sometime in the summer, the Pope will release an encyclical on the environment. This will be a major watershed.


As you know, he chose his name after Francis of Assisi, and he has been speaking for some time about the challenges we're facing that bring together the poor, social justice and the degradation of the environment. Now, 1.2 billion Catholics will be affected by this, but also two billion Christians. And it's not just religious people alone. We've already been getting calls for the media, which is why we have a frequently asked questions now up on our forum Web site. All of this is leading to the Pope speaking in New York at the General Assembly in September, calling together a community of religious leaders on this issue and leading up to the climate change negotiations in Paris in December.


Even our scientist dean at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies here at Yale wants to do something this semester to highlight this important document, even before it's out, with a major panel at Yale. So taking a step back, how has this field grown and what were my early motivations. Well, as many of you know I went to Japan in the early '70s and traveled extensively throughout Asia in the last forty years. My living and traveling and studying in Asia made me realize that as China and India began to modernize, a billion people on each of those major continental masses, the whole world would be drawn into the need for resources and pollution issues, water shortages, food pollution issues. And we know this is already very much in our midst.


So what we wanted to do in those Harvard conferences was bring forward values that were culturally grounded in the religious traditions of these areas, regionally connected and yet globally significant. In India, for example, now Hindu temples are doing tree planting. And there are efforts to clean up sacred rivers like the Ganges and the Yamuna. We did a conference there on the Yamuna in 2012, bringing together scientists and religious leaders. And now not only Hindus, be interreligious groups are coming together. In 2013, the Karmapa, a major Tibetan Buddhist leader, held a conference on environmental protection for the Yamuna River. He has organized and been helped by the Kela Chimyapa (ph). He has organized sixty monasteries across the whole Himalayan region to be environmentally concerned, connected and teaching their lay people.


In China, amazing things are happening along with the relentless destruction of the environment. And in the 15 years that I've been going to China, it's hard to describe what has happened. But we are aware of the air pollution, water pollution, the soil damage, deforestation, et cetera. But against all odds and in the face of over 100,000 protests a year on environmental issues and land disputes in China, the Chinese government, academics and others are beginning to formulate what they are describing as the need for ecological civilization; drawing on the values of Confucianism and Taoism and Buddhism for their culturally-based environmental ethics.


                The Harvard conference books have been translated into Chinese. There is now a statement in the constitution of this need for ecological civilization. The prime minister and president reference it regularly in their speeches. And in 2008, we met Pan Yue, the deputy minister for the environment. And he was one of the leading people pushing dissent of retrieving, reevaluating and reconstructing this ancient tradition for modernity; Confucianism being one of the lead restoration of ideas of how humans are embedded in the whole cosmic processes.


In Latin America, I've mentioned this amazing movement of liberation theology and ecology. But I also wanted to highlight the indigenous environmental network. And here in North America, native peoples in both the western parts of the U.S. and Canada have helped to stop Keystone Pipeline being actually built, and the processes and protests have been extraordinary; saying these are sacred lands, these are lands of our peoples, and they cannot be exploited. Now, I just want to conclude with some examples from the Christian churches and also from engaged projects here at home, and then open it up to some discussion.


You know, all of these traditions have, across the range of their various schools and – and denominations, like in Judaism, Conservative Orthodox Reform, Reconstructionists – each one is bringing to bear their own theological positions. So in the Christian churches, and we had these represented at the Harvard conferences, the Catholic nuns, for example, have created amazing eco-literacy centers and conservation of their lands. I can highlight Genesis Farm with Miriam McGillis, in New Jersey and Crystal Spring in Massachusetts. The Orthodox Church has led the way with the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew, and his Religion, Science, Environment conferences for 15 years on water issues across the European community and also in the Amazon and in Mississippi.


These angelical environmental networks have been extremely active in Katharine Hayhoe, a scientist and an evangelical herself, has been outspoken on these issues of care for creation. Protestant groups are abundant, and we'll highlight a few of those. But the Green Seminary Movement, led by Laurel Kearns and Beth Norcross and Fletcher Harper, has been bringing seminaries into this discussion; how can we educate future generations. And then we have leaders like Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church here in the U.S.


So these engaged projects across North America -- from Seattle Earth Ministry led by Lee Ann Barris; in Chicago, Safe in Place (ph); GreenFaith in New Jersey, with Fletcher Harper. And now moving towards our voices that he's combined with a movement around the world for prayers on climate change that Tessa Tennant and he are leading. Interfaith Power & Light with Sally Bingham out of San Francisco has almost all of the states in the U.S. involved in measuring their carbon footprint in churches and synagogues and mosques. It's an amazing movement. And this kind of interreligious work, interfaith work, I think can be highlighted, as well, in the Friends of the Earth Middle East in the Jordan River, where they are trying to restore the river to its full health once again.


So let me conclude by saying we now have what we didn't have 20 years ago: a field in academia. High schools are teaching this, colleges and universities and seminaries, as I've mentioned. We have a new and vibrant force in society, bringing together the three elements of The Earth Charter, of ecological integrity, social economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace. And all of this is for the flourishing of the Earth's community, as we know, for present and for future generations. And I think there's so much we can bring to this issue.


But let me conclude by saying we're at a moment when we're searching for renewable energies of all kinds around the planet. But what religions can bring, in addition to their activism and moral concern for the planet and for people, they can bring a spiritual energy of renewal for the work that's to be done. And that's where all of you, I thank you for what you are doing already.


FASKIANOS: Thank you very much, Mary Evelyn. Let’s it open up to group for questions and comments. If you want to share the work that you're doing and give us the best practices, we welcome all of that. So let's open it up.


OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question or if you have a comment, please press the "star" key followed by the "1" key on your touch-tone phone now. Again, that was "star-1". Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received. If at any time you would like to be removed from the questioning queue, just press "star-2." Please limit your questions to one at a time. Again, to ask a question please press "star-1"


QUESTION: Hi. Hello, Mary Evelyn. It's nice to be a part of this. A question about the relationship of local to global concerns. I know you have addressed that in the past, but can you just help us see how the interplay between the two of those is an important factor.


TUCKER: Thank you, and a shout out to you for your amazing work on the field of animal studies and broadening our concern from people to the whole mammalian bird, fish world and so on. So thank you for your amazing work with the more than human world.


I think this question of local and global is so essential. Because there's such a feeling, isn't there? Of disempowerment of what can I do, I think, often on the local level. But this is where some of the organizations that I've mentioned – Interfaith Power & Light and others – are giving people that sense that they can make a difference, they can make the changes. And, you know, to connect this sense of an energy revolution in our homes, in -- in our churches, in our schools, in our civic centers – new building codes and so on – you know, this is part of not just a protest against something. But it's part of an energy revolution.


And that's how Todd Stern put it, who's our chief negotiator for the U.S. to these climate conferences. He said we're in the midst of an energy revolution. So I think that's how we connect what we can do on a local level to the larger global scene. And he said, and I agree, we can't expect everything to happen in Paris, but we have to keep doing what we're doing. And the creativity of humans is remarkable, I think, frankly.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Thank you for providing this forum. My question is, considering that confined animal feeding operations contribute directly to global warming by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – more than the entire global transportation industry – how do you see religious institutions being involved in trying to minimize the negative impact from factory farming?


TUCKER: Thank you. That is -- that's one question. And as a vegetarian for almost 30 years, I'm very interested in this issue. And actually, I was part of the Humane Society Center for Respect of Life and Environment for many, many years, as was Thomas Berry. And Wayne Pacelli and HSUS is doing some remarkable work on this. And they have people there who've been drawing in the religious communities: Victoria Strang, Paul Waldau's (ph) daughter, is one of them. So I think, you know, the animal groups are realizing that religion is part of the change agent and so they're drawing them in.


But I also think your question brings us to, you know, how do we treat the world. Is it sentient or is it a commodity or is it a community? And I think our students here at Yale and all across the country are so keenly interested in food, in sustainability, in appropriate use, shall we say – I don't even like that word – but in – in careful, thoughtful, healthy food for all people; for people in inner cities, and so on. So the factory farming of animals, because of antibiotics and a number of things, I think is going to take its course. It has – it's not that old, it's spreading around the world and that's extremely worrisome.


But, you know, just two days ago Breyers said they will not have ice cream with, you know, antibiotics or hormones from the milk of cows. So these are major, major changes. And I thank you for your question.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Hi, thanks all. I really have two questions, and they somewhat connect. Following up on the local-global question – local and global organizing – obviously, a revolution, a movement isn't going to have one single umbrella that engages it. At the same time, my experience is that at the local level folks feel like where – which way do I turn, which place do I get connected? And then, of course, our response is connect somewhere, just pick one. But I think people are looking to be strategically additive. And I don't mean only people on the pews, but bishops and executives of the denominations. How do we think strategically about what's going to be most additive at what time, and where do we go to find that answer.


And then the second question that goes with it is, I'm wondering whether the National Religious Partnership for the Environment is part of this landscape.


TUCKER: Yes. Certainly, I mention them at the being of this National Religious partnership for the Environment under Paul Gorman.  They did amazing work in bringing together the Jewish and Christian groups. And one of the things that I think we all hope that NRPE can do is, you know, be even more inclusive of the spectrum of religious groups in the U.S. So they've done good work and we hope they'll continue to do that, and Cassandra Carmichael is leading the way.


And your other question, again I think this is very important. I think you're asking about strategies and perhaps tactics. One of the things Thomas Berry used to say is, we need principles, and strategies and tactics. So I think there's a ray of strategies and there's a ray of tactics out there that are doable and already operational. As I've mentioned a number of them; what Earth Ministry's doing, what Faith in Place is doing in urban communities in Chicago is just astounding. But, you know, I think we also have to get the principles, the world view shifts, the change of mind and heart behind these strategies and tactics.

Because that's what's going to dynamize (ph) the energy for these changes. That we're goingto have to live differently is clear. But we can do that. You know, "sacrifice" is a word that people don't like to use. But that was used throughout the Second World War, when people had Victory Gardens, when people used less, when they did not waste and so on. We need to reinhabit that space of sacrifice, which actually means to make holy.  And it could be "holy" with an H, or "wholly" with a W. That we are part of this interconnected world and we need that sense continually of that interconnection.


So the strategies, I think, are definitely there. We need communities, certainly, that can reinforce that. But I take my hope in this next generation of students that we teach as this School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. They have more strategies than you can imagine, and they want to bring the religious communities into their transforming work. It's very exciting, I think.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Hello. Thank you very much, Evelyn Tucker, for this talk. I want to ask one question. Politically, it might be very hard to break the package (ph) of growth because it's (inaudible) to vote (ph) in many areas. But would it be better to target consumers just like rain forest areas, alliance or fair trade did with a symbol associated with the movement? Would that be a better strategy? Just a question.


TUCKER: Yeah. I think I missed a few words, but can you just give me the final question again? Or, Irina, can you help? It was a little unclear.


QUESTION: Yeah. Instead of – instead of getting into the politics, wouldn't it be a better strategy to address to consumers, consumer products? And (inaudible) all over the (inaudible) or fair trade guys did with this? And maybe like a greenstate (ph) symbol or something for consumer products.


TUCKER: Yes, I see. Thank you. Yes, I think that's a great idea. Because clearly, as consumers we can make a difference. Consumers are beginning to speak out about GMOs, about antibiotics in food, and so on. And coming back to the food question, you know, all religions take food in both its growing processes, in its harvesting processes, as sacred. And this is, I think, where we have power to bring that back into the marketplace. I mean, we're poisoning ourselves with the amount of chemicals and so on in our food and in our soil.


So I think a consumer-based movement around food would be essential. And -- and, certainly, a whole range of other issues which can bring in justice for workers. You know, factory farming of animals has tremendous injustice in the meat industry and so on. So I think that's an excellent suggestion. There's a very interesting new graduate program being offered in the U.K. – actually, a full-funded PhD scholarship – on the impact of meat consumption and the idea of animals as resources. You know, this is where the religious communities can weigh in, in a very powerful way. Thank you for that question.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Hello. This is a very interesting conversation so glad to be part of it. One of the things, if we go back to principles, is starting to identify what – what do we want to really uphold. And those of us in the World Council of Churches and, indeed, an interface a grouping around the climate change talks have been upholding solidarity with those who are most affected, the most vulnerable, who are victims of climate change, for example. And as a result of that – trying to uphold that principle of solidarity – I don't know how many of you know, but some of you on this call do, we've started a fast, Fast for the Climate.


It's something that is individual as well as local and global. Anybody can do it. And we -- we have a concentration of that fasting on the first day of every month, from all the different religious traditions.  It's a way to make the personal-political statement. And to fast and pray, but also to use that time for some political activity to make a difference. It's something that we can all do together. And so the question is, how can we find things like that, can galvanize so many religious traditions in North America and around the world in ways that can have an impact? We believe this one.


TUCKER: Well, thank you. That's terrific. And the Canadian churches are doing amazing things in their support of the indigenous people, and Idle No More is really so welcome. You know, again, on our Forum on Religion and Ecology Web site there's an ecumenical Lenten carbon fast, which picks up on your point. And that has been going for several years, and the WCC, of course, has led the way in these issues of especially of solidarity for the poor. And that's why I was trying to bring in the Latin American perspective of liberation theology and social justice and ecology.


That's why I think Pope Francis, frankly – from Argentina – will have that particular blend that we so need of eco-justice. You know, as well, there's this effort at preach-ins on global warming; again, some of it being led by Interfaith Power & Light. How does one preach about this issue of climate change, when in the U.S. and North America it's been so contested? I have to underscore this has not been so contested in other parts of the world. My friends in Japan understand the effects of typhoons and so on from global warming, et cetera.


But I take my hat off to people within the churches that you just highlighted who are helping people to know how to preach on this, how to do actions like fasting, how to do the divestment of the resources from fossil fuels. Like Jim Antel has led the UCC churches on this issue, and others are following. So I do think there's lots that can be done by religious leaders and lay people. So thank you very much for what you're doing.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.  Next question or comment.


QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much for your work. I'm interested where we can tune for expressly neo-Confucian and new Confucian experiments in eco – eco-social, the eco-social reinvention of the human, so to speak. You got any reading on that?


TUCKER: Well, thank you, as that happens to be my own area of, you know, research and writing and so on. And I'm going to a conference in Hong Kong this summer on Confucianism and the ecology. And one of the books, of course, in the Harvard Conference is exactly on that topic, Confucianism and ecology. And it certainly is the case, contrary to most people's impression, that Confucianism has amazing resources or situating the human in what they would call the "Trinity" or the "triad" of Heaven, Earth and human. So the whole cosmos, the whole Earth community. And the human completes that dynamic, creative process by the – by interacting with the flourishing and the fecundity of nature.


It's a very, very rich tradition, which I was mentioning as part of this recovery, if you will, revival of Confucianism that's happening on the mainland of China and, certainly, in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well. So, in fact, one academic in Beijing, a professor of sociology, did a book on Confucius and it sold 10 million copies. So this isn't something, you know, just on the -- in the political order of the prime minister or the constitution. But there's a popular interest in this, the academic conferences that I've mentioned. Duay Ming (ph), a good friend has headed up this new Institute for Humanities at Beijing University. And he is one of the leading thinkers of how neo-Confucianism can enter into modernity and not -- not just be apart from it, but tradition in modernity, to make a change.


And I can tell you, our students love Confucianism. And we have them listen to his talks online and do the readings of his books. I can recommend any of Duay Ming's (ph) book – books to you. So thank you for that question.


QUESTION: (Inaudible).


FASKIANOS:  Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Mary Evelyn. This – my question may have been addressed already with the carbon fasting and looking at ways that we can, you know, in a way model the behavior that we want to see. And one of the contradictions I've experienced in myself is air travel and, you know, choosing to travel by air even after I know the science on climate change. And especially now, when we're looking at a really urgent matter. You know, it's not as if we have a decade even to turn things around. You know, the change that we're looking at is really wants to be so immediate if we take into account what's happening in Antarctica with the decline of the West Antarctic ice sheet.


And so a question is, you know, with something like is happening in Paris, do we -- is this -- does this statement want to be we're not traveling there. We'll fly in, you know, we'll enter in through telecommunication. But to have our children who are standing for climate change – I'm thinking of the Climate Silence group – to tell them and to suggest that they – that the statement is that they fly to talk about this, maybe it's not that. Maybe it's nobody shows up and we're just – we're being real about what is. Yeah.


TUCKER: Yeah, well, I appreciate that question. And I appreciate your work on extinction and so on. The president of the American Academy of Religion, in November, Laurie Zoloth made exactly that point in her plenary address. To say, well, maybe we shouldn't have an American Academy of Religion conference every year. And it's gotten quite a bit of discussion. You know, I think – I don't go to the top conferences for lots of reasons, one of them the carbon footprint. But I think we all have to choose what is appropriate for what we can contribute or what we feel is important.


I would not want to say to the people at the UN, you know, who are heavily invested in this just call it off, no carbon footprint. I do think the difficulty is, we can become, you know, somewhat moralistic. And that's part of the danger of religions and so on. But I think more and more people are taking up your point. Either they're paying into carbon offsets for sure, and there's, you know, native energy and lots of these carbon offsets. They're planting trees if they travel, and so on. But I do think that the networking that has happened in the last twenty years – and especially since '92 and the Earth Summit in Rio – has been astonishing.


So that the changes that are ahead of us are now on the tips of our tongues, in the centers of our minds, and are bursting from our hearts because everyone knows – and everyone on this conference call, I suspect, knows – the urgency of the changes that you are calling for. But I do think we need to breadth of each person makes that decision. We're doing online classes right now, you know, to get the information out and not travel as well. So thank you for the question, and let's keep going forward with careful discernment around that.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Yes, thank you. How can we, as an interfaith community build upon the momentum and also the opportunity of Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on human ecology?


TUCKER: Wonderful question. And as I say, I think many of us are very much looking forward to it. I happen to come from the Catholic progressive tradition, I would say, and was very much affected by social justice teachings in my youth and especially in civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War and so on. And I see this as a movement, you know, way past Vatican II when the changes came flowing into the Catholic Church and a lot of tragedies and scandals, as well. But I do see this as a moment when laity, when theologians, when seminaries, when departments of religion, when churches and synagogues and mosques, et cetera need to pick this up.


It'll probably be, you know, maybe 50 pages or so. So it'll be a lengthy document. But if we can pick up parts of it, begin to study it, begin to take it in in terms of what does this mean, this new, vast sense of interdependence, of ecology, of justice and of peace I think that's going to be the message. And I would take this, like the Earth Charter, to be a new invitation into a declaration of interdependence. We had the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after World War II as, you know, the premier foundational document of the UN And – and that's a declaration that's independence. It's a modern document. It celebrates individual freedom.


But now we need to move towards interdependence, interconnectedness. And I think that's what the encyclical is going to invite us into. It's going to be very invitational, I think. And we can pick it up and literally nourish ourselves on some of these ideas, I think.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Yes, hello and thank you. I will – I'm just wondering if you have considered the interactions between religion and mental health and care for the ecology. Because, you know, the care that is required for the environment and issues of the environment has to come from mental health. And there are people who might not have that because of childhood abuse or other issues in their life. So I'm just wondering how religion and mental health, and also social health, might interact with the care for the environment.


You know, how -- for example, the breakdown of relationships, how many people are living in different homes and this increases consumerism because they cannot function together because they cannot live together, and so on. So I'm just wondering if you have been considering these factors. Thank you.


TUCKER: Yes. What a superb question. You know, the suffering in our world is immense, as you know. Every family, every one of us has tremendous suffering in our own families, whether addiction or abuse or whatever it might be. So I think this is absolutely critical. But I do think part of our mental health, both personal and collective, is reinhabiting these great cycles of nature, which are healing cycles, which are restoring cycles, which give us literally air and water and nourishment and food. So it's a very primal thing that this is about.


Yes, it's a sacred restoration of our connections to nature, yes it's an environmental recovery and restoration and so on. But there's something of our mental, spiritual soul capacity here that is being tremendously challenged. And I would also say that what we're finding is that environmentalists, be they studying extinct species or degraded landscapes or glacial melting, they are dealing with something like trauma. Because when I spoke to those who were dealing with the spotted owl, the extinction up in the Pacific Northwest, it was almost like listening to a great tragedy. I was in tears. And these are people who have to deal with this day in and day out. So I think that's part of the ministry that religions will have to develop.


We need to mourn what's being lost, and we need to have rituals of healing and restoration. Let me give you a final example. In China, the mental illness because of such rapid development and modernization is so huge that there are many young people who simply stay at home. They can't even cope with the society. But a whole range of other mental challenges. And there's an institute in California that is now setting up a collaborative project of counseling for Chinese, especially living in these cities of -- cities the size of thirty, thirty-four million people, some of them. It's inconceivable how big these cities are and how impersonal and how challenging that is to live with a sense of hope and purpose and stability.


FASKIANOS: Next question.


QUESTION: Hello, and thank you so much to the Council on Foreign Relations for this forum. And Mary Evelyn, for your great work. I'm just always deeply grateful. My question is in regards to investments. What advice or counsel or guidance can you give to religious congregations who continue to be invested in oil industry that are involved in the tar sands, even as we grow in our consciousness about them because these companies that we're invested in still pass our existing social screen?


TUCKER: Yes. Well, Maureen, thank you for your work, too, and for helping to coordinate Sisters of Earth and all that you do, that great organization of Catholic numbers across North America. And for your witness in the tar sands. It's really very, very moving. And, you know, the tar sands are largely going to China. That's why I mentioned that early on. And the -- that interconnection of this need, endless need, for energy around the world. But specifically to your question of divestment and so on, it's very complicated and it's going to take some time.


But I do think the moral issue that Bill McKibben and set before all of us is that this was a tactic that worked with apartheid in South Africa. And it is a tactic that seems to be having more and more traction, contrary to what some people first said. The New School in New York just announced yesterday that they are divesting. As I say, some religious communities have already, like UCC. Yale said they wouldn't divest, but they're going to move further and further towards sustainability, which is true. But their chief environmental officer, David Swenson, sent a message to all of his portfolio people with investment, and he said we have got to pay attention to this, we have got to think about this for the long term.


And you know what? He's one of the smartest investors in all the universities across the country. And someone at Goldman Sachs told me that alone has had such effect on the divestment movement. Also, of course, the price of oil is going down so it's going to be easier to divest, and so on. But I think we do need to raise it up as a moral issue. Certainly the students at Yale are doing that. And it's an issue that draws all of our conscious into this. I mean, the seas are rising. People at Yale, one geologist, said, "Well, they're building new colleges but, you know, we're right on the sound here, the Long Island Sound. And you go up to Boston on the train and the sound is five feet away from the train."


We are all subject to this relentless climate change, rising seas, the greenhouse gases and so on. And we've got to do something about divesting from oil and gas and reinvesting our creativity in alternative energies. We should've been doing this twenty years ago, of course, but that's where the religious communities can say go solar. You know, let's de-dam, which is happening in the Pacific Northwest, too. So thank you for your question, Maureen, and your great work.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Thank you, and thank you for this amazing program. My question has to do with how do we -- you mention the United Nations. And I had the privilege of sitting on a panel this past Sunday on a multi-religious partnership for sustainable development that was hosted by the President of the United Nations General Assembly as part of World Interfaith Harmony Week. Now, I know all the NGOs who are working on this. I'm a member of United Religions Initiative, as well. But outside the United Nations there's no communication that says this is what's going on in the United Nations, unless you go to and start finding your way through it.


Is there a way that we can make it more public so that we invite more people to think that something can happen at the United Nations. Because I think, overall, the population of this country at least thinks the United Nations is a farce. How do we open that up to something that says they could be an incredible partner on this, and this is how we might be able to do some work with them?


TUCKER: Right. Well, an excellent question. We have been working the UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program, since about 1987 on what was initially called the Environmental Sabbath. And we did a booklet for religious communities to use, I'm sure some of you did. We distributed about 50,000 of those. And we did a number of programs at the UN through that New York office. And I think you're absolutely right to say that we need to continue – and good for you for being on that panel and the other NGOs that are persistent there and raising the voice of ethics and spirituality and moral concern.


The issue, as you know well, is that the UN doesn't really like to engage religion because we all know, and we like to say over and over again, religion has its problems and its promise. And they don't know how to move past this problematic dimension of religion. So it's not easy to engage it. There's no formal representations there. I mean, the Vatican has – is somewhat represented, but there's no representation of the religions and there's been many efforts to do that. The Millennium Summit in 200 was one effort. But it's very hard to represent religions that are not as hierarchical as something like the Catholic Church. WCC, of course, is a very effective organization, as well.


But all I can say is, one of the things at the UN which I do think we can work best as religious communities is to try and overcome the immense distrust between the so-called "developing nations" and the so-called "developed nations." Because that barrier is over and over again what creates the blockage to climate agreements, the blockage to all kinds of cooperative issues. And I think if we identified that and if we work, as many of you do already, in relief services and education and aid overseas and so on, if we can build trust I think we have further grounds for saying the religions can be a positive contributing agency on the environment and development issues.


QUESTION: Thank you.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mary. That's – it's been great. And my PhD's actually focused on faith-based organizations in the U.K. and how they can impact climate change policy. And I wanted to ask, like, because FPOs in the U.K. are focused on political lobbying and advocacy – and I was wondering what you thought about the value of this as opposed to using resources for actually dealing with the challenges of climate change in a bottom-up program.


TUCKER: Yeah. Well, that's a good – very good question. And, of course, with limited resources it's why we all have to be asking it. You know, there's, I think, great lobbyists in the religious communities down in Washington. The Quakers, of course, have been at this for a long, long time on peace and justice and ecology in our Congress. And many other religious communities doing superb and relentless work against gray dogs. So I think that certainly has to be done. And I would say Todd Stern, or chief climate negotiator, who came to Yale in the fall and gave a remarkable talk, actually, and said climate change is a moral issue. And he said to John and me directly, he said, "Send us more religious people because we need that force in – in terms of the negotiations.


So, you know, your issues in the U.K. are very complex, as well. But certainly, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is trying to do some of this work, and I think that's terrific. But I think everything we can do to give people a sense of hope in very, very difficult times. And, you know, history does tell us – my grandfather was a historian at Columbia and he tried to understand the causes of the two world wars – anyone who lives through those wars knows tragedy of such immense proportions. But the human spirit can survive that. And if we can empower our churches, our mosques, or synagogues, our next generation in particular, that they can make a difference I think we have a good chance to go through this hourglass of extinction and diminishment into a new phase.


FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.


QUESTION: Yes. No, I thank you so much for this. I was going to mention, after 10 years of doing regenerative strategies on three continents we're proposing a mobilization of outreach between the western congregations and the most climate change-affected communities in the tropical belt for restoration and regeneration. And this is often framed in terms of food security and poverty alleviation and climate change resilience. But it also, I think as you know, has a powerful potential effect at scale on climate change mitigation, which has been mentioned, I think, too little.


So how to go beyond sustainability to regeneration with generativity and inherently religious imperative, and to really create any kind of mobilization that – that we're able to. I would just like any advice and any participation by anybody on this call.


TUCKER: Yeah, well, thank you. I love the language that you're using, and it's very resonant with what we like to use; namely (inaudible) contested and so on. And we like to use, as Thomas Berry did, the word "flourishing." And we love the word "resilience" and "resiliency," "regeneration" and so on. Because it's exactly that that taps into, I think, what a spiritual, ethical religious perspective can offer. And I think you're quite right, you know, mitigation and adaptation of climate change are still themselves being contested. But you are so right – and I'd love to hear more about your work, you know, in terms of food security and stability. And connecting up these varied issues of the food, of water, of human security is Earth security.


And I think, again, more and more people are seeing this. I mean, the Pentagon issue, the major report on climate change as a security issue, there's – there's no doubt about it. So I applaud the language that you're using. As I say, I like to think of the flourishing of the whole earth community for future generations.


QUESTION: Thank you.


FASKIANOS: Thank you.  Let's to try to sneak in one last question.


QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much. And I was particularly interested in your comment about educating the next generation because that's where my question is. Getting your head around climate change is difficult for adults and students in higher education. And I was wondering what advice or resources that you might have that would highlight efforts to educate younger students, particularly in the kindergarten through 12th grade years. If there's anything in particular that you might recommend or suggest.


TUCKER: Yes, well, thank you. This is so important. And it's one of the reasons why we made this film Journey of the Universe, which is also a book from Yale Press. And Journey of the Universe went on PBS, as you may know, and it's now on Netflix. You know, and in one year 66,000 people rated it, which was astonishing to Brian Swimme and John and I who were involved in this project. And John – Brian is a great narrator, of course. But this perspective – that we're part of a vast evolving universe – this is a fourteen billion-year, amazingly creative process. And the Earth, you know, is six billion years old, and we as humans are only about 200,000 years old.


This perspective, I think, awakens awe and wonder and beauty, and therefore transformative action. And we have found, of course, even high schools are very, very keen on this. Because it brings together science and ecology and biology with the humanities, and – and ethics and so on. And there's – this has been adapted by Montessori teachers who've been very, very keen on this universe story perspective of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme and – and ourselves. And Jennifer Morgan has done three books, which I highly recommend for young people. And she does workshops for early childhood and – education on this, and especially with the Montessori teachers who are deeply inspired. Maria Montessori's had a vast feeling for the cosmos.


And maybe I'll just end with Rachel Carson. We took our students to the Beinecke Library here at Yale last week to see Rachel Carson's papers on Silent Spring. And, you know, she brings together so much of what we're talking about. She brings together the sense of awe and wonder and beauty and complexity, but she also brings metaphor and poetry into her science and her deep understanding of these processes.


Silent Spring is a metaphor, you know, that captures our – our imagination and speaks to our whole person. So I think this is part of what we need to do for younger people; bring in the whole person. And that is certainly being done in a lot of wonderful environmental education. Like Richard Louv, who is also inspired by Thomas Berry, Last Child in the – in the Woods.


So I thank you all for this conversation. And I especially thank you for the work that is ahead for all of us. Let us know about your work. Please join the forum. Email list, if you like, it just goes out once a month. But I hope this will be a network of continuing conversation. And I especially thank the Council on Foreign Relations and Irina for organizing this. Thank you.


FASKIANOS: Thank you very much, Mary Evelyn Tucker. We really appreciate your spending the hour with us. And to all of you for your really great questions and comments. I think this is an invaluable hour, and we hope as Mary Evelyn said, that you will check out her Web site at as well as follow our religion and foreign policy on Twitter, @CFR_Religion for announcements about upcoming events and information about the council's latest resources. And I also just would welcome you all, or invite you all, to email us with questions or suggestions of topics and speakers we can cover in the future to [email protected].


So thank you all, and thank you to Mary Evelyn Tucker.


TUCKER: Thank you, Irina.

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