Religion and Climate Change

Thursday, May 14, 2020
REUTERS / Nguyen Huy Kham

Senior Lecturer, Senior Research Scholar, and Codirector of the Forum of Religion and Ecology, Yale University


Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer, senior research scholar, and codirector of the Forum of Religion and Ecology at Yale University, discusses religion and climate change.

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

FASKIANOS: Hello and welcome to you all. I am Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. We’ve been convening these calls for a long time, but this is our first one with video. So it will be a new experience for all of us.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. The video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org, as well as on our podcast channel, Religion and Foreign Policy.

We are delighted to have Mary Evelyn Tucker with us today. Mary Evelyn Tucker is co-director, with John Grim, of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, where they teach. This week, they have just released a new website for the Forum after a year of preparation. It has a comprehensive section on religion and climate change. You can find the website at Fore.Yale.edu. And they also announced a new partnership of the Forum with the U.N. Environment Programme’s Faith for Earth. So we will circulate the website at the conclusion of this event. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim have organized ten conferences and books on world religions and ecology at Harvard, and they convened the first conference on religion and climate change in 2000. As you all know, she’s co-author of Journey of the Universe, a book and an Emmy Award-winning film that aired on PBS. And this week, she, John Grim, and Sam Mickey have also released an online open-source book called Living Earth Community.

So, Mary Evelyn, thanks very much for being with us. I thought we would just talk about the role that religious communities can take or are taking in addressing climate change and adaptation, and especially during this COVID-19 pandemic that we all find ourselves in and will be in for some time to come.

TUCKER: Well, thank you very much, Irina, and thanks to all who are on this call. And I also want to say from the very beginning that we recognize religions have their problems and they have their promise. We need not go into the problems historically or even at present, but we’re trying to concentrate, what is the moral force of religions, and how can we draw on that for climate change action and thinking and writing?

I also want to just say that for almost fifty years the field of interreligious dialogue has been hugely helpful for this coalition of religion and climate change. And there’s a number of people on this call—the Parliament of the World’s Religions’ Kusumita Pedersen; and Azza Karam from Religions for Peace; and people who have been working in Christian-Muslim dialogue and Jewish-Christian dialogue, John Polakowski and so on; and the Temple of Understanding, Grove Harris—so there’s been a lot of people working on interreligious dialogue and then trying to bring the religions forward towards the environment and climate change. And we thank them for this effort and just say that there’s many, many others, some of whom I’ll mention during this talk today, this little gathering.

I wanted to then go historically to say that probably one of the first conferences on religion and climate change came after we did the Harvard conferences in the ’90s, and this was in 2000 at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences which resulted in a book in 2001 in the journal DaedalusReligion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change? And George Rupp was there. He was president of Columbia at the time. I think he’s on this call. We had a scientist, Mike McElroy, from Harvard. We had an ethicist, Baird Callicott. We had someone from law, Don Brown. And we had Bill McKibben as an activist and writer. And then folded into that context of other disciplines and other perspectives we had people from the different world religions speaking to what they offer to transition to climate change adaptation and so on.

And that’s the spirit that I want to just bring forward in this little moment of discussion, that dialogue is key. Religions in some ways are late to these various issues. Science and policy have been working on them for a long time, but religions are absolutely necessary. And more and more, science and policy are realizing that.

And I want to then just move to some leadership that has happened over the last twenty years, and to say that I’m going to concentrate here a little bit on the Christian churches, but much has been happening in the various world religions. But the World Council of Churches, with the work of Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who’s also on this call, has helped to move the Protestant churches forward, and even towards divestment.

Two great leaders that we should note of the Orthodox Church. Bartholomew, who leads eight hundred million Greek Orthodox, and he has been one of the earliest spokespersons on the theology and the practice of climate change and so on, calling even what we’ve been doing ecological sin and crimes against creation. John Chryssavgis has been one of his great champions and writers and so on to bring this message forward. And he, the patriarch had conferences on climate change in Greenland, in the Amazon, in the Mississippi.

I want to move then to Pope Francis, who is a good friend of the patriarch, and they’ve worked together on many things. And we know that we’re coming up on the fifth year anniversary of Laudato Si’, which means “praise be.” So this was an encyclical address to the Christian churches, but to all peoples around the world, and this encyclical has been able to, when it was launched, illustrate this importance of dialogue, because the pope wasn’t there at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences but there were three key people who were. One was the key Orthodox theologian, John of Pergamon, indicating we need ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Secondly, there was John Schellnhuber, who was a German scientist, head of the Potsdam Climate Research Institute, the largest in the world, over two hundred scientists, and he helped with the encyclical. And third, Cardinal Turkson, who’s originally from Ghana, to indicate the developing world, issues of equity, and so on need to be synergized. So that was very, very symbolic.

And the encyclical has helped bring together in remarkable ways a sense of climate justice, of ecojustice, and that’s because the pope in this encyclical was able to really synergize people and planet, especially in this phrase “cry of the Earth, cry of the poor,” which came from Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian from Brazil. And that was a book published in 1997 in a series we’ve been working on from Orbis called Ecology and Justice. And that phrase, that the vulnerable are going to be most affected certainly by climate change, and so are ecosystems—as we know, they’re unraveling, their fragmented qualities, and the increase of weather-related—hurricanes and so on. So this synergy of climate justice and ecojustice has been so important from the encyclical and from this blending of humans and earth.

Now, that statement—that encyclical got statements and response from all the world’s religions, which is on our Forum website. But even prior to that, there have been statements of climate change, climate justice, and so on from the world’s religions. So this has been going on for at least twelve to fifteen years.

Now, broadly speaking, the Baha’is, the Sikhs, the Asian traditions, the Abrahamic traditions, and certainly indigenous traditions, have been more and more active, and that’s what I just want to highlight a little bit here. Even in 1990, the Catholic bishops had a statement on global warming. The Evangelical Environmental Network and Mitch Hescox, who has a book on this, has been very active for more than twenty years. Katharine Hayhoe has been speaking out on climate change, especially for Evangelical groups.

Now, we can say, then, going forward we have theology moving forward, all kinds of books, and books that also illustrate people’s transformations. One I just want to mention is Rooted and Rising, which are case studies of people who have this ecological conversion that the pope is talking about. And Leah Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas did that book. Jim Antal did one of the best books, I think, on Climate Church, Climate World.

And next week—I want to give a special shout-out because sermons by these people and Nancy Wright as well are up on the website. Next week there’s going to be a whole festival of homilies. Eleven thousand people signed up to hear homilies on climate change. This is a watershed moment, and a lot of people have been involved in creating that.

Greening of seminaries have been going on for fifteen years. We’ve got a lot of people working on that, Laurel Kearns and so on. And that means both changing practices of carbon footprint as well as curriculum.

Now, again, let’s move to action, and then I’ll finish up so we have time for questions. But let me say some of the early movements here—Interfaith Power and Light, these interreligious groups, the Green Faith movement, Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, Blessed Tomorrow, and so on, in the Climate March in 2014, at Union Theological Seminary, Karenna Gore with Earth Ethics Center there brought together a huge number of religious leaders, and into the march ten thousand religious leaders were very much part of it. Fletcher Harper helped to organize that as well.

But what I want to say is we’re moving from theological statements and so on, from protest movements, to action. We have still a long, long way to go. But I want to highlight one movement that I think is very, very important, and that’s the financial leverage of religious institutions and so on. Now, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility in New York has been working for almost fifty years on this issue, and Seamus Finn is here, and they’re trying to do shareholder engagement with corporations on climate change and a variety of issues. And that’s because religious communities helped to start CSR, corporate social responsibility, when they said, how are we going to invest our pension funds? So they’ve been spurring this movement for a long, long time. There are three hundred members of this organization.

And then I want to suggest that the divest-invest movement—there’s $14 trillion now committed to this area, started ten years ago, spurred by Bill McKibben and many, many others. But religious communities have been central. The Unitarians, the United Church of Christ with Jim Antal’s help, the Shalom Center, the World Council of Churches, the Church of England, all of these have divested. And the religious communities have a very high percentage in this number that I’ve just mentioned. Religious institutions—Union Theological Seminary, Georgetown University, Dayton University, Seattle University—150 Catholic institutions and foundations have pledged to divest.

So to divest is also to invest, of course, in green technology, alternative technologies, and so on, and the religious communities have been helping in this movement, like Stop the Money Pipeline, right? Now JPMorgan Chase is being pressured to stop investing in oil and pipeline. BlackRock, the investment firm, tremendous pressure. And Liberty Mutual, the insurance company. So Bill McKibben just did an article in the New York Times, as well; between the moral force of divestment and the economics of oil prices collapsing, we’re seeing some very significant changes.

And finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to the youth movement, again, supported by the moral force of religious and spiritual and ethical people around the planet: the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, certainly Greta Thunberg—what a moral force she is—and this broad coalition of Extinction Rebellion.

Finally, let me say that the voices of indigenous peoples, especially through the Indigenous Environmental Network, have been persistent, relentless, and courageous, because they have understood that the deepest sensibilities of human-Earth relations comes from the voice of the Earth, from the magnificent water systems, ecosystems, mountains, forests, and so on that speak to us, and that’s part of this Living Earth Community book that we’re talking about. But across North America and around the world, we can look at Standing Rock in the Dakotas with the Hunkpapa Sioux saying water is sacred—water is sacred. That was the dimension and the basis of their protest. We’ve got Anishinaabe people in Minnesota, across British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest these protest movements linked with indigenous peoples and other groups.

Finally, the statement that came out of Bolivia, Cochabamba, thirty thousand indigenous peoples who gathered there and released the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth in 2015. Such a magnificent and powerful statement. And now we have an interfaith rainforest initiative sponsored by United Nations Environment Programme, the Norwegian government, and many religious groups, like the Forum on Religion and Ecology, to say: These are the caretakers of our forests. These are the people that we must unite with and support. Other religious communities, Christians and others, must give the voice of indigenous peoples their due.

So let me end with this note. There’s so many things we could have mentioned, and we’ll get to some of them in the discussion. But thank you all for being here.

FASKIANOS: Terrific, Mary Evelyn. I will not filibuster. We’ll go directly to questions and comments from the group.

And we already have four in queue, which is fantastic. So I’m going first to Azza Karam. Azza, over to you.

KARAM: Thank you so much. Thank you, Irina, for organizing this, and thank you, Mary Evelyn, for sharing the incredible overview. I think you’ve underrepresented yourself from the work that you have done to lead so much, and so many, and the work that you have done in partnership and in collaboration to teach many. And I just want to pay tribute to that.

I also have a question, which is: How interfaith are the initiatives that you see flowering today? And how do you think we can energize the multi-faith component of this engagement, and also the multi-stakeholder? Because so much of what you’ve shared—in some respects there’s some wonderful collaboration taking place that you’ve highlighted. But in other respects, it’s still relatively siloed work. So how do we make it more multi-religious? And how do we make it more multi-stakeholder? What’s it going to take if this environment, as we live in today, and the trauma and calamities that we’re living today is not forcing us into that space, which they’re not, what do you think it’s going to take? Thank you.

TUCKER: Well, thank you, Azza. And, as heading up Religions for Peace, we’re going to rely on you to answer that question too. And I look forward to many years of dialogue with you.

And, I think the Parliament of World Religions, with their climate change taskforce, has been very instrumental in leading this, and as I’ve mentioned others as well. I couldn’t agree more that one of the reasons—from the very beginning, we said in this movement of religion, and ecology, and climate change, that all the religions have to realize, beyond their claims to truth, beyond their worries about losing membership and so on, beyond their financial worries and status, is the fate of the Earth. The fate of the Earth is what will bring us together, I think. And as we can articulate that with a passion and an authenticity that—whether it’s through the language of Mother Earth, or care for creation—whatever the language is, and respecting the different language, but seeing that this is fundamentally a spiritual issue, and fundamentally an ethical and moral issue.

So I think it’s going to take, as you know, tremendous leadership, but it’s also going to take this sense that it’s not just religious leaders that—the scientists always say to me—like, Ed Wilson at Harvard used to say, this wonderful scientist, he’d say: Mary Evelyn, get the religious communities on board. Get the religious leaders. But I do want to say, we don’t want to just be instrumental about it. And it’s not only religious leaders; it’s communities. It’s laity. I want to make a big call to the role of women in these world religions, and many people working on that. Mary Hunt has been elevating that perspective for a long, long time. So those are just some of the ways. To say these are communities, these are gender diverse, and so on, and tremendous respect for different language into this space of climate change, climate justice.

FASKIANOS: Terrific. Let’s go to Thomas Uthup next. And if you can just give us your affiliation, that would be great.

UTHUP: OK. Great. I’m with Friends of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations. But I’m here speaking more in a personal capacity.

I wanted to first thank CFR for organizing this conference on this very important subject. And, Dr. Tucker, I’ve been following you since the late ’80s, early ’90s. I don’t remember exactly. When I started teaching I taught a class on environmental policy. And later on I tried to incorporate some environmental aspects into my dissertation on religious values and public policy. So I’ve followed your work for a long time.

My question is really a question that I’ve been thinking about for a while, which is if you think about the challenges that the global environment faces from human beings, I think one issue is that there is this imitation of the means—of the modes of production, rather socialist or capitalist, which involves a lot of industrialization, which has an aspect on the environment. But the other aspect is the consumption patterns which are being imitated by many people in the south of what people in the north are consuming. So whether it’s meat consumption, driving SUVs and pickup trucks, which are very damaging for the environment, that’s the role where I think religious values and religion can play a role.

Even in Islam, I think in my dissertation I looked at a value which was a value of growth with purification or growth with balance, which meant that you tried to look at growth in a way that was least harmful for the environment. So both in terms of production, but more particularly in terms of consumption, I don’t know if you would agree that religious leaders really have an important role to play in encouraging the community, and lay people also.

TUCKER: Yes. Thomas, thank you so much. That’s an excellent question. And I really do agree that religions, religious communities, have a very important role in this space of a new economics, a green economics, an economics of limits to growth, an economics of de-growth even. I just got off a Zoom with Herman Daly, who was one of the first people to speak in this space of a steady-state economy, and so on. So I think almost without this moral force—but, again, the strategy has got to be very both subtle and evocative. I think if we’re overly preachy, overly rhetorical people are going to turn away. So this shift from overconsumption and overproduction is one of our greatest challenges, along with and connected to the shift from a fossil fuel economy to an alternative energy-based economy. This is the greatest transition humans have ever had to make.

And I don’t think—I’m a historian of world religions, my grandfather was a historian of Europe, and so on—I don’t think that’s an exaggeration to say. So this economic shift, this fossil fuel shift, people are calling it the great transition, and so on. So we’ve got to get a language that really synergizes this. And, again Herman Daly and John Cobb did a book called The Common Good on this issue. We need to draw that forward. Vanderbilt’s having a whole series of talks this week on religion, and economics, and ecology. So it is happening. We need to find our language that’s forceful. We need to tell stories that are different sense of happiness. Look at the Buddhists with the gross national happiness indicator? No, the gross happiness indicator from Bhutan.

So we have things to draw on. And thank you so much for that question. We can do this, I think. It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be imperfect. But I think we can make this transition. And the religious communities are essential.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Grove Harris next.

TUCKER: Well, Grove has been doing tremendous work with the Temple of Understanding for many years, and has moved into this space, the both interreligious and environmental dialogue.

FASKIANOS: OK. We will come back to Grove since we’re having technical difficulties there.

Let’s go to Mark Clatterbuck next. CLATTERBUCK: Hi. Thank you so much, Mary Evelyn. This is Mark Clatterbuck from Montclair State University.

And I know you highlighted the importance of moving from theological reflection to taking steps for climate action. And I have really been inspired in recent years by the role that religious communities are playing in environmental activism. You mentioned the indigenous ceremonies and prayers at Standing Rock to the deeply spiritual resistance and blockade of the thirty-meter telescope at Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii. I’ve been working with some Roman Catholic sisters, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who are fighting a fracked gas pipeline in Pennsylvania by building this outdoor prayer chapel in a cornfield in the path of the pipeline. And I’m just wondering what contributions you believe civil disobedience can and should play in faith-based environmental justice work as we move forward.

TUCKER: Well, Mark, that’s a great question. And thank you for your work that you’re doing there with this chapel, and trying to stop that pipeline, and this heroic effort of many of the religious sisters and communities, as you’ve highlighted, coming from these deep wellsprings. The wisdom of these traditions are flowing forth, and that is exactly what needs to happen for this transition. So, again, how quickly that can happen, I don’t know. But civil disobedience will clearly be part of it. Christiana Figueres, who’s a big supporter of this type of movement, and she led the Paris COP. And she is calling for civil disobedience. And many people feel that the Paris COP agreement was possible because of the Laudato Si’ encyclical.

So you’ve got this sense of civil servants of the level of Christiana Figueres. You’ve got these statements, like an encyclical. And then you’ve got people acting on it. And there’s no question that civil disobedience is one of the ways forward. The difficulty is with our social distancing right now. So we’re going to have to figure out ways, and rituals, and song, and art to let loose these sensibilities that have been dimmed down. And I think they will more and more. Gretel Ehrlich, the great nature writer, has a beautiful article in the Atlantic this last month. And it’s pictures of the sky from various parts of the world. And it’s so eloquent. It’s so inspiring. So we need all these kinds of things—from civil disobedience to statements to the arts.

CLATTERBUCK: Thank you so much.

FASKIANOS: Let’s got to Jean Duff next.

DUFF: Thank you so much, CFR, for this wonderful session and, Mary Evelyn, for your sweeping overview of fifty years of religious engagement on faith and climate. Just a tour de force there. And congratulations on the new partnership between the Yale Center of Religion and Ecology and Faith for Earth at UNF. That’s very, very exciting to see these wonderful organizations coming together.

As you may know, JLI—the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Community, which we refer to as JLI—focuses on the evidence for faith activity and impact. And we’re especially interested in the evidence for social behavior change. Mary Evelyn, would you speak to what we know about the impact of faith on social norms, on patterns of consumption? What the areas of greatest influence and impact of the faith community actually are in the realm of climate justice? What’s working?

TUCKER: What a great question. I wish I could really answer it well, Jean. And I’m going to depend on your research to do that. Because this is what we need. We need social science research and so on to indicate, to give the indicators of change. I was on another call yesterday, Thomas Homer-Dixon is coming out with a new book called Commanding Hope, which is going to be quite amazing. He did an earlier book called The Upside of Down. He’s Canadian. He’s going to have an institute called The Cascade Institute. So he’s measuring some of this. He’s into the systems dimension of this, and the systems science, like Beth Savan, who’s a wonderful scientist, who’s talking about the multi-stakeholders and the multi-perspectival perspective that’s needed.

So back to your question. Religions have, of course, had a strong sense of asceticism, of less is more. We’ve got the Buddhist small is beautiful, from Schumacher, et cetera. But that sense that we can live with less, we can be happy with less, is something that even the younger generation is embracing. Many of them don’t want cars, or homes, and stuff. They recognize the emptiness of some of that. So as far as getting to the indicators, I think we don’t fully know. But the reason I mentioned the webinar yesterday is because Thomas Homer-Dixon was saying: Norms can change. So social distancing is a new norm, a new normal. And he said, how rapidly that happened is something that they are now studying and trying to figure out. Of course, it’s for personal safety, but it’s also for a sense of the common good.

So, Jean, I’ll just wind this up, and I hope we’ll have a chance for a deeper discussion on this very important question. But the sense between individual and the community, that’s where the sense of social norms needs to change. One of the reasons I studied Confucianism for forty years, it’s because it has a powerful sense of the common good. And that’s what in U.S. society we have elevated personal freedoms over a sense of the common good, personal rights versus responsibilities, and so on. So that’s the area that I think we need to evoke. We’re part of an Earth community. We’re not just a nation state. We’re not just individuals. How religious communities can do this will be part of this transition. So, again, thank you for your question.

FASKIANOS: And indeed, I think we’re seeing that play out with COVID-19, with the personal freedom, and collective good, and caring for the person on the street by wearing masks, or whatnot.

TUCKER: Right.

FASKIANOS: OK. So let’s go next to Mark Silk.

SILK: Hi. A few years ago the Yale Center for Climate Communications found that only 9 percent of Americans believed that climate change was a religious issue. And 77 percent thought it was not. What’s the problem here? And how can it be solved?

TUCKER: Well, Mark, thanks for that question. I think that was a few years back, because it’s funny—I’m so glad you mentioned the Yale Center for Climate Change. And Tony Leiserowitz is a good friend. And they actually have quite a robust section there that I’m going to put on the resource list of what religions are doing right now, which would come back to Jean’s question. And Tony has had many speakers at Yale from this perspective of norms, and values, and so on. So he’s a big supporter of this. Now, his polling I think has shifted, of course, how many people are believing in climate change, for sure. I will ask him this question of what he thinks are the latest statistics from religions, per se, and hopefully get back to you Mark.

But I just want to give a little shout-out to you, because as I understand it you’ve worked with Phil Duffy at the Woods Hole Research Institute to partner with the Catholic Dioses and the cardinal there on science and religion around these issues. So this is an example of a very creative partnership. So we thank you for that, Mark.

TUCKER: Let me just say one other thing about Mark’s question.

FASKIANOS: Sure, go ahead.

TUCKER: Yeah. And so, getting religious communities on board has taken a long, long time. And I want to just recognize that, I think, at the basis of Mark’s question. Here I am, with my husband, fifteen years at the School of the Environment at Yale, but also at the Divinity School at Yale. The Environment School gets the science and some of the social science. The Divinity School gets some of the justice issues. But they haven’t gotten this synergy. And that’s why I was making such an important point about Laudato Si’. So that’s partly why. The environment has been a bit off the screen of religions and seminaries for some time. We worked with the seminaries in the ’80s with major grants from Pew and MacArthur to infuse the seminaries with this. It’s going to take an even longer time, I think, but they’re on the right trajectory.

FASKIANOS: Great. Let’s go to Michael Strmiska with Orange County Community College.

STRMISKA: Yes. Good to be with you. And thank you so much for this valuable presentation.

I want to focus more on the negative side of things, though. A lot of my hopes for progress on the environment and other issues really took a nosedive when Donald Trump was elected. And it’s concerned me a great deal that many of his most staunch supporters are conservative Christians in the United States. So let me put it this way. I worry about sometimes being in an echo chamber among other progressive-thinking, earth-loving people who are all united in this cause, but then outside the hall that we’re in we have people who care more about guns and abortion. So what would you suggest as rhetorical or other strategies to reach out to those people?

TUCKER: Yeah. Well, again, thank you, Michael. You’re absolutely right. And that’s why I mentioned the Evangelical Environmental Network that’s been going. We had them at the Harvard Conference in 1997. So that movement within the Evangelical churches has been going for a very long time. James Ball and Rich Cizik, and so on, tremendous leaders trying to open that space. And Katharine Hayhoe, who’s a scientist in Texas, in Denton, who speaks all over on: I’m a scientist, I’m a believing Christian, but I get climate change. Her husband is an Evangelical minister. And when they married, he didn’t believe in climate change, which she converted him to. So there is this movement that is coming forward.

Now, I think how are we going to reach out, how are we going to be in conversation? There’s been a number of efforts, some of which we’ve been involved in. But there’s a film, actually, that’s very, very interesting, emerging from Wayne State University, that we’re trying to help as well, which are case studies of Evangelicals who did not believe in climate change and had this ecological conversation. They are extremely compelling. And they’re hoping to release this sometime this year, and shift that dialogue a little bit.

I think we each have to decide where we’re going to put our energies. And I think it’s within the Evangelical community young people are not in the same framework as many of their even parents or older people on a lot of these issues, including gay rights, or women’s rights, and so on. So change is glacial, I would say. We understand that. And it’s not going to go away immediately. But, if we take the civil rights movement, if we take slavery, who were some of the leaders in that movement? It was religious leaders, especially from the Jewish and Christian groups.

Abraham Heschel, Martin Luther King, and so on. Slavery, it was more than a hundred years to break down this same argument that we have about fossil fuels, that slavery and the slave trade was necessary for the economic trade between Africa, North America, and England. It was the Quakers who helped to break that. Civil rights. That you could go to a school with a Black or a white person, that you could go a church, that you could go to a swimming pool, that you could sit at a counter—like in Greensboro, North Carolina—and not be beaten for asking for a sandwich. We had come a long, long way in attitudes. Look at George Wallace, even at the end of his life, he changed his attitudes. He changed his views.

So our resolve is resilience over time for these changes. But thank you for your question. It’s so, so important.

FASKIANOS: Let’s go to Charles Paul.

PAUL: Hi. I’m the president of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

We work on building trust between religious rivals who see it ethically their responsibility to remain rivals. And they definitely believe that the next world is much more important than anything that can happen in this one. They like feeding the poor, they like all that, but if their souls are going to be tried they know what’s most important. It’s the old Pascal’s wager in terms of long-term importance. I bring that up to say that I’ve spent many years now working in the Middle East and in the United States on what we call “contestational and persuasive conversations.” They hate the word “dialogue.” Throw it out if you’re going to talk with my customers.

And I bring this to the table now to ask simply, to answer some of the questions that I’ve found very helpful. If you can build mutual respect, if the person you’re talking with really feels like you not only get what they’re saying but you respect their conviction, you respect their intelligence, if you can get there then you can start with a real conversation. So few of the conversations start there, because people think the other guy’s or gal’s either duped or demented or devilish. Those are my three big D words. And there’s no conversation that’s really happening.

So having said that, I’ll just share with the group, we have found a great conversation topic is: How will it all end? It’s a very important idea. It’s very interesting that you’ve used today the—or, excuse me—ecological conversion. When I’m seventy-four years old, when I was in New Jersey growing up I remember going to New York and seeing people with signs saying: The world’s coming to an end. Right? And everyone looked at them as if they were idiots, and they were religious idiots. Now the shoe’s on the other foot. We have the ecological community, green community, with the signs, and the religious people saying: These are idiots. The world isn’t going to end this way, right?

And if we have that sensitivity that that question is really a deep, driving question for both camps, if we unfold that, put it out there, I think there will be a certain equality to the conversation when we’re trying to bring people together to look at global warming issues. And, candidly, just to throw my favorite out there, biological engineering issues are right behind, if not the more important one, in the long run. When we start tinkering with what it is to be human. But anyhow, that’s—I just leave that for you to say that I think we need to bring people together in a conversation that is “contestational,” open and honest, without expecting to come to consensus.

TUCKER: Yep, I get it. And I agree with you. I certainly agree with you. And again, I think each person has their role. And, Charles, clearly you have this very special role, right? And I want to just say, what I especially agree is I say to scientists, who say to me: Bring the religious communities on board because we have the truth, the scientists. So I’m in your same space, I can assure you. I’m saying: We’re not going to be instrumental about religious communities, belief systems, rituals that are thousands of years old. We are going to be respectful. We are going to at least try and understand. And that’s why we go to meetings like the Ecological Society of America that has ten thousand scientists. And, when the papal encyclical came out, they endorsed the encyclical. Not one objection. The president, I asked her, was there any objection to that? No.

And so the scientists are coming on board because they know not just that the need the large numbers of people and so on, but they need the moral force. And I couldn’t agree more that mutual respect has got to be developed. I think it is absolutely essential. And if I could even take that a step further, I see our students at Yale who are brilliant and want to make a contribution and so on, but they are very fragmented between a scientific worldview—it’s all materialist, it’s reductionist, it’s meaningless, have a nice day—and a religious view, which is it’s right here, it’s in the scriptures, we have all the answers.

That’s why we did Journey of the Universe, to say there’s got to be a fusion which leads to a conversation, as you’re saying, between the understanding of evolution over time, the understanding of creation stories from the world’s religions, and to say that new mutually enhancing human-Earth relations are critical to the future—there’s no future without a shared future. There’s no future for future generations, our children and their children, without this mutual respect and understanding. And the students come alive when they can see this integration.

And by the way, just to finish, ecological conversation is the term that the pope is using, and integral ecology is the term too, because he’s trying to put together, as you are in your work, these different worldviews and contestation. So thank you for that great question.

PAUL: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: We have over ten questions or hands in the air, so I will get to as many as I can. So, let’s got to Katherine Marshall.

TUCKER: Oh, yeah. Good.

MARSHALL: Katherine Marshall at Georgetown University.

Mary Evelyn, I think I might know the answer to the question of what keeps you awake at night, but my question is more what are the questions that you are looking for answers to? You have decades of research. What are the questions you want to research in the future, looking ahead?

TUCKER: Wow. What a great question, Katherine. And—just want to give a shout-out—World Faith Development Dialogue that you worked with religious leaders and the World Bank on, and you’ve worked on development issues your whole career. So, that’s the kind of dialogue, by the way, that’s really needed. And you and I have talked about this, between the human issues of the poverty and so on and the environment.

So, gosh, areas—that would be one, actually, Katherine, you see, that I think we need to have a deeper conversation on how that can be done. But I think—I return to this—I’m hoping over the summer to do a little bit of retreat for writing, and to try and write in a more personal way of what keeps me up at night, which I write in journals all the time and my worries about the future, and yet where are we going to draw hope from? Where are we not going to sink into despair, or frustration, or anger? And that is I think something that is incumbent on all of us, right, frankly? And not just in the light sense, or an arrogant sense, but in the most humble sense. People like Havel have this amazing sense about the spirit of hope.

So that is something that I think—I mean, why I’m saying that, Katherine, you can appreciate because being at Georgetown, and so on, and this wonderful Berkley forum. The academic community, except at places like Georgetown which have a religious ethos, but Yale’s very secular. So if I speak about spirituality or even religions, my scientist colleagues don’t really get it.

So this dichotomy, this divide, and this inability to speak about our fears and our hopes is something I think we need to move into that space, because the next generation wants authenticity. They want to hear that we don’t have all the answers. We’ve made many mistakes. And so I like to say, an intergenerational handshake to the next generation. And their idealism is still exploding. With all their sense of depression and confusion, they want to make a contribution. And that is one of the greatest areas I think still to be explored, and intergenerational handshake.

FASKIANOS: I’m going next to Homi Gandhi.

GANDHI: Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.

You did a wonderful presentation from various faiths point of view, but there was no mention of Zoroastrian faith. I realize that, and because we are very, very small. But I’d like to emphasize this fact, and I’m going to read out something which has been written and spoken by Professor Mary Boyce and Professor Hanels at the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London. “Zarathustra was the first to emphasize the need for harmony between man and nature. He had an almost obsessive respect for all creation—the elements, the fire, the sun, the earth and the waters. He taught man how to fit into nature’s cycle and how to service and conserve previous natural resources. He taught good hygiene and clean practices, so as not to pollute or defile the elements. This was thirty-five centuries before OSHA and before environmental consciousness became a buzzword.” And you didn’t mention anything about Zoroastrian faith.

TUCKER: Well, Homi, thank you so much. And I noticed your name on the list, so I’m delighted that you came in. And I did mean, actually, to mention you. It was in my notes, but I didn’t. And I’m sorry.

But you’re absolutely right. Of course Zoroastrianism has had a huge influence, and so has its dualism, frankly, right, of the light and the dark and the good and the evil. And we have incredible contributions musically from Zubin Mehta and so on. So I’m so glad that you read that passage, that beautiful passage. And I just want to affirm that and say, this is why the CL Forum of Religion and Ecology wants to keep extending the inclusivity of the voices of all the world’s religions, and of people who are not overtly religious, let’s say that as well. So thank you, Homi. Thank you very much.

FASKIANOS: I’m going to go to Kusumita Pedersen next.

PEDERSEN: I think I raised my hand by mistake, so please go to the next person.

FASKIANOS: OK. No problem. Let’s go to Michael Thomas. A pastor at Dartmouth College, is that correct?

THOMAS: Formerly at Dartmouth. I’m retired now. I’m a woodworker.

I’m very grateful for this presentation. Thank you both. And I have a question in regard to what we might learn from COVID-19. And I apologize if you’ve already sort of dealt with this kind of question. I was dealing with a barking dog for part of the discussion. And that is, just as in my opinion that what we’ve learned from COVID-19, among many other things, besides the fact that we are all in the world experiencing this, is that for those of us in the United States, with our health system, we’ve learned that we must disconnect health insurance from employment status. That’s one, I think, obvious truth from what we’ve learned.

So my question is, is there something similar, analogous to what we might have learned from COVID-19, or something similar, that involves the whole world that we can take away from this pandemic about the importance of the environment and being in this all together?

TUCKER: Wonderful. Thank you, Michael.

So I think that’s a great question. And there’s a number of really fascinating articles which I’ll share later, because people are trying to respond to exactly that question. So I’ll just take one. I’ll mention what we were talking about before, of the individual versus the group, and that religions have to assist, I think, in a sense of the common good, and a common future. That’s one area that they can help on. And the Earth Charter, by the way, is of course a fantastic declaration of interdependence, not just independence that is part of this sense of integral ecology. Ecology, justice, and peace is central to the Earth Charter.

So we have the ways of thinking about interdependence and relationality that have emerged over time. That came out in 2000. But specifically, I think this sense of interdependence is what is rising up in human consciousness. Neither the wealthy nor the gated communities, no one can escape this moment. It’s an equalizer. Everyone is brought to our knees. It’s a portal for transformation.

But let me be specific. And that is that as far as we understand it, this came through probably a market in Wuhan, and I’ve spent a lot of time in China and I’ve seen these markets where animals are sold, and eaten, and so on. So bats probably carried this forward. And we know most of these disease, like SARS and MERS and mad cow disease even, are part—and Ebola. The transmission from the animal, we are animals too, but the animal world to the human world is something that we are learning about.

Now, you can take this in a whole range of directions. There’s a big article in the New York Times about the Indonesian market, and so on. China’s tried to shut down these markets, and the trade in animal and animal parts. World Wildlife has worked on this. But biodiversity if where I want to come to. There is supposed to be a huge conference in Kunming in China in October, no doubt it will be mostly virtual, but that is all about biodiversity and the loss of biodiversity.

We’re in a sixth extinction period because we had no understanding of we’re part of a living Earth community, and how do these communities of fish, and migrating patterns, and butterflies, and caribou, and turtles, and salmon—all these intelligences of migrations and so on, the intelligences of the world around us is astonishing. And that’s what we’re given a chance to look at again, right, at this moment, where nature is coming back, showing itself to us in clear skies, and we’ve got foxes running through our yard here in Connecticut, and so on.

So I think one of the things we’re learning is interconnection, interdependence, and especially through biodiversity and ecosystems that support us, that contain us. Like drinking water. How can we not—water is life. The Hunkpapa Sioux. So that’s where I think we are learning, among many, many things. Thank you.

FASKIANOS: I’m just going to try to squeeze in one last question, and then you can make a few closing remarks. We’re almost at the end of our time.

Mayfair Yang, if you could keep it brief. And I apologize to all those hands I couldn’t get to.

YANG: Yes. I’m in the Religious Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

And thank you very much, Mary Evelyn Tucker. I’m familiar with your work, and really want to applaud all the contributions you’ve made over the years. And I’m also writing a book on Chinese religiosities and environmentalism, of which Buddhism and Daoism of course will figure very strongly.

But my question is about my own country now. I’m a citizen of the U.S. And I’m very concerned that, as the gentleman from Orange County also mentioned, so there has been a great shift that you’ve talked about amongst the theological community in the United States and in Western countries of Christian theologians going green. However, we have not seen for the most part this movement amongst grassroots ministers.

So unlike the Catholic Church, which is more centralized—and once the pope gets on board that has a tremendous impact—but in the United States the Evangelical Protestants at the grassroots level, they have not absorbed the green message from the theological kind of a reform people. And there even is very much of an anti-intellectual kind of backlash against those educated theologians who would presume to preach to them. So how does one move to connect with working class  Evangelicals to convince them? And how do you overcome this tremendous bridge between the ivory tower theologians and the grassroots ministers?

TUCKER: Yeah. Well, that’s a great question. And it goes back to, I think, one or two others about the Evangelical community and so on. And I’ve mentioned several times, the Evangelical Environmental Network and so on. So I think this question actually is even broader than Evangelicals. In other words, how do we bring together the theological rethinking? What is dominion? What is stewardship in Genesis? There are a lot of people who’ve worked on that issue, that we’re not just controllers of nature, we’re people who have to care for creation, et cetera. So that shift—that worldview shift that’s being worked out by theologians, and ethicists, and so on, and there’s a lot of great Christian ethicists working on this too. I think it is beginning to penetrate.

This is why I mentioned all of these groups that are actually working in congregations and much more on the grassroots. I mentioned Green Faith. I mentioned Blessed Tomorrow. We’ve got Interreligious Ecojustice Network here in Connecticut. They are all working on the grassroots. I should say Faith in Earth in Chicago, and Earth Ministry in Seattle. Some of these are twenty-five years old and working right on the ground, river clean up, and pipeline protests, and so on.

Everyone’s concerned about the Evangelical community, and so on, but I don’t think we can—it’s back to Charles’ point. We can’t say: You are wrong. We are right. There’s got to be a lot of strategies in here that it’s not just the—as you said—the intellectual theologians and so on, but breakthroughs have got to come within those communities as well. So we each find our niche, I think. It’s a great question. And I think it will continue to be a very, very key question.

But I also—maybe if it’s OK, Irina, to wind up—I wanted to just pick up, you’re from such a great department in Santa Barbara, in California, where religious studies has bloomed and blossomed for many years. And I also wanted to pick up on your book, which I’m delighted to know about, that maybe we can just end here, because I didn’t have a chance to refer much to Asia, which is really my specialty, especially China and Japan and so on. And I want to mention something that has aspirational qualities but is actually happening. And that’s ecological civilization in China. Now, Professor Yang might have some doubts about it, or skepticism. And we all do, in a certain way.

But let me say that the revival of Confucianism, which is my primary area of study, I don’t think those of us who were at Columbia forty years ago studying with de Bary and then Tu Weiming at Harvard, these great Confucian scholars, ever anticipated that there would be a revival of Confucianism in China, which is now taught in the schools. It is now a part of philosophy departments. I’ve been to many conferences on this. It’s part of the government, philosophy, and the party congresses. Xi Jinping refers to it, and so on. And so there’s a political ideology there, and so on.

But there was a book done on the Analects of Confucius just a few years ago that sold ten million copies. Now, that is also moving into this integration—it’s why Professor Yang’s book will be very important—of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism as the great traditions of China, which have influenced millions of people over time, are moving towards a sensibility that these religions can help construct ecological civilization. And that’s been picked up here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Maybe on our next conversation we can begin there. So thank you, Irina.

FASKIANOS: Oh, thank you so much, Mary Evelyn Tucker. And I apologize, there were so many hands up and we’re out of time. We could not get to you. But we’re going to have to convene again and continue this conversation. But I encourage you all to follow Mary Evelyn Tucker’s work with—and John Grim—with the Forum on Religion and Ecology on their website at Fore.Yale.edu, and we’ll circulate the link as well as some of the other resources that were on this discussion. I also encourage you to follow CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Program on Twitter at @CFR_Religion. And of course, go to CFR.org, ThinkGlobalHealth.org, and ForeignAffairs.com for the latest updates about COVID-19, as well as other issues and regional analysis that we have there.

So again, please join me in thanking Mary Evelyn Tucker. Please email your suggestions for future topics and speakers to [email protected]. We look forward to your participation in this new webinar video format. And stay well.

TUCKER: Thank you.

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