"Religious Environmentalism: Some Good News for a Change," a Commentary by Roger S. Gottlieb

February 20, 2007

Author: Roger S. Gottlieb

Source: Cayman Net News


There are few easier ways to fish—in the (very) short run, of course—than using dynamite. However the long-term results—depletion of fish stocks, destruction of the sheltering coral reef—made the government of Tanzania forbid the practice. But local fisherman continued dynamiting, ignoring government pamphlets, stringent laws and advice from western ecologists. What finally led them to stop and undertake plans for long-term sustainable fishing practices was the Koran. In 2000, local sheiks were brought together by the U.K.-based Alliance for Religions and Conservation, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science, the World Wildlife Fund and CARE. The sheiks ruled that exploding ecosystems violated Koranic injunctions against wasting God’s creation—and the dynamiting days were over.

Half a world away, following the tenets of Chinese religion rather than Islam, researchers at the world-renowned Beijing School of Traditional Chinese Medicine are trying to protect endangered species by changing traditional prescriptions which call for ingredients like tiger penis, bear gal and rhinoceros horn. The high price of these ingredients leads poachers to violate international bans on their trade, but the researchers have argued that the use of endangered species violates Buddhist and Taoist principle of balance in nature, and thus are bad for both the environment and the soul.

In 2004 the sixth annual meeting of Sisters of Earth, a loose network of American nuns, mingled presentations on sustainability, eco-spirituality, earth literacy and bioregionalism with religious celebration. The participants—from Texas and Massachusetts, New Jersey and Colorado—run organic farms, educate their local communities about the virtues of local food movement, and protest destructive World Bank practices. They seek, as one of them puts it, to “live lightly on the earth,” and, as another says, “to bring to awareness the dangerous loss of biodiversity and the usurpation of seed lines” by multinational corporations. The women embrace both Catholicism and all people of goodwill. While they believe in the Trinity, they see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit permeating all life.

These localized movements reflect a much larger, historically unprecedented and enormously hopeful global movement of religious environmentalism. Facing the same environmental crisis that their secular counterparts do, people of faith have been changing their basic attitudes towards nature and seeing the moral connections between our treatment of nature and our treatment of people.