Faith and Hope in Environmentalism in the Face of Climate Change

Coverage of the session “Faith and Hope in Environmentalism in the Face of Climate Change,” presented by Sam Benoit. Click here to access the presentation abstract.

By Sara Velde

A parallel can be drawn between the global changes made in response to CFC Products, causing a hole in ozone layer to form, to the challenges faced and changes that must be made in response to global warming.

But, global warming is much more complex. Smog is to global warming as gang violence is to nuclear war-fare.

Facing such a calamitous situation, what is the role of faith and hope in environmentalism in the face of climate change?

The Reality of Climate Change
Previous presentations have made a clear case and shown that debate over whether climate change is occurring is over. Where there is a lack of consensus in the scientific community, it is in what exactly will happen and what should be done. Just a few degrees of change will result in an effect on humanity from water shortages to increasing infectious disease.

There are a number of examples of civilizations that have collapsed as a result of their relationship with the environment. Easter Island is just one example.

But, what is the point of discussing these calamitous situations if they are inevitable? Is there room for faith and hope?

The Faculty of Reason
Reason has been described as “a gun for hire” – it is a facilitator rather than an initiator. It can provide us w/ facts and tools, but does not explain how to use them. Without more, reason has as much potential for good as evil (Minj Kamf is a good example).

Faith is a difficult concept to describe. St. Thomas Aquinas says faith “.. signifies the assent of intellect to that which is believed.” There are many ways to use the word faith, but in this context, we are using is as it relates to God.

Hope is more specific. It refers to the future- to expectation- something to look forward to. Remember the story of Pandora’s box. As well as all the evil in the world, Hope was in Pandora’s box. Why was it in there? Greeks understood hope as a double-edged sword. Nietzche says that hope is the most evil of evils b/c it prolongs man’s torment. It enables him to keep expecting improvement and being disappointed.

Faith and Hope in Religion
These are concepts that have been explored in Religions. “…faith the size of a mustard seed…” is one example from the Bible. In the Baha’i Faith, we see a discussion of faith as well.

How did the Faith and Hope Get there?
Faith and Hope are everywhere in society. They are found in popular movies, literature, dance and art. In religion, faith and hope are promoted through stories. Think of the Hanukkah story. The Baha’i story of Fort Tabarsi.

Hope Sells
Look at Obama! Politically, hope sells. Books use “hope” in the titles. These books are full of people doing good things. They provide an example of good, and therefore a reason to hopeful. At the end of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore gives a laundry list of things the American people have achieved to inspire hope in viewers.

Hope is powerful and organizations use hope as motivation and inspiration.

In the face of climate change, reason is not enough- it only inspires denial + despair which will result in inaction.
Hope and faith are not enough. Alone, they result in reliance on the supernatural and denial, and again, result in inaction.
But, in the face of the calamity that is climate change, reason + faith/hope = meaningful action. Reason, as a descendant of science, and Faith, as an ancestor of religion, exemplify the Baha’i analogy of science and religion as two wings of a bird – both must be strong and balanced for the bird of humanity to fly.
Both wings of science and religion are necessary.

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