“All of these practical answers to ‘what can we do’ or ‘what do we do now?’ are rooted in moral and theological frameworks” said Codi Norred, program director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, during his opening comments at Yale Divinity School’s panel discussion "Beyond Despair and Denial: Facing Climate Change with Moral Urgency and Hope" on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. “The question ‘what do we do now’ is inherently motivated by how important we think the work of climate change is,” he continued.
Climate change is increasingly recognized as the single greatest threat facing organized human civilization, though the conversation generally focuses on its political and economic dimensions. What is often ignored is the theological and, more specifically, its moral aspects. Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer moderated the conversation surrounding this dimension and which sought to ask how religious communities can galvanize the population into supporting efforts to combat climate change.
Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, insists that the impetus must rest with religious communities, not only because of the moral imperative, but also due to their history spearheading social change. She noted that segregation in the United States was a generally accepted practice through the 1950s, but when religious communities became involved they added life and energy to the then-nascent civil rights movement which ultimately delivered some of the most momentous pieces of legislation in American history. “That’s why I see the civil rights movement and the religion and ecology movement in a continuum,” she added.
“What does all this have to do with religion?” Yale Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling asked. “Well sacred stories of creation make it obvious that we humans are part of creation…[and] we’re not only part of creation, we are charged with being responsible for creation.” In short, humans have a moral duty to protect life on earth, and in an era in which climate change poses the greatest threat to all life, it is humanity that must mobilize to ensure its survival into the future.
“A thing that marks our contemporary moment is the sense that we are constantly in a state of crisis,” lamented Clifton Granby, assistant professor of ethics and philosophy at Yale Divinity School. This makes it difficult for people to “widen their moral sphere of concern beyond what is immediate” which leads to climate denial and, perhaps worse, climate inaction. By centralizing the moral dimension, a new sense of hope might be enough to push humans past the constant sense of crisis that debilitates climate efforts and allow them to begin implementing practical and sustainable solutions.
The panel discussion took place in Atlanta, at the Cathedral of St. Philip.