In Addressing Climate Change, Science and Religion are Complimentary – not Contradictory

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Last week at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), world leaders and delegates from countries around the world met in Glasgow, Scotland, to address the existential threat of climate change. After two weeks of negotiations, world leaders signed off on a new climate change agreement committing to different measures to avoid the worst damage from climate change. While many scientists and activists believe that the commitments made at the summit did not go far enough, the final compromise will lead to additional discussions to address this urgent issue. 

People of Faith Overwhelmingly Support Climate Action

Politically powerful voices on the Religious Right have publicly disputed the scientific consensus on climate change. These efforts to combat climate action proposals are often cloaked in the language of religion. Religious leaders like Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, have said man-made climate change is an “imaginary crisis” and advise that someone read the Bible as the solution. Members of the Religious Right would have you believe that scientific consensus and religious belief are at odds with one another.

This could not be further from the truth. The Pew Research Center studies have found only a modest effect of religion on attitudes about environmental protection. The broad majority of religious Americans support taking urgent action on climate change. Sixty percent of Christians and 79 percent of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims believe that “passing a bill to address climate change and its effects” should be a top or an important priority for Congress, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted in April 2021. This includes 57 percent of evangelical Americans, who tend to be the most conservative of the United States’ religious groups.

Religious leaders of various traditions have been vocal in their support for climate action. For example, Pope Francis, who attended the Earth Day summit, encouraged the leaders of the world’s largest economies to “take charge of the care of nature, of this gift that we have received and that we have to heal, guard, and carry forward.” Perhaps more than any other religious tradition, Indigenous peoples have played a key role in the struggle against climate change. The perception that religion and science are at odds with one another discounts the enormous contributions that people of various faith traditions have made in climate activism.  

Science and Religion are Complimentary, not Mutually Exclusive

The First Amendment right of religious freedom guarantees every American the ability to make their own decisions about religion – to affirm, embrace, and practice the religion of their choice or to reject it as a matter of conscience and conviction.  One person’s religious freedom necessarily ends when my free exercise would harm your wellbeing, be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually. 

In tackling issues such as climate change, we are reminded that in order to protect all people, our decision and actions must be based on science, not personal belief. This same principle is true in addressing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic: a public health crisis unparalleled in modern history. From the very start of the pandemic, Interfaith Alliance opposed religious exemptions from equally applied COVID-19 public health restrictions. 

Across belief and practice, we are united by  “a deeply-held commitment to protecting life and the most vulnerable among us.” Through this public health emergency, climate change, and beyond, we must prioritize the health and safety of our communities and our planet. The actions we take now will not only affect us but also future generations.

Learn about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to advance true religious freedom.