Al Gore’s prominence in the climate change discussion has led some in the media to assume that it’s strictly a liberal and secular issue. They are wrong.
On a viciously hot day in Jerusalem this brutally hot summer, three prominent religious figures - a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew - gathered at the Jerusalem Press Club to call for action on climate change, “the ultimate religious imperative of our time!”
These religious leaders are not members of liberal denominations - quite the contrary; religiously speaking, you might call them strict constructionists. Father Francesco Patton is the Franciscan order’s chief custodian of the Holy Land, Kadi Iyad Zahalha, is a judge on the Shari’a Court of Appeal in Israel and Rabbi David Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi who was the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland.
Brought together by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, the three spoke from their hearts to an audience of international media. Although they based their comments on different sacred texts, they expressed a unified message:
• Protecting the environment is a religious obligation.
• Climate change is an urgent problem.
• Interfaith cooperation is required to properly address it.
We human beings are part of nature, the panel agreed, created by one God, and given the responsibility to care for and protect the rest of creation. Failure to meet this obligation constitutes sin. When we stand idly by as the environment degrades, we are also failing our responsibility to fellow humans, and to future generations. In Rabbi Rosen’s words, the answer to the environmentally related question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” must be a vigorous “yes!”
Father Patton made reference to his own personal history. He recalled his childhood on a farm in Northern Italy, when the harvest normally took place in September and October. Now they harvest in August. “Strange summers,” he observed, that bring unusual heat and thunderstorms.
Recognizing the ongoing political conflicts that blazed even as we met, Kadi Zahalha said, “Let’s leave conflict out of this dialogue; leave that to others.” He poignantly noted, “what is the point of struggling for territory if it will all become desert?” Father Patton referred to Pope Frances’ comments about the worldwide refugee crisis, which includes climate refugees as well as war refugees. Populations are migrating to find sustenance, fleeing exhausted lands, now arid and unproductive. (Seventeen million people face hunger in East Africa alone this year, according to the United Nations.)
We can no longer afford to ignore the relationship between an overheating, parched environment and global political issues. Case in point: The war being waged by Saudi Arabia against Iran’s proxies in Yemen, combined with a record, climate-change compounded drought, has resulted in the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, which has already spread beyond Yemen’s borders.
The message of this conservatively religious panel was clear: Responding to climate change is a religious imperative. That was also the message Pope Frances sent when he gave President Trump a copy of his encyclical on climate change. That is, as well, the message of the statement by Israel Orthodox Rabbis on the Climate Crisis, and the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.
The faiths that inspire us with a vision of nature in the fabled Garden of Eden are now calling upon us to act to protect what’s left of the garden.