Overview Essay

Sam Mickey, University of San Francisco

The warming of Earth’s climate is among the most complex and urgent challenges facing life on Earth. Caused by human activity, particularly the emission of carbon dioxide due to the combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas, anthropogenic climate change goes by many names, including global warming, global heating, the climate crisis, and the climate emergency, among others. Insofar as it poses an existential threat to the survival of life on Earth, anthropogenic climate change is indeed an emergency. This is not to say that the climate emergency is more important than other ecological or social concerns, such as deforestation, freshwater scarcity, poverty, and war. Rather, the climate emergency intersects with those concerns, and it can thus be understood as amplifying them rather than taking priority over them.   

            Scientific consensus about climate change began forming in the 1980s, and since then climate change has become an increasingly prevalent topic across the varieties of human endeavor, including politics, economics, education, activism, art, technological development, and public discourse. During that time, religious responses to climate change have also become increasingly prominent, as religious leaders, communities, and organizations have supported individual and institutional actions that address the climate emergency and propose viable ways forward for religions and for all humankind. While religions alone are not sufficient to undertake the transitions required to mitigate and adapt to a heating climate, it would not be an exaggeration to say that their participation in those transitions is necessary.      

Religious perspectives on the climate emergency are expressed in the numerous statements issued by religions and by interreligious groups. Scholarly analyses and critical reflections on the role of religions in responding to climate change continue developing, as evidenced by the growing body of research found in books, articles, special issues of journals. A compilation of links to websites about the intersection of religions and climate change indicates that engagements with this topic are also emerging in online contexts.

See also: Jenkins, Willis, Evan Berry, and Luke Kreider. “Religion and Climate Change.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Vol. 43:85-108, October 2018.