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, social conflict, and systemic injustice. 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 several decades ago, 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 humankind and the whole Earth community. 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.     
There are many ways that religions are stepping forward to address the climate emergency. One way is by drawing on their ethical principles and teachings, such as the interconnectedness of life and the responsibility of humanity to care for nature. Religious communities also engage in climate advocacy and activism, using their cultural influence to raise awareness and promote paths toward sustainability and justice. This includes supporting policies to mitigate climate change, participating in global climate marches, divesting from fossil fuels, and doing educational outreach to their community members. It can also include efforts to role-model sustainable practices through projects like community gardens, renewable energy initiatives, and sustainable building for places of worship.
It is important to note that religious communities are not doing this work in isolation from one another. They are increasingly recognizing the importance of collaboration across religious boundaries. Interfaith initiatives are emerging to address the climate emergency collectively, including organization like GreenFaith, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Faith for Earth Coalition, Interfaith Power and Light, and the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology. Such collaborative efforts underscore our shared responsibility to safeguard our planetary home.
Religious perspectives on the climate emergency are expressed in numerous statements issued by religions and by interreligious groups, and also in a growing body of scholarly analyses and critical reflections found in books, articles, special issues of journals, podcasts, and online platforms. The Climate Emergency section of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology website reflects the promising abundance and diversity of work being done at the intersection of religion and climate change. 
See also:
Berry, Evan (ed). Climate Politics and the Power of Religion (Indiana University Press, 2022).
Haberman, David L. (ed). Understanding Climate Change through Religious Lifeworlds (Indiana University Press, 2021).
Jenkins, Willis, Evan Berry, and Luke Kreider. “Religion and Climate Change.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Vol. 43: 85-108, October 2018.
Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. Special Issue on Climate Change. Volume 50, Issue 4. December 2015.