Who’d have thought?
By John Bingham
It has been one of the most fraught relationships of recent centuries, at least in the popular imagination.
But a group of scientists are pinning their hopes for the salvation of the planet, in the face of climate change and habitat destruction – on religion.
Their case, set out in an essay in the journal Science, is being described a “watershed moment” for scientists and faith leaders alike.
It argues that engaging religious leaders, rather than relying on politicians, could hold the key to mobilising billions of people around the world to change aspects of their lifestyles to help prevent catastrophic climate change.
The article singles out Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church, with its 1.2 billion-strong network of followers, as the key but calls for religious leaders of every stripe to be recruited.
It argues that religion can provide a unique combination of “moral leadership” and global organisational structures required to bring about practical changes which could have an immediate effect, such as providing millions of the world’s poorest people with cleaner forms of fuel.
It comes as Pope Francis finalises a widely anticipated papal encyclical on the environment, throwing the full weight of the Catholic Church behind efforts to limit climate change.
The article is co-authored by Prof Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economist based at St John’s College, Cambridge.
“Natural and social scientists have done their part in documenting the irreversible environmental damages (albeit with large uncertainties) that we have inflicted and in spelling out specific mitigation actions,” they write.
“The transformational step may very well be a massive mobilisation of public opinion by the Vatican and other religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment.”
They argue that the “invisible hand” of the market, the term coined by the philosopher and economist Adam Smith to describe how economies can regulate themselves, can never achieve the kind of change needed to protect the planet.
“The rise of market fundamentalism and the drive for growth in profits and gross domestic product (GDP) have encouraged behaviour that is at odds with pursuit of the common good,” they write.
“Finding ways to develop a sustainable relationship with nature requires not only engagement of scientists and political leaders, but also moral leadership that religious institutions are in a position to offer.”
Professor Naomi Oreskes, a leading Harvard historian of science, said: “This is a watershed moment.
“For 20 years, scientists have been reluctant to speak out on the need to change business as usual for fear of being labelled ‘political,’ and reluctant to address the moral dimensions of climate change for fear of being labelled ‘unscientific.’
“Professors Dasgupta and Ramanathan remind us that we are all responsible for the common good.”
Source: The Telegraph