From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: New study says religions can boost environmentalism

Date Tue, 14 Jan 2003 16:37:27 -0500

January 14, 2003


Episcopalians: New study says religions can boost 

by Jan Nunley

(ENS) A new Worldwatch Institute study says religious 
institutions can provide a needed boost to environmental 
protection and sustainable development advocates--if both groups 
can overcome what the report called "mutual misperceptions and 
divergent worldviews."

The report, published in December, 2002, points to a number of 
partnerships between the two groups, including the Episcopal 
Church's own Regeneration Project in California, which promotes 
energy efficiency and "green energy" among individuals and 

Author Gary Gardner, director of research at Worldwatch, a 
Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank, said a close 
collaboration of religious institutions and environmentalists 
"could change the world. These groups have different but 
complementary strengths."

"Environmentalists have a strong grounding in science. Religious 
institutions enjoy moral authority and a grassroots presence 
that shape the worldviews and lifestyles of billions of people," 
Gardner said. "It's a powerful combination that until recently 
remained virtually unexplored."

Shared interests

According to Gardner, environmentalists and people of faith 
share important interests. "Each looks at the world from a moral 
perspective; each views nature as having value that surpasses 
economics; and each opposes excessive consumption," the report 

Religions, he said, possess one or more of five "sources of 
power," which include the ability to shape people's worldviews 
and wield moral authority, have the ear of multitudes of 
adherents, possess strong financial and institutional assets, 
and generate so-called "social capital", an asset in community 
building. "All of these assets can be used to help build a 
socially just and environmentally sustainable world," Gardner 

What gets in the way are concerns by environmentalists over the 
"checkered history" of religious groups with regard to "the role 
of women, the nature of truth, and the moral status of humanity 
in the natural order," Gardner pointed out. Similarly, for 
people of faith, environmentalists may represent a secularist 
"narrow-minded righteousness" that refuses to recognize the 
importance of the spiritual.

Gardner observed with approval that Archbishop of Canterbury 
Rowan Williams has already made "curbing the culture of 
consumption" a major focus of his ministry. But, he noted 
gloomily, "despite centuries of experience preaching against the 
illusion of satisfaction provided by earthly wealth, religion in 
industrial countries is struggling in its efforts to counter the 
consumerist tide." 

Episcopalian energy

Gardner's report pointed out several examples of cooperation 
among advocates of religious and environmental concerns.

California's Regeneration Project, an initiative of the 
Episcopal Church, includes Episcopal Power and Light (EP&L), 
started in 1996 when the Rev. Sally Bingham realized that she 
might capitalize on the state's deregulation of energy to 
persuade the state's Episcopalians to choose energy generated 
from renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, and biomass. 

The Regeneration Project now includes California Interfaith 
Power and Light, which does political advocacy to promote 
renewable energy. "In its short life, the Regeneration Project 
has spread to seven states, and it could have a substantial 
effect on energy consumption patterns if adopted by religious 
groups and adherents nationwide," Gardner wrote. "In addition to 
offering a shot in the arm for emerging renewable energy 
companies, the project could help boost energy conservation."

Lower energy use raises awareness

The project also encourages participating parishes to undertake 
an energy audit of their buildings. Gardner reported that an 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey of commercial 
buildings calculates that "an energy efficiency upgrade of the 
country's 269,000 houses of worship, which account for about 5 
percent of US commercial building floor space, would prevent 6 
million tons of carbon dioxide from being released to the 
atmosphere, while saving congregations more than $500 million." 

He said the savings in carbon emissions would constitute only "a 
tiny fraction" of U.S. carbon emissions, but that "the real 
returns would come from enlisting congregant support for similar 
conservation activities in their homes."

"The 44 percent of the American public who regularly visit a 
church, synagogue, or mosque constitutes a huge pool of 
potential converts to energy efficiency and green energy 
sources, especially if efforts to green the church are 
accompanied by efforts to raise consciousness among congregants, 
as in the EP&L program," Gardner said.


--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News 

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