From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: New study says religions can boost environmentalism
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
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
"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."
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
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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