Scientists call for religions to transform our world

A somewhat surprising headline appeared in the Telegraph last week: Scientists turn to Pope Francis and world’s religions to save the planet. Even more surprising: it was reporting a paper in Science, in which two professors, of economics and oceanography, argued that some of the world’s key problems – unsustainable consumption, population pressure, poverty and environmental degradation – were unlikely to be addressed by our national governments or our existing “socioecological processes”. Instead, religious influences might be the answer:

The transformative step may well be a massive mobilization of public opinion by the Vatican and other religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment.

Readers of this blog will find this a familiar idea, but it is not a viewpoint often expressed by scientists who (as far as we know) have no publically professed faith.

What lies behind this? One factor is that Pope Francis is widely known to be writing a papal encyclical on the environment. It is hoped, with some justification, that he will call for the Roman Catholic church to become far more active in tackling this issue than it is at present. But it is also worth noting that the initial invitation to partnership came from the Vatican. Both authors were invited to a Workshop on Sustainable Humanity held at the Vatican in May this year. Its concluding statement included parallel calls for practical action on environment, poverty and renewable energy sources for all – true sustainable development – and a renewed attitude of humanity to itself and its surroundings, seeing them as inextricably linked.

A human ecology that is healthy in terms of ethical virtues contributes to the achievement of sustainable nature and a balanced environment. Today we need a relationship of mutual benefit: true values should permeate the economy and respect for Creation should promote human dignity and wellbeing.

It’s regrettable such a powerful statement and the workshop as a whole failed to attract more media attention. Let us hope that Francis’s encyclical receives more notice, particularly in the light of the round of climate negotiations now underway.

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