With the USA pulling out of the Paris climate change accord, the subject of global warming is again front and centre news. Predictions of rising seas, melting glaciers, drought, famine and disruptions to the economy undergird the concerns.
What climate scientists have found over the course of decades of meetings – such as this recent one – is that although world leaders may intellectually understand the concerns being conveyed and agree in principle, there is often no meaningful follow-through that leads to specific and consistent actions that make a difference. Instead, this issue has often led to rancorous, disparate views about the actual science of climate change, about the data, and about the economics of mobilizing very different nations and cultures to do something effective.
Hence, scientists are now welcoming spiritual leaders as new allies. This is especially true of Pope Francis, because of the large number of people he can influence in many different cultures, and his strong and passionate message on the dire problem of global warming. It seems that some climatologists are now wondering: can religion connect the head – the intellectual logic – to the heart – the love – where the message of science is failing?
A recent CBC article shared a story about one scientist who glimpsed the importance of this link. Veerabhadran Ramanathan works at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. His moment of insight came when sharing a paper on glacier melting with members of the Pontiff’s Academy of Science. It was a scholarly work, full of rational, scientific facts. After carefully reading it through, one bishop added a simple, yet profound sentence to the end. He wrote: “If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us.”
Yet, the restoration of habitat – while a critical action – wouldn’t on its own create social justice and peace. For me, what the bishop pointed to is the need for humanity to learn more about a spiritual unity that can mobilize people to consistently work together for the good of all, no matter what the crisis might be. Neither perfect data nor mere human “goodism” has proven to produce lasting solutions.
However, what does have the power to mobilize people to work together is a shared vision that springs from a sense of spiritual unity that has its foundation in the Divine. When we understand that we and all creation are one with the Divine, we feel impelled to work together in practical ways that bless everything from the smallest microbe hidden in the glaciers to the great forests – and of course, each other. This spiritual influence can dissolve fears as well as hardened habits and opinions, giving us a better, more united approach to resolving our environmental, and other problems.
Writings by the prophet Isaiah – recognized by all the monotheistic religions – helped me gain a clearer insight into the importance of a change in thinking about our environment. Living in a difficult time of war and invasions, drought and famine, Isaiah saw the healing value of remaining steadfast and consistent in his perception of the Divine as the propelling influence in consciousness. He presented two illustrations for us to consider. One was the picture of a parched and barren earth, which related to self-centred human thought, often divisive and unproductive; the other, was of a beautiful earth – productive, living in peace and full of life — which he associated with a divinely centred consciousness.
In a time of terrible turmoil, Isaiah was reminding his people of the need to align themselves with God and to seek peace and goodness. You could say that his commentary was a result of his understanding about the nature of consciousness and its connection to how we experience the whole of creation, including our relationship with each other.
When we become willing to give up our individual opinions and work together, what seems an impossible task becomes possible. The barren areas can then become a fruitful field again that blesses everyone.
One story from National Geographic about an environmental challenge in Arizona gives an insight into how this unity of thought – even across different cultures and beliefs – can change entrenched perceptions and fears to bring about a different result regarding environmental challenges. The valley of the River Verde was an oasis of beauty and agricultural success, but the flow in the river began to decline. This impending disaster galvanized scientists, farmers and residents into action to successfully work together in reversing the problem. It took the willingness of many people with a stake in this crisis to change their thinking about how they did things – giving up old habits for new practices that embraced caring for all the users of the resource, including the wildlife. According to the article, the river has begun to rebound, and an ongoing commitment of working together for the good of the river habitat and the people promises a brighter future.
We all love to read these kinds of inspiring reports of restored habitats. They engage our hearts and our heads at a profound level, uniting us in a love for all creation. This love, when harnessed, spurs us into greater practical action not just for our planet, but also for each other. Then Isaiah’s vision becomes a reality. Now that is a real climate change – or thought.