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Davis, California

Monday, April 22, 2024

Spirituality and environmentalism in America


Environmentalist and believer don’t have to be mutually exclusive — and they shouldn’t be

Nature has a profound spiritual significance to me. I’m overwhelmed with admiration and respect, whether I’m watching a squirrel on campus or looking up at El Capitan — more so with the latter. No offense, squirrels.

Often, though, environmental concerns and the accompanying science tend to be thought of as lacking — even in opposition to — spirituality.

Spirituality and nature didn’t used to be so divorced. Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and scientists like Galileo Galilei recognized a connection between the divine and the natural world. But today, environmentalism is viewed by some groups as an occult.

Some Christians view environmental movements — especially those concerning climate change — as sketchy. White House Environmental Quality nominee Kathleen Hartnett White referred to global warming as “paganism.”

In the 1980s, environmental movements started focusing more on global warming and less on litter and pollution. Some American Christians became skeptical of climate change. What mostly began as a fear that the Antichrist would use global warming as a ploy to unite the world and assume power has now developed into a general distrust in climate science.

David Konisky, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, found that Christians are less concerned about the environment than they were in the 1990s.

“Not only has there not been an amplification of concern among Christians about the environment, there’s seemingly been a decline, at least over the time period I’ve been studying,” said Konisky.

The Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life found that only 28 percent of Christians believe that humans are causing climate change. And still other Christians tend to think that, no matter who’s causing environmental problems, God will fix them.

“As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us,” said Tim Walberg, a Michigan Representative. “And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

I respect what Walberg has to say. But I understand the difference between having faith and being careless. I wear a seatbelt when I drive. I brush my teeth twice a day. I do what I can for the environment because I know that all actions have consequences.

We need to cooperate on a global scale about issues — like climate change — that affect us all, but environmentalism is not all about global agendas. It has a lot to do with personal decisions. Do I recycle or litter, how am I contributing to pollution and what does my carbon footprint look like? Questions like these should be at the core of environmental movements.

Most climate change skepticism today comes from divisiveness between spirituality and environmentalism. We pit them against each other, which makes people feel like they must choose: “believe in God and denounce science” or “believe in science and denounce God.” But the closer we get to understanding one, the better we appreciate the other.

“Walberg brought up the concept of stewardship, or the idea that Christians have a duty to take care of the Earth,” said Lisa Vox, a historian and author. “Those of us concerned about climate change must appeal to religious conservatives on that basis. We must accept that a number of conservative evangelicals, especially from older generations, will never support significant action on climate change, especially if it means signing a global treaty.”

I understand Vox’s reasoning. But I think she’s wrong. Today’s generation has the potential to find a solution. Some people, including myself, already realize that spirituality and environmentalism can coexist. But I do like the idea of environmental stewardship.

It applies to all of humanity. Regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs, we all have a responsibility to care for our planet.


Written by: Jess Driver — jmdriver@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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