What motivates someone to pursue a seemingly hopeless quest, and what turns a seemingly hopeless quest into a possibility? I have been working on the issue of climate disruption for over a decade, both within my work in solar energy and outside. Throughout that time, I have pushed the science as a motivating factor as to why we should transition to renewable energy, and why we must urgently address climate disruption. My colleagues and I have met with mixed success.
Last year I transitioned myself out of my leadership position at groSolar for many reasons, but not the least was a search for motivation. That search has included looking at the deeper motivations for all my actions and beliefs. Raised in a liberal Christian tradition, I started to consider my largely unformed spirituality as an important source of personal motivation. As I contemplated this, I started to understand the potential differences in how a person could be motivated by science versus faith.
Science seemingly can only motivate many people as part of a long list of “concerns” which are part of our lives. This includes taking the kids to school, solving problems at work, keeping food on the table, and all the other issues we deal with on a daily basis. In this context, the fact of climate disruption becomes just another “thing” to put on a list to deal with, often far down the list because it usually does not impact “getting through today.”
Conversely, faith has motivated transformative movements on the greatest social issues of our times. Civil rights, the ends of wars, and poverty relief have not been motivated by science but by the arousal of deep religious or spiritual beliefs. For motivating people, the measured and calm reasoning of science is no match for the aroused fervor of faith.
Climate disruption is creating social injustice on a scale unequaled in the history of the world. Entire nations, many of whom contributed little to the problem, are bearing tremendous human and capital costs. By its very nature, climate disruption creates a need to adapt, and those who are in the least developed countries, those who did the least to create the issue, are in the worst position to combat the effects. Higher food prices, absorbed into the budget of the typical American, impoverish those on the edge. Violent storms, floods and droughts steal the produce of cultivated fields equally from those who have the ability to replant, and those who do not. Even at home, Hurricane Sandy took houses from those who could afford to rebuild, and those who could not. It was equal in force and unequal in effect. And of course, we are not yet feeling or seeing even a small measure of the eventual impacts of climate disruption. These we are creating for our children.
Americans of faith have largely not made the connection between climate disruption and social justice. In conversation when this is pointed out, they come to understand in the historical context of faith-based action that climate disruption demands their attention. The further realization that the largest social injustice will be inflicted against all of our children, everywhere, amplifies the response from those of faith.
In this milieu of faith, we have developed the Our Children, Climate, Faith Symposium (www.FaithClimateConference.org), taking place in Strafford on Aug. 16-17. With nationally prominent lay and ordained speakers, including Bill McKibben, Shyla Nelson and Mary Evelyn Tucker, we are working to raise awareness of the current connection between social justice and climate disruption, and the historical connection between social justice and faith. With speakers of many faiths, we will create a broad conversation in many theologies. To succeed, we will need a great group of participants, lay and ordained, those who attend services regularly, and those with simply an inner spark of faith that can be ignited. We believe that this symposium can move us deeper into our faiths while propelling us forward into strong, effective action to mitigate climate disruption and the social injustices created. I hope you will join us.
Jeff Wolfe, co-founder and former CEO of groSolar, is hosting an interfaith symposium on global warming Aug. 16-17 at the Historic Strafford Townhouse.
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