Global warming “skeptics” have long joked that belief in man-made global warming is a “religion.” Ironically, it has been part of some people’s religious practices for the past few years.
For years, environmental activists were pretty much the only ones who really cared enough to take personal action against global warming, but now religious communities are joining in on the climate fight. From the U.S. to the UK to the Vatican, global warming activism has become part of the religious conversation.
Carbon fasting in the U.S.
For years, some U.S. Christians have been doing what they call a “carbon fast” for Lent — the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During this time, thousands of people make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, whether it’s driving less or not investing in hydrocarbon fuels.
New England Regional Environmental Ministries (NEREM) launched the effort in 2011. The goal of the “carbon fast” is to wean people off carbon dioxide-intensive goods and foods in order to stem global warming.
Rev. Dr. Jim Antal is one of the founders of NEREM and currently writes daily messages to thousands of carbon fasters around the globe about how to lower their carbon footprint and be one with the climate.
Antal heads the president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, which, in 2009, became the first U.S. religious body to pass a resolution urging the government to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Last year, it tried to become the first U.S. religious body to divest itself of fossil fuels.
“I know I’m way out ahead,” Antal said. “That’s what leadership is all about. Leadership is about being far enough out ahead to cast a vision, to extend the horizon and to then invite people to come with you.”
“I tell congregations, ‘I want to trade a shriveled hope that you will recycle, or maybe walk or bicycle a little more instead of using your car — I want to trade in that tiny hope for a much grander hope,” Antal added. “I have 100 percent confidence that the people in this congregation know exactly where the railroad tracks are, and that soon enough you will put your bodies on the tracks and block the transport of oil from the Canadian tar sands to our processing plants.’”
Antal has long touted the religious significance of global warming. He has told other ministers that every third sermon should be about climate. Antal was also among those arrested at the White House last year protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. He has been arrested twice with environmentalist Bill McKibben, who founded the group 350.org.
“The thousands of young people through 350.org who have showed both surprise and respect at my leadership — getting arrested a couple of times at the White House, and other brands of leadership — it opens their eyes to say, ‘My goodness, maybe there is something in the church,’” Antal said.