Global Climate Change As a Religious Issue

Adopted by the Executive Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches on September 4, 2007

As people of faith we proclaim our belief that our world is God’s creation, that God sees it as good, and that it is ours to protect and maintain. We also recognize that the quality of life for all of us depends upon its health and well-being. Yet today air and water pollution, desertification, loss of species and climate change are increasing at an alarming rate. God’s creation is threatened by serious, complex and interrelated problems that are the result of human behavior.

We recognize that global warming is the all-encompassing problem that exacerbates each of the other environmental concerns, because life as we know it developed in stable climatic conditions that have existed on Earth for thousands of years. Changes averaging only one degree worldwide have already produced melting ice, rising seas and water deprivation, setting off mass evacuations, loss of livelihood and water wars for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the globe. Even a steady rise to higher temperatures would bring to the southeastern U.S. such impacts as tropical diseases and insects, increased frequency and intensity of storms and loss of barrier islands and low-lying cropland. If certain stabilizing processes are pushed to their limits—such as the exchange of warm salt water and cold Arctic ice melt in the Gulf Stream or carbon capture in the Amazon rain forest—we understand that unforeseeable and catastrophic changes might be the result.

Scientific authorities have told us in widely circulated statements that humanity is changing the dynamics of the climate through its use of fossil fuels, causing permanent extinction of a significant portion of God’s creation (ecocide) and threatening permanent destruction of human cultures (genocide.) As most major faith bodies concede, we are at a point where we can extensively, and perhaps irreversibly, alter God’s creation to an extent

previously unimaginable. Many of the denominations who are members of the NC Council of Churches have issued statements of concern and commitment. They urge change in personal lifestyle, corporate behavior, and public policy in order to ameliorate the effects of climate change to the natural world, but especially to those people who, without causing global warming, will be its victims.

Scientific research has demonstrated the link between fossil-fuel usage and proliferation of the greenhouse gases that blanket our atmosphere. The burning of coal, oil and natural gas in our buildings and cars has overwhelmed the natural balance that once moderated Earth’s temperatures. Day by day this research comes in, telling us what has happened in the past and what is happening in the present, and climate models based on these reports predict the future with increasing accuracy. The fact that no research can produce an exact timetable of likely changes, however, doesn’t mean that we may continue living as we now do.

While some may seek more certainty before proceeding to adopt lifestyle changes that will address the crisis, we believe that any delay ignores the Creator’s call to cherish and protect Creation, including all peoples of our world.

Arguments for delay, in fact, have the practical effect of prolonging an unfair and destabilizing way of life that already causes suffering quite apart from the disruptions that climate change may bring. Global warming, in other words, is not the only reason to move our society away from the material consumption promoted by corporate and governmental leadership. Air, land and water are being polluted by the wastefulness of the prosperous majority in the United States, while a minority even here lack basic necessities.

This appropriation and degradation of our common inheritance is an outright rejection of the teachings of our religious heritage. The Bible consistently describes the good life as a humble walk in community where we practice love for God and our neighbor. Unjust hoarding of resources by the wealthy with the consequent deprivation of the poor is not part of that picture, even when done impersonally by an economic system. The prophets roundly condemn any society in which a few wallow in luxury while many others are ruined by poverty (Amos 6:4-8).

Parables of Jesus such as “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-30) are not simply personal—they also have political and socio-economic implications. Climate change dramatically increases the number of those who, like Lazarus, lie at our gate.

We often conform to current unjust and harmful practices because public policies have favored them. Living more simply in order to reduce our weight upon the Earth is not supported by publicly funded infrastructure. Rather, policies in wealthy western nations favor exploitation of humans and all other species without regard to the longterm consequences.

We see the climate crisis as an opportunity to rectify a broad spectrum of injustices that characterize the current economy. The new strategies that are needed will support a transition from polluting fossil-fuel-based energy generation to safe, clean renewable sources. As leaders of faith communities, we also need to promote economic opportunity for minorities, indigenous peoples and other disadvantaged groups. Unless we use our influence to redirect power from corporations and into communities, the profit of a few will continue to be the force driving our elections as well as the global economy.


According to our understanding that the web of life on Earth now stands imperiled, and that by taking ameliorative action, religious people of wealthy nations have the opportunity to reduce the rate and extent of changes to the climate, we commend the following practices to individuals, congregations and judicatories:

  • That we will reflect upon the sanctity of the created order with wonder and awe. In corporate worship services, private devotions and in daily contact with the natural world, we will join with biblical writers, religious leaders and mystics of all generations in celebrating Earth’s beauty, generosity and power to promote the well-being of all. We will consider the responsibilities of humans within that order with humility, praying for wisdom beyond cultural convention to direct our thinking.
  • That we will seek to understand the scientific research now being made available that describes the intricacy and interconnectedness of the planetary life-support system. Because our relationship to the Creator requires us to relate respectfully and with affection to all aspects of the Creation, knowledge of the physical world is vital to our spiritual growth as well as to our physical survival. We will work to incorporate environmental education into the Christian education curricula of our religious institutions from preschool through seminary, drawing upon sacred scripture, a growing body of contemporary religious literature, and experiences in nature.
  • That we will play an active role in the formation of public policy that promotes sustainable economic patterns.  The current economy is based on abundant supplies of coal and oil—finite resources that are the primary generators of greenhouse gases. Securing oil often requires armies and bloodshed, and obtaining coal not only requires large-scale destruction of surface land including entire mountains in the southeastern United States, but can also take a toll in human lives, as in the Utah coal mine collapse in August 2007.
  • That we will work to move energy policy toward the support of renewable sources such as wind and solar, which have the potential to supplement power grids and provide livelihood. The prospect for their application is even more important for rural areas locally and abroad, which often have abundant sun and wind resources, but no access to the grid. We will engage on these issues with civic leaders and elected officials at every level of government, communicating and educating these leaders as well as the electorate in open forums and private conversations. Indeed, we appeal to public officials to work for and to legislate public policy for the benefit of all their constituents, rather than what may be counter-productive measures pushed by moneyed special interests.
  • That we will strive to reduce the extent to which, as individuals, families and congregations, we inadvertently or deliberately impact the ability of the created order to sustain life. We will undertake to reduce the level of consumption by which we deplete and degrade the land, water, air and atmosphere upon which we all depend, and, in particular, we will reduce our use of fossil fuels. By applying currently available, affordable technology, we can save money and energy in our homes, houses of worship and in our transportation activities; and by asking “How does this action benefit or hurt the Creation?”, we can begin to discern more just and wholesome ways of living.

We believe that by numbers, geographic representation and social influence, the faith communities of North Carolina have the potential to shift the state’s priorities toward a more just and sustainable future. Toward that end, we both circulate this statement of concern and commitment and also support our words with appropriate behavior.  May our actions praise the Creator of the life whom we hereby honor, and may all creation be served by our efforts.

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