Monday, August 3, 2009 - 3:45 PM

SYMP 3-8: Climate change and sustainability education in religious organizations:  An ecological bridge to environmental justice

Leanne M. Jablonski, University of Dayton and Gregory F. Hitzhusen, The Ohio State University.


Faith-based organizations, a new audience for adult sustainability education, are increasingly involved in environmental issues as part of the social justice and moral agenda of earth stewardship.  Initiatives in climate change and energy conservation, biodiversity, water and other sustainability issues are underway in faith networks from local to global. 

Given the sometimes-troubled relationship between religion and science, how can ecologists best contribute the sound science needed?  What cultural awareness and best practices do ecologists need to facilitate effective transmission of ecological knowledge?   We assessed ecological and environmental justice concepts articulated in faith community climate change and sustainability initiatives.  We also surveyed the ecology education needs of today's environmentally-engaged adult faith community members in Ohio.


The faith community is highly diverse in member composition, political spectrum, environmental theology and ethics, and the expression of environmental engagement.  Common values include stewardship, moderation, and concern for impacts on poor.  Successful education and outreach requires application of principles for building partnerships such as respecting local communities and leadership, building on common values, ensuring mutual benefit in joint projects, understanding nuances of religious terms that may have different meanings, and overcoming personal prejudices. We highlight work of the Interfaith Power and Light statewide networks and major national bodies including the supported Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, National Council of Churches, Coalition on the Environmental and Jewish Life, Evangelical Environmental network and other traditions. 

In our survey, we found that 75% of faith community respondents preferred the term stewardship to describe environmental issues and 50% chose environmental justice and conservation.  Both ecological and religious reasons were seen as important motivators for action by 70% who also prioritized sustainability criteria as the main rationale.  State and regional environmental groups are preferred as sources of information by 51% with 28% preferring scientific organizations such as ESA. 

These results suggest that ecologists have an important role in education and outreach to the adult general public found in religious organizations.  Development of best practices and communications training for ecologists will advance appropriate science outreach and partnerships with a majority of adults who find their educational context and derive ethical motivation from their religious context.  Through a bridge built upon the common pillars of alleviating environmental injustice and promoting sustainability, ecologists and religious community members can traverse the divide and work together to ensure resilient communities.