This declaration is the result of the working discussions at the International Seminar on Science and Religion cooperation for Environmental Care (http://www.issrec.org/), inspired by the Pope Francis Encyclical Laudato si’. The seminar was attended by a group of environmental scientists, theologians, and religious leaders of major spiritual traditions. We open this declaration to everyone that recognizes the extent of environmental problems and appreciates the need to promote a greater cooperation between the sciences and major religious and spiritual traditions towards solving these problems.
1. The vast majority of people living on our planet believe in the importance of spiritual and religious traditions in their daily lives. These traditions provide a relevant source of inspiration and a basis for moral values, as well as a cosmological vision of who we are in relation to the Divine, the Earth, and our fellow human beings. As stated in Laudato si’: “This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity” (§201). In similar ways, other religious leaders have pointed out the importance of cooperation between major religious and spiritual traditions to address environmental problems. In addition, interfaith declarations have been issued in recent years, emphasizing that the degradation of nature is a moral and spiritual problem and not just an economic or technical one. Among them are the 2002 Pope John Paul II’s joint declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the 2008 Interfaith Uppsala Manifesto on Climate Change, and the 2015 Islamic and Buddhist Climate Change Declarations. Yet even stronger actions to change our current economic and social models to a more environmentally friendly model are required.
2. Science plays a critical role in understanding environmental problems, monitoring trends, and projecting future outcomes. Environmental degradation is global, both in terms of the areas and the subjects affected. Climate change, ocean acidification, water and air pollution, biodiversity and habitat loss, and many other problems have to be tackled by integrating many different disciplines within the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Close cooperation among the key disciplinary fields is required to achieve a more comprehensive view of the environmental challenges we face, as well as the complex synergies among them. As Pope Francis’ Encyclical states, a “specialization leads to a certain isolation and the absolutization of its own field of knowledge. This prevents us from confronting environmental problems effectively”(Laudato si’, §201).
3. Science alone cannot solve the current ecological crisis. Stronger cooperation is needed with all actors affecting social and environmental attitudes and decisions, including political bodies, non-government organizations, and corporations. Religious and spiritual traditions are the oldest source of moral values, wisdom and inspiration. They inspire us with ways to live in justice, peace and harmony. Spiritual and cultural values enable us to avoid overconsumption, which is a leading factor of environmental degradation. They motivate us to cultivate virtues and to show compassion towards fellow humans, animals, and plants, as well as to deeply appreciate the air, lands, and oceans they inhabit, our Sister, Mother Earth. For these reasons, a closer cooperation between scientists and religious leaders in promoting environmental awareness and action is required.
4. Religious and spiritual communities have a prominent role in education worldwide, particularly of young people. Therefore, it is critical that the leaders of all faiths and at all levels understand the environmental problems we face and advocate an “ecological conversion” from our unsustainable lifestyles. The required radical changes entail not just giving more attention to environmental issues or making a superficial reduction to our consumption patterns. They imply “a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm” (Laudato si’, §111). Religious institutions, such as schools, parishes, temples, mosques, madrasas, synagogues, and monasteries should be more actively engaged in being responsible custodians of the Earth, instead of her destroyers.
5. The severity of environmental problems and their trends poses a serious risk to the habitability of our planet. Scientific evidence shows the scale and pervasiveness of impacts caused by human intervention in many natural processes. We are responsible for recent climate change, due to our intensive use of fossil fuels, with potentially catastrophic impacts on natural systems and society. We are causing massive extinctions of species, most of them unknown and forever lost to us and to our descendants. We are polluting air and waters, disrupting ecosystems, cutting down forests, destroying fertile soils, and squandering resources. As a result, the most vulnerable people, in particular the poor, marginalized, and excluded, are already severely suffering the consequences. Environmental and social problems often have the same roots and they should be tackled simultaneously: “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (Laudato si’, §139). We depend on Earth systems to keep this planet our home for present and future generations. However, as the Pope emphasizes, “It is not enough…to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever” (Laudato si’, §33).
6. We urgently need to reverse the most threatening trends in environmental degradation. We need to encourage a new model of progress that integrates human and natural ecology and promotes clean energies and sustainable economies. We need to find creative ways of living that concentrate on essential values instead of leading us to absurd consumerism (less is more); we need a realistic and hopeful way of thinking that makes our lives happier, while encouraging care for other humans and for other living beings and habitats. We need Science and Religion working together to make this necessary change happen.
Shrine of Torreciudad, Spain, June 21, 2016.
You can sign the Declaration yourself at http://www.issrec.org/final-declaration/