Fighting the Climate Crisis Through Interfaith Relationships

By Janel Apps Ramsey

Through interfaith cooperation we stand together with God as we work to slow the impending climate crisis.

“Every day that passes is one day less that we have to stabilize our increasingly fragile planet, by now on its way to becoming uninhabitable for humans. We are running out of time. Once we hit critical thresholds, the damage to the environment, and consequently to our future on this planet, will be irreplaceable.”

Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

In 2019, faith leaders from six world religions came together to discuss how their religious traditions could make the world a better place. These six people, from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu traditions are also friends that work together in the greater Denver area to increase awareness about Interfaith cooperation.

Now many of these same people work alongside other religious and cultural traditions to fight the battle against climate change. For example, several of these leaders created and work on the Climate Justice Committee of Together Colorado. We are one of the largest committees in this Interfaith organization and have combined our faith perspective and climate work in meeting with Governor Jared Polis and have hosted Q&A sessions with a state senator. We work closely with governmental agencies, from our perspective of faith, to show how the climate crisis needs attention from a stewardship perspective and to voice the prophetic need to stand up for the economic and racial justice issues that are intricately tied to addressing the climate crisis.

The powerful possibility of partnership with God through partnership with each other means we can change real world issues. Interfaith cooperation can be a significant factor in how we successfully fight climate change. The Parliament of the World’s Religions believes this so deeply that they added a climate statement to their platform in 2018. Acknowledging that all faiths teach that “the Earth is a source of wisdom and wonder,” they picture the planet being “held in trust for future generations.” They note that we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis, recognizing that “time is running out” and urge all to act “with love and compassion . . . for fairness and justice” so that the whole Earth can flourish:

To be authentically human in the spirit of our religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions, means the following: Our relationship with each other and with the larger living world should be based on respect, care and gratitude. All traditions teach that the Earth is a source of wonder and wisdom. Its vitality, diversity, and beauty are held in trust for everyone including those who will come after us. The global environmental crisis is urgent and is deepening. The planet and its countless forms of life are in danger. Time is running out. We must act with love and compassion, and for justice and fairness—for the flourishing of the whole Earth community.

Exploring how Inter/Multifaith cooperation can help us tackle the climate crisis allows us to see how we interact with the planet based on the perspectives of other worldviews and this enables us to inspire each other to care for the planet. Shankar Vedantam, in Useful Delusions, attests to the power of religious cooperation to make a difference:

Can you think of a powerful force that shapes the lives of billions of people in disparate parts of the world, in rich countries and in poor countries, a force that causes millions to act in the service of goals larger than themselves? . . . Is it possible that religious faith might help us overcome one of the most staggering collective-action dilemmas we have ever faced in human history?

Relational theology supports this proposition. When we coordinate our interpersonal relationships and our relationship to our planet, we can forge a new future. By engaging in new practices together, we can make a difference. By engaging our representatives, together, we can change policy. By rooting ourselves in our commitments to our spiritual practice and our relationship to the planet, together, we address climate change meaningfully.

Being Informed By Other Traditions And Worldviews

The scandalous proposition of interfaith cooperation empowers us to link arms with other faith groups and use that all-encompassing motivation to make the world a better place. By allowing the Spirit to weave us together, we can create a powerful unified vision for change, bridging our hearts together in shared purpose.

We need to have a perspective of life that includes the very local and extends out to the global. By listening to views that are different from our own, we learn how our planet connects to different religious practices. In most religions, for example, water plays a significant role, as is seen in the rites of baptism and religious cleansing rituals. As our world continues to heat up, the availability of water is endangered through dry conditions and pollution. Water is essential to our function as humans. Without free access, people die. And while some people refuse to acknowledge the affects of climate change, capitalism does not. In 2020, water started trading on the futures market. People are now betting on the extent of water scarcity. Water now has a commodified monetary value.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, speaking on water scarcity, says:

Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people and species; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.

Around the world, indigenous women (and men) are often called “Water Keepers.” Their job is to protect, tend, and nurture water and its sources. They know that without clean water sources they cannot live. By destroying water sources, all living things suffer. Without water, trees die; trees which often help provide shelter for animals and humans and which absorb pollutant gasses. Without water animals die, taking away a major food and protein source. Without water plants die, killing food and medicinals that are needed for daily sustenance. Protecting water protects life.

When we fail to recognize our environmental responsibility, there is an impact on our Christian traditions. What if baptismals became too expensive to fill, or lakes and rivers were too polluted to bathe safely in? What if vineyards could no longer make grapes for communion? And world-wide, what if there was nowhere to take a ritual bath? Currently, the river Ganges is so polluted that faithful Hindus risk getting sick every time they bathe in the river.

Confronting Climate Change Together

By looking at religious traditions which differ from our own, we start to see our place in the wider world. By learning from the perspective of other traditions, we broaden our ability to face the climate crisis. Hindu activist and author Vandana Shiva challenges us, “When we go from being masters to giving love and care, these issues that look like impossibilities—solving climate change, reversing insect decline, growing our food without destroying the Amazon—now become possible because we are doing the right thing for the Earth, with love and humility.” (Clayton, Archie, Sachs, and Steiner)

While many religious traditions look forward to heaven or reward in the afterlife, we get to live on our planet now. If we want to sustain the Earth for future generations—for the seventh generation, as our Native American friends implore us to do—then we need to pay attention to the destruction happening now and work to stop the slide into climate destruction.

Many secular disciplines recognize the power of religious cooperation to change. Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist Danny Kahneman states on the Hidden Brain Podcast, “It would be a milestone if you manage to take influential evangelists, preachers, to adopt the idea of global warming and to preach it. That would change things. It’s not going to happen by presenting more evidence. That, I think, is clear.”

The 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions implored leaders from over 118 world religions to engage the hearts of their people, encouraging them to take the threat of climate change seriously. Data is not enough. Telling people disaster is coming and that 97% of climate scientists agree it is hyman-made can start the conversation; but to create action, we must engage people’s hearts.

One way this is done is through religion and inter/multifaith collaboration.

We are given a special task as faith leaders and practitioners. We have the opportunity to listen and to walk gently with people through this potentially terrifying future. We need to educate ourselves to have these conversations. We need to influence our faith communities to get involved in changing this story. We need to creatively and passionately talk about our role as stewards and keepers of our home. We need to help people make the connection between their personal faith and their role in stopping the climate crisis.

The liminal space between us and our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions is exactly where we partner with God in saving the world. That space, where we choose to extend a hand, is where partnership moves from the spiritual to the physical. We partner with God when we bridge the gap between our religious and cultural traditions as we work to save the world.

We face a problem larger than we can comprehend. Only by working collaboratively can we hope for a more positive future. It won’t matter how many converts we win over to our “side” if there’s nowhere to live, to move, or have our being. Through multi-faith collaboration we show Mother Earth that she is ours and we are wise enough to look beyond our own truths into a future where truth and compassion coexist for the benefit of all.

Questions: Who do you know of another faith? How can you build interfaith relationships and partnerships in order to fight climate change?

Janel Apps Ramsey is the Co-Director of Brew Theology, Education Chair of the Climate Justice Committee of Together Colorado, and the co-editor of Women Experiencing Faith (SacraSage, 2018). She holds an M.A. in Theological Studies from Nazarene Theological Seminary. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and three cats. You can hear her on the Brew Theology podcast. #wearamask


The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

Parliament of the World’s Religions –

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Book-Cover-683x1024.jpg