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Expert says faith groups play an environmental role

April 11, 2011

NAIROBI

Religious denominations and people of faith play crucial roles in caring for the environment and mitigating the effects of climate change, according to the head of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).

“[Faith groups] will not be able to answer the scientific questions of climate change, but they can change the way we behave. I think we can address it. It will not happen fast, but will happen sustainably,” Martin Palmer, ARC’s general secretary told ENInews on March 29 in Nairobi.

“We have seen huge impacts, he said, adding, “now almost every religious organization is talking about the environment. They are doing tree planting, they are talking about energy cuts. They are teaching their own people (about environment).”

Palmer spoke while attending a workshop on religion and environment, which was organized by ARC and hosted by the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). The conference, titled “Faith Commitments for a Living Planet,” ran March 29-30.

It brought together leaders from Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, among other faiths in Africa, to focus on sustainable land and water management, with a particular emphasis on forestry, food, farming and education. Delegates came from 11 African countries.

Palmer said religious denominations have found ways to show communities how to live sustainably with the environment without destroying habitats and livelihoods. “They have learned to live in a balance with nature. They have learned to encourage people and draw them into practical activities,” said Palmer, whose organization, based in Bath, England, is helping faith groups launch long-term programs on environmental care and protection.

The Rev. Andre Karamaga, the AACC’s general secretary, said that in the past, religious groups cared for everything in nature including trees, mountains and water bodies. “It would not have been shocking to see our forebearers speaking to these natural features. This spoke about harmonious co-existence ... We need to re-discover this harmony between man and nature,” he said.

Diminishing ice at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, for example, has inspired people in the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania to develop an environmental protection policy.

“The drop in the ice made people ask questions. They first started praying, but later decided to take action by planting 8 million trees. At the end of each year, they plant 1.2 million. All members of the churches are involved,” Bishop Fredrick Shoo told the seminar.

Each faith group is developing a plan depending on its strength, according to ARC. For example, faith retreat centers are looking at food sourcing, Lutheran and Shinto members are exploring their impacts on forests, Sikhs are concentrating on water pollution because that is where their land is suffering, Jews are looking at community supported agriculture and Buddhists in Shanghai are cleaning the river.

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