What do religions say about the environment and climate change?

As a pretty strict heathen myself, I find my environmentalism stemming from a sort of logical morality. Why, just because of where I was born and who I was born as, do I deserve more? Why, just because of where I was born and who I was born as, do I deserve to subjugate and literally imperil the lives of others for my own selfish wants?

Religion has nothing to do with my life – but for some people it’s the centerpiece. For them, we’ve got to couch our environmentalism in terms they relate to.

Personally, I find it really hard to approach environmentalism from a religious aspect, just because my experience with religion has been intensely negative. (Read: Southern and Middle American climate deniers with a whole host of other deep-seated fear-based hatreds.) While I appreciate that’s not necessarily the norm, it’s a hard stigma to overcome.

In an effort to share what different religions actually say about the environment, I asked others to share their knowledge. Here are some answers to the question: “what does your religion say about the environment?”. 

May it help you find some common ground.


Qamar (or Twitter) | Sunni Islam

Do you personally see a connection between your religion and environmentalism?

I do believe there’s such thing, as there are many examples of the Holy Stories where we’re commanded to not use excessive resources and/or examples of unjust rulers whom used too much without taking in account other human beings, species, or the Earth. Moreover, environmentalism gives us the opportunity to take care of God’s creations, such as all the ecosystems on Earth.

What does your religion have to say about our relationship with the planet?

I believe in sunni Islam, where we follow both the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s sayings. We’re told to try to minimize our impact on Earth, and use minimal resources. From the Quran: “Eat and drink from the provision of God, & do not abuse the Earth, spreading corruption” [2:60], and “O’ Children of Adam, dress your adornment to every place of worship, & eat & drink, but be not excessive. Surely, God does not love those who waste” [7:31].

Also, we can find hadiths in the same direction, such as: “The Earth is beautiful & green, & surely God has made you guardians over it, & He sees how you behave” [Muslim], and “Do not waste water even if you were at a running stream” [Sunan Ibn Mājah 425].

Can you offer 1-2 ways that people of your religion can do something actionable to help the environment?

In Islam we can find many examples in the Quran which promotes volunteering, such as: “Indeed, Allah orders justice & good conduct & giving to relatives & forbids immorality & bad conduct & oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” [16: 90] and “And whatever good you put forward for yourselves – you will find it with Allah . It is better and greater in reward.” [73:20].

Similarly, we’re encouraged to plant trees, in a hadith that says: “If the Resurrection were established upon one of you while they has in their hand a sapling, then let them plant it” [Musnad Ahmad 12491]. 

What do religions say about the environment and climate change? - Polly Barks

Stephanie Heifner | Christian (United Methodist Church)

Do you personally see a connection between your religion and environmentalism?

Yes, absolutely! Caring for the earth is close to the center of my understanding of my faith. The founder of my denomination and the Methodist movement, the Anglican priest John Wesley, said, “The great lesson that our blessed Lord inculcates here…is that God is in all things, and that we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God…but with a true magnificence of thought survey heaven and earth and all that is therein as contained by God in the hollow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and activates the whole created frame, and is in a true sense the soul of the universe.” (Sermon 23, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, III” I.11, 1748)

What does your religion have to say about our relationship with the planet?

The holy text of my religion, the Bible, begins with the story of creation. The creation stories in Genesis tell us that what God created, God calls good. I believe humans are meant to be stewards of the Earth, not owners: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too.” Psalm 24:1 (CEB) “The land must not be permanently sold because the land is mine. You are just immigrants and foreign guests of mine.” Leviticus 25:23 (CEB)

Additionally, there are numerous texts that instruct followers to care for the most vulnerable people–widows, immigrants, “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:31-40, Deuteronomy 24:19, to name a few.) In our time, some of the most vulnerable populations are those impacted the most by climate change and pollution. Those who are or will become climate refugees. Those subject to environmental racism, such as people of color whose neighborhoods are located next to industrial pollution. Therefore, the church must act on environmental justice and the climate emergency.

Can you offer 1-2 ways that people of your religion can do something actionable to help the environment?

  1. Get involved with your state Interfaith Power & Light program for resources, workshops, and other actions. At my church in Iowa, we’ve hosted two workshops with them and they’ve been wonderful for offering education and helping individuals make plans for changes in their own lives and as a faith group.
  2. Help to make changes within your own local church, either as an individual or start a task force to start a composting program if the resources are available, and committing to using reusable dishes for your fellowship time and meals instead of disposables.
What do religions say about the environment and climate change? - Polly Barks
Zan | Jewish

Do you personally see a connection between your religion and environmentalism?

I asked my husband once, early on in our relationship, if he believed in God. We were out gathering cattle on horseback in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, the most gorgeous workplace I’ve ever had. He’s a quiet guy so he thought for a moment and then just nodded towards scene in front of us and said, “For me, this is God.” I can’t say it better than that. Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in the mid-20th century that, “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Humankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation”. I can’t separate my Judaism – a sense of awe and wonder – from the natural world, it is integral to my environmental consciousness.

What does your religion have to say about our relationship with the planet?

Judaism has so much to say about the environment! Jewish teachings tell us that we’re only temporary guardians of God’s creation, tending it for the next generation. There is a commentary on the Torah that says when God created humans, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! Take care not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.”

We have a special holiday for trees, Tu B’Shvat, we also have a guiding principle called “Tikkun Olam” which is the obligation of every Jew to work towards repairing the world — which can take many forms, one of which is repairing the environment. One of our central prayers the Amidah, said every day, has a section about rain and dew!

Can you offer 1-2 ways that people of your religion can do something actionable to help the environment?

Anything you do to be more environmentally-friendly is a Jewish thing to do. Sharing seeds, donating money, taking on personal ‘zero-waste’ swaps, riding the bus, buying used, these can all be seen as ways of fulfilling our obligations as Jews to: Tzedakah (support justice), pikuach nefesh (save human life), bal tashchit (do not destroy/waste) and to kiddush Hashem (sanctify God’s name).

What do religions say about the environment and climate change? - Polly Barks
Brianna Punsalang | Pagan 

Pagans don’t have a universal text so I’ve quoted Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains, which is used by the US Army to educate chaplains on lesser known religions. The book states that “because of the basic Nature orientation of the religion, many (Pagans) will regard all living things as Sacred, and show a special concern for ecological issues.”

Apply the “harm none” ethos to your decision making process by choosing habits and products that are the least harmful to all living things. I have adopted a vegan diet, a zero waste lifestyle, and sworn off purchasing wild harvested white sage in my efforts to do less harm to all.


Husband’s interview facilitated by Ellen | Catholic

Do you personally see a connection between your religion and environmentalism?

I believe that environmentalism and Catholicism are deeply connected. We are tasked with helping those in need, and I believe fulfilling individuals basic needs (clean air, water, shelter, economic stability, a sense of community) are positively affected by an environmentalism that strives to reduce the exploitation of the poorest parts of the world. As Jesus said in in Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

What does your religion have to say about our relationship with the planet?

In 2015 Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment. In that he brought climate change to the fore in the Catholic Church. One of the main issues he spoke of in that document is the unequal burden that the poorest countries will face. Catholic doctrine is and always has been focused on the plight of the poor. This document also touches on the central issue of climate change, over-consumption. Consumerism and materialism are antithetical to Catholic doctrine, and because of that climate change is a symptom of not following this specific tenet of the faith.

Can you offer one to two ways that people of your religion can do something actionable to help the environment?

I think the main thing that individuals can do is look at their own consumption decisions. I believe most people if asked to consider what is necessary to living a happy, flourishing, and spiritually guided life would place the consumption of goods and services pretty far down the list. With that in mind deciding to forgo buying an additional pair of shoes or the latest iPhone should be directly viewed as a gift to God in that refraining from purchasing those items decreases the overall cost on the climate and the poorest of our brothers and sisters.

Thanks to all for sharing their views and to you for reading and learning more!