State of the World 2003

by Gary Gardner (Project Director)

Religion in general has not been environmentally oriented

This is a "special 20th anniversary edition" of the Worldwatch Institute's (WWPs) State of the World series. This edition introduces a new feature, a tour page timeline of the previous year's major environmental events, including releases of major reports and announcements. The issues addressed in this edition are

1) avian population declines,
2) the role of women in population and biodiversity issues,
3) malaria control,
4) effects of mining,
5) future energy sources,
6) sustainable cities, and
7) engaging religion in the quest for sustainability.

All of these chapters are worth summarising, but I will address the chapter of religion and the environment, because its content is less obvious. The authors point out that there has been poor communication and even antagonism between the environmental and religious communities. Environmentalists tend to be rationalists and political liberals. The devoutly religious are non-rationalist and often political conservatives. Hence, the world views of the two groups are so different that they cannot easily communicate. For example, environmentalists describe the Ganges river as highly polluted, but to devout Hindus it is a goddess who is inherently pure, so talk of pollution is sacrilege. Religion in general has not been environmentally oriented. The western monotheistic religions emphasis the relationship of god to man. All major religions encourage a focus on the spiritual rather than the worldly. Many religions discourage contraception or population control. While environmentalists have found allies among religious liberals, they must also reach out to the religious mainstream. One area of common ground might be found in the fact that most religions discourage the consumption, accumulation or waste of material things. While this position is generally ignored by the faithful, sermons against the modern forms of avarice and gluttony might reduce the pressure on natural resources.

As the Tao Te Ching says, "He who knows he has enough is rich."

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