Could Religion Be the Key to Inspiring People to Act on Climate Change?

December 9, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Pope Francis with U.S. President Barack Obama
Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

This three-year study seems to think so.

Combating climate change is a monumental task. There are still climate change deniers around the world, and it can even be difficult to get those who do accept the science to change their actions and reduce their carbon footprints. Now, a three-year study from the Queensland University of Technology’s School of Psychology and Counselling suggests that the key to inspiring people to act on climate change may lie in a higher power.

In fact, lead researcher Dr. Paul Bain says religion may be a “lynchpin” for achieving widespread global action on climate change. You’re probably wondering how this could be considering science and religion are often seen as two subjects that completely butt heads. Interestingly, it has a lot to do with how you spin the climate change actions — instead of solely focusing on the environmental aspect, some people around the world are more willing to act on climate change in order to promote a more caring and moral society, according to the study.

SEE ALSO: Contrary to Popular Belief, Many Scientists Are Religious

According to Dr. Bain, ‘Plan A’ involves negotiations for an international agreement concerning climate change actions, but if Plan A falls short, then we need a ‘Plan B.’ "We also need Plan B because even if negotiations succeed, commitments need to be enacted and enforced in each country, and that requires public support," he said.

The study analyzed the views of over 6,000 people in 24 countries, and suggests that an effective Plan B would use research to develop policies and communication strategies that associate climate change action with a more caring and ethical society.

However, since the general public (rightfully) lacks trust in many politicians, they might not be the best suited to effectively communicate Plan B. Who’s the best for the job? Dr. Bain thinks religious leaders could inspire the masses.

"Morality and caring are 'bread and butter' concerns for religion so people may be more inclined to listen to the message,” said Dr. Bain. “Although the world focuses on the science of climate change, religion could now be a lynchpin for achieving widespread action.”

After Pope Francis called for radical climate change action, research from Yale University found that 64 percent of American Catholics reported that they were worried about global warming, a jump from 53 percent.

"Islamic scholars have made clear the need for action and Pope Francis' strong messages on climate change have produced greater concern about climate change among Catholics, especially among those likely to be least convinced about climate change,” Dr. Bain asserts.

Dr. Bain clarifies that Plan B is no total substitute for Plan A — it’s critical that the world adopts international agreements to address climate change. However, Plan B will draw on strengths in different parts of society, like the strengths of religion and local governments, to motivate people to take radical action against climate change. Basically, Plan B will likely be necessary to implement Plan A.

"Evidence like this shows that, while science and religion may compete in providing explanations of the universe, they can be partners in promoting social change."

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