Faith communities are addressing challenges posed by climate change in South Florida through both teaching and action. In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home,” Pope Francis identifies climate change as a moral issue and calls for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.
“We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
Similarly, Jewish teachings stress taking care of the planet and protecting natural resources for future generations. For Muslims, the Quran describes mankind as stewards of the Earth and calls on us to reflect upon how our actions affect the environment.
On April 4 and 5, St. Thomas University and The Nature Conservancy are hosting the Second International Conference on Climate, Nature and Society, seeking to answer the question of how individuals and faith communities can address some of the greatest challenges of our times. A diverse group of leaders from several faiths, sustainability focused organizations, and government will gather at St. Thomas’ Miami Gardens campus to discuss the changing climate, implications and solutions. The conference will explore the critical role of communities of faith in fostering climate action.
Faith leaders are already educating their congregations and leading conversations on the importance of respecting and protecting our environment. In his encyclical, Pope Francis said: “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”
Also, congregations are engaging with the broader community through mission, including deploying solar panels on sanctuaries and temples, creating community carbon funds to finance clean energy and serving residents who are displaced by flooded streets and hurricanes. In fact, following Hurricanes Irma and Michael, communities of faith played an important role in providing for the basic needs of their members and communities. They have seen first-hand the detrimental consequences of climate change on fellow human beings and the interconnectedness of humans and nature.
For The Nature Conservancy, whose mission is to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends, addressing climate change requires education and action from individuals of all backgrounds, as well as the collaborative nonpartisan action of elected leaders.
The Nature Conservancy and St. Thomas are committed to building a climate-conscious community that learns from those of various religious backgrounds. Both understand the importance of faith leaders in amplifying climate-change education. The moral perspective of the faithful adds further urgency to the scientific data all around us. This data confirms the affects of climate change, including warming oceans that contribute to harmful algal blooms and coral bleaching, sea-level rise that floods our neighborhoods and rising temperatures that affect the ability of residents to work and play outdoors.
Climate change is inclusive, touching all of us across diverse cultures, political parties, locations and faiths. Because faith-based communities have global reach and their messages are shared across numerous languages, we believe this interfaith conference can be a model for climate action in cities across the state, US and the world. We invite the South Florida community to join us for The Second International Conference on Climate, Nature and Society, a forum that will range from the science of how climate change is affecting our South Florida environment and health, to a discussion of how we can act to be good stewards of the planet through our daily activities and decisions. More information or to register for this free conference, go to stu.edu/climateconference.
Together, we can ensure that our planet is thriving for future generations.
Temperince Morgan is the executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. David A. Armstrong J.D., is the 10th president of St. Thomas University.