Vermont Interfaith Power and Light

A faith-based response to global climate change

I Believe: 'The climate crisis is a spiritual issue'

I believe in our capacity to transform society, mitigating the climate crisis to prevent a climate catastrophe — and faith communities are an essential part of this transformation in Vermont, across the country and around the world.

There’s increasing evidence that Earth’s climate is nearing the point at which it won’t be possible to stop the escalating warming. This runaway climate change would have immediate, severe consequences for life on Earth (e.g. disrupting ecosystems and increasing sea levels), eventually leading to a planet unfit for habitation.

By quickly making substantial changes, we can prevent this catastrophe. The effects of the climate crisis still will be serious, but the worst will be avoided.

The transformation of society, to be effective, will affect most aspects of our lives. It will involve:

  • Overhauling our energy system to be based on renewable energy. Globally, we need to phase out quickly the use of fossil fuel through the use of financial incentives and disincentives.
  • Raising our energy and resource consciousness and changing our values so it’s no longer acceptable to waste energy or resources.
  • Changing our culture from one that places a high value on possessions to one that values connectedness — with each other and our natural environment.
  • Requiring businesses to pay the full cost of their products — including paying for land, air and water pollution that results from manufacturing or business operations. Companies won’t be able to sell products cheaply by “externalizing costs” via dumping waste in the environment for little or no charge, and exploiting workers.
  • Making purchasing decisions based on quality and respect for Earth and its inhabitants rather than low price (exploitative, cheap products would be unavailable).
  • Accepting responsibility for Earth’s care; appreciating and valuing our world instead of exploiting it.
  • Making these changes quickly, before the climate crisis spins out of control.

At its heart, the climate crisis is a spiritual issue. In the Christian tradition that I know best, and in other faiths as well, the world is God’s creation; it belongs to God. Humanity’s role, given by God, is tending and caring for creation.

We haven’t been fulfilling this God-given responsibility.

In fact, we’ve been treating Earth as our possession to do with as we please — and too often this has meant exploiting and abusing creation and one another.

When people of faith around the world acknowledge this and decide to stop the destruction and begin taking care of creation, transformation will take place. We’ll recognize the sacredness of all creation, animate and inanimate, and we will treat it with respect. This internal transformation of hearts and minds will lead to changes in thought and action. We’ll think about the impact of our decisions and actions, including purchases, travel, and lifestyle. When this attitude of honoring creation permeates society, the change will be profound.

This awakening of our consciousness will bring increased understanding and acknowledgment of the effect the “American lifestyle” is having on climate worldwide.

The United States and China emit the most carbon dioxide (CO2). China recently passed the U.S. as the world’s biggest emitter. The population of China, however, is about one and a quarter billion, roughly four times the U.S. population. The U.S. emits much more CO2 than China on a per-capita basis. Together, these two countries account for about 42 percent of the CO2 in the atmosphere. Our country’s businesses, vehicles, homes and other buildings account for more than 20 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The “typical” American lifestyle, which is wasteful of energy and wasteful in other ways, results in large amounts of CO2 emissions that lead to the climate crisis. The poor are the ones most severely affected by this crisis. In many parts of the world, people already are dealing with the serious consequences of climate change: drought and famine in some areas, flooding and famine in other areas, increased disease, lack of potable water and other problems.

Faith communities recognize the need to help the poor; it’s a central tenet of religious faiths.

Developing countries don’t have the resources to deal with problems caused by climate change, and they’re suffering greatly. This important topic will be discussed at the upcoming December meetings in Copenhagen on climate change. Most of the CO2 in the atmosphere comes from industrialized countries’ emissions and the demand in these wealthy countries for consumer goods. The developing countries know they’re not responsible for the problem; they ask the wealthy nations for the funds needed to help them adapt to climate change.

Many nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, are advocating for money for international adaptation to help poor countries solve problems caused by climate change. This is an issue of justice. Adaptation funds are included in the climate bill that the U.S. Senate is considering. Faith groups and organizations such as Oxfam are watching and are seeking to increase the bill’s adaptation funds.

Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) organizations are working in 30 states across the country, including Vermont. IPL helps members of the faith community and others take action to mitigate the climate crisis, working in their congregations, local communities and beyond.

Vermont IPL is helping faith communities throughout the state make their buildings more energy-efficient, and it helps with reducing household, workplace and transportation CO2 emissions.

These changes are crucial. The transformation of society is crucial. It already has begun, and we need to accelerate the pace. The climate crisis is also accelerating, so it’s urgent these changes happen soon.

God willing, I believe we’ll succeed in making this essential transformation.

Betsy Hardy lives in Burlington and is coordinator for Vermont Interfaith Power and Light, a statewide nonprofit that works with faith communities to help mitigate the climate crisis. She has a master’s degree in science and environmental education from Cornell University. Contact Betsy Hardy at or 434-7307.

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