Will religion save the environment?

Back in 2009, I ran a very large event in the Ha’apai Islands of Tonga.

We managed to motivate over 3,000 people (from a total population of 4,500) to clean up the coastline and shipped 50 tonnes of rubbish to a location with a proper landfill to make an example of how a waste management system could work.

In order to get such large numbers of people involved, we tapped into every network we could.

The most effective was schools, followed by the traditional village meetings (which largely follow tribal customs) and after that it was getting the priests on board, who instructed their followers to get involved.

It struck me that since such large numbers of people have some sort of faith (in 2010, over 84 per cent of the world’s population identified with a religious group), perhaps this would be an effective way of getting important messages – such as not letting plastic get into the ocean – across to people.

Religion is, of course, a very powerful means of achieving behavioural change.

Throughout history, religion has been able to march vast numbers of people to their death, been used as an excuse to enslave, colonise and brutalise people and it has provided help to a great number of people who need charity or hope in times of difficulty.

Pope Francis has made a huge impact with his encyclical letter ‘On Care For Our Common Home‘ and religious and environmental Muslims have called on the people of Islamic faith to end fossil fuel use by 2050.

Will this help to influence the 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims to save the environment as it helped in Tonga?

Of course plenty of the religious right in the United States, (the country that has the most Christians in the world), don’t find this too comfortable. Continue reading

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