Report from Religions for the Earth Conference in New York

Guest post by Brigitte van Baren, ECI Affiliate from Inner Sense, The Netherlands

Hosted by Union Theological Seminary in New York from 19-21September in the lead-up to Climate Week, this conference brought together 250 religious and spiritual leaders of diverse traditions from around the world along with scientists, environmental activists, political leaders, and UN Staff members. The goal of this conference was to use the occasion of the Climate Summit to create awareness of religious activism, raise the global will to act on climate change, and advocate for and support effective measures to address climate change. This issue is directly related to the central themes of the Earth Charter, especially to ecological integrity, the second pillar of the Earth Charter.

In history, religious leadership has influenced many successful social movements and it must also play a role in addressing the climate crisis. This became very clear through the messages of spiritual indigenous leaders such as Chief Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan. He related that over the past decades the ice in the North is melting and that nobody seems to care. Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, an Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder and shaman, whose family belongs to the traditional healers from Kalaallit Nunaat, Greenland, gave his advice on creating compassionate Earth behavior, “The Ice in the North is melting. The only thing we can do is melt the ice in the heart of man.”

The workshops of the different religions and different themes related to climate change made the values aspect of climate change tangible and practical. The messages from the indigenous people touched me especially. For so many years they have been warning us about our bad behaviour towards the Earth. In this conference it was made clear that we have to consider Mother Earth as a family member and not as a resource anymore. This reminded me of Earth Charter principle 5, which urges us, “To protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems.”

There were many outstanding speakers such and Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, the Founder of Shomrei Adamah – Keepers of the Earth, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, who has been involved with the Earth Charter since its inception. To meet soul companions from different religious and political backgrounds, all involved and committed to act to address the climate crisis was a deeply powerful experience.

Walking in the Climate March in New York with more than 300,000 people was differently, but equally, impressive and moving. We happened to see UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Al Gore, and Jane Goodall. It felt like the whole community of New York cared about climate change.

The conference ended with a wonderful multifaith service in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, during which all participants, including religious and political leaders like Vandana Shiva, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley, Al Gore, and Jan Eliasson, made a vow for concrete actions against climate change.

There were also many other friends of the Earth Charter at the Conference and event including Rick Clugston and Rabbi Avraham Soetendorp, among others, seen in pictures above.

You can read more about the event and see videos of speakers and photos at the conference website.

Read an article about the service here.