June 25, 2012, 10:17 AM
The tenth item in URI’s list of principles – “We act from sound ecological practices to protect and preserve the Earth for both present and future generations” – might seem a little peculiar to someone who thinks of URI primarily as an interfaith organization devoted to peace.
After all, with so much conflict in the world, and so many other organizations dedicated to keeping our planet green, why should a network of peacebuilders concern itself with the environment, and the threat posed by global climate change?
There are many good reasons for this.
The first is the very real concern that damage to our environment will lead to increased competition for basic resources – like water and cropland – among those who have the least, and that this kind of competition could lead to violence. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in 2007 that “changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals…are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict.”
The second views environmental degradation as a violation of that most fundamental of human values: the Golden Rule. Those of us who consume more than our fair share, or whose actions deny others access to healthy food and clean water, are hardly acting in the way we would want to be treated. That’s one of the motivations behind programs like Interfaith Power and Light, which helps churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious buildings draw their power from renewable resources. One can hardly claim to “love thy neighbor” while polluting that neighbor’s air and water.
The third reason care for the environment is a central part of URI’s mission is the belief – held almost universally by people of faith – that certain resources are sacred. The moving ceremony that ended “The Spirituality and Ethics of Water,” a presentation by members of the Faiths Without Borders Cooperation Circle at the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20), was a reminder that water plays a central role in every religious and spiritual tradition, and that remembering those traditions might help all of us use water more responsibly.
Will the actions of a few dedicated souls be enough? One of the things that distinguishes membership in URI is the belief that small changes today can make a big difference tomorrow. We won’t get to peace overnight. We won’t solve the problem of a warming world overnight, either.
But we’re getting there.
In hope and in peace,
The Right Rev. William E. Swing
President and Founder, United Religions Initiative