NRDC: Balancing Beliefs
Q&A with Heather Taylor-Miesle, the San Francisco–based director of the NRDC Action Fund, which is dedicated to shaping public policy by working to pass priority environmental legislation.
What was the legacy of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the 2006 statement endorsing a plan of action on global climate change and signed by 86 evangelical ministers? Did it ultimately have the cultural and political impact that its signers had hoped it would?
The Evangelical Climate Initiative served a very important purpose: as a boldly worded statement, it stood up to those leaders who were out there preaching a slash-and-burn theology, and in the process it helped start a larger and much-needed conversation about our responsibility to the earth and its people. By any measure, it was a substantial first step for many Christians on their journey toward internal reflection on the issue of climate change. All the churches I’ve been active in have had sustainability policies; I know that the ECI had a lot to do with that. So it helped move us in the right direction -- although we still have a long way to go.
Given that nothing about the data on climate change inherently challenges anyone’s religious faith, why would some Christians choose not to take action?
Christians have faith that Jesus has a plan, and that we are going to eventually get to a better place. For some of them -- but by no means all of them! -- this faith in a better future can lead to the sense that we don’t have to worry so much about what we have right here, right now. To these people, inactivity may not be linked to denial so much as it is to their spiritual priorities. They may simply not see this ephemeral world as having equal importance in the context of their everyday lives.
Do you, as someone who is both a devout Christian and a dedicated environmentalist, ever encounter difficulty communicating your positions to other members of either group? If so, how do you overcome it?
I encounter it every day. Some Christians feel like environmentalists have painted them as being manipulated and misguided by the equivalent of bedtime stories. Some environmentalists feel like Christians have turned their backs on facts and are closed off to sensible discourse. The arguments just divide us. I am an environmentalist because I am a Christian: I treasure the earth because I know it was a gift from God. That being said, I also value science and the mysteries it helps unlock. For me, my support for the environment and my faith are linked, and I try to articulate that to both groups.