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Erb Institute speakers and panelists discuss moral imperative of climate change activism.
At the University of Michigan's Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise "Religious Perspectives on Climate Change" conference last Friday, prominent religious leaders and policy makers talked about the "moral mandate" of climate change that is transforming not only the way people pray, but the way they vote and make business decisions along environmental lines.
Setting the tone for the day, introductory speaker and University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment Dean Rosina Bierbaum called attention to the immediacy of the problem by referring to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' virtual clock, which has been turned to five minutes to midnight, indicating that we are close to an environmental breaking point. Throughout the event, keynote speakers and panel discussions emphasized the importance of religious influence on the critical state of climate change.
Although they spoke from disparate perspectives, the participants representing Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths agreed that environmental damage is an ethical and moral issue, as well as an economic one. Citing the species extinction rate of 20,000-30,000 a year due to human activity that impacts other life on Earth, keynote speaker Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker noted, "If this is not a religious issue, I don't know what is."
As a complement to the faith-based discussion, panelists also addressed how businesses and lawmakers are working with faith-based organizations to create positive eco-change. Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) Director Leslie Howe, for example, noted the corporate behavioral change that has been brought about by shareholder pressure on companies to reduce their carbon footprint. She added that religion's role is to help transform corporations back into "social enterprises" that have a positive ecological influence.
An archived Webcast of the event is available at http://www.erb.umich.edu/News-and-Events/news.htm . Highlights include:
* A keynote address from Reverend Sally Bingham, president of The Regeneration Project that has spawned Interfaith Power and Light initiatives in 23 states, who highlighted new legislation such as the environmentally progressive Lieberman-Warner bill currently in Congress that has been backed by key members of the clergy
* The five "Rs" for climate change, presented by Dr. Tucker: Reverence for the earth, Respect for the environment, Restraint with respect to natural resource use, Redistribution of wealth globally and Responsibility for the future of life and the ecosystem
* "What would Buddha do?" - observations from Loyola Marymount University professor Christopher Key Chappel on the importance of removing greed, hatred and delusion from our thinking on climate change
Panelists also fielded challenging questions, including one that suggested religion is the root, rather than the solution, to climate problems because of religious influence on conservative politics, and another that raised the issue of nanotechnology as a potential source of renewable, clean energy.
"Morality is no longer just a theological high ground," said Andrew Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, Ross School of Business and conference chairman. "As the distinguished speakers and panelists at this event have shown, our moral and ethical code of behavior will be a key determinant of the health of our planet, and we believe this is just the beginning of an ongoing dynamic discussion about the influence of faith on climate change."
In addition to the presenters mentioned above, event participants included the Rev. Charles Morris, executive director, Michigan Interfaith Power and Light; Dr. Calvin DeWitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Imam Achmat Salie, Islamic Studies Program, Oakland University; Rabbi Nathan Martin, Assistant Director, University of Michigan Hillel; and Dr. Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, emeritus, Union Theological Seminary; Danielle Conroyd, IHM Sisters; the Honorable George Hartwell, Mayor of the City of Grand Rapids; and Prof. John Dernbach, Widener University School of Law.
About Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise
Created in 1996, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise is a 50-50 partnership between the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. The Institute fosters professional education, public outreach and scientific scholarship supportive of the transition to sustainability – that is, meeting the fundamental needs of a growing human population in an equitable manner within the means of nature. Utilizing a collaborative approach, the Institute helps business, government and civil society organizations to achieve meaningful progress toward sustainability. Its mission is be a premier source of knowledge and leadership for the achievement of environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development and enterprise.
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The Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise
Andrew Horning, 734-764-2519
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