Mary Evelyn Tucker, codirector of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, discusses the Fourth National Climate Assessment, as part of CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York. And welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org, and on our iTunes podcast channel, Religion and Foreign Policy.
We’re delighted to have Mary Evelyn Tucker with us today to talk about the religious community’s response to the climate change crisis. Mary Evelyn Tucker is codirector of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology, as well as senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale, where she teaches in the joint master’s program between the university’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Divinity School. Dr. Tucker is the author or editor of numerous volumes on religious environmentalism. You can find more of her work on the Forum’s website at www.fore.Yale.edu.
Mary Evelyn, thank you very much for being with us today. We’ve had an overwhelming response to this call. There was just released another study, the National Climate Assessment, on what is happening in the climate change world. And I thought you could take us through some of the key points, as well as really focus more on the religious community’s response to the climate crisis that we are seeing today.
TUCKER: All right. Well, thank you so much, Irina, and for all the work you’re doing at the Council on Foreign Relations. And thanks to all of you who are listening.
I just wanted to begin actually by saying I think you can see in what was sent out that the crisis is mounting, how the effect on land, on people, on oceans, increasing force in weather changes, and droughts, and so on. I think we’re all pretty much aware that we are at a very critical point. Some people are calling it a tipping point and so on. So I won’t go through the specifics. There are great summaries of this latest national report, and then also of the IPCC report. And we’re getting a lot from the COP meeting right now.
But I wanted to begin actually with children. (Laughs.) And saying they are leading the way in certain ways. That yesterday we were coming home from Yale. And next to us was a staff member. Her two children in the back, five and three, turned to my husband and said: Are you thinking about global warming? And one of them said: Well, we’ve got the elements. We’ve got sun. We’ve got water. We’ve got air. We can do something. This was incredible.
We had a talk at Yale yesterday on the Poor People’s Campaign with William Barber, and bringing together ecology, justice, and peace, and how young people are getting involved in that campaign. Really very inspiring. And of course, Greta Thunberg from Sweden, the fifteen-year-old, and the Australian children walking out of their schools. And Our Children’s Trust is an amazing legal case, saying our children is being imperiled. So I just wanted to say, I think in the next generation there’s a huge awareness. And we need to partner with them, an intergenerational handshake.
My second point is moral leadership is needed, of course, more than ever before. I teach at a science-based school with John Grim, my husband. And we have science and policy. We have economics, and law, and technologies. But here’s where those of you on this call, and the many, many people you’re in touch with, we do have something special to bring to the table. And Gus Speth brought us here because he said: We need a moral voice. We need the arts. We need culture. We need where humans are thinking, feeling, and making the changes.
And it was my experience with civil rights with religious leaders came on board and said: Segregation is no longer fair, it is morally problematic, things changed. The civil rights movement burst open. And I think we have the same potential with leadership around our country, but around the world, to say: We need moral and ethical leadership. To say: Creation is suffering, the cry of the Earth, the cry of the poor. We know that people who are vulnerable who are not causing these problems are in the front line of very, very serious impact.
My third point, which I hope we’ll get to in the discussion, is to say I think there’s two—there’s principles and there’s strategies, and tactics, which I’ll talk about in a few moments. But I want to jump into the—right into the middle section of strategies that we’re all looking for. I would say there are three that are ahead of us still.
One is, if we are able to bring the insurance industry on board—if you look at any of the reinsurance industries, right on the front of their websites it says: We are losing our shirts and trillions of dollars due to weather impact, hurricanes, and so on. People can’t get insured on coastal water properties. The insurance industry is talking about risk management in a way that’s almost invisible to the American public. And I think if we bring that community on board to say: Your fiduciary responsibility is to speak out about these issues—because it’s an economic and a moral issue.
And the other is the Department of Defense. Since 1990, the U.S. Naval War College made a statement on climate change. And we have online since the early 2000s statements of the Department of Defense saying this is one of our greatest security risks. One of our largest naval bases in Norfolk is—the ocean is rising, rising seas all over the country are endangering naval bases. You can see this online, in their latest reports, and so on. So to make that visible I think is also crucial.
And the third point is, there’s now moving into Congress a carbon dividend trust fund act. Ted Deutch is leading it. But this is a bipartisan effort to avoid the term carbon tax, but to say a carbon dividend trust, where people will actually be paid back. And it’s a very important bipartisan effort that I think we have to look for carefully into 2019.
Now, let me back up and say that in putting together this list of resources for this call, I have been very encouraged. John and I have been working in this area for twenty-five years. And the amount of now that is available online is quite astounding. And I’ll go through that in a few moments. But I want to really highlight, we have now one of the greatest statements on climate change and environment Laudato Si’, the encyclical from 2015 from Pope Francis. And I want to underscore that when Bill McKibben came here to Yale to speak a year and a half ago, he said: Mary Evelyn, this is the most important document of the 21st century. Now, somebody like Bill McKibben, who’s written so many books, blurbed so many books, read so many books can highlight this as one of our great beacons of light I think is really important. He and others have said it’s one of the reasons we got the Paris agreement.
So and that’s because it has principles that are highlighted for all of us to think about. And I’m going to go through just a few of them. The pope identifies problems and promise. And this is where we have to keep going back and forth between our sense of hope and realism. The problems, he says, are we have a worldview that has a sense of no limits to economic growth. We have a sense of a myth of progress. We have unrestrained capitalism. We have a distorted anthropocentrism. We have exaggerated individualism. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of hyper-individualism is well-known in leading figures in our government, but across the land. And this is part of the problem.
So the promise that he highlights, and I think we can all agree on, is we need a new worldview. We need an integral ecology of both people and the planet that brings forward a new ethic for ecojustice, for ecology, economy, and equity—a global ethic. He mentions the Earth Charter, which has this integration of ecology, justice and peace. So a new worldview and new ethics are clearly needed. And this is part of the promise he holds forward.
And the third point is he’s calling for ecological conversion. He even uses the word “a cultural revolution.” And he says this is for systematic and institutional change, as well as for individual and personal change. So the individual person, lifestyle changes, moving away from consumerism, measuring our carbon footprint and so on, the systemic changes that are emerging are this divest and invest movements—divesting from fossil fuels, but investing in renewables. And groups across the country are thinking of this. And of course, religious communities are leading the way. Jim Antal has helped the UCC church on this. We have a long way to go. But I just want to mention, in addition to the problems and promise and conversion, Francis evokes the sensibility of St. Francis, that a living Earth is the patrimony of all humans. And that is the word to use, a patrimony of all humans. He highlights Teilhard for a sense of the mystery of the universe.
And my last opening comment will be here as a segue to the sense that we know that we need a new story. This is coming up over and over again. And as many of you know Thomas Berry wrote in 1989, there’s a new for a new story that puts together our religious sensibilities and our scientific sensibilities. And we need to tell the story with a sense of awe, and wonder, and beauty, and complexity. And into that space, Brian Swimme, and John, and many, many people have helped to make his Journey of the Universe available as a film, as a book, as a series of online courses, of conversations. And all of that we hope to make available to you as well.
But in that context, Berry would say: We have ethics for homicide and geocide, but not for biocide and geocide—we have ethics—sorry—for homicide and genocide, but not biocide and geocide. So the question is, in something like Journey of the Universe and in this climate crisis that’s right before us, we have to take the step back and say: What does it mean to live on a planet whose life systems, whose ecosystems are unraveling? And what does it mean to say the poor are most affected by this? That is our challenge. And I think we have a lot of resources to come forward in this challenge.
I want to mention just before opening it up for your comments and observations, and hopefully for making this list which I’ve put together more robust and more complete, so we can share it with others. But I do want to say the United Nations Environment Program is very keen on this. They’ve launched a new website for Faith for the Earth. And I’m just going to be going through some of these resources that Irina sent out earlier. There’s a fantastic interfaith rainforest initiative that they’ve just launched.
And I’ve listed many interreligious programs and websites besides the Forum, but Interfaith Power and Light has been in this space for a long, long time. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is working on this ESG, ecology, society, and governance. And that sense of finance that has responsibility behind it is really growing. Green Faith and Blessed Tomorrow are doing magnificent work. Earth Ministry in Seattle, Faith in Place in Chicago, Interreligious Ecojustice Network here in Connecticut. Tom Carr and others in the Franciscan Action Network with Patrick Carolan. The Alliance of Religion and Conservation. And I won’t go through all the rest, but I do want to give a shout-out to Catholic Climate Covenant with Dan Misleh’s work in D.C.
So there are articles. There are books that we can draw on. And I do want to give a shout-out to Jim Antal’s book, Climate Church and the Changing World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change—Climate Church, Climate World. I do want to mention that tonight there’s a film on National Geographic, Paris to Pittsburgh. And that’s a premier. And finally, I wanted to just say there’s a really outstanding report that’s been done by Gary Gardner and Forrest Clingerman on geoengineering, where I’ve given the website, Playing God: Multifaced Responses to the Prospect of Climate Engineering, where by and large they’re saying we need to cut down our emissions and hopefully avoid some of the very deep challenges of geoengineering.
So I just want to say once again thank you to CFR. Thank you to all of you on the call. We have a lot of resources. I think the religions can bring to the table this moral force, this ethical power, this prophetic voice, along with certain strategies and tactics that they have been working on already for a long, long time. So thank you, and let’s hear your comments and questions.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Thank you, Mary Evelyn. Let’s open it up to the group.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
Our first question comes from Khosro Mehrfar, with Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.
MEHFAR: Yes. Good morning, everybody. Or good day, I should say. Thank you so much, Professor Tucker, and also Irina, for this great and informative session.
My question basically is what needs to be done, in your opinion, Professor Tucker, on the individual basis? And the reason I am saying that is that, just my own case, I am a Zoroastrian. And the nature for us sacred. And environment is holy. So from the childhood, I was brought up in my religion the keep it clean and pure. So if I am just one individual out of the eight billion, I follow that guideline. Or if I am a CEO or some executive of a giant corporation, because of my personal belief, I try to implement that as well. So my point is the criticality of the individual responsibility and the belief that a person has. And what the guidelines basically you can tell us to follow.
TUCKER: Well, thank you so much. And I think many people share that question, because many people feel disempowered right now, actually. And they’re saying: What can I do? And I think so many things are coupled, right, that it’s both this and that. And in this case, I would say, yes, individual action is critical. And, yes, religious communities and people of faith can make a difference. At the same time, the institutional changes are absolutely critical, and the strategic systemic changes are very, very important. In other words, we can’t change unless we change a worldview of a society that thinks growth is the only way to go and that the exploitation of nature is—that there’s no problem with it.
So coming back to what an individual can do, I think the individual has to raise awareness with those around him or her, and help move towards action, both personally and systemically. And we know there’s—I mean, we’ve been, many of us, working in this sphere for several decades. And, you know, there’s been ten things you could do to save the Earth, so to speak, for a long time. You can cut down our carbon footprint. We can turn off the lights. We can retrofit. We can do carbon offsets. We can eat differently. You know, the food issue is so important. And why is it that we’re cutting down rainforests for hamburgers in North America? And why is it that we’re feeding animals who are grass-fed naturally—feeding them corn and other grains, and using that up, or growing soybeans to feed cattle down in South America?
So we can change. Consumer pressures can change these issues. We certainly don’t need that amount of meat. I’ve been vegetarian for twenty-five years and have no health problems. (Laughs.) And I’m not saying everyone has to go that way. But these are choices that we can make in all kinds of ways. And transportation is a huge part of our carbon footprint. We’ve got to help the—pressure the car companies to make more efficient cars. I was just in Norway with my husband. All across Oslo there’s electric car plug-ins. You know, and many countries are saying we must go this way in the future. So we have about a million electric cars so far in this country, but we have a long way to go.
But let me just conclude by saying the reports of Blessed Tomorrow, ecoAmerica, and places like that, including our climate change communication at Yale, is saying 80 percent of Americans know climate change is real, it’s happening. And 80 percent are saying: We must do something about it. So that is part of the tipping point, that people want to do something personally and also institutionally to change. So thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Patrick Carolan with Franciscan Action Network.
CAROLAN: Thank you. And thank you, Mary Evelyn, for everything that you do and for your presentation.
I quite—and I also want to thank you for not using the term “carbon tax.” I’m always fearful of what’s happening in Paris, and that’s a pitfall of, you know, how people—if our government passed a carbon tax, it would have so many loopholes that you could drive an oil tanker through it.
My question, though, is around—I just spent five days down on the border and I participated in civil disobedience around the asylum seekers. And a lot of the asylum seekers are coming here because of climate issues. We don’t—we don’t raise that issue as much. We don’t talk about that. So how do we make the intersectionality of all these issues that—and as you know well in Washington, D.C., we all live in our silos. I work on this issue, or I work on that issue, or I work on some other issues. And do we start to bring everyone together, because there really is only one issue that we should be working on, and it’s all the same issue. These are all symptoms of the issue.
TUCKER: Sure. Right, right. Well, thank you, Patrick, so much, and for your really outstanding work with Franciscan Action Network. And let me just respond about this—the act before Congress is actually carbon dividend trust fund, to encourage—I’m reading from it—market-driven innovation of clean energy technologies and market efficiencies, which will reduce harmful pollution, leave a healthier, more stable, more prosperous nation for future generations. That begins this whole carbon dividend trust. We know a carbon tax was just recently defeated in Washington State. The Catholic bishops had written a letter about it, supporting a carbon tax, but there was millions of dollars put in there by the oil companies to defeat it, just the same as the fracking bill in Colorado was defeated.
But one of the articles I do—I put out here, and there’s many, many other ones, will back up your extremely important point about migration, immigration, and connecting the dots to climate change. So this one is why the migrant caravan story is a climate change story. It was in YES! Magazine at the end of November. You know, the Syrian civil war started, as we know, with a huge drought. And Thomas Friedman is trying to write about this, the connection between immigration from the Middle East into Europe, and from Africa, places that are drought-ridden, and so on. So the climate catastrophe is creating 90 million immigrants around the world—not climate alone, but a huge percentage of that is because of land issues, drought issues, as well as a whole range of other things.
So we do need to connect the dots and get to the sources of these problems and see that unless we make this transition from a non-renewable, fossil fuels to renewables, that is the big transition that’s ahead of us. And I would say it’s a physical energy issue to get to renewables. It’s also a spiritual energy issue. And that’s what this community that’s on this phone call can bring. What is resilience of the human spirit that is going to help us move forward and make this great transition?
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Kusumita Pedersen with Parliament of the World’s Religions.
PEDERSEN: This is Kusumita. Can you hear me?
TUCKER: Yes, I can. Thank you.
PEDERSEN: Right. (Laughs.) Hello, Mary Evelyn, and everyone. It’s wonderful to be part of this dialogue.
And I just want to express my gratitude to everyone who’s so devoted to, you know, this crisis that we’re all confronting. I’m listed among the participants as St. Francis College. And I have recently retired from there. But I’m a founding member of the Climate Action Taskforce of the World’s Religions—of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. And we’re so happy and honored that Mary Evelyn, and John, and a number of you on the call, and your organizations, are part of our taskforce. So we would like to serve—our programs and activities are to serve the faith-based movement on climate change, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions convening in Toronto just was, in the first week of November, with over eight thousand participants and seventy-plus programs on climate change. And Mary Evelyn and John and some of you were there. So I just wanted to give that piece of news to you all.
And now to my question. We hear a great deal about mobilizing the world’s religions and their leaders on climate change. But in some parts of the world, many people—and increasing number—are not affiliated with religion. But they are on spiritual paths, but not part of organized religion, and do not trust religious leaders. So there’s different aspects to this. And I wonder, if you want to affect systemic change, I think we can recognize that the way to affect systemic change is you have to have a very extensive movement, a social movement, that’s highly organized. How can we, Mary Evelyn, expand the movement to include everyone? You know, the motto of the People’s Climate Movement, which I love, is: To change everything we need everyone. So how can we reach out to people who are not affiliated to an organized religion and have the needed solidarity and joint action with them?
TUCKER: Right. Kusumita, thank you so much. And you’re—the Parliament is listed on the updated list, right after the Forum. So I want to give a huge shout-out to what the Parliament just did in Toronto. And I recommend especially the climate plenary session, which we posted on our Forum website and on the last newsletter, where you can hear all the speakers. It was an extraordinary moment. And having worked with Kusumita closely since 1998 on the Parliament’s meetings, we can say this particular one in Toronto was a watershed in terms of the climate change and environmental issues across the board.
Now, you’re—really important question. And it’s why I always say religions have their promise and their problems—(laughs)—because even though we know about 85 percent of the world’s peoples are affiliated—loosely or strongly, but still have some resonance with the world’s religions. And we must mention the critical contribution of indigenous peoples, which was well-represented at the Parliament too on these issues, and their extraordinary work in trying to block the pipeline with the Standing Rock movement last winter in North Dakota, and First Nations in Canada.
So what I want to say—that’s why I actually put forward as two or three strategies we can think about that’s involving people beyond the religious communities, namely where is insurance on this? Where is finance on this? That was one. Where is the Department of Defense on these issues? And the carbon dividend. These are things that appeal to secular people, for sure. And our work here in academia is very much trying to involve people who don’t have a religious commitment. And I think we have to be very sensitive that religions in some ways have been late at coming to the issue of climate change. And so we can’t afford to be overly moralistic, or make people feel badly.
We have to evoke—and that’s why I think Journey of the Universe has something to offer—wonder, awe, beauty, complexity of this fourteen-billion-year universe. We have had students in our classes who are not overly religious and are deeply moved by Journey of the Universe and saying: We came back from the edge of despair and disempowerment because we see where we belong and how we can make a difference. And that is what the offering of Journey of the Universe is, both to those in spiritual—religious and spiritual communities, and to those who are moved by ecology, by science to make a difference. So I think your question is hugely important, and we’ll continue to think together on these lines Kusumita.
PEDERSEN: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Tom Reese with Religion News Service.
REESE: I found this whole discussion very helpful. Clearly this administration is a disaster on climate change. It denies that climate change is happening. It’s trying to put out of the Paris agreement. All of this is bad. But this administration doesn’t listen to the people that are on this phone call. It listens to conservative Evangelical leaders. So my question is, how do we get to them? How do we change the views of the conservative Evangelical leaders and folks that are supporting Trump? Because they’re the people that he will listen to.
TUCKER: Mmm hmm. Yes. Excellent question. And very important going forward. I notice I got to add the Evangelical Environmental Network, which we’ve been working with since 1997 when we had the first conference at Harvard on Christianity and Ecology. And they were an important voice. They still are an important voice. So I urge you to—all of us to look at that website, the Evangelical Environmental Network. We know we’ve had important spokespeople in this, Richard Cizik and so on. On the resource list, I did list a very important book by Paul Douglas and Mitch Hescox called Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment. So there are resources that are out there. That’s a first point.
And secondly, as many of you know, Katherine Hayhoe, a scientist down in Texas whose husband is an Evangelical minister as well, has been one of the key people speaking to evangelicals, because I think we have to know our audiences. And Katherine has helped many Evangelicals understand this is real, this is going to affect you and your children, and this has a moral consequence, especially for the poor. So one can see many of her talks online. And she’s been just remarkable. So thank you for your question.
FASKIANOS: Our next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love with The Catholic University of America.
CUSIMANO LOVE: Hello. I wanted to thank you for your—for your information here. I wondered if you could speak out a bit more about the work of indigenous and native peoples on this area, and particularly the ways in which coalitions between more traditional religious actors and more native religious actors can work going forward. And I’m thinking, for example, about Pope Francis calling a synod on the Amazon this year, in which he’s going to be highlighting the contributions of indigenous people and indigenous religions, in addition to traditional faith traditions. Thank you.
TUCKER: Thank you so much. What a good question, as all of these are.
Well, John Grim my husband and life partner is a specialist in indigenous traditions. We’ve worked very closely with the Crow Tribe here in this country. And so—and he’s worked closely with the Salish people in Washington state and British Colombia. We were in the Amazon with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who needs a big callout here for the work he’s done, even before the pope, on these issues. And what the patriarch did on this conference in the Amazon, in the middle of the Amazon River, he apologized for forced conversion to indigenous peoples. And there was a ceremonial where some representatives of indigenous peoples accepted that apology. And the pope is following that. He has done that in Colombia and Bolivia, apologies to indigenous people for destroying their culture, their rights, and so on.
And this next conference that you’ve just mentioned is hugely important, and I’m so glad you’ve brought it all of our attention. I would also—I would say we have so much to learn, clearly. Without idealizing, but by saying that, as John likes to call it, a life way that’s integrative of livelihood, ecology, and community is one of the key things we can learn from native peoples. Some people call this cosmo vision, bringing together a sense cosmos, Earth, and human for a flourishing future. The great diversity of tribal perspectives, of native perspectives, are something we need to honor and not just sweep it all into one bucket and say: This is the worldview of indigenous peoples. So respecting that enormous diversity, respecting their survival against unbelievable odds of exploitation, both in the colonial period and now in the industrial period of extractive mining, destruction of forest, et cetera, et cetera.
So I want to just mention, the Indigenous Environmental Network is an extraordinary site exactly for these issues. And at the Parliament, there was a very special session which can be viewed on our website, and probably the Parliament website, that is this project that was launched through the Norwegian government, through U.N. environment program, and through the Rainforest Initiative in Norway, called Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, which is trying to highlight the voice of indigenous people, but in conjunction with other religious communities in rainforest areas, specifically the Amazon, the Congo, and Indonesia. So it’s a new coalition that will say: We need the voices of indigenous peoples for the protections of these areas, as well as the Christian, Islamic communities to back them up.
Indigenous people are at the front line of activism. And some of them, as we know, are being killed. This is unacceptable. So I thank you so much for your question. And I urge you to look at the Indigenous Environmental Network website.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Jim Antal with the United Church of Christ.
ANTAL: First of all, I want to begin by saying, to Mary Evelyn, what a brilliant and comprehensive presentation you have made, including the answers to these terrific questions we’ve had so far. I just forwarded to Irina an invitation to everybody who is signed up for this phone call. On January 9, from 1:00 to 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, I’ll be hosting a call with scientist and Evangelical Katherine Hayhoe, who was just mentioned, along with Naomi Oreskes, who’s head of the History of Philosophy and Science Department at Harvard. And we will be reviewing these same reports that have recently been issued and doing so for the religious audience. So this is an opportunity to add to the conversation we’re having today, and to have the perspectives of these two scientists.
In addition to that, Mary Evelyn, just on a personal basis, I just can’t thank you enough for the decades of not only academic witness, but the way you have broadened out your own witness to include activism and so much more. Thank you to you, and John, and all that you’ve done.
TUCKER: Thank you, Jim. And I mentioned already your extraordinary work in bringing the UCC onboard for divestment and your continual magnificent leadership along those lines and in the whole network here in the Northeast, but across the country on divestment and climate change, as well as your really terrific book. So thank you. Jim was arrested with our dear friend Gus Speth, who was our former dean at Yale, along with Bill McKibben in one of the demonstrations in D.C. So there’s a long history there.
And as someone—why I mention the civil rights movement is my activism—(laughs)—and many of our activisms go back a long, long time. So all of this work, I think, collectively is dedicated both to future generations and to transformative change for our planet and its people.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Joyce Mercer with Yale Divinity School.
MERCER: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for this conversation.
I have been thinking a lot for quite a while about the relationship between the ways we frame childhood theologically and how we make sense of climate justice through the lenses of religions. And I’m thinking about the children’s trust lawsuit and the way that it focuses on the agency of children and youth as change agents, and how that sets in tension—it sits in tension with a lot of religious portrayals of childhood and children as a time of innocence, a time of unknowing, a time of dependency, et cetera, et cetera. And so I’m wondering if you could speak to the connections between how we understand human personhood in its childhood form and the issues before us around climate activism and climate justice, religiously speaking.
TUCKER: What a magnificent question. Thank you, Joyce, and I hope to talk with you later on this as well.
Yeah, I think that is quite extraordinary and perceptive because—and it’s why I began with children, actually. And, you know, to say this fifteen-year-old Swedish Greta talking in front of the secretary-general of the United Nations and so on has dignity, poise, and efficaciousness. It was David Suzuki’s daughter who we may all recall in ’92 at the Earth Summit in Rio absolutely brought down the crowds there almost to the point of weeping by saying this is our future, and that’s what these Australian children in Australia are doing, walking out of their classroom and so on and so forth.
So I think your question is a very sophisticated one, and I don’t know if I can just answer it off the top of my head, of what is the personhood of a child. I would put the question back to all of us, is what kind of person do we hope to nurture, to educate, and encourage into their future? And honestly, when I see despair and disempowerment in this next generation, it’s my deepest worry. And that’s why these issues are spiritual and moral. And young people can pick up authenticity. They can pick up a sense of commitment and where they want to dig in and make a difference. And I want to give a big shout-out to the students here at Yale who are working on divestment, Fossil Fuel (sic; Free) Yale, and at other universities against great opposition. They are leading the way.
So let’s all think about that question that Joyce has raised. What does it mean—what does it mean for the personhood of youth? And how are we listening to them, reflecting with them on these issues going forward? Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Paul Waldau with Canisius College.
WALDAU: Hello, Mary Evelyn. Let me add my name to the now-long list of thank-yous for enabling us over the last quarter-century plus. It’s been very helpful.
Let me—many of the questions have been so insightful. Let me turn this to education. It seems to me that we all know there are deep resources in religious and wisdom traditions that we have had an amnesia-like relationship with in public policy, and we ignore the massive communities that all of us are part of. How do you think education can go forward today in ways that bring us much closer to the fact that we all—(off mic)—more than human—(off mic)—and we can really—
FASKIANOS: Can you—sorry, excuse me. Talk into the mic, we can’t—or to the phone. We did not get the last part of that.
WALDAU: So how can we utilize the key resources in religious and wisdom traditions to get back to better, more fulsome education?
TUCKER: Mmm hmm. Yeah. Well, I take that, coupled with Kusumita’s question, you know, that we need a, as Tu Weiming would say, a spiritual humanism for those outside the religious communities and we have to be very attentive to activating a deep broad ecologically-grounded spirituality, I think, and I think that this can, of course, be done within the religious traditions.
We all know—you know, every institution is breaking down. The educational institutions are breaking down. The religious ones, right before our eyes. The loss of the great Protestant traditions, the unfolding of seminaries. Our seminary here at Yale is now coupled with Andover Newton and Union is coupled with the Episcopal seminary because they’re shrinking. The Catholic Church is unraveling for all kinds of reasons. So and we can say our political and our economic institutions are very much unraveling.
So we need a(n) exceptional kind of resilience which will acknowledge we are in a moment of breakdown to break through and if we can say honestly, even within these educational frameworks, they’re inadequate. They’re imperfect. But I would say in their best forms—and I can see faculty around me struggling to answer exactly your question, Paul, and this is within secular institutions. But at the Divinity School, too, we now have a Master’s of our—in religion and ecology after, you know, twelve, thirteen years, which is fantastic, and I think so just to summarize—maybe respond to a hugely important question, I think one of the things we need to work on within religious communities is what are robust and efficacious environmental ethics that, of course, are linked to social justice but we don’t have a sufficient sense of articulating the integrity of Creation, as the Earth Charter calls it, linked to economic and social justice as well as peace issues and democracy issues.
So I think if we can pull that together—the ecology, justice, and peace issues—in a way that’s friendly, inviting, and exciting for people and especially for the next generation, that is the basis of an educational curriculum that is going forward. And by the way, the Jesuit university schools and colleges across the board are taking Laudato Si’ as a very foundational note for their curriculum and for their changes, and that’s one of the largest educational institutions in the world. Loyola in Chicago is helping to drive that action with Nancy Tuchman—a scientist there.
So there’s a lot of hope that it’s going to get into the educational systems, this perspective that the environment is a moral issue and it must be coupled with a sense of suffering of the poor and many others. People and planet.
Thank you, Paul, for that question and your outstanding work on the more-than-human world. Thank you for that, especially your book, Communion of Subjects, which is so beautiful.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Sousan Abadian with the State Department.
ABADIAN: Hi. Thank you so much for this incredibly rich conversation. I’m a Franklin Fellow at the State Department in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the moment but I’m going to be asking questions from my personal—in my personal capacity.
I wonder—I had a bunch of questions around indigenous peoples that did get answered in the previous conversation. I wanted to know what the religious communities’ stances were now on the related issue of reducing population numbers, you know, so through empowering women, giving them greater autonomy and also encouraging the use of contraception. So that sounds like a very—also an important issue that maybe needs to be addressed alongside the other issues that we’re concerned with.
TUCKER: Right. Thank you so much. It’s a very key issue and I usually begin my talks by saying, you know, in one century—the twentieth century—we went from two billion people to six billion people and that changed everything. So I think we do have to put that out there frontline and center, as they say, and thank you for raising the question.
And I think it’s very much connected, as you’ve just mentioned, to the empowerment and education of women, to knowledge of contraception, availability of contraception, where we’ve made great, great strides and women’s groups, women’s organizations have been leading the way and that includes women in religious communities, I think, as well.
But I think we have to be, you know, quite honest that especially the Catholic Church and certain elements in the Islamic tradition have been less friendly, shall we say, to some of these changes. We had a big issue in the Earth Charter on reproductive health; just that term was causing consternation by some religious groups. Reproductive health is a basic human right for women. So I think we have to just keep that very much a sense of a priority, especially in terms of educating not only women but men as well, but empowering, protecting women away from trafficking, away from abuse, of all of these horrible things that many women have had to face.
And I think this sense of education extends to health across the board—physical health, mental health, away from trauma, war, the refugee crisis. I think every morning of women and children in refugee camps when I turn on our water and take a drink.
I think that kind of suffering is incredible. But I also just want to put forward John and I don’t have children but we feel our students are our children and we love being with them. They’re very inspiring to us. I think we have to encourage both men and women there are many ways to be nurturing in this world, to be loving the next generation, and that these are options that I think can also be put forward.
So thank you so much for your question.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is from Chloe Breyer with the Interfaith Center of New York.
BREYER: Yes. Hello. Thank you so much.
I’m just wondering, you had sent around an article about the insurance companies and ways that even though it wasn’t in their interest that they were still refusing to invest in, you know—in a sane way and I’m wondering if you could talk more just about the companies out there, both—you mentioned the divestment that your students are doing and can you just give more of an update on that and where we are?
TUCKER: Yeah. Chloe, thank you so much and thank you for your leadership with the Interfaith Center of New York, and Jim Morton founded it and what a terrific inspiration he was to all of us.
So I think what’s very interesting is I was just at a meeting last week which was at Baker McKenzie in New York that brought together very high-level people from the financial world in New York, basically, including the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and so on—their board head and people from the S&P 500 and people doing financial investments and so on and people working on flood resilience in lower Manhattan and someone from Cuomo’s office on energy, and so on and so forth.
So what I do want to say is that this is a very encouraging meeting and this ESG—ecology, society, and governance—as one mid-level forty-year-old finance guy says he has seen, especially in the last five to seven years across the board in the finance and market world, an increase in a concern for socially and ecologically responsible investment, which began by many religious communities’ concerns about their portfolios and how would they investment—not in war, not in guns, not in tobacco. And so that—the divestment movement in some ways began with this investment in positive ways.
Now, I think—this is why I mentioned the insurance industry. So you’ve got the big reinsurance—Swiss Re, Munich Re, and so on—who have said for a long time the climate is our biggest risk. The other one’s who will give you insurance on your property on Long Island, which is very difficult to get right now, and certain big companies won’t insure coastal water properties anymore. So they are on the verge, you see, and with some pressure, I think, along these lines that you’ve just mentioned it can be said, well, where are you going to invest your funds, which are huge, and they have been off the screen, you see, of divestment campaigns and so on.
So I think that article—one of the reasons I sent it out was because I think that’s news to all of us to make visible where are they making their investments and if they’re not insuring coastal water properties the public deserves to know that because they’re taking climate change seriously while others are denying it. You can’t take one of the biggest industries in the world and say, oh, they’re denying it, too. They’re not. So that’s why we have to make it more visible and I think we have that opportunity to do it in the religious communities.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I think we have time for one last question.
OPERATOR: And our last question is from Kevin Cawley with Iona College.
CAWLEY: Hello, Mary Evelyn, and thank you for all of this.
TUCKER: Hi, Kevin.
CAWLEY: It’s just good to hear you all, and thanks to John and thanks for the Journey in the Universe film.
I’m sort of back to another point you made earlier. You may have already answered it but I do want to put it out there. Working with young people, not just in school but just out of school and now they’re raising families, they have young children, and I can’t tell you how often—I have a large family—and I’ve been standing next to a niece or a nephew and they’re holding a child. They lean into me and they say, “Uncle Kevin, are we going to be OK?” Yeah. And I don’t have a good answer. I say, “A lot depends.” But it’s the line between encouraging, giving information, and the balance point to keep it toward engagement rather than discouragement. Maybe you have some comments.
TUCKER: Yeah. Kevin Cawley, thank you so much and thank you for your work with Kathleen Deignan and Danny Martin and Brian Brown at Iona College and the Thomas Berry Forum and your terrific newsletter from the Carbon Rangers. Fantastic work that you’re doing, and at the U.N., too.
So this is a wonderful or a challenging note to end on, isn’t it? What do we tell our children and their children? I think that is something we need to meditate on, reflect on, bring forward the Havel sensibility of deep hope and deep time. It’s why deep time in Journey of the Universe can be a great consolation to us. And Teilhard, who experienced the First World War, had a tremendous vision. He was a stretcher bearer in the First World War. But he had a tremendous sense in moments of unspeakable suffering, in moments of dying and death, something is still being birthed. And that is what I feel, I think other people feel, at this particular time.
So we need to get a language that can express it without being just pietistic or rhetorical in a way that has a resonance with the next generation. Our nieces and nephews are looking for it, our students are looking for it, and the minute they catch a glimpse of it they are off and running with their creativity. It’s quite astounding. So that balance between realism—we’re at a very critical moment—and hope and possibility and change is—that’s the music we have to play, going forward.
Thank you all so much and thank you to the Council for Foreign Relations for this chance to have a very stimulating conversation together. Thank you, and Irina especially, thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Mary Evelyn Tucker. We really appreciate your being with us today and for everybody’s comments and questions. I hope you will review closely the resource document that we sent out. We encourage you to follow Mary Evelyn Tucker at the Forum on Religion and Ecology’s website, although I’m sure many of you already are. Sign up for the Forum’s newsletter there. And we also hope that you’ll continue to follow us at CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Program at CFR_Religion where we have announcements about upcoming events and latest resources from the Council. And, as always, we encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions for speakers or topics for future calls or events.
So thank you all, again, and we wish you a wonderful holiday season.