Meghalaya leads the way in harnessing faith for climate action

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It was Pope Francis who cemented the church’s commitment to ecological sustainability with his landmark papal document ‘Laudato Si’ published in May 2015…reports Asian Lite News.

After initiating a grassroots-level movement with Climate Change Chapaul — which involved roping in traditional leaders of Meghalaya to spread the awareness of climate change — Meghalaya is starting to use another social innovation to drive a change in people’s behaviour and attitude towards climate change.

A brainchild of Meghalaya Forests and Environment Minister James K. Sangma, interaction with leaders from eight faith-based and religious organisations aims to promote climate change messages in their followers and help build a bottom-up movement to fortify the fight against climate change in the state.

Quashing the age-old myth that religion and science don’t get along, Meghalaya believes that religions can play an influential role in climate change negotiations and help build a strong public consensus in spurring the global mass climate action movement.

Laitmawsiang landscape, wrapped in fog. Meghalaya is mountainous, and it is the rainiest state of India. The word Meghalaya means, “abode of the clouds”. (Wikipedia)

The meeting was attended by Swami Hitakamananda, Secretary, Ramakrishna Mission Shillong; Pastor T.T. Diengdoh of Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Synod Sepngi (KJPSS); Father Richard Majaw, In-charge of the Education Commission and Vicar General, Archdiocese of Shillong; Kamaljeet Singh, General Secretary of the Shri Guru Singh Sabha Meghalaya; Jb Noor Nongrum, Assistant General Secretary of The Shillong Muslim Union; Pastor Elizer Sangma of Shillong Baptist Church; Rothel Khongsit, President, Seng Khasi Khatarshnong (Khasi Traditional Faith Leader); and Pema Dhondup, Tibetan Settlement Officer, Meghalaya.

Several innovative ideas were discussed from curating an eco-ministry programme by religious institutions in collaboration with state governments to adoption of eco-efficiencies to spread the message of conservation and sustainable lifestyles.

It is an established fact that faith-based organisations have been playing a key role in accelerating climate dialogues across the world ever since the Vatican and particularly, Pope Francis, kicked off a religious movement towards ecology and environment science and dedicated much of his papacy dedicated to teaching about care for the planet and raising the priority of climate change on the world agenda.

It was Pope Francis who cemented the church’s commitment to ecological sustainability with his landmark papal document ‘Laudato Si’ published in May 2015.

Pope Francis (Wikipedia)

In his document “On care for our common home”, Pope Francis called for a “bold cultural revolution” on multiple levels: Spiritual, theological, scientific and practical.

Meghalaya’s population consists of 70 per cent Christians and followers of indigenous Khasi faiths followed by Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Tibetans. Faith can therefore play an influential role in dictating social and behavioural conventions of the masses.

On the occasion, James K. Sangma said, “In taking the faith-based approach, I want the scientific and rational thought to borrow hope and optimism that religions around the world offer and wants to erase the usual disdain of science towards religions. Faith groups have a history of speaking out on behalf of the oppressed and powerless; the environment is no different.”

The minister further stated that in Meghalaya, the understanding of environment protection is rooted in the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia communities which is based on traditional values and wisdom passed on through the ages.

The living testament of this are the sacred groves and traditional reserve forests in which till now, such valued practices is what the community leadership holds on to.

Besides, the living root bridges are another story that is very telling of the people’s respect for nature. These root bridges take hundreds of years to form, therefore, the original builder knows that he would not see the full formation of the bridge but he does it anyway because he knows it is about community-living and for the future of his people. Such green concepts are intertwined with the values that come along with traditional faith or faiths that have arrived in the hills.

Sangma said he was inspired by the burgeoning global religious movement against climate change.

Forty Roman Catholic groups in countries including Australia, South Africa and the US have said that they are shunning investments in fossil fuels and switching to greener energy.

Some 1,200 institutions across the world have already committed to divest from fossil-fuel companies, totalling $14.5 trillion. One-third of these are faith-based organisations.

In 2020, faith leaders from Scotland jointly played a role in pushing for the government’s adoption of a new climate change bill and their global counterparts delivered a series of recommendations to the G-20.

Back home, organisations like EcoSikh helps cities in India adopt environmentally friendly pilgrimages. The Bhumi Project, a Hindu organisation, develops long-term sustainable plans for environmental care and trains young people to become climate leaders.

Green Muslims connect volunteers to local climate action initiatives. A similar eco ministry programme in Kerala that has embedded ecology and climate change in its constitution is working on spreading awareness about climate change, sustainability, regenerative agricultural practices and urging people to not destroy wildlife or forests. It has won the UNESCO prize for sustainability.

An interesting study by UNEP also pointed out that faith-based organisations control 8 per cent of the Earth’s habitable land, 5 per cent of commercial forests and 10 per cent of financial institutions and therefore, people of faith can be great allies in stalling the impending reality of climate change for the state.

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