Opinion: Why scientists need to work more closely with faith communities on climate change

Unitarian Universalist and larger faith contingent taking part in the 21 Septemb

Unitarian Universalist and larger faith contingent taking part in the 21 September 2014 Peoples Climate March Credit: © Peter Bowden

To make sufficient progress in the fight against climate change, scientists need to start taking religious groups more seriously as allies, writes Cambridge political scientist, Dr Tobias Müller, in Nature.


I am used to sceptical looks when I talk to scientists about my work with religious communities

Tobias Müller


I am used to sceptical looks when I talk to scientists about my work with religious communities. They have reason to see science as under threat from zealots: examples abound, from the treatment of Galileo Galilei to vaccine aversion. But faith communities can feel the same way about scientists. Even if they disagree on important topics, it’s both possible and essential to collaborate on urgent issues, such as the fact that large parts of Earth are becoming uninhabitable. In my view, this Easter, Passover or Ramadan is the perfect time to start.

I’m a political scientist who studies how religious groups respond to problems, from environmental crises to domestic violence to racism. Since 2013, I have worked with other researchers, some religious and some not, to explore climate science with communities of faith.

I’ve seen the power of this approach: some 1,200 institutions have committed to divest from fossil-fuel companies, totalling US$14.5 trillion. One-third are faith-based organizations. Many, such as Operation Noah, are led by scientists. Similarly, the group Extinction Rebellion Muslims has built a transnational network with scientists and activists in Kenya, Gambia, the United Kingdom and beyond; they host "Green Ramadan" seminars. Their efforts stalled plans for a luxury tourist resort that would have destroyed parts of the Nairobi National Park in Kenya. A co-campaigner, Maasai leader Nkamunu Patita, has been appointed to a government task force that will map wildlife-migration routes and be consulted in future development plans.

This is the opening of an opinion piece published in Nature on 30 March 2021. This is open access and can be read in full here.

Dr Tobias Müller is a Junior Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute and an Affiliated Lecturer at Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS).


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