Could religion provide answers for climate anxiety?

This one hit home for me, because a lot of the comments from students about their fears and anxieties are also felt by my daughter. She can pinpoint the moment she lost faith in humanity when her 3rd grade teacher explained that the planet was warming and there was nothing we could do.

To most in that class, it was a boring lesson about the environment. To Claire, she discovered a new anxiety! Yay!

And, she will tell you, it’s one she carries to this day. I’ve pointed out that the “doom and gloom” lessons are meant to get through to the kids who don’t care. The problem is, she has empathy to spare and this talk really gets her down. Why carry on if we’re just cooking the planet anyway?

According to a 2023 study out of Lakehead University in Ontario, young Canadians aged 16 to 25 are experiencing a sense of loss related to climate change. The study reported that more than 50 per cent of study participants experience fear, anxiousness and feelings of powerlessness. Meanwhile, more than 70 per cent claim the future frightens them and more than 75 per cent report the climate crisis is affecting their mental health.

Claire is totally part of that 75%.

Now, I don’t personally understand where religion fits in, but maybe that’s my bias.

Ng believes religion helps people understand their relationship to themselves and the environment and is a useful device in tackling ecological grief.

That…says nothing to me.

I like to hear about ways we can capture carbon, break down plastics, harvest garbage from the oceans, etc. To me, engineering is the hope, not faith. And young people - the ones who care deeply - are the hope because they have the motivation to engineer new things.

But as a coping mechanism and something to alleviate the crippling anxiety, maybe faith has a role.

I think religion could fit in, but I don’t know that traditional monotheism, especially Christianity, is that religion. After, the dominionist beliefs that got us into this mess come from that tradition.

But pagan nature-focussed traditions? Definitely could be a guide to a better relationship with our world and to better dealing with climate change.

Many indigenous traditions fit that bill, too.

Any pantheist tradition, that is traditions that see the Earth and Universe as divine/sacred rather than as something we have been given to rule by a transcendent Creator, could as well.

The UU seventh principle provides an important insight, too, with its “web of all existence of which we are a part.” Which is, at least in the opinion of this sort-of UU, pantheist.

None of them offers the practical answers you talk about, of course, but they do provide a philosphical/theological basis for a better relationship with our Universe and a motivation to actually do those things, at least moreso that Christianity traditionally has.