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Many religious Americans see the Earth as sacred. So what explains their climate change views?

A new Pew Research Center study explores religious views on the environment

SHARE Many religious Americans see the Earth as sacred. So what explains their climate change views?
People hold banners reading ‘Climate action Now’ and ‘Many Faiths, One Planet’ in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Marchers included Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others.

People hold banners reading ‘Climate action Now’ and ‘Many Faiths, One Planet’ in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 28, 2015.

Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

Large shares of religiously active Americans believe the Earth is sacred and that God wants humans to care for it. But only around half worry about climate change or believe human activity is causing temperatures to rise.

What explains the gap?

A new survey from Pew Research Center offers a few explanations, some of which you may have already guessed.

For one thing, highly religious Americans — the group that’s least likely to worry about climate change or its human causes — are typically part of the Republican Party, which puts much less emphasis on environmental challenges than the Democratic Party does.

“Republicans tends to be much less likely than Democrats to believe that human activity (such as burning fossil fuels) is warming the Earth or to consider climate change a serious problem,” Pew reported.

The survey showed that, within all major faith groups, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to see climate change as a “serious problem” and blame human activity for environmental woes.

Another reason for the gap is that religious Americans don’t often hear about climate issues in their house of worship. Their faith leaders are rarely telling them that biblical teachings on caring for creation should inspire them to conserve energy or produce less trash.

“Among all U.S. adults who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month, just 8% say they hear a great deal or quite a bit about climate change in sermons. Another 1 in 5 say they hear some discussion of the topic from the pulpit, but 7 in 10 say they hear little or nothing about it,” according to Pew.

The survey showed that hearing about environmental issues in church correlates with deeper fear about climate change.

“Among all religious service attenders who say they hear at least some about the topic in sermons, 68% consider climate change an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 38% among attenders who say they hear little or nothing about it in sermons. And 61% of the former group believe the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity, versus 37% among the latter group,” Pew reported.

Finally, religiously active Americans may too busy worrying about other issues to focus too much on climate change. Or they may trust God to find and implement the right solutions.

“Religious Americans who express little or no concern about climate change ... give a variety of other explanations for their views, including that there are much bigger problems in the world today, that God is in control of the climate and that they do not believe the climate actually is changing,” Pew reported.


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Term of the week: Dominionism

Dominionism is one of the two most common ways that people of faith interpret biblical teachings on the environment. Dominionists believe that God gave humans the Earth, including its animals, plants and other resources, for their own benefit.

The other model, called stewardship, involves the belief that God gave humans the Earth, as well as a duty to care for its resources.

Interestingly, Pew found that many people of faith believe in both dominionism and stewardship. The survey showed that “nearly half of Americans (48%) say both of these perspectives completely or mostly describe their views.”


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