Newsletter 269 - Landing Page

Preserving & Cherishing the Earth
An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science & Religion

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"The earth was entrusted to man by God so that he would cultivate and safeguard it. When this principle is forgotten, [and men] become tyrants instead of custodians of nature, sooner or later the latter will rebel." Pope John Paul II, Vatican City, celebrating the farmers' Jubilee, November 12, 2000.

Over a decade ago, the late Dr. Carl Sagan spearheaded a joint appeal to the religious and scientific communities for environmental action on behalf of mankind. It was signed by thirty-two Nobel laureate and other scientists. The open letter/appeal was presented on January 1990 to the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders Conference in Moscow, Russia.

Two hundred and seventy-one well-known spiritual leaders from eighty-three countries - patriarchs, lamas, chief rabbis, cardinals, mullahs, archbishops, professors of theology - signed the appeal. See Also: Forum on Religious and Ecology Statements, Religious Witness for the Earth, Target Earth, Web of Creation & The National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

Yet despite the appeal's widespread support, little if any progress has been made on the issues it raises- over a decade since its' signature. 

"The Earth is the birthplace of our species and, as far as we know, our only home. When our numbers were small and our technology feeble, we were powerless to influence the environment of our world. But today, suddenly, almost without anyone's noticing, our numbers have become immense and our technology has achieved vast, even awesome, powers. Intentionally or inadvertently, we are now able to make devastating changes in the global environment an environment to which we and all other beings with which we share the Earth are meticulously and exquisitely adapted. See also: First Step.

We are now threatened by self-inflicted, swiftly moving environmental alterations about whose long-term biological and ecological consequences we are still painfully ignorant: depletion of the protective ozone layer; a global warming unprecedented in the last 150 millennia; the obliteration of an acre of forest every second; the rapid-fire extinction of species; and the prospect of a global nuclear war which would put at risk most of the population of the Earth. There may well be other such dangers of which we are still unaware. Individually and cumulatively, they represent a trap being set for the human species, a trap we are setting for ourselves. However principled and lofty (or naive and shortsighted) the justifications may have been for the activities that brought forth these dangers, separately and taken together they now imperil our species and many others. We are close to committing- many would argue we are already committing- what in religious language is sometimes called Crimes against Creation. See also: Environment.

By their very nature these assaults on the environment were not caused by any one political group or any one generation. Intrinsically, they are transnational, transgenerational and transideological. So are all conceivable solutions. To escape these traps requires a perspective that embraces the peoples of the planet and all the generations yet to come.

Problems of such magnitude, and solutions demanding so broad a perspective, must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. Mindful of our common responsibility, we scientists, many of us long engaged in combating the environmental crisis, urgently appeal to the world religious community to commit, in word and deed, and as boldly as is required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.

Some of the short-term mitigations of these dangers such as greater energy efficiency, rapid banning of chlorofluorocarbons or modest reductions in nuclear arsenals are comparatively easy and at some level are already underway. But other, more far-reaching, long-term, and effective approaches will encounter widespread inertia, denial and resistance. In this category are conversion from fossil fuels to a nonpolluting energy economy, a continuing swift reversal of the nuclear arms race, and a voluntary halt to world population growth without which many other approaches to preserve the environment will be nullified.

As with issues of peace, human rights and social justice, religious institutions can be a strong force here, too, in encouraging national and international initiatives in both the private and public sectors, and in the diverse worlds of commerce, education, culture and mass communications.

The environmental crisis requires radical changes not only in public policy, but also in individual behavior. The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example and leadership are able to influence personal conduct and commitment powerfully.

As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus, there is a vital role for both religion and science.

We know that the well-being of our planetary environment is already a source of profound concern in your councils and congregations. We hope this appeal will encourage a spirit of common cause and joint action to help preserve the Earth."


Scientific Community Signatories

Hans A. Bethe
Cornell University Ithaca, New York

M. I. Budyko
State Hydrological Institute, Leningrad, Russia

Paul J. Crutzen
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry Mainz, West Germany

Freeman J. Dyson
Institute for Advanced Study Princeton, New Jersey

Gyorgi S. Golitsyn
Academy of Sciences of the Russia, Moscow, Russia

James E. Hansen
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York

Henry W. Kendall
Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Lynn Margulis
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts

Roger Revelle
University of California, La Jolla, California

Carl Sagan
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Abdus Salam
International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy

Nans Suess
University of California, La Jolla, California

Richard P. Turco
University of California, Los Angeles, California

Victor F. Weisskopf
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Edward O. Wilson
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jerome B. Wiesner
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Robert R. Wilson
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Alexey V. Yablokov
Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Elise Boulding
University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

S. Chandrasekhar
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Margaret B. Davis
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Richard L. Garwin
IBM Corporation, Yorktown Heights, New York

Stephen Jay Gould
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Mohammed Kassas
University of Cairo, Cairo, Egypt

Motoo Kimura
National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan

Thomas Malone
St. Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut

Peter Raven
Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri

Walter Orr Roberts
Yorktown Heights, New York
National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder, Colorado

Stephen H. Schneider
National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder, Colorado

O. B. Toon
NASA Ames Research Center Noffett Field, California

Yevgeniy P. Velikhov
Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Sir Frederick Warmer
Essex University, Colchester, United Kingdom

Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker
Max Planck Institute, Starnberg, West Germany

Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.


Religious Community Signatories

The spiritual signatories' response was organized by the two co-chairmen and three delegates to the Moscow Conference on Environment and Development:

The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.
President Emeritus Notre Dame University

The Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky
President, The National Council of Churches

Elie Wiesel
Nobel Laureate

Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro
Grand Mufti of Syria Co-chair, Global Forum

The Very Rev. James Parks Morton
Dean, Cathedral of St. John the Divine Co-chair, Global Forum

Included among the two hundred and seventy one signatories were:

Thirty seven heads of national and international religious bodies, including the General Secretaries of the World Muslim League and the World Council of Churches, and the Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, the Catholicos of All Armenians, Metropolitan Pitirim of the Russia, the Grand Muftis of Syria and Yugoslavia, the Presiding Bishops of all the Christian churches of China, and of the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Mennonite churches in the U.S.A. Fifty one cardinals, lamas, archbishops, head rabbis, patriarchs, mullahs and bishops of jurisdictions in major world cities. Fifty five professors of theology, seminary presidents, cathedral deans, and heads of religious orders worldwide. Seventeen indigenous religious leaders from five continents. The two hundred and seventy one signatories represent one hundred sixteen religious leaders from North America, ninety three from Russia, twenty seven from Europe, and thirty five from Africa, Latin America, India and the Far East. Of the two hundred and seventy one signatories, one hundred and eighty one attended the Global Forum in Moscow.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet

Metropolitan Pitirim, Russia

Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

The Most Rev. Edmond Browning, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church

His Holiness Vasken I, Catholicos of All Armenians

Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, Archbishop of Chicago

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, President, National Rainbow Coalition

Archbishop Iakovos, Primate, Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America

Robert Schuller, Crystal Cathedral

Mohammed T. Mehdi, Ph.D., Secretary General, National Council on Islamic Affairs

Dr. Doris Donnelly, Professor of Theology, John Carroll University, U.S.A.

Dr. Martin E. Marty, Professor, University of Chicago Divinity School

Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, President, Synagogue Council of America

Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, Sensei, Abbot, Zen Community of New York

The Rev. Kyoyu Fujii, Abbot, Minobu Betsuin Temple, Tokyo

Dr. A. T. Ariyatne, Sri Lanka

Ting Kuang Hsuin, Principal, Nanjin Theological Seminary, China

Professor Nicholas Lash, The Divinity School, Cambridge University, England

The Right Rev. Ralph Peter Hatende, Bishop of Harare, Africa

Rev. Dr. Raimundo Panikkar, Spain

Chief Oren Lyons, Director of Native American Studies, 
State University of New York at Buffalo

Chief Alexai Po-hi, Brazil

Bishop Dr. Erik Viktrom, Evangelical Church of Finland

Krister Stendahl, Bishop of Stockholm, Emeritus

Professor Dr. Jurgen Moltmann, Universitat Tubingen, Germany

The Rev. Maximillian Mizzi, O.F.M., Ecumenical Officer, Sacro Convento, Assisi

Dan Bei Wang Xu Gong Tang Cang, Vice President of Chinese Buddhist Association

Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church in America

Rev. Dr. Ronald Thiemann, Dean, Harvard Divinity School, U.S.A.

The Most Rev. Reginald Hollis, Archbisop of Montreal, Canada

John Hurft Adams, Senior Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church, U.S.A.

The Rev. George W. Hunt, S.J., President and Editor in Chief, America Magazine

Rabbi Joseph B. Glaser, Executive Vice President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Dr. Stuart E. Brown, General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches

The Rev. James A. Andrews, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.


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