By Joshua Blanco
When people think about taking action against climate change, religion isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. With climate change sometimes called a liberal hoax, many individuals seeking climate justice write off religious organizations as an opposing force. But that isn’t always the case.
When the Reverend Scott Hardin-Nieri was attending seminary school in Southern California, he was humbled by a series of experiences that pushed him to think about spirituality and nature in different ways. “I would have these profound moments in nature where I not only experienced God or mystery but also a clearer sense of myself and who I am in the world,” he says, recalling some of his earliest encounters.
But for Hardin-Nieri, it didn’t stop there. Eventually, he moved to Costa Rica with his family, where they worked as volunteers for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Global Ministries. The time he spent learning about his surroundings and interacting with the differe
nt animals of the forest helped drive home an important lesson central to his faith: “That sense of loving your neighbor really grew for me,” Hardin-Nieri says. “Those pieces of my neighborhood—or who my neighbors are—really started to expand.”
As time went on, he learned more about climate change and its relationship to the flooding and droughts experienced by the local inhabitants. It seemed like everyone in the area, regardless of their political or religious views, was concerned about their changing climate and what they could do to stop it. “Suddenly, it wasn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hardin-Nieri says. “It was a life or death issue.”
When he returned to the US, Hardin-Nieri quickly grew disenchanted with the church’s response to climate change. Feeling as if they weren’t doing enough, he took it upon himself to make a difference. Ready to leave the ministry altogether in hopes of making a bigger impact outside the church, he spoke with a friend who offered him a fresh perspective. “Our conversation made me realize that I have this unique audience and this unique upbringing that can be useful,” Hardin-Nieri says. After finding out about a small cohort of climate-oriented congregations in Asheville, he decided to make the move, volunteering his time by reaching out to congregations across the region.
“The challenge is that there’s this deep urgency around climate change and we need to move quickly,” Hardin-Nieri says. “What we found is people either get excited and burn out, or they resist and don’t do anything.” The sweet spot, he says, is framing the message in a way that aligns with what they’re already doing. “Even if they don’t want to learn more about climate change, they may still want to help their neighbor.”
He believes the best place to start is by having people remember a time where they felt truly in awe of their natural surroundings. “There’s this power in the story of experiencing love or mystery in nature,” Hardin-Nieri says. “And that’s one thing that transcends all political spheres.”
For more information on what your congregation can do to promote a healthy planet, download A Guide to Cultivating Care for Creation at CreationCareAlliance.org.