How Faith Leaders From Around the World Live the Change

by the Living the Change Team
March 2020

We asked faith leaders in our GreenFaith and Living the Change communities from all over the world about how their faiths inform their relationship to the earth, the environment, and to climate change. We also asked how their faiths view collective climate action.

We have heard beautiful and moving stories of inspiration and reflection, and want to share some of these insights with you.

For this post, we talked to Lindsey Fielder-Cook, Representative for Climate Change at Quaker United Nations Office; Dr. Ather Hussain al-Azhari, Imam, Writer & Lecturer at Leicester Central Mosque; and Mat McDermott, Senior Director at the Hindu American Foundation in the United States in our most recent round of “Stories of Change.”

Here is what they said.

The Role of Faith in Understanding Climate Change

Imam al-Azhari described how he views his understanding of the earth and environment is shaped by his Muslim faith:

“We live in a world where we advocate change all the time - political, social and even spiritual - but we do not take any steps ourselves. Allah informs us that He will not change a community till they change themselves (Quran, 13: 11). In my opinion, environmental affairs is one area where it is futile to desire change globally without one taking steps at home to make a difference.”

Lindsey Fielder-Cook shares:

“I was so caught up in peace and justice concerns as a humanitarian worker in war zones, that I was not very aware of my relationship with the earth. But as I began to understand how our lifestyles are destabilizing nature, and how rising temperatures could lead to the violent, failed countries where I had worked, I began to understand that climate change (and other environmental crises) are a peace and justice concern.

Mat McDermott believes as a Hindu that

“the most grounding thing one can do, living in the shadow of our changing climate, is learning to become more easeful in constant change, uncertainty, and loss, while being receptive to the beauty, joy, and potential for growth that is omnipresent, even in such perilous times.”

He cautions us to try - and not let the imperfect stop us. He notes:

“Let us not denigrate sincere efforts, even when they are slight or seem symbolic. Without constant cultivation of ease and contentment within change, and accepting the fact that our efforts to live lives more ecologically aware will always be imperfect in some way, despair and inaction looms large. Action is better than inaction.”

Making Personal Changes as a Person of Faith

All shared that they are deeply committed to living lightly and working on climate change.

Imam al-Azhari describes his life and the inspiration he has drawn from other faith leaders on how to practice an environmentally conscious life:

“As a Muslim Imam, I appreciate the wonderful guidance given to us on green affairs from our religion. Without a doubt, my family and I are certainly moving towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Diet is one area where change has been most difficult. Having said that, my daughter Aisha (12) - who is very vocal on environmental concerns - is always reminding us of the need to recycle, cut out waste and make purchases that consider the environment, too.”

Mat McDermott describes how he lives his life in this age of rapid climate change:

“For most of my life I have eaten a vegetarian diet, largely vegan in the past several years. For more than a decade all of my electricity comes from renewable energy, purchased through my utility. It’s not a perfect solution — a fully renewable energy supply would be better — but it’s an important and easy step that anyone can take. I tend to walk anywhere I need to go on a daily basis. It is a pleasurable way of moving around. If I am in a place with adequate long-distance train travel, I prioritize using it and enjoy that as well. I make an annual contribution to offset the carbon emissions of traveling this way. It’s an imperfect solution.”

We wrote more about how individual changes, and working together collectively in climate change connect in this blog post.

We leave you with this from Lindsey Fielder-Cook, who speaks about her personal transformation:

“Transformation needs to come from the heart to sustain, which is why faith is so powerful a call to act, a call to conscience in how we live and how we are with others. We can help create a more courageous and compassionate world so desperately needed to face the environmental and existential crises before us.”

We could not agree more.

Our sincere thanks to Lindsey Fielder-Cook, Imam al-Azhari, and Mat McDermott for your insights.

Editor’s note: Interviews with each faith leader were shortened and lightly edited for readability and clarity.

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