A green haj, sacred cows, a papal encyclical and other new twists on old beliefs.
As political leaders aim for a momentous climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, religious leaders are rolling up their sleeves as well.
This month, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu and Sikh leaders all pledged to build climate change plans for their adherents. Jewish leaders have also promised to build a seven-year climate change plan.
The world religions initiative is being organized by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a UK-based organization founded 14 years ago by Prince Philip
What differentiates each religion's take on the environment? In truth, not much. They base their actions on words of wisdom from their prophets or leaders of old, and plan to focus on education, and to take action to become examples to the wider world of their followers. Of course, each religion uses its symbols and concerns in the fight to cope with climate change
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI
firmly placed ecology and the environment into the mainstream of Catholic concerns in a new encyclical. The pope argued, much as Jewish leaders do, that the Earth was given to human beings to preserve and protect. He singled out fossil-fuel-guzzling countries for criticism, both for their deleterious effect on climate change and for the social inequality he said they engender.
The pope also linked what he called "human ecology" to the right to a natural life and death and the absence of experimentation on embryos.
"In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society.
"If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves," Benedict wrote.
The pontiff also condemned contemporary society's tendencies towards "hedonism and consumerism."
The Alliance of Religions and Conservation is organizing five- to nine-year plans from the 11 major religions of the world which will be presented at Windsor Castle in November, ahead of the Copenhagen conference. At Copenhagen, world leaders are expected to work out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, whose greenhouse gas limitations expire in 2013.
The Muslims, including many significant scholars, proposed a series of measures such as "greening the Haj," greening some cities to act as models for the rest and a host of certification and best practices measures during a conference in Istanbul
at the beginning of the month.
British Hindus have also pledged to examine their temples and their other assets and to try to implement greener practices. The UK
Hindu community also hopes to reach out to India
Ranchor Prime, author of Hinduism and Ecology
, said: "Food has always been at the heart of the Hindu way of life. Now with food, and especially the environmental cost of meat, right at the top of the global climate change agenda, Hindus feel they have something to say. One of their key concerns is to change public perceptions of the cow as simply a source of food."
The Sikhs have dedicated the new 300-year cycle, which began in 1999, to nature. During the previous cycle, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable, they fed 30 million people a day from their free soup kitchens in their temples. While 300 years may be too long to save the planet, their track record for religious action remains impressive.
The alliance was founded to harness the potential of the world's religions. Taken together, they hold sway over vast numbers of people around the world. The potential for reaching out and changing the habits of ordinary individuals is tremendous, the organization believes.
From a materialistic perspective, the world's religions own many profitable temples, tracts of land and other assets, which, if greened, would be beneficial in and of themselves.