Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Pagan community here.
It’s becoming clearer each year that climate change is no longer a theory, but a reality. If nothing else, this year’s winter weather–with much lower than usual temperatures, including parts of the country that typically don’t experience harsh winter weather–speaks to something being different with our ecosystem. Of course, even with such obvious changes, some people will argue that climate change isn’t real. However, we need to consider that at least from the industrial age, humans have changed the environment with their technology far more than in any preceding period of time. We bear the burden of those changes and of the consequences of our continued choices, now and in future generations.
The Pagan community and various related spiritual paths are considered to be “nature” religions. This week, Patheos Pagan is considering the question of whether Pagan environmentalism failed. I don’t think we can answer that question, because it implies that somehow Pagan environmentalism should have fixed climate change, and that’s unrealistic. What Pagans have done is espouse a spiritual view of environmentalism that has helped raise awareness about such issues such as climate change. But the real challenge for Pagans and everyone else is what we will do now.
In my first article for this column, I used an example of a Pagan ritual done for the purpose of closing a broken oil drill in the ocean, and I asked a tough question: Could we link the magical work done in that ritual to tangible results? That question can’t be easily answered, but I think Pagans in general should take a long hard look at what environmentalism really means in their daily lives. If we are unwilling to look at those issues, then we have to question whether we are really in touch and working with nature, or if we’re just working with the version of nature that we keep in our heads.
Nature isn’t something we can control. It isn’t something we can conveniently fix. However, we can work with nature, both in our mundane choices and our spiritual choices. In terms of our mundane choices, it comes down to how we live. We can recycle and compost, which are certainly good steps to take, but we can also do more. We can examine our spending choices and our investment choices and make informed decisions that fall in line with the values we hold. We can look at our lifestyles and ask ourselves if they are really in line with supporting the environment. Undoubtedly we’ll discover a variety of answers.In terms of our spiritual choices, what it comes down to is how we approach nature. Do we think that nature is a force to control? Do we think nature is a force we can work with? Or is nature something else altogether? Here’s another tough question: How do we take our spiritual practices and make them align with our lifestyle choices? Again, answers to these questions will vary from person to person.
Asking questions like these help us define our social responsibility in relationship to the environment at large and to climate change in particular. But they are just the start. We need to recognize that climate change is here to stay, and it won’t be shifted overnight. We need to consider not only what we’ll do now, but what we’ll do in the future as resources change. Pagans can show forward thinking in their lifestyle choices not just by making nature worship part of their spiritual life, but also by living a lifestyle that recognizes the reality of climate change.
Changing our lifestyles won’t solve the environmental problems we face, but if we say the environment is important, we need to walk the talk. Walking the talk involves accepting that the way we live our lives now may not be to the long-term benefit of the environment. Making changes won’t necessarily be easy. For example, unless you live in an area with good public transportation, committing to using public transportation may be difficult or impossible. Even if you do have access to good public transportation, you also have to examine your situation in relationship to the work you do. For example, I drive all over the Portland Metro area on various appointments with clients and networking groups. Public transportation isn’t viable for me, so I need to look at my transportation choices in terms of mileage and emission standards. Such choices aren’t straightforward, but they are necessary.
We can also walk the talk in small actions such as picking up litter or donating to environmental causes. While these actions may be incremental, doing them nonetheless demonstrates to ourselves and the universe our commitment to nature. If we are going to do spiritual work for the benefit of the environment, we must support that work through our mundane actions. By choosing to engage in activities that are helpful to the environment, we give our spiritual work a physical medium through which to manifest.