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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

8th place — Grad student essay contest: Ashleigh Piccoli

Ashleigh Piccoli

FFRF awarded Ashleigh $500.

By Ashleigh Piccoli

There are many different opinions on climate change, even within various religions, sects or congregations themselves. However, one commonality in general is belief in a “bigger plan” and that everything will work out in the end, even when there is no reason to believe that will occur. This can create a sense of complacency and a lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions. 

However, the real insidiousness of how religion can color opinions on climate change is rooted in the doctrine of religion itself, which relies on blind faith. Blind faith requires no logical or rational basis for belief in a perspective. Even worse, in some religions it is considered taboo to question one’s faith. However, questioning one’s faith challenges one’s beliefs and allows them to test their assumptions to determine if they are actually grounded in reality. 

Religion is not the answer because we know the science is indisputable. — we alone (as the human race) caused climate change. God is not going to save us, and we have a moral obligation to the future generations of both humans and animals alike to leave them with the best world possible. Using a scientific perspective to tackle climate change can be relied on more than a faith-based approach because it uses the peer-review process, journal retractions (if necessary), meta-analyses (to evaluate trends), and the principle of reproducibility to inform perspectives. Science strives to find objective truth about an unknown. Religion starts with a foundation of “truth” and strives to find evidence that validates those assumptions. 

Not only are the central tenets of religion antithetical to sound science, but also the issue of climate change transcends religion. Everyone contributes to and will feel the effects of climate change. Attempting to tackle climate change from a religious perspective could not only lead to faulty assumptions or conclusions about climate change itself, but also divide communities, splitting resources inefficiently, rather than uniting for a common good. Climate change is a complicated issue that affects the entire planet. Collective action on a large scale is the only way to ensure that we are moving in the right direction. 

Individually, those of us who can afford to should convert to renewable energy, buy an electric vehicle, limit greenhouse gas intensive foods such as red meat, and limit carbon-intensive transportation. It is also important to vote for candidates who take environmental threats seriously. 

The U.S. government should invest in education so that the youth will develop critical thinking skills and the ability to become leaders of their communities. As a nation, we also need to revitalize domestic manufacturing and encourage renewable energy, particularly in light of the Russia-Ukraine War. Doing such will ensure that our economy is diversified enough that states like West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky (which have disproportionate political power and are relatively dependent upon jobs in the fossil fuel industry) might be able to vote in pro-climate politicians without fear of economic ruin. Furthermore, ensuring that the transition to renewables is just will help right historic wrongs. 

In order to get widespread support, climate change cannot be seen as a liberal elitist idea. To those who are struggling to survive, it might appear that environmentalists care more about the environment than their fellow human beings. This is not a zero-sum game, and we can tackle economic inequality and environmental issues simultaneously. In fact, empowering those without means could better enable them to transition and adapt to climate change impacts. 

Additionally, addressing voting rights and representation issues in the United States might improve chances of installing a pro-climate government that will push us on the right path. The Electoral College and gerrymandering largely skew elections in favor of low-density rural populations that tend to vote pro-fossil fuel. The filibuster also helps to prevent popular legislation from being passed because it allows a vocal minority to control the conversation and stall progress or completely derail legislation. Also, the Supreme Court has become radicalized and has shown its willingness to overturn measures, such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Implementing reforms to address these issues could impact what legislation can be enacted, and upheld in the Supreme Court when inevitably challenged. 

Ashleigh, 27, attends Penn State University and is working toward a master’s degree in geographic information systems. Her hobbies include gardening, running and photography.