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Religion might well be key to rekindling the crucial bond between humans and the Earth community of plants, animals and land, says Mary Evelyn Tucker.
All faiths, said the co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, have traditions of revering the Earth, showing respect for its many species, guiding restraint in natural resource use and recognizing the interconnectedness of the planet's inhabitants.
And that is exactly the antidote needed now in times when pollution makes the air too poisonous to breathe, fills rivers with rotting carcasses and shifts climate in perilous ways. Religion, she concluded, can help make sense of the enormous task of restoring ecosystems and navigating the transition to new energy sources.
"One of the missing links [in addressing these challenges] is the energy of the human spirit, which comes not exclusively but in great waves from religion," Tucker told a Utah audience of more than 200 on Thursday. "That is a renewing source of energy, something we can draw on, for all future generations."
This year's theme, Religion, Faith and the Environment, is the starting point for two days of discussions about such issues as stewardship of the land, biodiversity and the ways faith informs environmental law.
Panels will also include presentations on how ecological protection and environmental degradation are viewed by various religions, including the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An author, lecturer and research scholar based at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale Divinity School, Tucker recounted her early experiences of connecting nature and faith in Japan. Ever since, she's been raising awareness about how people and the Earth fit together and sometimes don't.
She pointed to our fascination with how the universe and ecology work and the awe that even such everyday surroundings as the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake inspire.
"I am talking," she said, "about our connections with life."