The Center for Earth Ethics grew out of the groundbreaking Religions for the Earth conference held at Union Theological Seminary in September 2014, during the United Nations Climate Summit. The conference brought together more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders from around the world to reframe the climate crisis as a moral issue and to galvanize faith-based activism to solve it. The conference followed the historic People’s Climate March and culminated in “Religions for the Earth: A Multifaith Celebration” at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights.
In the wake of that historic gathering, Karenna Gore, who had organized Religions for the Earth, approached the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, Union’s president, about building a center that would generate effective dialogue about climate change’s moral dimensions as well as to train people to lead the transformative change needed to end it. Union’s unique convening power, proximity to the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, and social justice legacy made it an ideal home for such an endeavor.
From its official launch on April 22, 2015, Earth Day, the Center for Earth Ethics has understood that the climate movement often focuses too narrowly on science of climate change and its impact on the natural world, neglecting the dislocation and suffering that it causes to people around the world. So CEE bridges the worlds of religion, academia, politics and culture to focus on the links among social and ecological issues.
“At the root of global climate change is human greed, and gross and violent power inequities,” said President Jones in announcing CEE’s formation. “To address this social justice issue, we need wise, inclusive, justice-driven and well-informed leaders. I am proud to have the Center for Earth Ethics at Union to convene and nurture these leaders.”
CEE facilitates practical partnerships between secular and faith-based environmental leaders, encourages deeper engagement in ecological issues among religious communities and “spiritual but not religious” people, and promotes better indicators for well-being than short-term economic growth. Through education, advocacy and movement-building, CEE challenges society not only to approach the climate crisis through the lens of morality and justice but also to create a society that values life.
“Climate change is about more than science and economics,” says Gore. “It is about morality, ethics, and the very meaning of life.”