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Paul Dailing / Medill Reports

Two nuns discuss faith, global warming and how the two topics meet.


God and global warming: Religion and science unite on climate change

by Paul Dailing
Feb 06, 2008


Professor Mary Frohlich wears trim business suits, teaches global climate change and talks about historical links between the oppression of the earth and the oppression of women.

She is a Roman Catholic nun.

“People who know about nuns are not surprised,” Frohlich said, laughing.

While some religious and scientific groups might be at odds over issues such as evolution and stem-cell research, over the last few years they have found common ground on global warming and climate change.

“I would say that it’s a welcome contribution to have many more people weighing in, because when it comes down on it, a lot of decisions will be based on values,” said climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Frohlich, a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, and fellow professor Dawn M. Nothwehr, a Franciscan sister, recently completed the course they taught on the ethical and spiritual dimensions of global climate change. 

Both had previously, separately taught on environmental issues at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union.

The joint class emerged from both sisters’ long-standing concerns about the human role in global warming, Nothwehr said.

“I think we were both convinced early on that the science was right,” she said.

Religious and scientific groups have always united on certain aspects of ecology. But a growing spirit of cooperation focusing on global warming and climate change has developed over the last three or four years. Ekwurzel said. During that time, religious and scientific experts began meeting to discuss the topic as it became more of an issue in the media as well.

“The evidence was so compelling that it became almost a revelation of understanding,” Ekwurzel said.

One of the larger meetings was a two-day conference the Vatican hosted last year on global climate change. In his message for the World Day of Peace this Jan. 1, Pope Benedict XVI called for sustainable development and “stewardship of the earth’s energy resources.”

More recently, the Church of England bishops of London and Liverpool began encouraging the faithful to join a “carbon fast,” reducing their carbon footprint for Lent. Information can be found at www.tearfund.org.

For Frohlich and Nothwehr, a dedication to the earth has always been part of their personal faith.

“When we damage the earth, when we make it impossible for some creatures to live, in essence we are destroying part of God’s work of art,” Nothwehr said.