RSS 2.0 Feed

A & S News

Climate Change: Environment, Faith and Society

May 12, 2009

The story below is an excerpt from the Arts and Sciences Magazine story, "Change in the Forecast" by Franci Rogers. The full article is available here.

Hybrid cars, reusable cloth shopping bags, backyard composting and compact fluorescent light bulbs are everywhere you look. Even Kermit the Frog must admit that today, more than ever, it's easy to be green.

The nation's attention is beginning to focus on climate change: why it's happening, how to slow it and what can be done to adapt. Once known as "global warming," scientists now prefer the term "climate change" to help convey the message that rising temperatures are just part of a larger change in the planet.

Nearly every department within Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences has reacted to climate change in some way -- some by leading research of geological evidence in the earth, others by studying how cultures are adapting to the changes.

The author of three books on Christianity and environmental ethics, Dr. Susan Bratton, professor and chair of Environmental Science (formerly Environmental Studies) also believes the response to climate change has spiritual foundations.

"These are very mainstream Christian ethics issues," says Bratton. "It's our response to future generations, social justice, the wealthy creating problems for the poor; its health concerns. All of these have an appropriate Christian response that should form our personal decision-making."

Bratton believes people are beginning to make more sound decisions about the environment.

"It's an old issue, but I think the reality of it is becoming clearer," she says. "Climate has always fluctuated with warmer and cooler periods, but people are becoming aware that we are going to have trouble adapting to a rapid, major change. We have very pragmatic concerns when we see changes in architecture, air conditioning bills, public health. It's easier to understand when you think about tropical diseases appearing on the Texas coast because of a warmer, wetter climate."

As an environmental anthropologist, Dr. Sara Alexander studies the human response to environmental changes. She sees "going green" as a trend, but one with a potentially positive outcome.

"Being green is now cool," says Alexander, associate professor of Applied Anthropology and chair of Anthropology, Forensic Science and Archaeology. "Cameron Diaz drives a hybrid because it's the cool thing to do, and that's great. As demand goes up, the prices will drop and more people will be able to purchase them."

Alexander sees the growing awareness about climate change and a downturn in the economy as doubling the impact on society.

"In the U.S., we live in a largely reactive society," she says. "Right now, we're reacting to the trend of being more environmentally aware, and we're reacting to monetary pressures. If you put a monetary amount on something, society responds."

The increased use of public transportation and alternative energy sources are not as much responses to the stress of the changing environment, Alexander believes, as to the stress of the paycheck.

"Look at solar energy, for example. It's been around for years, and the South and Southwest would be prime locations for solar energy use," she says. "It's been around for a long time, but we haven't had to tap into it, so we haven't. We haven't felt an imminent need to do so. Now, with the price of gasoline going up, we're suddenly talking about solar cars. We've had the technologies, and they've been around for years."

Recycling is another trend Alexander has been watching, and she says many areas of the U.S. have been more proactive than others.

"There are some places in this country where you can be fined if you don't recycle," she says. "There's a monetary incentive."

In some European countries, she says, monetary incentives to recycle have been tremendous.

"In the U.S. we probably recycle less than 20 percent of our waste," Alexander says. "In Germany, they recycle more than 75 percent. They have the incentive."