As part of Greenspiration—a student-led ten-day series of environmentally-focused events—a panel of religious experts discussed the relationship between religion and going green. The event, moderated by Erin Lothes Biviano, Earth Institute Fellow, featured panelists who discussed the idea that religion is crucial to guiding people towards better environmental habits, strategies, or practices. The panel featured Dr. Ben Chaudhary, assistant commissioner in the Department of Environmental Protection, Lisa Sharon Harper, co-founder and executive director of NY Faith & Justice, Nati Passow, co-founder and director of the Jewish Farm School, and Faraz Kahn, wetland scientist and advisor to Muslim Student Associations at Rutgers and Princeton Universities. "When I go back and I look at what is it that influences me in my work in environmental justice it is the understanding that I am made in the image of God," Harper said. "When we break our relationship with God it affects the environment and when we break the environment our relationship with God is broken." Passow explained that Shabbat—the day of rest—is a tradition that can provide insight into understanding the environment. "Even in the process of what could be considered doing some of the most holy work—even that work you're not allowed to do on the Sabbath," Passow said. "There's this tremendous value in rest. ... There's a lot of ecological wisdom that we can glean from it." Khan emphasized that the environment is constantly brought up in the Quran, asserting that "the Quran talks about the earth created for all living creatures. ... There are 700 verses that actually bring humanity to think about and reflect on the environment." Chaudhary spoke about the way in which human beings have become more neglectful towards the environment, referring to India's transformation after it was colonized by Britain. The other panelists agreed that a wasteful culture has emerged. "What we're starting to see globally [are] systems that we have been pointing too and saying, 'that's not a sustainable system,' are starting to collapse," Passow said. "The problem is within us, the human thinking, that waste culture is a way of life, ... this is a modern phenomenon." The panelists also spoke about inequalities in wealth, stating that lower classes are particularly affected by the environment. According to Passow, "globally, you have 2 percent of the world's population controlling some ridiculous percentage of the world's wealth." "Issues of environment affect the poor and people of color," Harper said. The panelists also touched on the nations' leaders lack of accountability concerning the environment, and how that affects its sustainability. "We have to hold our leadership accountable," Khan said, referring to the Bush administration's "ten years of avoiding, not talking about environmental issues." Harper also discussed the environmental implications arising from decisions made by the country's leaders, saying, "I was personally devastated when America pulled out of the Kyoto Accords," Harper said. Ultimately, Harper said, those who are most knowledgeable about environmental problems should guide those who are not. "The reality is that the people who are under the burden of environmental justice understand it better than we do."
Lila Neiswanger / Senior staff photographer