Environmental problems, such as pollution and global warming, are seen as the greatest threat to the future of the world, according to young people surveyed in Australia, United Kingdom and Thailand. At the popular level, awareness of environmental issues has grown and there is widespread awareness that this threat is the most critical ever faced by human beings. It was also a major topic at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Melbourne in December 2090. It was noted that climate change and environmental pollution have their roots in the human spirit, and will not be solved simply by new technology or by spending a lot of money. The problem must also be addressed by the world’s religions as a spiritual concern.
The Search Institute Survey, run in several countries in 2008, asked young people what were the two greatest threats to the future of the world. While some of these differences reflected local situations, others did not. Near the top of the list of threats to the future for Australians was extreme hunger and poverty. It was also high on the United Kingdom list, but was close to the bottom of the list for Thailand. The gap between rich and poor was high on the United Kingdom list, but close to the bottom for Australia and Thailand. The lack of jobs and economic opportunities was high for young Thais, but the very bottom of the list for young people in Australia and the United Kingdom.
There was close agreement, however, on the major threats. Most commonly seen as the major threat in each of the three countries were environmental problems such as pollution and global warming. The second or third item was religious and ethnic hatred, violence and war.
The problem of global warming, which humanity is currently facing, is a new problem, a problem which has developed in the last 200 years as a result of the Industrial Revolution. It can be conceived as a sudden reversal of millions of years of natural sequestration of carbon. When the major religious traditions were formed, the possibility that human beings could have an impact so great that it threatened the whole planet could scarcely have been imagined.
How do we begin to address the problem? A range of possibilities was suggested at the Parliament. Several people argued that we must recognise pollution as a sin. We must become aware of the ecological burdens involved in what we do: in the foods we eat, the travel we are involved in, and the waste we create. Several people mentioned the contribution that vegetarianism can make to climate change and a sustainable world.
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 1, Pages 1-5