Open letter to religious leaders in Denmark


Religious leaders: Time to join the climate struggle

Many consider you moral lighthouses. Show them that you are worthy of their trust.

By Jens-André Herbener, historian of religion, University of South Denmark



Dear leaders of Denmark’s religious communities

Already in 1992, 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists and more than 200 Nobel Prize winners published this appeal:

“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course… A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

In the same year, 165 countries joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Despite this spectacular consensus among pundits and powerful countries in the world, however, nothing of importance has happened. On the contrary.

Although, since 1995, the United Nations have held annual international conferences on climate change, the global climate crisis has only got worse. Much worse. Even the recent climate conference in Peru earlier this month flopped. Again, again, again. And this was even shortly after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had come up with its strongest warnings ever about man-made climate change. In other words, we are in need of a game changer.


“Recently, something has occurred in Australia that has achieved international attention. Here leaders of Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Anglican organisations joined together”
Jens-André Herbener


Recently, something has occurred in Australia that has achieved international attention. Here, leaders of Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Anglican organisations joined together and made an urgent appeal to the world leaders.

In an open letter they urged them to abandon the suicidal quest for constant growth and instead work diligently to restructure the world energy supply from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.

Faith leaders call out G20 leaders for failure to act on climate change


“I encourage you to do the same at home. Go together. Write open letters to politicians, economists and business leaders”
Jens-André Herbener


During the climate conference in Peru, Catholic bishops from three continents made a similar appeal. This has never happened before. Moreover, several of the religious leaders in Australia have not restricted themselves to lead the climate battle with words. They also participate in proactive environmentalism and civil disobedience. Their integrity and dedication is exemplary.

This is where you – the leaders of Denmark’s religious communities – come into the picture. Rabbis, bishops, imams, deans, and so on. I encourage you to do the same. Go together. Write open letters to politicians, economists and business leaders. And join human blockades against the morbid hunt for more and more coal, oil and gas.

It will undoubtedly stir up debate. Indignation and enthusiasm. And most importantly, it might make a difference. There will not be new, influential and conspicuous climate actors on the field. It could also pump fresh blood into a climate debate which is badly in need of this.

There should be little shadow of doubt on the legitimacy of such a joint initiative:


1. The richest 7 per cent of the world’s population account for 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest 45 per cent only account for 7 per cent. Yet, it is the poorest people in the world who are suffering and who in the future will suffer by far the most because of the greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Over the last 45 years more than half of the Earth’s wildlife has disappeared. Furthermore, the extinction rate of animal and plant species today is 1,000 times above normal. All because of us humans.

3. The 85 richest individuals in the world own as much as the 3.5 billion poorest people combined. Moreover, the major oil, coal and gas companies make titanic sums of money by smashing the livelihoods of future generations. And to make matters worse: They are often supported by states and pension funds, while those who are working to promote sustainable energy in many cases do not get a penny.

4. In the Western world we excel in a hyperconsumerism without historical precedent. At Christmas it usually beats the record. We do all this while studies document that money does not make us happy, that almost 1 billion people are starving, and that our overuse threatens the livelihood of our own children.

To all these calamities can be added that, with our current course, things are very likely to get even worse in the future. And then there is a real risk that societies around the world will collapse and end in bloody anarchy.

It is urgent that a new agenda is set. Ideally, a new world order. Not only in terms of our energy supply, but also in terms of our fundamental values and the treatment of our fellow human beings and animals.

Many consider you moral lighthouses. Show them that their trust is justified. Other people regard you as dinosaurs. Show them that they are wrong. Let 2015 stand in the name of the global climate struggle. The year in which the decisive climate summit of world leaders is held in Paris.

There is potentially much to gain by picking up the ‘climate glove’ now. There is potentially everything to lose by not doing so. No struggle is more fundamental than this. No battle is more important.

Religious leaders in Denmark – unite in our childens’ name!


This opion-piece was published in Danish language in Politiken on 29 December 2014. Translated to English and republished on with permission from the author.
The illustration on top of this page consists of screendumps of the video from the Australian faith leaders’ press conference in Brisbane and of Jens-André Herbener’s blogpost in Politiken.

Faith leaders call out G20 leaders for failure to act on climate change 

Video Part 2 from the press conference

In November 2014, Australian faith leaders from across the religious spectrum issued a joint call for G20 leaders to act on climate change, end fossil fuel subsidies and rapidly transition to a low carbon economy. Clergy and leaders from Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Indigenous communities held a press conference in a Brisbane church close to where G20 leaders were meeting in Australia.

» Open letter:

» Read more

Catholic bishops from every continent call for ‘an end to the fossil fuel era’

A group of Catholic bishops have called on the world’s governments to end fossil fuel use, citing climate change’s threat to the global poor as the lodestar of their concern.


According to the BBC, the statement is the first time senior officials in the Church from every continent have issued such a call.

» BBC News:
Global group of Catholic bishops call for end to fossil fuels

In the United Kingdom, former archbishop Rowan Williams has blamed Western lifestyle for “pushing environment towards crisis”:

» The Guardian:
Former archbishop of Canterbury reveals global climate change fears

More about this topic

» Deutche Welle: Faith and climate protection

» What religious leaders and communities can do