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The Climate Crisis Threatens Religious Expression 

UUSC mourns the loss of lives due to extreme heat on this summer’s Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

By Josh Leach on July 10, 2024

Climate change is upending life for billions of people around the globe this summer. With months still to go of the northern hemisphere’s hottest season, an unusual confluence of the El Ninõ-La Niña weather patterns with human-induced warming from carbon emissions is already causing temperatures to spike around the planet. 

As a result, communities across the globe are experiencing increased wildfires, drought, deadly heat waves, and the first signs of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season—many of which are almost certainly attributable, at least in part, to human-caused climate change. And, with July barely started, there is no end in sight. 

These climate catastrophes affect every aspect of human life and flourishing: from the ability to pass on language and tradition to one’s children, to the ability to sustain one’s individual mental health. So far, however, relatively little attention has been paid to the way climate change affects people’s ability to express their religious beliefs and ideals. 

Recent tragic events in the Middle East show why this needs to change. Reports indicate that more than a thousand people have died this summer while making the Hajj journey to Mecca. The extreme temperatures roiling the globe due to climate change are directly responsible for these deaths. As such, this preventable tragedy is a form of climate injustice. 

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is a key tenet of religious practice for Muslim people around the world. Many families save up for a lifetime to be able to afford to make the journey even once. For many individuals, it is a key milestone in a lifetime of devotion to their faith. For this zenith of religious expression to end in tragedy is a loss to the whole human family. 

This disruption of religious life from climate change is deeply unjust. The crisis of rising global temperatures is largely due to the greenhouse gas emissions of wealthy industrialized countries in the Global North; yet, it disproportionately impacts people in the Global South—including Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. 

This interference with Muslim religious practice is also a human rights violation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right “to manifest […] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” When climate change prevents people from living in accordance with their faith, it deprives them of this universal human entitlement. 

No person should ever lose their ability to express their faith or to live a life of meaning due to unfair climate disruptions they did nothing to cause. To the extent that human-induced climate change is costing people their ability to express their religious observance and religious rights, it is a threat to all people of faith. 

As an organization inspired by religious values, UUSC is in solidarity with Muslim people around the world as they grieve the loss of life on this year’s Hajj. We urge governments to uphold the rights of free religious practice around the world, even when anthropogenic climate change is the culprit responsible for directly undermining them. 

Fortunately, our partners are already showing us the way to do so.

In recent years, UUSC partners and other grassroots activists have helped expand the conversation about the impacts of climate change to recognize the non-economic harm the crisis is already causing. One of the many forms this non-economic loss and damage takes is the loss to people’s religious expression that comes from rendering the climate uninhabitable.

Directly-affected communities are already working around the globe to prevent these needless losses to human society. UUSC’s partners in our climate justice portfolio have developed a comprehensive plan to address climate-related loss and damage. We are supporting them to advance this vision at this year’s major upcoming climate meetings, including COP 29 in November. You can read more about their plans and how to take part here.

You can help us achieve these goals. A contribution in any amount to UUSC helps us backstop our partners efforts to advance climate justice. You can also sign up for our email list to receive regular updates. A world where all people can freely live out their religious and secular values, without hindrance from climate chaos, is within our grasp—but we need your help to get there. Join us in this work.

Image credit: Shutterstock (Ayman Zaid)

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