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Polls suggest less environmentalism among U.S. Christians

Has there been a "greening of Christianity?" One researcher looked at 25 years of polling about the environment to find out.

Among self-identified US Christians, positive attitudes about the environment and environmental stewardship have not increased, according to new research.

David Konisky of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs analyzed 20 years of survey results from Gallup public opinion polls.

He found that not only is environmentalism not increasing, there are signs it is actually in decline.

…the likelihood that a Christian survey respondent expressed a great deal of concern about climate change dropped by about a third between 1990 and 2015.

For example, Konisky’s analysis of the survey responses from 1990 through 2015 indicates that Christians, compared to atheists, agnostics, and individuals who do not affiliate with a religion, are less likely to prioritize environmental protection over economic growth, and they are more likely than others to believe global warming is exaggerated.

For example, the likelihood that a Christian survey respondent expressed a great deal of concern about climate change dropped by about a third between 1990 and 2015.

The pattern generally holds across Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian denominations and does not vary depending on levels of religiosity.

“This relationship between religion and the environment is significant because of the increasing importance of climate change,” Konisky says. “There may come a time when religious leaders and faith-based organizations generate more interest in protecting the environment and more willingness to demand action, but we haven’t seen it yet.”

The current lack of enthusiasm comes despite high-profile calls for action such as the encyclical letter on the environment released by Pope Francis in 2015 and despite initiatives led by Evangelical Protestant groups, such as the formation of the Evangelical Environmental Network.

While those efforts are relatively recent, Konisky says there is a historical divide in how Christians view their relationship to the planet.

“Some believe in the importance of stewardship and practice an ethic of ‘creation care,’ while others believe in human dominion over the Earth, a belief that undermines any obligation to protect the environment,” he explains.

Konisky says more research is needed to determine whether that belief in human dominion or some other aspect of how people experience religion is influencing a reduced concern for the environment.

His study appears in the journal Environmental Politics.

Source: Indiana University

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