Religion and Darwin can help meet climate challenge, says scientist

By staff writers
September 7, 2009

Re-examining the evolutionary basis of cooperation and mobilising religious believers to take action against global warming are two key elements in the fight against climate change, according to leading scientist, Lord May.

May is a former chief scientist to the government. He believes religious groups can use their international influence, networks and belief in the sacredness of life, to motivate people into reducing the environmental impact of their lives.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his presidential address to the British Science Association festival at the University of Surrey in Guildford, Lord May highlighted his understanding of the value of religion in uniting communities to tackle eco-problems .

A former President of the Royal Society, May also said that the BBC had "failed in its public service remit" by withdrawing from last year’s Energy Saving Day (E-Day) over "impartiality issues".

The Corporation has also been under fire in the recent past for bias against Palestinians when it refused to show a charities appeal for the victims of the Gaza invasion by Israeli troops - a widely-condemned decision it also defended as "impartial".

The BBC had originally planned to support the initiative to encourage energy conservation by staging Planet Relief, a comedy event modelled on Red Nose Day, reports The Times.

However, it dropped out of the project after criticism and poor ratings for the Live Earth concert in 2007.

E-Day was eventually staged independently last January, without BBC support, but made little public impact.

The floodlights of St Paul’s Cathedral in London were turned off as part of the day.

Lord May blames the BBC’s withdrawal for the failure of the project to make a genuine public impact.

He is also raising what Charles Darwin considered one of the great unsolved questions of his time, the evolutionary basis of co-operation.

While scientists have means of explaining the emergence of co-operative behaviour in small, related groups of animals, understanding co-operation among distant human societies has been more of a challenge.

May says the issue is as pressing today as it was to Darwin 150 years ago, because of the urgent need for global co-operation to tackle ecological challenges.

Religion, he says, offers a strong motivation for involvement because of the idea of sacredness, the ethical constraints it imposes, and the motivation provided by extensive communities.

He declared: "The biggest [environmental] difficulty is that globally co-operative actions are required. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that not only must nations co-operate, but – given past history – they must do so in equitable proportions."

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