The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is spending $84,000 to study how churches can be used to combat climate change.
A taxpayer-funded graduate fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is examining 17 faith-based institutions that have implemented "sustainability initiatives" in the hopes of developing workshops to teach pastors and other religious leaders how to change the behaviors of their congregants.
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"Climate change—which affects traditional faith-based efforts to improve human health, mitigate poverty and redress social inequity—is inspiring religious organizations to advocate for clean air and water, restore ecosystems, and conserve resources," a grant for the project, which began last fall, states. "This project seeks to understand the empirical experiences of faith-based environmental efforts within communities."
"Through what motivations and processes do congregation level sustainability initiatives emerge?" the grant asks. "What factors facilitate and/or hinder implementation of these initiatives? What environmental and community outcomes are perceived to have been achieved through these initiatives?"
"The results will provide insights into the role of religion and faith communities in motivating environmental behavior," it said.
The project, "Sustainability at the Community Level: The Role of Faith-Based Organizations," is scheduled to last through September 2016.
The project sees churches and other religious institutions as an opportunity to reach millions of Americans and promote "more environmentally sustainable behaviors."
"More Americans belong to religious groups than any other type of voluntary association and faith communities play an important role in facilitating the kind of social transitions that are necessary as the nation responds to climate change," the grant said, under the section "Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection."
"This research has potential to provide models of practice that may help faith communities seeking pathways to respond to climate change, as well as informing policies and programs intended to promote more environmentally sustainable behaviors," it said. "The data also will be used to develop workshops to assist faith leaders in implementing sustainability initiatives within their congregations."
The grant is tagged under "climate change, environmental justice, and faith communities."
The rationale behind the project is that there is a lack of research on why "particular activities arise in specific faith communities," such as environmental causes.
"Preliminary analysis suggests that successful initiatives follow similar processes of organizational innovation that integrate sustainability into faith-community social norms, thereby creating expectations for collective and individual behavior," the grant said.
"The congregations undertaking these initiatives are reducing resource consumption and improving local environmental conditions while also increasing their organizational membership," it added. "The data and analytical framework developed for this project are adaptable for future research into environmental behavior by members of faith-based organizations."
EPA Deputy Press Secretary Laura Allen told the Free Beacon that the research aims to be a resource for churches on how best to fight climate change.
"The funding supports one doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan," she said. "The student is researching efforts by faith-based communities to implement and maintain sustainability initiatives. The student’s research is intended to be a resource for faith-based organizations to determine the best actions to take to combat harmful impacts from climate change."
"If any workshops occur, they would be developed by the University of Michigan student receiving the fellowship, not EPA," Allen added.
Update 1:45 P.M.: This post was updated to include comment from EPA, which responded following publication of the article. The subhead was also updated to clarify that the researcher would be developing the workshops, and not the EPA directly.