Opening Remarks for “Interreligious Responses to Climate Change,” by Anthony J. Watson

In the past thirty years we have witnessed an increasing level of interconnectedness that makes both this panel and its topic quite relevant. Despite popular descriptions of this interconnectedness as making a “flat” world, I would argue that the conception of the world being flat implies a mode of thinking that is beholden to the twentieth century, where one moved between points on map. In this conception of the world, nations sought to be united, world wars were fought, and businesses strove to become “world-wide” in their operations. By contrast, in the society of the twenty-first century, we increasingly perceive our existence to be less that of moving across a flat surface than to be comprised of an increasing web of complex interconnections. We perceive our existence as global.

This change in perception from the worldwide to the global is accompanied by a shift in what it means to belong to such a society. At a time of instantaneous communication, at a time when anyone in this room can board a plane after this talk and disembark tomorrow on the other side of the planet, the degree to which we are interconnected has increased exponentially. Scholars such as Diana Eck have highlighted the new interreligious fabric of American society, where the world, so to speak, is next door. In such a society, we have different obligations to one another, to those we have yet to meet, and to the planet we all call home. We have moved from a society where a select few were considered citizens of the world while the rest stayed in place, to a framework where we are all interconnected global citizens. As such, we all bear responsibility to one another. A key aspect of this responsibility is the implied stewardship we therefore have for the health of our planet. The application of this stewardship to an interreligious context is a task to which many practitioners and scholars of religion have turned their collective efforts.

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