The role of students in faith-based environmental action


By. Caroline Kibii

Environmental researcher and consultant.

Faith and environment are two seemingly distant and unrelated entities. In reality, they are interrelated, dependent, and influence each other. Faith has a direct connection with nature and natural resources despite the stark variation in approaches, ideologies and values. Whether Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism, religion is thought to influence human relationship with the environment. There is an intersection between faith and environmental justice.

The significance of religion and faith in promoting environmental and climate action has been recognised over the years, leading to targeted initiatives at higher levels. An example of such recognition is the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Faith for Earth Initiative, launched in 2017. Similarly, many organisations, institutions and individuals are recognising the voices and actions of faith-based organisations, groups, and leaders in environmental conservation.

In order for environmental conservation to be effective and successful, actions need to be translated into people's day-to-day beliefs, norms and activities. This can be done through the integration of faith-based values. As such, the role of students in faith-based environmental action is vital not only because environmental challenges are being addressed cautiously but because the motive and action are deeply ingrained and can be deciphered in a relatable and understandable manner.

Students can take different roles in their quest for environmental action. For instance, intentioned awareness creation and educating the public on environmental matters, the vitality of conserving the available natural resources and their linkage to faith. With the assumption that students possess diverse knowledge, they can mobilise and gather people and disseminate the information in a 'localised' manner. Students have the potential to interpret the biblical teachings or those in the Quran and any other religious book, depending on their faith and relationship with the traditional or scientific knowledge on the use of particular environmental resources.

Value-based advocacy and activism are other ways that students can act for nature. First, advocacy and activism are two different areas of environmental action that, in some cases, individuals tend to combine. Both aim to trigger and effect a positive impact on the environment. Depending on one's objectives, a student can be an activist or an advocate. Advocacy provides an avenue for students to identify an environmental problem, identify potential solutions and implement these.

Advocacy remains a powerful tool for effecting environmental change in a systematised manner. Environmental advocacy often adopts activism to spur a wider social change. In this case, I advocate for value-based environmental activism.

Part of faith-based environmental action is contributing to scholarly literature. Students consume knowledge and are expected to enrich the existing literature. Due to this, there is a need for more literature linking faith and the environment.

Science-based and evidence-based research are actions that students can take part in, in order to inform their environmental activities.Environmental conservation is based on scientific prescriptions. Research done by academically astute and socially enterprising students should identify gaps that implicate the possibility of initiating and effecting a conservation action.

As the world evolves, the climate and environmental conditions are transforming in both positive and negative ways, necessitating continuous research. Therefore, students have an opportunity to undertake various research projects to provide viable environmental solutions while keeping in mind that these solutions must be contextualised, localised and applicable.

Students can promote faith-based environmental actions by proposing, developing and amending environmental policies and regulations. It is crucial that environmental policies and regulations are not contradictory so as not to deny people their right and freedom to utilise environmental resources. Environmental policies and regulations ought to be fair and just and their formulation and implementation processes should equally be inclusive and participatory.

Volunteering in environmental actions is an unmatched role that students will not only contribute to a better planet but also gain skills that can help them in their careers.

Similarly, positively changing individual behaviour, such proper waste management, consuming environmentally safe products and utilising resources, is crucial and an effortless way of influencing others to make a positive change in the environment.

For students to take up the aforementioned actions or roles efficiently, they need to equip themselves with information in all spheres, whether scientific, legal, socio-economic and cultural, or religious. Avenues to acquire information include consultation of libraries and databases, reading journals, watching documentaries, and participating in webinars, campaigns, research and actual environmental activities. 

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