Ohio State students, faculty and Columbus community representatives joined Tuesday morning to discuss how different faiths are responding to environmental challenges.

The discussion was sparked by Laudato Si,’ the papal letter, in which the pope addressed climate change, was released.

The Environmental Professionals Network, serviced through OSU’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, hosted a panel with Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, Protestant, monastic, atheist and agnostic perspectives being represented.

“We want to explore not just the encyclical but open up a conversation about this range, this wider landscape of what different moral perspectives have to say about the environment,” said Greg Hitzhusen, SENR assistant professor and moderator of the panel.

Panelists included Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic Climate Covenant; Jared Boyd, spiritual director of the Order of Sustainable Faith at Central Vineyard Church; Taymour El-Hosseiny, vice president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Columbus chapter; Donald Hubin, emeritus professor of philosophy and representative for atheists; and Jessica Shimberg, associate director for programs at the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Misleh, who works with 14 other national Catholic groups that encourage action on climate change, said he highly encourages those who have not read the pope’s encyclical to read and reflect on it.

“I think the biggest surprise has been how incredibly energetic the conversation in the United States has been as the encyclical approached and as it was released,” said Misleh. “One of the biggest challenges is I never thought that I would not be able to keep up with a 78-year-old man in Rome.”

El-Hosseiny said that environmental problems are not something that only people in the middle- and upper class should think about. He reflected on seeing 20 Muslim youths from lower-income families cleaning up Sullivant Avenue in Columbus.

“It corrected my way of thinking in that environmental concerns are not a luxury, they are mandatory, regardless of our faith, regardless if you don’t have any faith,” he said.

Hubin added that some atheists believe nature should be “exploited by humans” while others believe that since there is no afterlife, taking care of the environment is the best way to ensure they and future generations have the greatest life here on Earth.

“Atheists have been all over the map on their attitudes towards environmental problems,” he said.

Shimberg said taking environmental action in the community can be as simple as looking at what people consume. She said her Jewish congregation focuses on the environmental aspect of food.
“We have a lot of vegetarians and vegans,” Shimberg said. “It’s important to us (to think about) where was our food sourced, how was it prepared … so that’s an example of I think one small way. But as we were saying, the action is so much more important than, at times, the philosophy behind it.”