Preserving & Cherishing the Earth

An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science & Religion



In 1990, Carl Sagan spearheaded a joint appeal to the religious and scientific communities for environmental action on behalf of mankind. It was signed by thirty-two Nobel laureates and other scientists. The open letter/appeal was presented to the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders Conference in Moscow, Russia.

Two hundred and seventy-one well-known spiritual leaders from eighty-three countries signed the appeal. Yet despite the appeal's widespread support, little if any progress has been made on the issues it raises other than chlorofluorocarbons and a lessening of nuclear saber rattling.


"The Earth is the birthplace of our species and, as far as we know, our only home. When our numbers were small and our technology feeble, we were powerless to influence the environment of our world. But today, suddenly, almost without anyone's noticing, our numbers have become immense and our technology has achieved vast, even awesome, powers. Intentionally or inadvertently, we are now able to make devastating changes in the global environment, an environment to which we and all other beings with which we share the Earth are meticulously and exquisitely adapted.

We are now threatened by self-inflicted, swiftly moving environmental alterations about whose long-term biological and ecological consequences we are still painfully ignorant: depletion of the protective ozone layer; a global warming unprecedented in the last 150 millennia; the obliteration of an acre of forest every second; the rapid-fire extinction of species; and the prospect of a global nuclear war which would put at risk most of the population of the Earth. There may well be other such dangers of which we are still unaware. Individually and cumulatively, they represent a trap being set for the human species, a trap we are setting for ourselves. However principled and lofty (or naive and shortsighted) the justifications may have been for the activities that brought forth these dangers, separately and taken together they now imperil our species and many others. We are close to committing—many would argue we are already committing—what in religious language is sometimes called Crimes against Creation.

By their very nature these assaults on the environment were not caused by any one political group or any one generation. Intrinsically, they are transnational, transgenerational and transideological. So are all conceivable solutions. To escape these traps requires a perspective that embraces the peoples of the planet and all the generations yet to come.

Problems of such magnitude, and solutions demanding so broad a perspective, must be recognized from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. Mindful of our common responsibility, we scientists, many of us long engaged in combating the environmental crisis, urgently appeal to the world religious community to commit, in word and deed, and as boldly as is required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.

Some of the short-term mitigations of these dangers such as greater energy efficiency, rapid banning of chlorofluorocarbons or modest reductions in nuclear arsenals are comparatively easy and at some level are already underway. But other, more far-reaching, long-term, and effective approaches will encounter widespread inertia, denial and resistance. In this category are conversion from fossil fuels to a nonpolluting energy economy, a continuing swift reversal of the nuclear arms race, and a voluntary halt to world population growth without which many other approaches to preserve the environment will be nullified.

As with issues of peace, human rights and social justice, religious institutions can be a strong force here, too, in encouraging national and international initiatives in both the private and public sectors, and in the diverse worlds of commerce, education, culture and mass communications.

The environmental crisis requires radical changes not only in public policy, but also in individual behavior. The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example and leadership are able to influence personal conduct and commitment powerfully.

As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus, there is a vital role for both religion and science.

We know that the well-being of our planetary environment is already a source of profound concern in your councils and congregations. We hope this appeal will encourage a spirit of common cause and joint action to help preserve the Earth."

Scientific Community Signatories (some)

  • Hans A. Bethe, Cornell University Ithaca, New York
  • Freeman J. Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study Princeton, New Jersey
  • Carl Sagan, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
  • Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • M. I. Budyko, State Hydrological Institute, Leningrad, Russia
  • Paul J. Crutzen, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry Mainz, West Germany
  • Gyorgi S. Golitsyn, Academy of Sciences of the Russia, Moscow, Russia
  • James E. Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York
  • Henry W. Kendall, Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Lynn Margulis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Roger Revelle, University of California, La Jolla, California
  • Abdus Salam, International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy
  • Nans Suess, University of California, La Jolla, California
  • Richard P. Turco, University of California, Los Angeles, California
  • Victor F. Weisskopf, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Jerome B. Wiesner, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Robert R. Wilson, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
  • Alexey V. Yablokov, Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
  • Elise Boulding, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
  • S. Chandrasekhar, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  • Margaret B. Davis, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Richard L. Garwin, IBM Corporation, Yorktown Heights, New York
  • Mohammed Kassas, University of Cairo, Cairo, Egypt
  • Motoo Kimura, National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan
  • Thomas Malone, St. Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut
  • Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Walter Orr Roberts, Yorktown Heights, New York, National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder, Colorado
  • Stephen H. Schneider, National Center for Atmospheric Research Boulder, Colorado
  • O. B. Toon, NASA Ames Research Center Noffett Field, California
  • Yevgeniy P. Velikhov, Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
  • Sir Frederick Warmer, Essex University, Colchester, United Kingdom
  • Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, Max Planck Institute, Starnberg, West Germany


Religious Community Signatories (some)

  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet
  • The Rev. Jesse Jackson, President, National Rainbow Coalition
  • Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate
  • Chief Oren Lyons, Director of Native American Studies, State University of New York at Buffalo
  • Chief Alexai Po-hi, Brazil
  • The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., President Emeritus Notre Dame University
  • The Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, President, The National Council of Churches
  • Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro, Grand Mufti of Syria Co-chair, Global Forum
  • The Very Rev. James Parks Morton, Dean, Cathedral of St. John the Divine Co-chair, Global Forum
  • Metropolitan Pitirim, Russia
  • Dr. Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
  • The Most Rev. Edmond Browning, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church
  • His Holiness Vasken I, Catholicos of All Armenians
  • Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, Archbishop of Chicago
  • Archbishop Iakovos, Primate, Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America
  • Robert Schuller, Crystal Cathedral
  • Mohammed T. Mehdi, Ph.D., Secretary General, National Council on Islamic Affairs
  • Dr. Doris Donnelly, Professor of Theology, John Carroll University, U.S.A.
  • Dr. Martin E. Marty, Professor, University of Chicago Divinity School
  • Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, President, Synagogue Council of America
  • Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, Sensei, Abbot, Zen Community of New York
  • The Rev. Kyoyu Fujii, Abbot, Minobu Betsuin Temple, Tokyo
  • Dr. A. T. Ariyatne, Sri Lanka
  • Ting Kuang Hsuin, Principal, Nanjin Theological Seminary, China
  • Professor Nicholas Lash, The Divinity School, Cambridge University, England
  • The Right Rev. Ralph Peter Hatende, Bishop of Harare, Africa
  • Rev. Dr. Raimundo Panikkar, Spain
  • Bishop Dr. Erik Viktrom, Evangelical Church of Finland
  • Krister Stendahl, Bishop of Stockholm, Emeritus
  • Professor Dr. Jurgen Moltmann, Universitat Tubingen, Germany
  • The Rev. Maximillian Mizzi, O.F.M., Ecumenical Officer, Sacro Convento, Assisi
  • Dan Bei Wang Xu Gong Tang Cang, Vice President of Chinese Buddhist Association
  • Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church in America
  • Rev. Dr. Ronald Thiemann, Dean, Harvard Divinity School, U.S.A.
  • The Most Rev. Reginald Hollis, Archbisop of Montreal, Canada
  • John Hurft Adams, Senior Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
  • The Rev. George W. Hunt, S.J., President and Editor in Chief, America Magazine
  • Rabbi Joseph B. Glaser, Executive Vice President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Dr. Stuart E. Brown, General Secretary, Canadian Council of Churches
  • The Rev. James A. Andrews, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid. Letters to Lucilius #91, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 64 CE, global population 170 million

We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. ― Henry David Thoreau, global population 1,200 million

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed. ― Mahatma Gandhi, global population 2,430 million

In 1990, 271 religious leaders sign an appeal, global population 5,000 million

Meanwhile, 'the pace of planetary destruction has not slowed'. ― David Suzuki, 2016, global population 7,400 million

My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first. ― Ursula K. Le Guin, SF writer channeling a likely future assuming continued business-as-usual. Global population at time of which she is writing? (1 to 11,000,000?)

The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations. ― Pope John Paul II

Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain, For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain. America, America, man sheds his waste on thee, And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea. ― George Carlin

Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance. ― Theodore Roosevelt

What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on? ― Henry David Thoreau

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. ― Ansel Adams

People would rather believe than know. ― Edward O. Wilson

We're in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone's arguing over where they're going to sit ― David Suzuki

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. ― Aldo Leopold


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