Religion, Science & the Environment (RSE) is a non-governmental organization based in Athens, Greece. Established in 1995, RSE seeks to provide common ground among the worlds of religion, science and the environment in the interest of protecting the environment. Under the guidance of His All Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of the Christian Orthodox Church, this mission has been addressed by holding seven water-based symposia as well as creating the Halki Ecological Institute and other training initiatives.
RSE’s programmes aim to raise awareness of the plight of the world’s waters; to strengthen local capacities for environmental protection; to initiate schemes or institutions for environmental cooperation and education; and to catalyse projects that will benefit targeted water bodies. The organization’s strategies are animated by a core belief that the analytical tools of science and the spiritual messages of religion must work in harmony if the earth’s environment is to be safeguarded against further degradation.
History of the RSE Symposia
Since 1995, RSE has convened eight symposia to study the fate of the world’s waters which cover seven-tenths of our planet’s surface. These assemblies of scientists, environmentalists, policy-makers and representatives of the world’s main religious faiths have established a vibrant environmental ethics movement.
In September 1995, Symposium I: Revelation & the Environment A.D. 95-1995, was convened under the auspices of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on the occasion of the 1900th anniversary of St John’s ‘Book of Revelation’. Travelling through the Aegean Sea, this first Symposium identified the degeneration of the world’s waters as potentially a new apocalypse confronting mankind and requiring the creation of a common language for scientific and theological thought to overcome centuries of misunderstandings.
Symposium II: The Black Sea in Crisis, held in September 1997 under the joint auspices of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Excellency Mr Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, undertook a concrete case study. Participants voyaged around the Black Sea, visiting all its six countries and engaging in intensive debate about the decline of the marine ecosystem and the role of religion, science and politics to reverse this. Important initiatives which resulted on religious, scientific and governmental levels included commitments from international financial institutions, greater regional co-operation among governments and non-governmental organisations, as well as the creation of environmental education and training projects in the region. It became evident that no solution to the Black Sea’s ecological collapse could be found without addressing the degradation of the great rivers that drain into it and the environmental challenges faced by their riparian countries.
Symposium III: River of Life: Down the Danube to the Black Sea was held in October 1999, and gathered international and Danube region leaders in the fields of religion, science, environmental policy, politics and media to travel the length of the Danube River – from Passau, Germany to its delta on the Black Sea – and explore the common ground between pragmatic environmental issues and the spiritual dimensions of nature. Travelling down one of Europe's great rivers, the Symposium focused attention on the impacts of war, urban development, industrialisation, shipping and agriculture. As was the case with the two prior symposia, Symposium III generated strong international media attention and has inspired new initiatives in the region.
Symposium IV: The Adriatic Sea: A Sea at Risk, A Unity of Purpose in 2001 addressed the ethical aspects of the environmental crisis. The environment is not just an object of study or an area of managerial concern. It is a space where millions of people live and share the responsibility of an extraordinary heritage. The need to cultivate ecological values and foster the emergence of the ecological consciousness of humanity is becoming more and more urgent. In the course of this Symposium, ideas were proposed as to how religion can inspire humanity towards an ecological ethos. The six countries of the Adriatic include a wealthy Member State of the EU and some of the poorest countries in Europe, with problems ranging from those of an advanced industrial economy to those in transition and in recovery from recent wars. At the head of the Adriatic lie Ravenna and Venice, potent symbols of human culture and achievements which now have to defend their disrupted ecosystems. The Symposium culminated in Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II signing the Venice Declaration for the Environment.
Symposium V: The Baltic Sea: A Common Heritage, A Shared Responsibility. In 2003 the Symposium turned to an almost entirely enclosed, extremely fragile water body. The Baltic Sea borders on, and receives pollution from, nine countries that have widely disparate natural resources, economies, social structures and mores. The end of the Cold War has allowed the regeneration of political, economic, social, cultural and religious ties within the region. The Symposium called attention to the problems of the Baltic Sea and their causes and promoted the dialogue between religion and science encouraged by previous symposia. It generated practical initiatives supporting on-going efforts to protect the Baltic Sea and the application of lessons learned from other environmentally threatened parts of the world.
Symposium VI: The Amazon, Source of Life was an eight-day event in 2006 which began in Manaus, the capital of the State of Amazonas in Brazil, and travelled up the river in ten boats visiting various environmental sites, giving the delegates a unique opportunity to examine the Amazon’s conditions. The Symposium visited Brazil and the magnificent Amazon Basin, not with preconceived answers and solutions, but in solemn recognition of humanity’s concern for the future. The aim was to develop ethical codes for environmental action and policy. Over 200 religious leaders, scientists, environmentalists, and government officials from Brazil and around the world, gathered together on the Amazon to examine environmental challenges and ethical issues relating to the protection of nature. Throughout the voyage, international and regional delegates discussed topics ranging from environmental ethics to specific issues such as deforestation and biodiversity loss, the introduction of genetically modified organisms into Amazon ecosystems, the rights and struggles of indigenous and traditional peoples and the Amazon’s ongoing impact on global climate change.
Symposium VII: The Arctic: Mirror of Life took place in September 2007. The silent majesty of the Arctic contrasted with the colourful exuberance of the Brazilian rainforest. And yet this journey revealed that even here the Amazon was making its environmental impact. The symposium visited places where the melting ice has already wreaked change: those resilient communities who form the northernmost settlements in the world. Finally, we encountered the towering edge of the ice-mass itself, still vast but retreating year by year towards the Pole. There the assembled leaders of different faiths and disciplines joined in a prayer for the planet, asking that their polar pilgrimage be joined in spirit by all who care about the future of mankind, be they in Manaus or Moscow, Borneo or Beijing, Innsbruck or Ottawa. We know about ‘tipping points’, and yet we ignore the warnings now written across the top of the world. It is our nemesis that bubbles up from the melting permafrost in methane release. It is our whole planet that is at risk from the melting glaciers of Greenland. It is our future that is threatened by the loss of the precious reflective whiteness of the Arctic ice.
Symposium Eight: Currently taking place in New Orleans