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Ethics-Based Environmentalism in Practice: Religious-Environmental Organizations in the United States

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

Debates over the “death of environmentalism” juxtapose two approaches to environmental advocacy: an issues-based environmentalism that relies on technocratic, legal, scientific, policy-oriented and issue-specific advocacy activities and an ethics-based environmentalism that has as its primary focus the promotion of deep-seated changes in individual and societal values and behavior as they pertain to stewardship of the earth. The latter is presented both as a critique of the former and as a road map for a more effective environmental movement. This study documents the practice and challenges of ethics-based environmentalism through an analysis of the religious-environmental movement in the United States. Interviews with forty-two U.S.-based religious-environmental organizations revealed that the majority of these groups see themselves as engaged in an ethics-based environmentalism grounded in frameworks that tie God to nature and emphasize action, community, and justice. Groups also identified some of the challenges inherent in ethics-based environmental advocacy, including the need to confront societal norms, work on long time horizons, access funding, recruit support, and measure and document success.

Affiliations: 1: Johns Hopkins University;, Email:; 2: Brown University;, Email:


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