Lesson 1: Climate Change and Religion


The study and appreciation of our earth is deeply grounded in our faith. In this unit participants will understand various environmental value systems as they relate to religion. They will think about where they fall on the spectrum of beliefs, and how our seven principles relate to environmental stewardship. This unit is a jumping-off point for a more detailed exploration of climate change and its science that is grounded in our faith. The seventh principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, is particularly important when it comes to the environment.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the spectrum of environmental value systems and where different traditions fall on the spectrum
  • Understand how the Unitarian Universalist (UU) seven principles relate to the environment and climate change

Settle In/ Chalice Lighting

(5 minutes)

Use the words below or one you find yourself.

We light this Unitarian Universalist chalice
with open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.


(5 minutes)

Go around in a circle or have participants randomly share how their week has been. Remind them to be respectful of whatever each person has to share and to keep their thoughts brief. It is important to make a space where everyone feels safe and comfortable and to respect where each person is coming from that day. If time allows, go around twice; once for news and once for joys and sorrows. It is important that the leaders participate in the check-in to build a relationship with the participants.


Read this story about a gecko and the links between all living things.


Creating a Covenant

(10 minutes)


A covenant is an important part of making sure that each student feels comfortable in the space and everyone understands the behavior expectations. It is worth reviewing each session to renew the understanding.


  • Butcher paper
  • Markers
  • Tape/ thumbtacks/ stapler etc.


An area where everyone can see the paper.


  1. Have participants brainstorm things that would make a safe environment. Write them on the butcher paper and post it in the space you will use for your sessions. Feel free to add your own ideas like raising your hand to speak, respecting others’ ideas, etc.

Value Spectrum

(10-15 minutes)


There are three main areas of environmental beliefs: anthropocentric, technocentric, and ecocentric. Anthropocentrics typically believe in a human-centered approach to conservation with humans acting as stewards and regulators of resources. Technocentrics believe that necessity is the mother of invention and that humans’ technological advancements will solve our problems with resource depletion. They tend to favor scientific analysis and economic growth where possible. Ecocentrics believe that humans are only a small part of the earth’s system and that we should minimize our disturbance of the natural world. It is important to note that most people do not fall purely into one category. Instead, people hold different viewpoints depending on the issue, and often people fall in between categories. Students will understand their own beliefs and the nuances of how those change with various issues. You do not need to explain the details of each belief set to the participants, but rather make sure that they understand that there is a spectrum.


  • Large wall whiteboard with markers
  • 3 pieces of paper
  • Markers


A room with space to move around wall space.


  1. In large letters on the paper or whiteboard write “technology will solve the problem” and post it on one end of a wall. Write “we should solve the problem for us” and put it in the middle and “we should solve the problem for the environment.”
  2. Explain to the participants that you will read a statement and they should get up and move to the spot on the spectrum that represents their beliefs about the statement. Remind them that they can stand anywhere on the line, and that they should base their position on what they truly think, not where everyone else is standing.
  3. Read the following statements and allow time for the participants to sort themselves out. Invite people standing in different areas on the spectrum to share why they are standing there. Allow approximately 10 minutes for the whole activity (you do not have to read every statement).
    1. There is not enough food available in many places in the world, but there is too much in others. What is your attitude towards solving the problem?
    2. We are running out of fish in the Pacific because people are overfishing off the coast of California and Japan. What is your attitude towards solving the problem?
    3. Beijing and other cities are becoming so polluted that asthma and other respiratory diseases are becoming a widespread problem. What is your attitude towards solving the problem?
    4. Species of pandas are becoming endangered because human development is destroying the bamboo they need to survive. What is your attitude towards solving the problem?
    5. Small islands in the Pacific, such as the Maldives and Solomon Islands are losing more and more of their land due to rising sea levels. People continually have to move to higher ground to avoid flooding. What is your attitude towards solving the problem?
    6. Severe hurricanes are battering the U.S. coastline, hitting a larger and larger area. What is your attitude towards solving the problem?
  4. Ask the participants if they always found themselves in the exact same spot on the line, or if they moved around for different statements. Ask them why they think that might be. Explain the concept of anthropocentric, technocentric, and ecocentric environmental standpoints. If the group is young you do not need to use the terms themselves, but explain the idea of the spectrum and how it can change depending on the issue.

Our Seventh Principle and Climate Change

(20-30 minutes)


Our seventh principle reminds us that everything on this earth is connected and dependent on one and other. This is a very important tenet of our faith, especially as it relates to our beliefs and actions on climate change. However, it can be difficult to understand exactly how related everything in our world is. This activity helps participants visualize the concept of interdependence.


  • String cut into approximately 18 inch to 2 feet pieces
  • A piece of paper for every student
  • Scissors
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils (optional)
  • Tape


A large piece where everyone can stand in a circle. If the weather allows, going outside is a fun way to shake up the class.


  1. Write, in large letters, the name of a plant, animal, or process on each of the papers. Read the list below.
  • Producers
    • grass
    • tree
  • Primary consumers
    • rabbit
    • chipmunk
    • deer
    • rabbit
    • worm
    • grasshopper
    • butterfly
  • Secondary consumers
    • robin
    • mouse
  • Tertiary consumers
    • fox
    • hawk
    • owl
  • Disturbances
    • higher average temperatures
    • severe storm/flooding (hurricane or the like)
    • drought
  1. Hand out one card to each student. Try to use at least one from each section and keep the numbers balanced. Also give each student with an organism a strip of tape and several pieces of string. The participants with disturbances should be given scissors.
  2. Instruct the participants to stand in a circle. Have them go around the circle and discuss briefly who should be connected to who based on the cards they hold and the relationships of the plants and animals in the ecosystem. If an organism either eats, is eaten, lives in, or is lived in by another one, the participants should each tape one end of the string to their card so they are connected. For example, if the participants are discussing the fox, it should be connected to the mouse and chipmunk. The disturbances will not connect to anyone.
  3. When a full web has been made by each student attaching their strings to the organisms relevant to them (see image), have the participants discuss the effects the disturbances would have. Any organisms that would be hurt should have all their strings cut by the disturbances, as well as any relationships that might be damaged. For example, a forest fire would cause all of the tree’s and grass’ strings to be cut.
  4. When they are done creating and cutting the web, collect the materials and have the participants discuss the activity. How many strings were used total? What does this show about the ecosystem? How does the activity relate to the seventh principle? What effect did the human-caused disturbances have on the web? What does this show about the power and responsibility of humans in the environment? As a leader you can point out that the disturbances could all be caused by climate change and ask participants about the seventh principle and what it is asking UUs to do about climate change.


Introducing Do One Thing (DOT) Projects

(15-20 minutes)


This course provides participants with a lot of information about climate change, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless when absorbing it all. The Do One Thing project, originally developed by the Alliance for Climate Education, is a movement to inspire people to be more conscious of climate change and take action to fight it. Go to the DOT website for ideas.Throughout these sessions, participants will form their own DOT project and execute it.


  • Computer with internet access (optional)
  • Projector (optional)


An area where everyone can see the teacher. If you have access to a projector, you need a blank wall to project on.


  1. Explain to your participants what a DOT project is. If possible, show them some of the videos of other people explaining their DOTs. If not, give them ideas found on the DOT page.
  2. Encourage the participants to come up with their own ideas to implement for the next six weeks. Remind them to do something doable, but that will make an impact. For example, it is a lot to ask to go vegetarian for the whole time, but not eating meat one day a week is something that makes a difference and can be accomplished. They can share their ideas today, but they will officially start after the next class.
  3. Inform the parents of what the participants are being asked to do. Encourage them to make it a whole family effort and gently remind their children of the commitment they made.


(It’s a good idea to post these so everyone can read along)

Have one student extinguish the chalice while everyone reads the closing words.

We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth,
the warmth of community,
or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.