Renewable Energy and the Religious Perspective
Since the scientific revolution, humankind has been depleting the earth of the numerous resources that have been accumulating over time. As the population grows, more space needs to be reserved for God?s ?special creatures.? Millions go hungry because there is a shortage of food. Energy is another of the earth?s resources which humans have taken advantage of. The supply of petroleum will practically be used up within sixty years.1 This has caused increased interest in renewable resources, such as hydrogen fuel cells, solar cells, and wind-generated electricity to run humanities? everyday lives.
The problem of depleting energy spans the entire human race. Every man, woman, and child are affected by this, no matter where or how they live. In an era where religious tensions are flaring, it is difficult to see that we all have a common developmental problem. This problem was initially recognized at the Interreligious Peace Colloquium held at Bellagio, Italy in 1975. This event gathered several leaders from the five major religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. These leaders discussed and commented on several different issues that were major factors in the food/energy crisis of the 1970?s.
Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Renewable energy has come a considerable distance since 1975, but there is still much progress that needs to be accomplished. Most of the industrialized world depends upon petroleum for most of their energy needs. The consumption of petroleum products has the negative side effect of global warming. The limited supply of petroleum is another looming problem that needs to be considered. One other supply of energy, natural gas, is found alongside petroleum and is not completely utilized. For a long period natural gas was not captured and let out into the atmosphere ?in quantities so large that one year?s worth would produce all the fertilizer that is needed until the end of the century.?2
One of the renewable energy sources that has made the most progress since its inception is that of hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells utilize the chemical potential of hydrogen without combustion or pollution.3 These fuel cells incorporate an electrochemical method to produced electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. This source of energy is important in the fact that it provides increased energy efficiency and lower greenhouse emissions. Engines running on hydrogen fuel cells are capable of about 80 percent efficiency, in comparison to that of 30 percent for engines running on fossil fuels. 4 Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of methods, including from fossil fuels and nuclear power. The use of fossil fuels to produce hydrogen is more efficient than their combustion to produce energy. 4 One of the most important things concerning the emission of greenhouse gases is that if only hydrogen and oxygen are used to power these fuel cells, only heat and water are produced.
During the conference at Bellagio, Italy, many respected religious officials spoke on behalf of their respective religions concerning the food and energy crisis. One of the main purposes of this colloquium was to form an interreligious task force to deal with problems for humanity. Much of their discussion was focused around how they would be able to work together and form a ?community of communities? and still maintain their independent beliefs and status.5 The views of the five major faiths can be seen in many of their comments, yet only three of these (Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) will be discussed within the context of this paper.
Dr. K. Sivaraman, gave comments concerning ?the posture of a Hindu who is contemporary and is also involved in the quest for meaning within his traditional past.?6 The Hindu tradition is concerned with the pursuit of spiritual freedom for the life to come and in this age it ?demands transcending the conditions? of modern humanity.6 This does not mean that the Hindu people can be emotionally removed from the problem of energy like a Vulcan would from the popular Star Trek series. The rigidity of the Hindu caste system should not interfere with the universal problem of energy and the development of renewable energy. Hinduism recognizes the ?special responsibility [of energy development] to the contemporary community and towards generations yet to come.?7
An ancient Talmudic principle states: ?Not only must praxis be in conformity with the divine will, but inwardly people must be motivated by a selfless submission to the divine moral order.? 8 Rabbi Norman Lamm, then of Yeshiva University of New York, presented a Jewish opinion on the current energy crisis. By using this ancient principle, Rabbi Lamm recognizes the problem of the energy crisis and the need for the development of better energy sources, but he understands that there would be many who were not capable to placing humanity before their personal gain. He, along with Talmudic sages, believe that those acting properly for improper reasons will eventually lead to proper reasons. 8 ?Life is sacred, and further lack of cooperation across. . . religious boundaries pose a clear and present danger to the continuation of life on this troubled planet.?9 The Jewish perspective on the development of renewable energy is to further ensure the preservation of life, which is indeed sacred.
Islamic thought on the development of humanity is dependent on the Koran. Professor Hasan Askari gave several comments on the stance of traditional Islamic thought on the food/energy crisis. Professor Askari talked about traditional Islamic development has been negated based on three general principles: negation of false absolutes, monotheistic commitment, and unity of revelation in history.10 The counter productivity restricted traditional Islam to reaching its full potential by three early developments of the religion: equation of the political with religion, choice of violence to eliminate enemies, and measuring faith?s validity through triumphs in history.10 The last of these is the most disheartening; by embracing triumphalism, the religion ?incapacitates the group to identify itself with the vanquished.? 10 This then places the blame on other groups for the failure of properly using existing energy sources. Their emphasis is on the development of religious thought and not with the current problems of humanity. ?The [Traditional] Muslim commitment to [the development of renewable energy] in the world is possible to the extent that the Koran is not equated with [the people], and that God takes precedence over ideology.? 11
As the Future Unfolds
One of the geographic centers for continual religious conflict in the world is the Middle East. This region is also one of the most abundant sources of petroleum and natural gas. One would hope that the religious struggles of this area would not taint the growing problem of energy in the world, but by observing the comments mentioned above, it is almost certain that these religious tensions carry through in the development of energy technology. The traditional Islamic thought places the blame on other institutions for not enabling the current system to work. In their eyes, ?every failure in history [is] written off as an aberration . . . or as a conspiracy of the enemies of Islam.?10 The western world has been believed to be a main source of the conspiracy against Islam, and been strongly bond to Islam?s traditional enemies of Christianity and Judaism.
The problems of humanity cannot be ignored by the major national religions, nor can they be placed on the backburner due to ongoing religious disputes. Science has progressed to the point that significant sources of new and renewable energy sources can be implemented before the end of the century, but with proper support, this technology can be utilized within our lifetime.
1. http://www.iclei.org/EFACTS/PETRO.HTM , 04/21/04.
2. Food/Energy and the Major Faiths. Gremillion, Joseph. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 1978, 21.
3. http://www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/ , 04/22/04.
4. http://www.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/fuelcells/why.html , 04/22/04.
5. Gremillion, 116.
6. Gremillion, 87.
7. Gremillion, 88.
8. Gremillion, 118.
9. Gremillion, 118-119.
10. Gremillion, 131.
11. Gremillion, 132.