Mercer event aims to create climate change dialogue

Marrying the beliefs of the faith-based community with those of the scientific community isn’t the easiest of tasks, but Mercer University students and faculty hope to do so with a specific issue — the environment.

A three-day conference featuring speakers with religious and scientific backgrounds begins today on the school’s Macon campus.

“We’re holding the conference to create dialogue between the faith community and the scientific community,” said Michele Boothroyd, a third-year Mercer law student and one of the organizers of the conference. “We want to inspire service and stewardship of the Earth.”

Boothroyd said the conference came out of a partnership with Harvard University, which organized a similar conference for Mercer’s Atlanta campus back in February.

This week’s conference has expanded upon the February presentations, adding a day of environmental service Saturday when participants can take part in a variety of service projects such as making homes more green-friendly or cleaning up along the Ocmulgee River.

John Hintermaier, a Mercer professor of history and the chairman of a faculty/staff committee on environmental issues, said there are some barriers between faith and science that need to be overcome, and the conference is one way of doing it.

“Folks who are religious don’t tend to care about environmental issues, and for that matter, people who care about the environment are often not that religious,” he said.

“We want to make aware to Christians that (caring for the environment) is a part of their faith. We want to work on common solutions.”

Much of the conference will focus around the central issue of climate change — understanding it better and encouraging people to be more conscious of it in their daily lives.

Boothroyd, who said she wants to practice environmental law after she graduates, said her outlook is a perfect mix of faith and science.

“Mine is a true mixture,” she said. “I have an environmental science background, and I have a religious background. To me, they go hand-in-hand. Academically, they mesh extremely well. The challenge is disseminating that and reaching the community. ... They have a lot of the same goals.”

Among the conference speakers scheduled are: David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer; Jonathan Merritt, founder of the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative; Sharon Astyk, noted author and farmer; Judith Curry, a professor at Georgia Tech and an expert on climate modeling and climate change; and Jeremy Hess of the National Center for Environmental Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The conference is free for Mercer faculty, students and staff.

It costs $35 for the general public to register.

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To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.