Climate change series brings religion, science together

By Kelcy Dolan
Posted 2/25/16

“We are in an age where people want to broaden their understanding of the world,” Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser from Temple Sinai said in a recent interview. “We are more open than ever to learn …

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Climate change series brings religion, science together


“We are in an age where people want to broaden their understanding of the world,” Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser from Temple Sinai said in a recent interview. “We are more open than ever to learn from one another.”

Goldwasser, along with Dr. Arthur Urbano, a professor of theology at Providence College, have hosted seminar series, bringing together those of both the Jewish and Catholic traditions to discuss various topics pertinent to both religions.

Their newest series, “Faith and Ecology in Dialogue,” was inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, which called for heightened awareness and activism on environmental concerns from Catholics and all people of “good will.”

The seminar will discuss the place of religion in environmental conservation and combating climate change.

Before becoming a rabbi, Goldwasser worked as an environmental activist and continues to promote environmentally conscious initiatives.

He said, “The class will focus on how we in the Jewish and Catholic traditions conceptualize our obligations to the Earth and our relationships to each other in that effort to protect it. What does our beliefs stipulate of us? What do we owe the Earth?”

To add a public policy and scientific aspect to the seminars, Goldwasser and Urbano brought on William Patenaude, principal engineer for DEM as well as monthly columnist for Rhode Island Catholic. Although he is not participating in the seminars as an agent of DEM, rather as a lecturer of theology, Patenaude admits he will be “wearing several hats” for the seminar. With a lot of experience in water pollution control and regulation Patenaude will bring some practicality to the class on steps they can take on their own.

He said especially in Rhode Island, where the population is so connected to the ocean, it’s important to be environmentally conscious, when climate change could have drastic effects on the area.

“This seminar shows how interfaith groups can unite people behind global, national and local issues concerning the environment,” Patenaude said. “We won’t be looking at these as just as problems, but rather look at what has been done right, what has made an impact and how we can move forward in a united way.”

The Laudato Si and subsequently the Faith and Ecology seminar, meet at the crossroads of science and religion, but both Goldwasser and Patenaude believe when both traditions come together, the conservation effort is not only sustained, but strengthened.

Goldwasser said that even when a secular individual discusses the environment, whether they intend to or not, they do so using what is typically seen as religious language.

When we discuss climate change and environmentalism we don’t focus solely on the immediate health concerns, but also the long term affects on human life for generations to come, he said.

“We talk about this obligation to the Earth, to something bigger than ourselves, as if it was given to us and we have a responsibility to manage, protect and care for it. We are obliged to something beyond our own lives and that’s a religious undertone,” Goldwasser said.

As such religions have a “natural” place in conservation initiatives

Patenaude said religion has a way of speaking to the “human heart and reason” in a way that science, data and statistics are incapable of. For this reason leaders of science are looking to leaders of faith to become advocates for the environment. Patenaude believes that our best and most effective choices when “our hearts are elevated to improve the common good; when we are all united on that cause.”

The Faith and Ecology seminar will run three times: March 2 at Holy Apostles, 800 Pippin Orchard Rd. in Cranston, March 9 at Temple Sinai, 30 Hagen Ave., Cranston, and on March 16 at the Warwick Sewer Authority at 125 Arthur W. Devine Blvd., Warwick. All session will begin at 7 p.m. and run until 8:30 p.m. Classes are free and open to the public. For more information email


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