WCC Conference on “Faith, Science and the Future,”

WCC Conference on “Faith, Science and the Future,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1979. 



It is the only faith based-organization that has had a permanent presence in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, and it has been present at all the UN climate conferences since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

What is less well known is how even before the Earth Summit in Rio, the WCC played a prominent role in the 1970s in highlighting dangers to the environment.

Two world conferences organized by the WCC played a key role in this process.

The first conference was in 1974 in Bucharest, Romania, on Science and Technology for Human Development, which ended with a call for a sustainable and just society” – said to be the first time that sustainability was applied to society in relation to the environment.

The conference took place during a period of increased global environmental concern, following the influential Limits to Growth study published in 1972 and the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm the same year.

The second WCC conference – on Faith, Science and the Future” – took place in 1979 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston, and heard warnings about the effects of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of fossil fuels.

The 1974 conference in Bucharest was preceded by consultations in Geneva in 1970 and in in Nemi, Italy in June 1971. Participants at the consultation in Italy included the Norwegian physicist Jørgen Randers, who would soon become known as one of the authors of the Limits to Growth study.   

In the same year, the WCC executive committee approved a statement on The Global Environment, Responsible Choice and Social Justice” as a discussion paper for member churches in advance of the UN Conference in Stockholm.

In 1975, the WCCs 5th Assembly in Nairobi reaffirmed the call for a sustainable and just society,” and the following year, the WCC central committee agreed that the "Search for a Just, Participatory and Sustainable Society" would be a major emphasis for the future work of the Council.

This in turn was followed by the 1979 conference on Faith, Science and the Future” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bringing together church representatives and scientists and academics.

The conference was told that the most worrisome global hazard is the prospective build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in part as a result of fossil fuel combustion, in part as a result of global deforestation and the oxidation of humus in the ground beneath.

In its reports, the conference at MIT underlined with growing alarm the long-term, and in some cases, irreversible damage being done to the atmosphere by humanity.” This was threatening the protective ozone layer, the global thermal balance, and affects all forms of life on earth.” 

It warned that In recent years, much of the world has discovered that its present habits of consumption threaten the physical environment and the resources by which people live.” 

Humanity, it stated, is one member of the ecosystem (also part of Gods creation) and has to live in continuing interaction with it. Practices destructive of the ecosystem will also destroy human society.

WCC 1971 statement on The Global Environment, Responsible Choice and Social Justice

Faith and Science in an Unjust World: Report of the World Council of Churches' Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA, 1224 July 1979

* Dr Stephen G. Brown is editor of the WCC journal, The Ecumenical Review.