Green Pilgrim Cities: Leaving a Positive Footprint on the World
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At the end of October 2011 the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), launched the world’s first Green Pilgrimage Network, a unique look at eco-friendly spiritual travel. According to ARC, “the network will help the faiths to make their sacred sites as environmentally sustainable as possible according to their own theologies.”
Every year over 100 million people go on pilgrimages, taxing sacred sites with increased pollution. Under the threat of climate change, holy cities are now forced to adopt conservation efforts to create a sustainable pilgrimage experience.
Environmental sustainability is an issue that spans the differences of religions. For example, an estimated 2.5 million pilgrims journeyed to the city of Mecca for last year’s Islamic Hajj and dumped as many as 100 million plastic bottles. Add to that the additional pollution of taxis and buses in the streets, the energy to power hotels, homes filled to capacity, and the carbon footprint of people flying in from around the world, and the environmental impact is substantial. Just the energy needed to open and close garage doors during this busy time is significant.
How does the network work? Various faiths will identify their pilot cities and towns, and in conjunction with the local authorities and local faith community, the network will assist in drawing up green plans for the religious sites. They begin with the question, “What would your city be like if it were a sustainable green city?” The network will inspire cities to green their religious buildings, infrastructure, and open spaces as well as creating a green map for visiting pilgrims that highlights environmental projects.
In addition to working with their own cities, faith leaders will commit to joining a network to share information, support, and technical information. ARC will also create a guidebook that offers a how to for transitioning a sacred site into a sustainable one and highlights the pilot cities.
Founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network include sacred sites from 10 faith traditions, like Louguan in the People’s Republic of China that is sacred to Daoists. St. Albans in the United Kingdom has pledged to install solar panels in a local cathedral, and in Amritsar, India, the local faith community will provide Sikh pilgrims with clean drinking water during their journey to the Golden Temple. City authorities in Jerusalem, a major pilgrimage destination for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, have also committed to make their city greener.
Martin Palmer, ARC Secretary-General said, “The Green Pilgrimage Network will ask the faithful to live, during the most intense of religious experience, in a faith-consistent way. To travel to a holy place in such a way as to treat the whole world as sacred is to be a true pilgrim.”
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