The earth’s climate has seen dramatic change. Four and a half billion years ago, the earth was formed. Its atmosphere had massively high levels of carbon dioxide, and there was very little oxygen. Miraculously, life originated in this extremely hostile environment, and for the next one and a half billion years or so the cyanobacteria began cleaning up the atmosphere and enriching it with oxygen and allowing the formation of the protective ozone layer.
Over the next two billion years the beautifully designed process of evolution took those earliest forms of life and developed them into the staggering array of life that we take so readily for granted today. Darwin hinted at the beauty of the process in the final paragraph of his book “the origin of species” when he wrote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
So it is clear that man-made climate change will not destroy the planet, nor will it extinguish life. But it will disrupt the extremely finely balanced ecosystem that sustains the human race. That disruption will enlarge areas of local extinction of humans (desert regions), and in the extreme the whole planet could become unsuitable for human life. Whilst wealthy countries are able to create local ‘microclimates’ with technology, for example air conditioning, people sentenced to live in the ‘natural’ local climate will inevitably suffer and may face extinction. We already see an increase in suffering from natural disasters such as the cyclone Idai, and other increasingly destructive climactic events.
Greater parts of the world will become uninhabitable not just for humans, but for the cornucopia of other species who thrive in the environment that spawned us. New species will emerge, but many of our present ‘friends’ will disappear.
The first book of the Bible describes how we were given the world to look after. It is clear from the description above that if we don’t look after it then it will not be taken away from us, but we will be taken away from it. This is reminiscent of the description of Adam and Eve being taken away from the Garden of Eden: the garden still thrives, but they were no longer in it.
God allows us to do things that harm us. He doesn’t want us to, but he allows it. Such action is called sin. The basis of the Old Testament law was that God gave us rules that would bring us wellbeing, but our selfishness leads us to choose ways that harm ourselves and others. Greed, lust, envy, and all the ‘sins’ damage both us and our neighbour. Climate change is damaging to us and to our neighbour, and so the actions that leads to climate change are ‘sin’. God permits us to damage the planet that sustains us, but it is not His will. And disobeying the will of God is sin. It is not good for us to do it!
There is not space here to fully discuss how we, through our actions are hurting God themselves, but we might empathise by imagining how we would feel if after giving a loved one a beautiful gift – perhaps a bunch of flowers, we see them slowly trashing it, picking off one petal at a time.
So, how should we, as Christians, respond to the challenge of climate change?
First of all, we must recognise that it is real! (see for instance https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/)
Climate change is not the sin, but the consequence of our sin. We need to reflect on what sins are the root cause of climate change. Greed, selfishness, gluttony, envy will be high on our list, but a thorough examination of our lifestyle (in the context of and comparison with the other seven and a half billion people on the plant) must bring insight.
We then need to ‘repent of our sins and turn to God’. There is surely enough evidence that we know that we are sinning, but we need to let the evidence sink into our hearts and truly convict us before we can honestly repent. Until we reach that state then we might feel a little guilty but we will not have the power that comes from true repentance. We need to be so convicted that we get on our knees, confess, and ask for forgiveness.
We must work with God to eliminate our sinful behaviour. We will need to be bold, counter-cultural and outrageously attractive in our approach. We are Christ’s representatives, and our response has to mirror his character. And we must encourage our brothers and sisters to do the same. Not only must we turn from our damaging practices, but we must do our utmost to relieve the suffering of those whose homes and livelihoods are ruined by the changing climate. A radical change in our lifestyle must include loosening our grip on our wallets.
For example, we need to ask ourselves why we need to go to America, or China, or Australia for our holidays, for a speaking engagement, or for work. 99% of the world’s population cannot afford these luxuries – and yet many are closer to God than we are. http://www.globalrichlist.com/
We have to challenge every decision of where we spend our money. Should we always buy the cheapest, or should our buying decisions be made to minimise planetary damage?
We can make reparation for the damage caused by our personal sin. We can ‘offset’ our carbon emissions, for example “Climate Stewards helps you to offset unavoidable carbon emissions by supporting community forestry, water filter and cookstove projects in the developing world”. Some are beginning to do this for holidays or the odd long haul flight, but that is surely just lip-service. Should we not examine our carbon emissions over our lifetime and offset them? (see https://www.climatestewards.org/) At only £20 a tonne, many of us are in the privileged financial position to be able to do that. There is real potential for tree planting projects to ‘buy some time’: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/planting-trees-could-buy-more-time-fight-climate-change-thought. And churches can do the same, committing to offset past energy usage and adding carbon offset as a statutory spend each year. It is much easier if we all make the commitment together. Leadership from our Bishops can help here.
Those of us who live comfortably in brick houses in rural England can send financial assistance to those whose pole and dagga houses are swept away by floods or typhoon. (see https://www.christianaid.org.uk/emergencies/south-asia-floods-appeal) As James says: “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” Communication is so good that we see our ‘brother or sister who has no food or clothing’ daily on our TV’s or computer screens.
We will of course fail to live up to our aspirations, but we can try. And when we fail, God’s grace will free us to try again.
And finally a thought about our legacy. The younger generation are worried. Environmental issues are at the top of their concerns. And the younger generation tend not to know Christ. We have a wonderful opportunity to bring them hope, both for a world to live in and from a God who loves them. That is a far better legacy than bequeathing a scorching earth that is hardly able to sustain human life.
Let us be at the forefront of change, not dragging our feet but leading the way to a sustainable future.