Have Christians anything particular to say (and do) about climate change?
Notes from the talk and discussion led by Rev Rachel Saum
Rachel started by asking us to visualise a beautiful place that we care about a lot. Then we were invited to consider other environments, including one that is damaged perhaps by war or deforestation. Christianity, she argued teaches us to pay attention to our world, to appreciate it in a different more spiritual way, to feel our connection to it. She compared this to the Ignatian practice of meditating on scenes in the life of Jesus. For many in the last century and this, life is very disconnected from the natural world. The emotions of lamenting the damage to our environment and relishing its beauty are encouraged by paying attention to it, dandelion by dandelion, sparrow by sparrow.
For Christians this attention includes the sacramental / divine quality in all creation – what is there of God in this carrot, this tree on the pavement? This attention also roots ourselves in a place – we are part of our neighbourhood community and also part of Nature’s community in our locality.
Rachel referred to Genesis which says God gave man dominion over nature. This has been used to justify the way we kill weeds, for example. But Rachel said she thinks the Genesis message is asking humans to ‘watch over’ the natural world making sure it is safe and well fed. The key is ‘compassion for’, not ‘dominion over’ - an approach which reflects Jesus’ teaching.
Christians also have a different approach to land ownership. Ultimately the earth is the Lord’s and we are recipients of a gift to look after, not owners to do with as we wish. When it comes to the way we treat the planet we should approach it with humility not the hubris of ownership.
Christians should reject despair about Climate Change. This does not mean we cross our fingers and hope that a technical fix will solve all the problems of diversity and climate change. As Padraig O’Tauma said in his 20th July Thought for the Day on Radio 4, we reject ‘doomism’ not because we have evidence that we will overcome the perils of Climate Change but because we have faith that humans have found ways to collaborate when it is necessary, spurred on by those two ‘lovely daughters of Hope, Anger and Courage’ as Augustine of Hippo wrote. The Hebrew word for Hope is Tikvah, which means tethered or bound together. When we despair, we become untethered. When we feel our bond to others, we find something to place our hope in.
Our hope is in humanity, that we can change and in God that we might hear something different – ie find wisdom. Death and sin, Christianity teaches us, are not the end. Are we too small to make a difference? As the old proverb says, ‘'If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito’.
In summary Rachel said, ‘We are called to care for our natural world, not to take dominion over it, and to work humbly with the world’s natural processes.” Part of that is to find a way to live simply.
A asked, in our complex, globally connected world, what does it mean to live simply? In reply Rachel suggested it is always possible to hear things differently and to find a new wisdom.
M mentioned the Fair-Trade movement and Food Banks as examples of finding a new wisdom together. E said that the spiritual side of new technology was to use it in a fair and restorative way. He added that we need to learn to lament more in Christian circles. Some useful psalms here.
Rachel suggested that we should agree to accept a drop in our standards of living and to strive for more localism in the way we look for answers to our problems. Local schemes for helping neighbours during the Covid pandemic were an example.
J felt that despair was greatest among older people. 'Pe' mentioned the value of Extinction Rebellion and lamented the fact that they are considered too dangerous to be allowed into schools.
Someone mentioned that big business often had a vested interest in the things that worsen global warming and that through their cash power then had corrupted research. “100 global corporations are sometimes quoted as being responsible 70% of the world’s emissions”. (Fact check: They do indeed have a heavy responsibility but this statistic relates to the extraction of fossil fuels rather the burning of them. Also, there are sources of global warming other than extracted fossil fuels so the statement should add ‘related to fossil fuels’).
'Pa' referred to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, which she had heard referred to years ago as ‘a bunch of educated nutters’ but which after 50 years can take credit for introducing modern turbines and composting and is now part of the University of Wales. She brought a copy of Clean Slate their magazine.
Rachel reminded us of Oscar Romero, the murdered archbishop of El Salvador. ‘The kingdom’ he said, ‘is beyond our vision. We plant a seed and lay the foundations.’ For Romero, our liberty is knowing that we can do something and do it well. We create an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter. We are ministers not messiahs.