Today we can hardly open a newspaper, watch television or read a magazine without finding warnings about climate change, global warming or the greenhouse effect. It's very much a 21st Century issue. Previous generations did not worry that their actions and lifestyles would change the very air we breathe and, ultimately, the world's climate. This generation does and must.
I want to look at this issue in both the context of our thanksgiving for harvest and of caring for the poor. I want us to look at Scripture because, although climate change may be a 21st Century issue, the great principles to shape our attitudes and actions are found there. Our God is a creator and sustainer:
I want to take this issue for another reason. A few Christian writers do, I believe, mislead in what they say about climate change and our responsibilities or lack of them. They distort Scripture to assuage their oil soaked, gas guzzling life styles of excess and greed. And I know I'm the only one with a 4x4 parked outside!
Take a deep breath! The air we have just breathed and exhaled has a slightly different composition from that which we breathed when we were born. The amount of carbon dioxide is a little higher and other gases, such as methane, are higher too. We don't smell the difference, we still have plenty of oxygen to breathe. But what these gases do is to enable the atmosphere to hold a little more of the sun's warmth; more is trapped like a greenhouse. The evidence of our atmosphere warming up will be familiar: earlier springs, fiercer heatwaves, new pests and diseases previously confined to hotter countries, receding glaciers, diminishing arctic ice, and so forth. That is the science that is what is happening. It parallels Psalm 19:2's ineffable statement about the display of God's glory everywhere for all to see:
The consequences of climate change are many: worse droughts, worse floods, rising sea levels, more energetic storms to name but some. But why should Christians be especially concerned? The answer is because the poor are the most vulnerable for two reasons:
- Many poor people live in places most prone and most likely to be affected - drought-prone arid lands, low-lying coastal fringes - just think of the African Sahel region or the one-third of Bangladesh barely one metre above sea level.
- The poor, by definition, do not have the resources to ward off the consequences - they can't buy air conditioners, they can't move to safer places.
The poor live where the risk is worst and they do not possess the means to escape the consequences. Our lavish Western lifestyles worsens the lot of the world's poor.
Now let's get into God's word.
Here is God's great covenant with all creatures: never again to destroy, and the promise that seasons, seedtime and harvest, and day and night will continue while the Earth endures. Nothing of climate change challenges this larger picture.
The seasons happen because the Earth is tilted on its axis and we orbit the sun. There will always be winters with the sun low and days short; the arctic and antarctic will still be sunless and cold in winter. Day and night happen because the Earth rotates once every 24 hours. These facts of astronomy square totally with the wonderful assurance and promise God gives in these verses.
While we continue to orbit the sun and rotate on our axis planet Earth will experience seasons and days and nights. Only if these stop will they end, indeed the world as we know it will end, and this is just what God says in Genesis 8:22 ". . . while the Earth endures".
What is happening then is not the very big picture altering the course of our planet in space, but what we are doing to our planet as we journey on that course. It's our only home, we have nowhere else to go, until, of course, the Christian reaches heaven.
We learn here that creation is inextricably linked to human beings - it is subjected to frustration because of us, polluted by our sin, just as God promised it would be to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19. Our actions spoiled and continue to spoil God's creation. This same point is explicitly made in Jeremiah 12:4.
Having looked at these verses it is right to ask the question, of what sin is global warming or climate change the main result? After all it is not a moral issue directly, like the slave trade or abortion, and it is not a criminal issue in the ordinary sense, like corrupt governments or oppression of people. I suggest that it is the sin of selfishness and greed, both individually and nationally. Let us look at two more scriptures.
Luke 12:16-21 is a parable reminding us to be rich towards God not selfishly garnering our own wealth.
Leviticus 19:9-10 is a remarkable injunction or law for the Israelites telling them to leave gleanings, not to gather every last corn sheaf or grape cluster so that the poor can do so and benefit.
We are paying the price of neglecting these injunctions in our excessive consumption. As we burn oil, gas and coal and as we clear forests, especially in the tropics, in unsustainable ways we are both using up resources so fast that future generations will be largely denied them and we are placing an unsupportable burden on our atmosphere. It warms, and the poor are the first to suffer.
So, on this harvest Sunday with gifts going to Tearfund to help the poor, what can we do? What should we do? I suggest five things:
- Understand the issue, do not dodge it, and let's be informed. Let me quote from Sir John Houghton, former Head of the Meteorological Office and a committed Christian: "Putting both God's books together (his creation and his Word) has big implications for the way we care for creation. From science we learn that human activities are causing rapid and damaging climatic change. The poorer nations will bear the greater proportion of this damage and the much higher frequency and intensity of extremes such as floods and droughts. As Christians, we should care for the whole of God's creation. Urgent action is needed so that some of the worst damage of climate change can be avoided."
- Let's promote steps in national life to be less greedy. Britain still doesn't give as aid the tiny 0.7% of GDP the UN suggests countries should aim at.
- In our personal life - and I speak as one with the 4x4 outside - let us make choices that reduce what we consume. Personally I find driving at 60 mph rather than 70 on motorways is effective: you feel more relaxed and you save around 15% fuel - my Landrover Freelander achieves around 45 mpg.
- Let our consciences not become hardened to the needs of those far away, those who don't have the resources to escape climate change. Let's be generous in giving.
- Let us return to the creation ordinance and meditate upon 'ruling over the Earth' 'subduing and ruling over' Genesis 1:26-28. God has delegated these roles to us. As the footnote in my NIV Bible says "Man goes forth under this divine benediction - flourishing, filling the earth with his kind, and exercising dominion over the other earthly creatures. Human culture, accordingly, is not anti-God, though fallen man often has turned his efforts in proud rebellion against God. Rather, it is the expression of man's bearing the image of his Creator and sharing, as God's servant, in God's kingly rule. As God's representative in the creaturely realm, he is steward of God's creatures. He is not to exploit, waste or despoil them, but to care for them and use them in the service of God and man."
Finally, let us return to the One who alone has the power to deliver us from the sin of greed and selfishness, and from all other sins, the Lord Jesus Christ whose own negligible carbon footprint is yet one more way in which we, His followers, should be like Him.
Precis of a sermon on 23rd September 2007
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