Whether or not these shifts are simply “natural” shifts, or shifts that reflect ill-conceived human activity, really is not their main concern or first priority. Their focus is on survival. For too many, especially in the global south, survival literally means having enough food for themselves and their families to live from one day to the next. For my family – at least at this point – survival is more about maintaining a treasured way of life.
The potential threats to that way of life come from a number of directions. Some of the current concerns are tidal energy proposals for the Bay of Fundy, a push from the Federal Government to designate 10% of Canada’s coastal waters as Marine Protected Areas by 2020; the corporate intrusion in the fishery (through processing companies owning licenses, rather than independent fishermen); the effects of chemicals used in the aquaculture industry on wild fish health and fish habitat; global markets for fish and seafood; the effects of warming water temperatures and shifts in the acidity of ocean waters that affect the marine ecosystem in ways that can neither be controlled nor predicted; and the usual concerns about whether or not the next season will be a good one.
We are very concerned about sustainability because we want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be able to live and make a living here. Though in some ways we are worlds apart from small-scale farmers or fishers in Kenya or India, in other ways we have more of a sense of solidarity with them than we have with urban professionals in Canada. For those who depend on the land or the water for their survival and livelihood, there is a fraternity that transcends other social, economic, or political categories. And rural people around the world will testify that they see the front edge of the effects of climate change. And those effects are disturbingly real.
Christians often don’t talk much about climate change and global warming, but when they do, there are some pretty divergent views. There are those who staunchly argue that the hype around climate change is just fear-mongering based on economic and/or political agendas. There are those who believe that climate change is real and are frightened by the forecasts of the likely effects of global warming, but don’t feel any sense of responsibility and thus are neither motivated to adjust their own way of living nor to advocate for better policies. There are those who believe it’s likely all true, but who fall back on the Scriptural promises that God will make a “new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10-13) as reason enough to wait patiently for things to unfold according to God’s plan and timing.
Many Christians find that there are more pressing issues to be concerned about than climate change – human rights, food security, gender equity, poverty, child labour, access to education, health care, terrorism, etc. But I believe that just below the surface these concerns are ALL connected and are directly or indirectly impacted by our relationship with the environment. The most vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change are the poor and the marginalized. Like the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, they are the first to feel the effects of natural disasters, oil spills, market fluctuations, soil erosion, water scarcity and austerity policies. Caring for the poor and marginalized is central to the gospel of Christ. These are justice issues that cannot be ignored or spiritualized away.
In the midst of all of this, what should we think? Who should we listen to? Do we need to be climate scientists ourselves in order to make sense of the various arguments? Where is God and what, if anything, does He call us to do about climate change? What does Scripture have to say that will help us navigate this issue?
Let me be clear. I am NOT a climate scientist. Certainly I have read and heard from some Christian climate scientists who are very good at breaking the science down for the non-scientists among us. I am convinced that they know what they are talking about and that they do not have some sinister or hidden agenda when they warn us of the dangers directly linked to the ways we humans have failed to be good stewards of God’s creation.I do believe that natural systems have a good deal of flexibility and elasticity, but there are limits, and we are terribly naive if we do not heed the warnings that the earth itself is giving that it is under too much stress.
I am also NOT a theologian. But I am a thinking person and I want my life to line up with God’s commands to love Him and love my neighbour. In a nutshell, here’s my current thinking. God created the world and, in the beginning, everything was in dynamic balance. The environment wasn’t fixed but was fluid. Everything was good. After the fall (Genesis 3), however, the balance was upset as humanity’s relationship to one another, to the land, and to God, was fractured. Over time, humanity sacrificed the environment for economic growth – death by a thousand cuts. The population grew and grew and we had more mouths to feed.
An agrarian economy gave way to an industrial economy and local management gave way to more centralized authorities and globalization. All of this added further stress to the environment, which has been groaning as a result of our mismanagement. This affects our capacity to live in harmony with one another and with the land (and water) that sustains us.
The system is broken and though it is tempting to point fingers and assign “blame” for the current state of affairs, that doesn’t address the urgent needs of the most vulnerable. God calls us to love one another and to care for those in need. How can we come alongside those who are directly affected by changing climate patterns?
I believe that there are three levels of response: the first is to provide immediate assistance (in the form of food aid, programs designed to help mitigate the effects of climate change, assistance in adapting food production practices to get the best yields with the use of limited inputs); the second level of response is to advocate for justice in the form of better policies and supports for the vulnerable; and the third is to recover our own sense of stewardship as we consider how we live, day by day.
Whatever you may think about the causes of changing climate patterns, and whether or not the scientists are correct in their dire predictions about the future of the planet if we do not make adjustments, Christians have ample evidence to be concerned and engaged in efforts to mitigate the effects and advocate for better approaches. I encourage you to join with other people of faith who want to be part of the solution by getting involved in advocacy efforts spearheaded by Citizens for Public Justice and other civil society and faith organizations.