In December, world leaders met in Copenhagen to discuss solutions to climate change. What should the Christian’s response be to calls for better stewardship of the earth?
Last month’s meeting of leading United Nations members in Copenhagen was ‘the most important conference ever staged on climate change’, according to the Financial Times.
The world waited for a response from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after he listened to pledges from various governments and heard scientists debate the full impact of climate change.
While some remain sceptical about the climate’s deterioration (and there does need to be more unbiased evaluation of its nature and scale), it seemed as if everyone wants to know whether UN actions will really prevent an impending ecological disaster.
When we see uncharacteristic weather patterns, such as the 2003 heat wave in Europe or recent serious flooding in Cumbria, one has to admit that climate change of some sort is happening. While it may be affecting UK insurance policies, it is having a hugely devastating impact on the developing world.
Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has been facing weather-related disasters for aeons, but add to this its rising population, increasing use of electricity, intensive farming and mining, and irresponsible toxic dumping, and the problems are greatly exacerbated.
One country’s wood product is another’s increasing desertification. Truly, ‘all creation groans’, as Romans 8:20 states.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has outlined several serious effects of continued climate change, namely: 250 million people in Africa will face water shortages by 2020; sea levels will rise 50cm by the end of the 21st century; there will be 150 million ‘climate refugees’ by 2050; and malaria will likely invade Russia and the northern hemisphere.
But climate change is not merely about polar bears sitting forlornly on melting ice caps. Whatever the mix of factors causing it, it can surely be exacerbated by the wasteful actions of millions of individual households and businesses. And all this has a cumulative negative impact on human life.
According to Oxfam, recurring drought in East Africa has left 23 million people without enough food and water. The charity said: ‘Climate change is playing havoc with traditional farming seasons, causing crops to fail and animals to die. It’s making life even more of a struggle’.
The world needs more and cheaper energy sources to rein in its excessive consumption of natural fuels – coal, wood, gas, oil. The poorer nations need better infrastructure – and that needs to be green, ecologically sustainable and low-cost.
The G20 leaders recognised this early in 2009. When they created financial stimulus packages to bail out the global economies, they committed at least $500 billion of these to green schemes, from eco-friendly high-speed rail in China, through to insulation of homes in the US to prevent heat energy from being lost.
A survey from HSBC revealed that, in 2008, UK funding for low-carbon initiatives was up 75 per cent on the previous year. The UK has been recycling, growing its own, and travelling a little further by foot or bike each day instead of getting into the car.
Will any of this help? Or is it too little, too late? There are no final answers in the secular world. The best hope is that all countries will commit to doing their part to slow down the rate of ecological attrition. But future generations will have to pay for today’s environmental mistakes.
In this fallen world, nature has suffered as a result of man’s sinfulness (Genesis 3:17). But a Christian should care about the earth and those who are suffering, now.
It’s the essence of that old-fashioned word ‘stewardship’. It is what Adam and Eve were called to do: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15).
Tens of thousands gathered across UK cities on Saturday 5 December to press the UK government to take its climate pledges seriously. It is hard to disagree with the events’ leaders, who said: ‘For Christians, tackling climate change is a social justice issue, since it is having an immediate and devastating impact on the world’s poorest, who are least responsible and yet hardest hit. Humanity is charged by God with protecting God’s creation’.
The task is enormous, but it pays huge spiritual dividends to focus not on the scale of the problem, but on the scale of the God who made the world. Psalm 24:1 states: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein’.
It’s his world that we are stewarding, and we must go to him for answers, not to the UN. Ultimately, Christians must not fail to act as God’s children should; by caring for the world’s poorest crucially in spiritual, but also in practical terms.
So ask not what Copenhagen can do for you; ask what you can do to help steward God’s creation. Ultimately, there will be a new heavens and a new earth, as Romans 8:21 says: ‘Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption’. Until then, let’s commit to making this earth a better and fairer place for all.
Lives changed by the gospel should lead to changed behaviour at every level (Matthew 5:16).