Should churches be “running with the pack” in their action on climate change? They have a special task.
It is encouraging to hear that government support for climate change is growing. Also this year a leading economist spoke of the importance of tackling the problem. I believe that his purpose was to speak to the business community, to convince them that they should not be relying on politicians. Indeed western businesses are now asking governments to legislate appropriately – an apparent turnaround from global firms trying to avoid government intervention.
Writers have also been pointing out (again) that the problem is not a problem for the planet, but for the human race. We may succeed at killing ourselves off, but the planet will recover from us.
Reading the church press it is clear that churches are seeking to be more environmentally responsible, and to encourage the general public to do the same. As local organisations, churches do need to be environmentally responsible at least as much as other organisations. Yet they also have a task that is their own and thus more important for them.
Much of the human race has treated the planet like an inexhaustible mine. This is worse than treating it as a machine, because at least we usually recognise that machines need maintenance from time to time. Surely what lies under this attitude of disrespect is greed.
Current appeals to people to behave more responsibly put their hope in “enlightened self-interest.” In other words, if people who are concerned mainly about themselves recognise that it is in their interests to avert climate change, then they will act. The same belief is behind the Market Economy, yet we see that its “trickle down” theory (that if some people get rich everyone will benefit) works in some areas; but in others people continue to be severely exploited. Economics will not provide an anwer to everything.
So this way of appealing to people has a problem: its underlying philosophy is unsound. This is clear even looking at it just from a secular world view. From a religious point of view, the only way to tackle the greedy behaviour is to deal with the greed underneath the symptoms.
Why are we greedy? I think that in many cases the root is insecurity. We think that if we don't grab all we can get we won't survive, because nobody else cares for us.
The Christian religion reminds us that there is a God who loves us, cares for us, and has provided all those resources that we think we need to grab – so actually we don't need to grab them. Nor are we a law unto ourselves. The church is to demonstrate and proclaim this message.
So as well as acting responsibly, the church needs to remember it's special task. Whatever the human causes of climate change, I believe that the only lasting solution will come when we discover that God loves each of us, and that we can abandon self-interest.
The good news of Christmas continues to be as relevant as ever. God sends a saviour, Jesus, to save us from ourselves.