In a few weeks, global leaders will convene in Glasgow for the UN’s annual talks on climate change, also known as COP26. This is the first time since the signing of 2015’s Paris Agreement that countries will have a chance to review progress against targets aimed to keep the global temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The pressures of the pandemic, layered on top of the climate crisis, have brought us to a ‘make or break’ point. And so, the world’s eyes will be on the UK as it hosts these vital talks.
The opening chapters of Genesis provide us with an artful account of God creating the world. Our reading of this can sometimes be mechanical – like reading a blueprint for a house. God as the project manager carefully timing out the digging of foundations, laying of brickwork and pouring of concrete. We could do better to read this not as the construction of a Grand Design but as the curation of a home for God’s image-bearers to reflect and bask in the glory of God. A home where they could live out their days in peace with their fellow humans, in balance with the rest of the creation.
When God put man and woman in this home, he commanded them to abad and shamar the land. These two words are rich with a sense of guarding, caring and protecting, rather than drilling, fracking and extracting. These are words of cultivation rather than destruction. Words that we have not lived by in our quest for efficiency in the last 100 years – a quest which has led to spiralling carbon emissions destroying nature’s balance.
The truth is, the Church has not done all it could to follow God’s commands to abad and shamar. Recent announcements from the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland about divesting from fossil fuels are welcome developments, but we still face a lack of understanding of – or perhaps, a resistance to – addressing the climate crisis in our pulpits and pews. Ultimately, this is not about which political party we support or what we believe about the end times. Rather, it is about our need to uncover a robust theology of the creation and our place in it, in the here and now, in order to progress.
Shortly after the creation narrative in Genesis, the world experiences its first deadly conflict when Cain kills Abel in an unspecified fit of jealousy and rage. Cain’s words, as he cries out to God, have become infamous: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ‘Keeper’ or shamar, is the same word used in reference to our protective relationship with the garden. God’s implied answer is that yes, Cain is indeed his brother’s keeper. If this is so, then the ravaging impact of changing climate on the world’s poorest – which we see every day at Tearfund – is something we can’t ignore.
The number of people pushed into poverty by climate change is colossal – estimates place it at 100 million, with the vast majority of these living in low-income countries. It is a sad reality that the people who have contributed the least to carbon emissions will be (and are already being) affected the most. Increased droughts and floods, higher frequency of extreme weather events and deadly heatwaves are already claiming the lives and livelihoods of millions around the world. When Jesus calls us to love our neighbours, these are the people we should have in mind. We are each other’s brothers and each other’s keepers.
In the face of what seems like an insurmountable global challenge, what can we do?
Christian climate scientist, Katherine Hayhoe, says that to begin to tackle climate change we must talk about it. If we aren’t talking about it, no one is informed, and if no one is informed, no one can act. Even political opposites can unite around the desire for a prosperous future for their children and grandchildren; something at threat if the climate crisis is allowed to worsen.
Secondly, we can all make small lifestyle changes. Let’s consider our habits as consumers. Can we use less single-use plastic? Can we choose to wear ethically-sourced clothing? Can we find a way to limit our carbon emissions when we travel? These are small steps we can all take.
But our small actions will only go so far. We can also use our voices to lobby for change at governmental and organisational levels. Join us in Belfast on November 6, to ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’ and demand bold and swift action from our decision-makers during COP26. Follow this link to find out more: https://www.tearfund.org/campaigns/cop26/cop26-day-of-action
Finally, let us not grow weary in praying: for our global neighbours who are suffering the effects of the climate crisis most acutely; for our leaders as they decide how to act; and for our own communities as we awaken to our call to be a part of the solution.
Tearfund has a wealth of resources to help you and your community pray about the climate. Find them here: https://www.tearfund.org/campaigns/reboot-campaign/prayer-for-the-climate
Glen Mitchell is the NI Director of Tearfund. Tearfund is a Christian relief and development agency and a member of the Disasters’ Emergency Committee. Tearfund has been working around the world for more than 50 years responding to disasters and helping lift communities out of poverty. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit www.tearfund.org.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.