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How bleak is our future?

by
23 February 2010

James Currall considers books with different angles on the problem of climate change

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Here For Our Children’s Children? Why we should care for the earth
Adrian C. Armstrong
Imprint Academic £8.95
(978-1-845-40169-6)
Church Times Bookshop £8.05

Creation in Crisis: Christian perspectives on sustainability
Robert S. White, editor
SPCK £12.99
(978-0-281-06190-7)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

BOOKS about the environmental crisis have been springing up all over the place, and that is probably a good thing — although it does cause me to wonder what their carbon footprint is.

Recently, the UN Climate Sum­mit in Copenhagen ground itself to a standstill because, while there seemed to be a consensus that something needed to be done, there was little agreement about exactly what that was. Here For Our Children’s Children? is essentially a book about environmental ethics, but it does not itself take a par­ticular ethical position. What Adrian Armstrong, a priest and scientist, argues is that there are many ethical standpoints that value the environment; these have differ­ent ways of understanding the value of the environment, and con­sequently there are divergent views about what needs to be done. The result is that agreement about what to do is very hard to come by — hence the difficulties at the Climate Summit.

Creation in Crisis had its origins in a workshop organised in 2008 by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge. The papers from the conference have been edited into a book by Robert White, who has also written an introduction. The contributors are an impressive array of experts from a range of disciplines. Seven of the 15 con­tributors are theologians, and the remainder are principally scientists and economists.

Like any such collection, this one displays a diversity of style and approach. Some papers are dis­cursive, others more polemical in style. In some it is difficult to detect a Christian perspective as such, while, at the other end of the scale, I found a couple to be impen­etrably theological.

But among them they cover: energy, food, agriculture and land use, water, natural disasters, poverty, social and climate justice, con­tracep­tion and population growth, discounting, international govern­ance, globalisation, ethical living, “distortion and denial” of climate science, natural disasters, what Jesus says in the Gospels, and eschatology. Overall, there is a strong theme of sustainability; and a great deal of the discussion centres on a Chris­tian ethic of stewardship.

But among them they cover: energy, food, agriculture and land use, water, natural disasters, poverty, social and climate justice, con­tracep­tion and population growth, discounting, international govern­ance, globalisation, ethical living, “distortion and denial” of climate science, natural disasters, what Jesus says in the Gospels, and eschatology. Overall, there is a strong theme of sustainability; and a great deal of the discussion centres on a Chris­tian ethic of stewardship.

Neither book has much time for what I have now learnt to call “climate-science deniers” and not “climate-science sceptics”. This is because both books start from a point at which climate change is proven, and the real business is to work out what to do about it.

Adrian Armstrong has a gentle style; and, since his book has a single author, there is a coherence to its arguments. While I may not necessarily agree with him on every­thing, he carried me with him to the end. This is not the first book to tackle the question why agreement is hard to reach (other books on “why we disagree about climate change” are available), but it is a clear, read­able, and accessible treat­ment of the subject.

Robert White indicates in his introduction that “cross-fertilisation continued as we critiqued and re­vised each other’s written chapters.” He goes on: “The resulting synthesis . . .” While I found many of the resulting chapters interesting, thought-provoking, and relevant, I didn’t see evidence of the synthesis he speaks of — a bit like some sermons that are fine stuff but lack any form of ending.

To some extent, I put the book down feeling much as I imagine the Israelites felt after listening to Amos (without the final five verses of Chapter 9): we’ve blown it, and the future is bleak. Perhaps, if I had properly understood the eschato­logical chapters, it might have been different, and I would have been filled with Christian hope.

James Currall is a scientist, and an ordinand in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Order these books through CT Bookshop

James Currall is a scientist, and an ordinand in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Order these books through CT Bookshop

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