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Climate and conscience

17 April 2012

Disappointed hopes clear here, says Celia Deane-Drummond

Christianity and the Renewal of Nature: Creation, climate change and human responsibility
Sebastian C. H. Kim and Jonathan Draper, editors

SPCK £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THIS book emerged from the Ebor lecture series, delivered in York in 2009, which focused on climate change. It reflects a collaborative venture by the Church of England and local educational establishments. The chapters are written in an accessible but informative style, and many of the authors are public figures: they include, for example, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury and Clare Short.

The bulk of the chapters are by prominent theologians who have a special interest in linking Academia with the ecclesial and public sphere. These contributions are alongside chapters by a journalist, Martin Redfern, and the director of Greenpeace, John Sauven. The diversity represented here is important, though it was dis­appointing, perhaps, that a climate scientist or economist was not among the contributors.

Michael Northcott, perhaps sensibly, after this lecture series, modified his chapter in the light of the Copenhagen Summit on climate change in December 2009; other authors, such as Sauven, did not do so. While this is disorientating, in some ways it shows in microcosm the keen expectation raised by the Summit, and then the disappoint­ment after the somewhat feeble political accord that was reached. The theological approaches used here range from the specific poli­t-ical and social global context, as in Northcott, to paying attention to the experiences of those living in the poorest regions of India, as in Mary Grey’s chapter.

Given the importance of climate change to the poorest regions of the world, I would have expected more by way of explicit concrete examples of climate change. Not only is the social-justice agenda a little too subliminal: in general, the authors have paid much greater attention to a critical analysis of current global economic structures than to offer­ing constructive proposals. Part of the difficulty, of course, is that such proposals require expertise and collaboration to work at many different levels; as Northcott aptly points out, it is just not as simple to try to control carbon emissions compared with, for example, something as specific as CFCs.

Yet within this book there are also generative seeds for a new attitude to the natural world developing from a specific theo­logical contribution. Rowan Williams, Tim Gorringe, and Grey all develop biblical and theological elements in their reflections on climate change in ways that urge a prophetic change in attitude to­wards the natural world.

The title “Renewal of Nature” is perhaps misleading if it implies an explicit ecological ethics. This book opines that renewal is as much about a change in human attitudes towards the natural world. Overall, it is a book that would be useful for discussion groups on climate change in lay and other educational settings.

Dr Celia Deane-Drummond is full Professor in Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, in the United States, concurrent between the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Science.

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