AT LAST the headlines are being taken seriously: “climate emergency”, “catastrophic loss of biodiversity”. Aided by Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg’s speech in Parliament, and Extinction Rebels on Waterloo Bridge, the mood seems to be changing.
Tim Gorringe has understood this emergency for decades. The Emeritus Professor of Theology at Exeter has written numerous books and papers on environment and the common good. In his latest — and, I think, finest — book, Gorringe shows how climate change and transgression of “planetary boundaries” that define the safe carrying capacity of this finite planet increase the likelihood of social collapse.
Gorringe argues that all policy decisions are underpinned by our values, but many current cultural values work against human flourishing and against the well-being of God’s earth. We have been caught up in habits, many essentially idolatrous, that diminish humanity.
In the face of this, Gorringe asks: what can we do to prevent runaway climate change? and, were it to happen, how could humanity survive? He argues that we need significant change at the spiritual level, the level of values. Virtue ethics (a response to God’s gracious gift) offers our best chance of furthering humanity and avoiding disaster. One of the contributions of theology to the discussion of values or virtues is to identify (as Deuteronomy does) that which leads to life and flourishing, and that which leads to death.
But values and virtues have to be realised in practice. Gorringe, therefore, offers a detailed rethink of what “the world made otherwise” (to quote Ton Veerkamp) might look like. A “revolutionary humanism” lies at the heart of the biblical witness. He explores political, economic, and agricultural changes that will determine whether we will sustain humanity in the crises ahead.
We are given an extended discussion of democracy, the meanings of order and freedom, the value of small federated deliberative political units instead of idolatrous nationalisms, and the vested interests of big money. Gorringe describes a different model of economics built on human values, and the meaning of social justice as opposed to “market justice”. He discusses the meanings of money, and (writing as both shepherd and bee-keeper) celebrates the value of gratitude in sustainable food production and farming, as part of the human good.
Gorringe writes clearly and accessibly as a moral theologian, drawing on a wide range of disciplines, in a meticulously researched and heavily referenced book. This is a very important and prophetic work. His purpose is to create a vision of a life lived differently, of which the Church should be the sign, with a renewed sense of spiritual meaning and social and environmental harmony. His positive message is that many people and groups the world over are already involved in movements of radical social change — such as Transition Towns — which demonstrate how to live “otherwise” and with hope.
Dr David Atkinson is an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark.
The World Made Otherwise: Sustaining humanity in a threatened world
Cascade Books £34
Church Times Bookshop £30.60