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Courageous decision-making is needed to tackle climate change

by
25 February 2021

Christians should not sit back and leave it to others to solve the problem, argues Graham Usher

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THE past decade has brought a welcome rise in international efforts to abate the climate crisis; but how many of us can look in the mirror and truly say that enough is being done?

The Church has been given a wake-up call by a recent survey by the charity Tearfund, in which only one in ten young adult Christians said that they felt that their church was doing enough to combat climate change (News, 12 February). We have a responsibility to children and young people, and to their children and generations to come, to hear their warnings and give this issue the priority that it urgently needs.

As lead bishop for the environment, I want to amplify the prophetic voice of the young, and those in the world’s most vulnerable communities who are already being affected most severely by climate change.

So, what can the Church of England do about climate change? And why should Christians see this as a part of their witness?

The great hymn of praise to God in Colossians 1.15-20 uses prepositions — “in”, “through”, “for”, “before”, “together”, “to”  to give emphasis to everything being connected in Christ and through Christ to all dimensions of creation. Everything is in view, as far as the eye can see and beyond; flora, fauna, geology, wind and ocean currents, distant stars and furthest galaxies are wrapped in Christ. God’s purpose in Christ is to bring to wholeness not only humanity but the entire created order.

The Gospels are full of stories of the growth of seeds, the choking of thistles, the beauty of lilies and the fruitfulness of trees. Jesus noticed and so must we. We have the privilege and responsibility to care for the earth and to tread gently on it. At the heart of our response must be to prevent the opposite from happening. This will take courageous decisions.

Those decisions could be big or small, from a church switching to a green electricity provider to improved government subsidies for green technology, both nationally and locally; it’s about encouraging everyone to engage with their portion of the challenge and to step up.

Anybody watching Sir David Attenborough’s recent series A Perfect Planet, cannot have escaped the burning feeling of injustice evoked by the stories told of the effects of climate change on nature.

 

THE job of those in power is to lead by example, and to help put decisions within reach of anybody who is changing their car, or boiler, or who wants to change their shopping habits.

The Church of England can convene conversations at a national level, which help to keep the pressure on; but we must also ensure that our own house is in order, and take decisions at every level to meet the ambitious target that the General Synod has set, of net zero emissions by 2030 (News, 14 February 2020).

The coming year presents an opportunity to increase momentum, and for the UK to use its hosting of the G7 and COP26 to make a global statement that we intend to lead by example.

Christians, alongside people of other faiths, intend to play their part by encouraging practical changes at local and national levels, but also as local and global advocates for better care and justice for God’s gift of creation.

There will be difficult decisions for churches and governments alike, but, in many cases, these are already win-win — for example, green electricity tariffs are now often the cheapest available — and, by investing now in green-energy infrastructure, we can avoid much greater clean-up costs in years to come.

 

THE challenge will be to keep up the momentum when there are a whole host of other significant priorities; but, despite a very difficult past year, we can learn from the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

We have now all experienced a significant global event that has dramatically altered our way of life, and we have learnt of the emotional, financial, and human cost that has gone with that.

As individuals, we have learnt that practices such as travelling long distances for business and frequent flights, which we previously considered unavoidable, can be reduced as we rediscover what “normal” looks like.

And, globally, the speed with which safe vaccines have been brought to market is a testament to what can be done when human endeavour aligns behind a common goal; and it is important that the benefits now being measured in the UK be widened to the global community as soon as possible.

We now need this kind of response to climate change. The threat to human life posed by climate change and loss of biodiversity dwarfs that of Covid-19, and yet we are still at a stage when some are content to sit back and leave it to others, or deny that there is a problem at all.

But we are people of hope, and we take up the challenge in the belief that, together, we can turn the situation around.

 

The Rt Revd Graham Usher is the Bishop of Norwich. He will become the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment in June, succeeding the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, who retires in July.

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