Our Island Home: A Response to “The Climate Change Crisis”
By Andrew R. H. Thompson
Tuesday’s (March 24) Episcopal Church webinar on climate change as a moral and religious crisis featured thoughtful and even prophetic moments. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s keynote set a high standard for what followed by combining a thoroughly scientific presentation of the situation with a deeply theological call to responsibility grounded in the images of Eucharistic Prayer C. God’s gifts of “this fragile earth, our island home,” and the capacities of “memory, reason, and skill,” she exhorted, compel us to take responsibility for the health of the planet. The keynote was followed by two panels, the first with a general focus on the regional impacts of climate change, and the second discussing climate change as a moral issue.
One of the most striking aspects of both panels was a contrast between the claim that this crisis can be resolved by technological advances, with little or no change to our lifestyles or worldviews, and the belief that what is required is a fundamental change in how we relate to our planet and its ecosystems. Bishop Marc Andrus and Princess Daazhraii Johnson presented the latter view compellingly, arguing that our society needs a spiritual maturity that can keep pace with our technological sophistication. This view is consistent with the positions of many religious and ethical leaders, from Pope Francis to Wendell Berry. It is absurd to suppose that a crisis brought about by technological power and economic growth can be resolved by better technological power and more economic growth, especially if these remain unmoored from spiritual and ecological commitments.
In response to a question for the second panel about divestment from fossil fuel companies, both Bishop Andrus and Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, affirmed the efficacy of the strategy. According to the panelists, divestment works when its message is clear. Bishop Andrus articulated this message most convincingly when he argued that empires built on extraction and materialism are clearly unsustainable. He pointed to the impact of divestment from South African companies during apartheid as an expression of solidarity that gave courage to those struggling against that system. Divestment is not primarily an economic tactic, nor is it a moralistic claim that fossil fuel companies are solely to blame; rather, it is a statement that our current consumptive lifestyle is neither ecologically viable nor morally acceptable, and that our faith compels us to stand with those who have suffered and will suffer most from its impacts.
In this respect, one of the most astute statements of the event may have come, surprisingly and indirectly, from Senator Lindsey Graham. Ms. Nichols paraphrased the Senator’s recent remarks on climate change, that making climate change a religious issue has the potential to make people feel guilty and to require actions that don’t make economic sense. Surely Senator Graham was right on both of these counts. May we hope that, at least with regard to his second point, this event will begin to impel the Church to be a leader in calling for actions that are right, rather than simply profitable.
It is in fact the use of carbon based fuels that has brought man inside from the cold and eliminated hunger from most of the world. Those who choose Mother Earth over the heavenly Father seek to undo this progress at the expense of mankind by using a manufactured crisis as the vehicle. A church that lies down with those who seek total power and control and also hate Christianity is a church whose decline is sure to accelerate.
By J Owens on March 31, 2015
About the Author
Dr. Andrew Thompson is a postdoctoral fellow in environmental ethics at The School of Theology. His research focuses on environmental and social ethics and the work of ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr. Thompson earned his Ph.D. in religion from Yale University, and his M.A.R. from Yale Divinity School.
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