Faith & Reason: Do the Churches really want to save the planet?

We talk a lot, pray a bit, but don't do much about climate change. What the Churches need is a vision for the future - and courage

Share

As you read this, hundreds of people will be launching "Operation Noah" in Coventry Cathedral. The project aims to spread an understanding of climate change among the Churches, and to get them to do something about it.

The event has been planned for months, but it comes just as the issues are hitting the headlines. Tony Blair is to make the question central to his plans for the coming year. Vladimir Putin has signed up to the Kyoto convention, which calls on governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to politically acceptable levels. George Bush has failed catastrophically to provide leadership, but the unlikely figure of Arnold Schwarzenegger is on his case, as we shall see.

At the Coventry event, three priorities are urged. First, get the facts right. Second, get the theology right. Third, do the right thing. First, the facts. The world climate is changing as a result of human activity, notably our carbon dioxide emissions. This no longer needs arguing. Governments now stake their reputations on those claims, and powerful corporations are looking nervously at their future profits.

Second, the theology. Much of it is summed up by Tennessee Williams, who called pollution "Man's inhumanity to God". We abuse the only planet we have; but our depredations are inflicted upon God's creation. That instinct has begun to shape the Churches quite persistently. There aren't many environmentally informed sermons, but a celebration of the natural order now pervades my own tradition, much more Franciscan than Wesleyan now.

That is why so many people now respond so warmly to the insights of the Orthodox tradition. At the Convent of St John, 2,000 metres above Volos on the Aegean coast of Greece, profoundly moving prayers for the created order are uttered in the middle of a working farm. But down on the plains, it's different. Fields are irrigated by shooting water from a three-inch pipe into the blazing mid-morning sun. And traffic pollution in Athens is often worse than in Los Angeles.

This raises our third question. We talk a lot, pray a bit, but don't do much. Take current public policy. Tony Blair trumpets our success in cutting greenhouse gases, it was Margaret Thatcher who closed the coalmines, and created the "dash to gas". Renewable sources are still limited. Only wind power really works - but, naturally, only when the wind blows. So the other realistic options are conservation, and microgeneration - create your own power supply. But few of the houses that John Prescott has constructed since 1997 have these capacities built into them. Even worse; the Kyoto agreement simply signals what is politically doable. To solve the problem will require much sharper cuts in emissions.

Similarly, the Russian commitment to the Kyoto treaty means that it can be ratified. And that releases a potential $10bn to help Russia renew its highly polluting industrial stock. But do the levers of power in the Kremlin control anything much that happens in, say, Siberia?

So, if the facts are virtually indisputable, governments recognise the problem and Christians increasingly celebrate the created order, why isn't it working? It's mainly because we don't dare look at the whole picture. We have failed to see the human economy as part of the environment. We imagine that human appetite can be theologised away. We long for an irrecoverable, largely imaginary past world. One feature of that economy has shaped our modern plight - technological innovation in the marketplace. A proper vision of the future must see this as a God-given instrument of our survival. The planet will be saved only if we can make money out of it. Otherwise not. The first green billionaire had better be among us now, or we are really in trouble. (There are plenty of green millionaires, mostly American, but that's not enough).

Oddly, it's Arnie who provides us with a glimmer of hope here. He is fighting against his President, in election year, to restrain California's gas-guzzling habits. If he succeeds, and sets a new trend, then the world's fifth largest economy may be transformed, as people scheme to profit from the new regime.

But a vision is required if this is to happen worldwide. Its prophets must have the conviction of traditional religion, but look to the future as well as honouring the past. They will demand radical cuts in greenhouse emissions and compel the market to work within the new order. Airlines will go bust, but the world's poor will be encouraged to bring their goods to rich Western markets. We'll move fewer people and things around the world, and move more ideas, experiences - and the new technologies. If this works, big business will not just be nervous - it will be terrified. So Churches must urge politicians to be much more courageous than is their wont - and themselves be braver, more visionary.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Web Developer looking...

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently  

Shia LaBeouf to Luis Suárez: Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015