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: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
 

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn