Climate change God’s judgement not Man’s fault?

The BBC has a report this morning on a growing sentiment in parts of the developing world that the climate change that they are witnessing is not due to the actions of humankind. They are a result of God’s judgement upon us. And as such, there is nothing we can change that will have any effect on the situation other than pray for help.

From the end of the article:

“Climate change is a global issue transcending national boundaries, but impacting first on those who can least afford to cope with the consequences.

The ‘God not man’ cry from the lady in Kenya’s northern reaches illustrates a common problem relating to understanding the underlying causes, and underscores the incapability of people in such situations to deal with the crisis that has impacted so severely on their communities.

As Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, notes:

‘Climate change will bring massive ecological and economic challenges… therefore, alleviating dehumanising poverty will become even more difficult.’”

Read the full article here.

The point the article is trying to make, but doesn’t really in the end, is that attributing the climate changes to God leads us to think that God is going to be the one who’s going to reverse them. It’s the very definition of magical thinking and is not likely to be very effective.

It doesn’t seem all that different, to me at least, than the line of thought attributed to people like the former Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who believed the rapture was so imminent that there was no reason for Christians to conserve natural resources. Instead, the reasoning went, profligate use of the resources was a sign of strong faith that God was coming soon and would remake the earth and effectively restore everything we had used.

Not unlike using the ever-increasing equity in our homes to pay off our ever increasing credit card debt…

The BBC article really doesn’t suggest any solutions to the problem of magical thinking among the poor in the developing world other than to “harness the power of youth”. But as the sixties remind all of us who grew up in them, that doesn’t really guarantee anything. Youth can act destructively as likely as they might act constructively. Such is the way of mankind.

Better, for Christians at least, would be to emphasize the meaning of stewardship among the Christian people in the developing world. We should be encouraging them to expect their governments to find ways to live gently in their environment, to do their collective best to steward the natural riches of the nations in which they live. I remember when I was in Swaziland, talking with local farmers who had begun to realize the toll that western style, petrochemical based agriculture was taking on their tribal lands. The old style tradition of small gardens, compost and regular crop rotation was much more effective at producing enough to eat, and was sustainable.

Of course that will require those of us who live in the developed world to put our money where our mouth is first. Otherwise why should anyone listen to us? We’d be like the Pharisees who bind others with burdens too great to bear while finding loopholes to excuse ourselves.

It will probably require us to downsize the homes we live in, move back into the cities closer to the places we work and shop, buy smaller cars, etc. In other words, live more like European society has been living for years. It’s really not an awful thing to contemplate if we put it into that context is it?

Will our actions make a difference? There’s a legitimate disagreement going on about whether the climate change we are observing is caused by human actions or not. But if not, it makes sense to act conservatively so as to try our best not hasten the rate of the change. Plus living as if it were will help us to start focusing our attention on what might be needed to survive what might come.

It’s not all that bad really. Imagine living in a small German, French or Italian city, or in one of the villages that surround them. What’s to fear in that future?

About Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...
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