3 Levels of Response to Climate Change


The most vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change are the poor and the marginalized, Mitchell writes. (Image courtesy of Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Christians often don't talk much about climate change and global warming, but when they do, there are some pretty divergent views.

There are those who staunchly argue that the hype around climate change is just fear-mongering based on economic or political agendas or both.

There are those who believe that climate change is real and are frightened by the forecasts of the likely effects of global warming, but don't feel any sense of responsibility and thus are neither motivated to adjust their own way of living nor to advocate for better policies.

There are those who believe it's likely all true, but who fall back on the Scriptural promises that God will make a "new heaven and new earth" (Revelation 21:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10-13) as reason enough to wait patiently for things to unfold according to God's plan and timing.

Many Christians find that there are more pressing issues to be concerned about than climate change - human rights, food security, gender equity, poverty, child labor, access to education, health care, terrorism and so on.

But I believe that just below the surface, these concerns are all connected and are directly or indirectly impacted by our relationship with the environment.

The most vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change are the poor and the marginalized.

Like the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, they are the first to feel the effects of natural disasters, oil spills, market fluctuations, soil erosion, water scarcity and austerity policies.

Caring for the poor and marginalized is central to the gospel of Christ. These are justice issues that cannot be ignored or spiritualized away.

In the midst of all of this, what should we think? Who should we listen to? Do we need to be climate scientists ourselves in order to make sense of the various arguments?

Where is God and what, if anything, does he call us to do about climate change? What does Scripture have to say that will help us navigate this issue?

Let me be clear: I am not a climate scientist.

Certainly I have read and heard from some Christian climate scientists who are very good at breaking the science down for the non-scientists among us.

I am convinced that they know what they are talking about and that they do not have some sinister or hidden agenda when they warn us of the dangers directly linked to the ways we humans have failed to be good stewards of God's creation.

I do believe that natural systems have a good deal of flexibility and elasticity, but there are limits, and we are terribly naive if we do not heed the warnings that the earth itself is giving that it is under too much stress.

I am also not a theologian. But I am a thinking person and I want my life to line up with God's commands to love him and love my neighbor.

In a nutshell, here's my current thinking:

God created the world and, in the beginning, everything was in dynamic balance. The environment wasn't fixed but was fluid. Everything was good.

After the fall (Genesis 3), however, the balance was upset as humanity's relationships to one another, to the land and to God were fractured. Over time, humanity sacrificed the environment for economic growth - death by a thousand cuts.

The population grew and grew, and we had more mouths to feed. An agrarian economy gave way to an industrial economy and local management gave way to more centralized authorities and globalization.

All of this added further stress to the environment, which has been groaning as a result of our mismanagement. This affects our capacity to live in harmony with one another and with the land (and water) that sustains us.

The system is broken and though it is tempting to point fingers and assign "blame" for the current state of affairs, that doesn't address the urgent needs of the most vulnerable.

God calls us to love one another and to care for those in need. How can we come alongside those who are directly affected by changing climate patterns?

I believe that there are three levels of response:

The first is to provide immediate assistance (in the form of food aid, programs designed to help mitigate the effects of climate change, assistance in adapting food production practices to get the best yields with the use of limited inputs).

The second level of response is to advocate for justice in the form of better policies and supports for the vulnerable.

The third is to recover our own sense of stewardship as we consider how we live, day by day.

Whatever you may think about the causes of changing climate patterns, and whether or not the scientists are correct in their dire predictions about the future of the planet if we do not make adjustments, Christians have ample evidence to be concerned and engaged in efforts to mitigate the effects and advocate for better approaches.

I encourage you to join with other people of faith who want to be part of the solution.

Lois Mitchell is director of international studies at St. Stephen's University in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Mosaic magazine - a publication of Canadian Baptist Ministries. It is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @cbmlois.

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Tags: Climate Change, Creation Care, Environment, Lois Mitchell, Stewardship


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