Ezekiel 36.26 – about hearts of stone and flesh.

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Australia is burning. Our news sites and TVs are full of images described as apocalytic, extreme, horrifying and every other desperate descriptor. These images are from The Guardian on New Year’s Eve.  They were taken at two small, ordinary towns, Batemans Bay and Mallacoota, with people fleeing in terror from approaching flames.

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These scenes, and the knowledge that friends and relatives are inhaling hazardous air, worried about their homes and their lives, has rather put the little anxieties of post-Christmas (when shall we take the tree down? how will I lose the extra kilo or 6? how did I manage to forget my greatniece’s present twice?) into perspective. At the same time, I have been involved in a typical Facebook wrangle about climate change, all elliptical argument and missed points.  So this seemed like a good time to undertake a bit more reflection on this gravely important theme.

This report, The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges ,is rather a long read, but worth every minute. Authored by 5 eminent scientists – climatologists, oceanologists who are government and UN advisors – it analyses the pledges made under the Paris Agreement and their potential impact on the world. Amongst other things, it says this:

“As long as global emissions are not rapidly reduced, global warming will continue to accelerate.This means that we could be living in 1.5 degrees C world as early as the 2030s. As a result, weather events and patterns will continue to change, and will adversely affect human health, livelihoods, food, water, biodiversity and economic growth.

Weather events are the result of natural factors. A warming climate has altered the intensity and frequency of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and severe storms (or heavy precipitation) and hurricanes –both of which lead to flooding. Once-a-century severe weather events are now becoming the new norm.

These weather events influenced by human-induced climate change are becoming more frequent and intense. They are also becoming more costly. Economic losses and damages from 690 weather events were $330 billion dollars globally in 2017. These figures have almost doubled in number and in losses compared to 2005, when 347 weather events caused $274 billion dollars in economic losses worldwide –almost half of the economic losses were caused by Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

Because global warming is accelerating, the number and economic losses from weather events are projected to at least double again by 2030. That comes to $660 billion dollars a year or almost $2 billion a day within the next decade.

The world cannot afford these costs on lives, livelihoods and economic growth. This massive price tag is part of the cost of inaction.”

That is the economic argument. But for us Christians, and indeed for all people of faith, there is a more important imperative. Clearly and evocatively articulated in ‘Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical from 2015, the need is to understand that our despoiling of creation is not just an act of selfish economic vandalism, but also a sin. This is just a short extract from rather an excellent document.

“8. [Ecumenical] Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation:

“For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.”

As people of faith, it is absolutely incumbent on us to be good stewards of creation. As people of reason, able to think critically, it is equally incumbent on us to listen to voices of reason and expertise, and not to value our own opinion above research and knowledge. As people of goodwill, we have to try to see that this is an existential crisis which demands cooperation across boundaries – barriers of race, nationality and religion; and that it is the rich countries of the world that bear most responsibility. It is our responsibility, indeed our fault to a large extent,  retrospectively, in that we have created much of the problem by our compulsive over-consumption and greed; and it is our responsibility now, in that we have the resources of finance and research capacity to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Perhaps the appalling nature of what we see today in the beauty of Australia, alongside our own, lesser, changes (no winter yet in Latvia….) will finally, in this year of 2020, give us 20/20 vision and total clarity about the absolute imperative to really tackle this. Now, obviously, as most of us are not MPs, presidents, CEOs, or even Greta Thunberg, we are not going to be able to change the socioeconomic environment we live in. Clearly. But on the other hand, each of us can still be involved – campaigns, letter-writing, political pressure, Extinction Rebellion or whatever each of us chooses.

Concerned: Mothers have gathered outside the Conservative Party headquarters to protest

Those of us less able to be active, can perhaps donate to those who can be involved. And each of us can do small things, which in and of themselves will not save the planet, but which at least will lessen the harm. Zero Waste, buying fewer clothes, travelling less by air – consuming less, in general, for the affluent parts of the world would do much good for creation, and, indeed, for our own souls. And for those of us with a faith – prayer, proclamation, study – a gentler, simpler lifestyle. If nothing else, that will help to relieve our own climate anxiety, for while righteous anger is good and empowering, gnawing anxiety is bad and depletes our energy.

So here’s a profoundly beautiful prayer by Rabbi Daniel Nevins to conclude.

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Eternal God, You created the heavens and earth in love.

You fashioned plants and animals,

breathing Your spirit into humanity.

We have sinned against You by throwing off all restraint,

and we have sinned against You by rashly judging others.

We have sinned against You by plotting against others,

and we have sinned against You through selfishness.

We have sinned against You through superficiality,

and we have sinned against You through stubbornness.

We have sinned against You by rushing to do evil,

and we have sinned against You through gossip.

We have sinned against You through empty promises,

and we have sinned against You through baseless hatred.

We have sinned against You by betraying trust,

and we have sinned against You by succumbing to confusion.

For all these sins, forgiving God, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

We were created amidst a clean and pure world,

but it is now degraded in our grasp.

Not on our own merits do we beseech You, Adonai our God,

for we have sinned, we have wasted,

we have caused vast damage:

For the sin of filling the sea and land with filth and garbage;

for the sin of destroying species that You saved from the flood;

and for the sin of laying bare the forests and habitats that sustain life.

Please, God, open our eyes that we might see the splendor of Your creation.

Then we shall praise You, as it is written: “How great are Your works, Adonai! You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is filled with Your creations” (Psalm 104:24).

Remove the heart of stone from our flesh, and give us a feeling heart. Grant us wisdom and determination to safeguard the earth beneath the heavens.


What will we do (Part II)

…and this is the most difficult part, of course.

As far as the economic crises go, the two authors I mentioned (Rickards and Goodchild) have solutions to offer, one of a radical free-market nature, the other more of an ‘to each according to their need, from each according to their gifts’ concept. And just today, a video surfaced on my ‘Facebook interface’ – this by Paul Mason, a well-respected economic journalist and analyst. The video is entitled

capitalism is failing, and it’s time to panic

and it suggests that technology, combined with a willingness to share more freely without necessarily demanding payment for everything (non-market collaborative ventures such as cooperatives), may offer a solution. For those who might think that this is impossible, Mason says: “What is impossible is the democracy of riot squads, of oligarch-run political parties, of fiscal coercion by central banks, the surveillance state.”

What will happen to the global financial system in reality? Personally, I don’t have the faintest idea, and it’s all way above my pay grade. But respected and respectable commentators from many angles are saying that – whatever else –  the status quo is untenable.

The church world, indeed the world at large, has watched and listened in fascination to the words and actions of Pope Francis. Much of what he says is truly radical, especially in the context of Vatican politics and formalised religion. Not least, his Encyclical Letter this year, called

Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home

which has caused waves because of its tremendous outspokenness on the issue of – well, care for our common home, the planet that we live on and should be caring for. The encyclical tackles climate change, pollution, waste, inequality amongst other issues; and says

” These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”

So we are faced with this unpredictable future, with a whole complex matrix of interconnected problems which no-one really knows how to resolve, or perhaps has the political clout and courage to tackle radically, in the real sense of the word – from the root. And we are faced with the question – what will we do?

The New Statesman recently published an article which made me cheer through this depression, because it articulated so clearly how many of us feel. The greatest threat to Europe – to our way of life, our European values, our standard of living – is not migration, it is creeping fascism.

“Fascism happens when a culture fracturing along social lines is encouraged to unite against a perceived external threat. It’s the terrifying “not us” that gives the false impression that there is an “us” to defend.” (Laurie Pennie, New Statesman, 14 August 2015)

And that’s the thing: our culture may well be fracturing, but the real reason is all the above – financial instability, increasing inequality and sheer bloody poverty, climate change, pollution and all the rest of the unfairness that, basically, dying capitalism is forcing on us.

What will we do? Will be build higher and higher walls to keep migrants out? Will we put broken glass on top of the walls, and then barbed wire on top of the broken glass on top of the walls? Will we say ‘I’m alright, Jack’, and pursue our goals of comfortable life and massive over-consumption, no matter the environmental consequences?

“Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.” (Laudato Si’, para 51)

Will we continue to close our eyes to inequity, the ecological debt – to be blunt, the greed which blights our lives and those of the poor?

And as Christians – how will we square the circle of living in the comfortable West, knowing that there are human beings worldwide who are suffering NOW? One suggestion for migrants to Latvia, where I live now, is that our country should only accept Christian migrants. Why? To paraphrase Shylock, if we prick a Muslim, does he not bleed? If a Muslim mother loses her child in a suicide bomb, does she not weep? Do we not share a common humanity with all of God’s created children?

For me this is all still thought in progress. One thing I do know: tomorrow, 1 September, Christians throughout the world will be fasting, praying and reflecting on Creation.

On the 1st day of September this and every year, let us join in this global Christian observance, and let our prayer, fasting, and personal reflection lead to action and the shaping of lifestyles which enable us to walk lightly on “this fragile earth, our island home”, as an Anglican Eucharistic prayer describes our planet. (Bishop David Hamid’s blog)

Joining in one day of fasting and reflection seems like a very small first step, but still worth taking.