TODAY -

A study on climate change from Christian Theological - ethical perspectives

Pillarson, A.S. *



SUMMARY OF THE MASTER OF PHILOSOPHY (M.PHIL.) THESIS (SYNOPSIS)

Title of the Thesis: A STUDY ON CLIMATE CHANGE FROM CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL ETHICAL PERSPECTIVES.
By: Mr. Pillarson, A.S.

This dissertation consists of Four Chapters in addition to Introduction, Conclusion, Appendices and Bibliography. I will briefly summarize the thesis as follow:

INTRODUCTION

The Introduction very briefly explains the statement of problem, the importance of the problem, aims and objectives, scope and limitation, hypothesis and methodology of the research and some important technical terminologies used in this study. Our only one planet, i.e. the earth, is in grave danger.

Scientific community, says Christopher Spence, is now certain that climate change is a major threat to both human and non-human. The threat involved in climate change constitutes a real risk, and that rapid action is necessary to minimize it. The current debate of sustainability is mainly limited to the perspective of humankind.

Christopher Spence's view that "climate change is probably the greatest threat facing humanity in the twenty-first century" is shared by a score of other writers and climate scientists.

"Climate change is not only an environmental matter but is also correlated with more severe food shortages, loss of livelihoods, conflicts over land and water, increasing impoverishment and the forced migration of peoples, along with other economic and political crises" (Karen L. Bloomquist)

Emergence of Climate Change as a Global Issue

Climate change emerged as a serious scientific question nearly fifty years ago.
The issue related to climate change is a complex one.
It has become a controversial global issue.

Hundreds of environmental scientists have devoted their time in researching on the subject CLIMATE CHANGE - for some decades; however, its desired results are yet to be arrived.
Politicians have taken up steps to stop the dangers of climate change, yet their responses at the moment are not adequate enough to solve the problem.
As Anthony Giddens said, we do not have a systematic politics of climate change at the moment.
Climate change is a grave global concern, though "climate change deniers continue to exist" as Sallie McFague pointed out.
Paul Anderson is of the view that "It is time to move from denial to action".

Objectives of the Study:

To show that Christian theology and Ethics have important role to play.
To remind the Christians in general and Christians in India in particular the obligation they have towards climate change.
To denote that climate change has become an issue of human security.
To provide most up-to-date scientific findings and agreements/ treaty made on climate change.
To show the importance of studying climate change to all irrespective of different religions, nationalities and cultures.
Scope and Limitation This study is limited to Christian theological Ethical approach to climate change.
Review of Literature Literature review forms an important part of the thesis.

Methodology:

The research was mainly focused on anthropogenic (human made) climate change
It is based on the primary and secondary sources both published and unpublished materials, articles in Journals, electronic resources, etc. Examples of primary sources - the UN Report on climate change like the IPCC assessment of climate change Explained some of the technical terms used in the thesis: anthropogenic emissions, Climate Change, Global warming, Greenhouse Gas, Greenhouse effect, Mitigation, Adaptation, Theology, Christian theology, Ethics and Christian Ethics.

CHAPTER ONE deals with review of literature. The literature on climate change that has been set out are already large. So it was not possible to do review on all the available literatures on the subject under consideration. Thus a selective approach was employed while doing literature review, giving more importance to the latest ones. In this review, the sources have been organized thematically. This review serves as background information of climate change and the various issues involved in it.

CHAPTER TWO focuses on the context of climate change and scientific basis of climate change. This chapter helped us not only to situate climate change in its proper context, but also it enabled us to see the urgency to address this issue at any cost, because our survival on this earth matters.

Natural Causes of Climate Change Include:

Changes in the heat from the Sun
Variations in Earth's orbit around the Sun
Mechanisms within the climate system that lead to its variability (unpredictability/ inconsistency), etc.

Human Activities (human induced climate change)
The burning of fossil fuels
Deforestation
Greenhouse gases

Climate change may be due to Internal processes or external forcings. Examples of external influences are:

Changes in solar radiation (heat/rays)
Volcanism
Other external changes such as the change in composition of the atmosphere that began with the industrial revolution are the result of human activity.
Greenhouse gases that are increasing due to human activities are:
carbondi oxide (CO2) - Methane (CH4)
Nitrous oxide (N2O) - The halocarbons and The chlorofluorocarbond (CFCs)

Climate Change policy:

1960s - no attention was given to climate change either by the public or the politicians
1970s - when people start giving a little attention to it during the energy-policy debates, it was clear that human activities had the capability to change the global climate.
1980s - it was in the early 1980s that scientists and scientific organizations came to know that warning from greenhouse gases was the predominant concern.
-Due to several events suddenly climate change became politicians' top agenda.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change):

Responding to the scientists' persuasion for paying attention to the climate problem, the government established an international body called the IPCC to conduct assessments of scientific knowledge of climate change. IPCC's central claim is that global warming is human-made and that its effects will be catastrophic.

Policy Options of Climate Change:

Adaptation and mitigation are two major types of policy response to climate change, according to IPCC WG II Assessment Report 2007.
Mitigation simply means the act of reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions with the aim of slowing or preventing climate change.
Adaptation is the act of reducing vulnerability (weakness/susceptibility) to the effects of climate change.
Any action that changes the causes of climate change are mitigation related and any action that change the effect of climate change are adaptation related.
Whereas mitigation reduces the causes of climate change, adaptation is a reduction in the effect. Thus the clear distinction between the two is cause and effect.

The Future of Global Climate Change:

Future emissions will depend on global population trends.
As people become richer, they usually require more energy consuming goods and services, therefore, emissions will depend on world economic growth.
Emissions will depend on technological trends.
It will depend on policies to promote economic growth or technological innovation to influence energy supply or demand.
It will also depend on wide-ranging historical events such as wars, political transitions, or the emergence of epidemic diseases.

As Victoria Davion rightly pointed out the ideas that we whether from developed or developing countries are all responsible for the future of our planet, and that we all belong to one human family and when our only planet is in hopeless and useless conditions, we should do something about it.

Impacts of Climate Change:

For Suliana Siwatibau, impact of climate change include
A shift in vegetation patterns due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.
Disruptive internal migration within countries and international migration, e.g. the Pacifics.

Three Impacts of Climate Change in India for Nafisa Goga D'souza are:
Agriculture crop yields in India could be adversely affected by changes in temperature and concentrations of carbon dioxide
India's coastal regions a rise in global temperature will bring a rise in sea levels

The impact of hydrological changes will be very significant in Nepal, Bhutan and the Himalayas. E.g. Himalayas are the source of some major rivers of the region. In recent years, the hydrological characteristics of the watershed in this region have undergone substantial changes due to extensive land use thus climate change poses a threat.

International Response:

UNFCCC (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1994 which provides the legal basis for addressing the climate change issue and the overall policy framework.

The real basis for serious international involvement in climate change stems from an international conference in 1985 in Austria which was organised by:
the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and
The International Council of Scientific Union (ICSU)

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change):

The IPCC was then formed by the UNEP and the WMO in 1988 in a meeting in which the participant countries were 35 in numbers.

As a scientific body, the IPCC reviews and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change.

IPCC vs NIPCC: The two scientific bodies like IPCC and NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change) could study the same data and come to very different conclusions. As for instance, Anthropogenic Greenhouse Gas vs. Natural Causes.

On the most important issue, the IPCC's claim that "most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations, whereas the NIPCC reaches the opposite conclusion namely that natural causes are very likely to be the dominant cause.

In this study, the researcher subscribes to the standpoint and views of the IPCC that Climate change/ global warming is human-made and that its effects will be catastrophic.

The need of the hour is to exchange information and ideas between the policy makers and the research communities to enhance our knowledge pertaining to climate change.

Religious Response:

Religions and Secular leaders from around the world gathered at Windsor Castle in the UK to announce their action-based commitments to protecting the environment and addressing climate change on the 3rd of November 2009 which was co-hosted by the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).

Nine major faiths participated in that meeting: Baha'ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism or Taoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Shintoism.

Roman Catholics' Response:

In 1990, late Pope John Paul II described global environmental decline as an "ecological crisis." In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI warned in his address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences of the continuing threats to the environment which are affecting whole peoples, and the urgent need to discover safe, alternative energy sources available to all.

World Council of Churches' Response (WCC):

For the WCC, a response to climate change is primarily an issue of justice which requires the "overdeveloped parts of the world" to become more responsible for the deleterious (harmful, damaging) impacts of development. The scientists, politicians, economists, philosophers, theologians and thinkers of the contemporary world are more and more convinced that other faiths or religions also must involve fully in the fight against the climate change.

Two Main Avenues (a way or means) for Action:
Personal: a communitarian rather than individualistic view of humanity (Sallie McFague).
Politics: to elect representatives to our government who will create laws to limit human energy use at all levels.
Tim Flannery says, "If you vote for a politician who has a deep commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, you might change the world."

CHAPTER THREE discusses Judeo-Christian worldview and God-Human-World/Nature Relationship

Main argument here is that our view of the universe must be ecocentric (ecological view of the universe), not anthropocentric. In other words, in this chapter, attention was given to the discussion on the interrelatedness and interdependence between human and creation (nature) and their dependence for existence on God.

CHAPTER FOUR deals with Theological-Ethical Agenda:

The factors responsible for the Environmental Crisis like Climate Change: Over and above other factors, it has been identified that the rich nations, the developed, industrialised countries, mostly in the West, are mainly responsible for the releasing of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past 200 years.

The Task of Christian Theology:
For McFague, the primary task of theologians is to guard and encourage right thinking about God and ourselves (human beings) and our relationship with the nature/ creation.
For Angelos Vallianatos:
The question therefore is not what theology has to offer to ecology, but how theology could re-specify and re-orientate the world towards the overcoming of death.
Humans, endowed by the Creator with the gift of naming the animals, could be helped by theology to understand that as co-creators with God they are the artists of creation.

Church and Other faiths: As Sean McDonagh commented, Christian churches working together with people of other faiths Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists could create a moral climate that would make it easier for political leaders to urge the necessary sacrifices that this generation must make to protect creation for all succeeding generations.

Church and Climate Change: Sallie McFague talks about the need for ecological church. Michael Wood says that the churches have been, by and large, slow on the uptake when it comes to speaking up about ecology and global warming.

Ecological Ethics, Religions and Climate Change - Contribution which faiths can make according to Jakob Wolf and Mickey Gjerris include: Faith involves ethics, Motivation/ the will to do, To divide the right to emit CO2.

Theological Response to Climate Change: In our theological response to climate change, we are not to address the issue of injustice only. Climate change, for Paula Clifford, makes a double demand on us: first to recognize the link between human-induced global warming and poverty; and secondly to formulate a just response.

Anthropocentric vs Ecocentric theology : Both Kopstein and Salinger opined that our view of the universe must be ecocentric, not anthropocentric. We need ecocentric theology if we are to do justice to the climate which is given to us as God's gift.

Transcentance and Immanental: There has been too much emphasis on God's tranacendance. Thus Sallie McFague works out a way of thinking of God's transcendence in an immanental way.

Theology of Stewardship: For Sallife McFague, theology of stewardship means taking responsibility to care for the planet as our home.

Some of the Crucial Ethical Issues Involved in the International Climate Debate are:

Issues of equity, Issues of justice between rich and poor.
The motivation for taking care of the environment is love and not rational calculation and duty.
The government may make rules and policies to conserve environment degradation but if people do not have love and concern for the nature, it will be next to impossible to implement all the rules and policies being made.
Perhaps the global community has recognised that applying latest technology, politics and economics alone could not produce desired result to save the earth from climate change.
Theologians and Ethicists have begun to address the issue of climate change in their theological-ethical reflection. It is, thus, too early to comment on how much they have contributed towards the solution of the problem.
It is time that theology critically engages itself in self-questioning of its own in the context of climate change.

There are Christians who think that fighting global warming is waste of time. For the conservative Christians, environmental issue belongs to secular, and the church belongs to the sacred. David Atkinson argued that a more fully biblical theology of covenant and creation commits us to respond urgently to the question posed by climate change and such a response is centrally part of the meaning of the Gospel of a God who "so loved the world" (John 3:16).

The book of Genesis, Wisdom and the Psalms all teach respect for climate as God's gift. The point is this that neither theology nor the Church may silently watch the abuse of God's gift, the world itself, which is in danger due to climate change today.

ETHICALDIMENSION OF CLIMATE CHANGE

We tend to look to modern science and technology to solve most of our problems, including climate change, whereas many ancient societies all over the world survived well and maintained a balance with nature using their own indigenous technologies. For James Garvey the ultimate rationale for action on climate change cannot be simply economic, political, scientific or social, though no doubt our decisions should be informed by such things. Instead, climate change is largely a moral problem and thus humans have great responsibility towards this issue.

As climate change is a common responsibility, for it threatens entire humankind, Paul G. Harris urges the establishment of a climate change curriculum in all countries with effective and sufficiently funded educational systems. Climate change is a justice issue.

Ethical principles:
You shall love your neighbours as yourself.
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you (Matthew 7:12).
Do not kill.
Do not steal.
You shall not act immorally, etc.

These ethical principles found in different faiths of the world can to a great extent contribute to the discussion of the ethical dimensions of climate change.
If climate change is human made, then, we humans are ethically responsible.
Climate change is above all justice issue- justice between the rich nations and the poor, etc.
Michael Northcott: "Justice is the birthright of every human being".
Jesus' ministry focuses in establishing a just order (Isaiah 61; Luke 4: 18-19).

All these (our discussions) become important basis for theologians and ethicists to speak of not only socio-economic and political justices, but also of climate justice.

RELIGION and CLIMATE CHANGE:

Working together on political, economic and technological problems is not enough to solve the problem of climate change. In other words, science, politics, economics alone cannot solve the problem. Thus the need for involvement of faiths in combating against climate change is called for.

Religions can contribute with ethics to fight against climate change. E.g. taking care of the environment is love and not rational calculation and duty.

CONCLUSION summarizes the whole thesis. It also provides the following;
Critical evaluation
Findings
Future directions for research

FINDINGS OF THE THESIS:

1) The issue of climate change is a complex one, yet we cannot simply neglect this problem because it is a pressing reality of the twenty-first century. Neglecting it will amount to neglecting not only the present generations, but most of all the future generations.

2) We reaffirmed the findings of the IPCC that climate change is caused by human activities, though we cannot rule out the other factors caused by natural process.

3) Science, politics and economics alone could not solve the problem of climate change which calls for the involvement of different faiths in the world, but in this study we have limited to one particular faith: Christianity.

4) Christian theology has role to play: Christian theology need to be reoriented, i.e. the anthropocentric theology was detrimental to environmental crisis. Thus our theology should be ecocentric theology. Moreover, we also need theology of stewardship.

5) From the ethical perspective, we argue that climate change is a justice issue, thus we need to work out something basing on those ethical principles mentioned above.

6) No permanent solution is available for climate change because scientists and others are still working on it. Thus research must be continued on this subject. The researcher presupposed that there is solution for every problem humankind face in this world.

7) The researcher is of the view that both natural and anthropogenic problems have led to the climate change. It is, thus, presupposed that if people from all cultures, people from all walks of life, besides the specialists or experts in the field, collectively involve to fight against the threat of climate change, this catastrophe called "climate change" may be averted.

8) In a research carried out by Michelle Wolkomir, Michael Futreal, Eric Woodrum and Thomas Hoban at North Carolina State University did not see any negative impact on environmental behaviour due to dominion belief of the Judeo-Christian doctrine.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE DIRECTION:

Research must be continued on Climate Change, without neglecting the other global environmental problems like ozone depletion, deforestation, etc. Christian theology in the past was too anthropocentric. The anthropocentric theology was detrimental to environmental crisis, thus as a way to the future direction that theology should take, it is proposed that our theology should be but ecocentric theology. Moreover, our theology should be theology of stewardship.

Christian ethics and Christian theology need to employ the latest findings of science in theological-ethical reflections on climate change.

Name of the Research Scholar: Mr. Pillarson, A.S.
Academic Year: 2010-2011
Name of the Department/Chair and Institution: Escande Chair in Asian Christian Studies, School of Humanities, Pondicherry Central University, R. Venkataraman Nagar, Kalapet, Puducherry 605 014, India
Name of Supervisor: Fr. Dr.P.A. Sampathkumar, Centre Head, Escande Chair in Asian Christian Studies, Pondicherry University, Puducherry
External Supervisor: Dr. George Zachariah, Associate Professor, Gurukul Lutheran Theolgical College and Research Institute, Chennai, India

Dated: May 21, 2018.


* Pillarson, A.S. wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a Research Scholar at Asian Christian Studies, School of Humanities at Pondicherry University and can be contacted at pilarson(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on May 24, 2018.


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