Church and climate change

Apao Bunii *

 Aimol Khullen Baptist Church at Aimol Khullen, in Tengnoupal District of Manipur :: December 16 2014
Aimol Khullen Baptist Church at Aimol Khullen, in Tengnoupal District in December 2014 :: Pix - Daniel Chabungbam

The adverse impact of climate change, although discriminatory in nature, is a planetary crisis that knows no borders. Discriminatory because some people, especially those from poorer countries or regions are more harshly affected comparing to people from richer countries or regions. As many studies have suggested, climate change occurs mostly from unintended outcome of the industrial and agricultural processes that have accompanied economic development.

As a result, to many people, climate change is a constant process where there is nothing which can be specifically noted as 'normal climate' or 'average climate,' because it changes from year to year just as weather changes from day to day. Climate for them, therefore, always change between hotter and cooler periods due to variable factors and nothing to be alarmed of.

However, if we are to go by recent evidences and predictions, they indicate that climate change is accelerating and will lead to wide-ranging shifts in climate patterns. According to World Development Report, 2010 the average temperature on earth has already warmed by close to 1°C since the beginning of the industrial period (between 1900 and 2009).

Moreover, according to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2007, a consensus document produced by over 2,000 scientists representing every country in the United Nations, "it is estimated that prior to the industrial revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide was 280 parts per million (ppm). Today it is 391 ppm and rising by about two ppm each year".

The Fifth Assessment Report, 2014, of the IPCC reported that climate is rapidly changing due to what is known as greenhouse trapping. Assessment was also made that the global surface temperature by the end of the 21st Century may also likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to the 1850 to 1900 period for most scenarios and 2.0°C for many other scenarios.

Increase of world average temperature by 1°C may appear negligible but we should know that global climate is a complex reality. A small change in average temperature has ripple effects on ocean currents, precipitation patterns and other climate systems. It is already destabilizing the energy balance of the climate and spawning changes adverse to human beings and other species.

We began to witness low agricultural productivity, increase of health related problems, water scarcity, rising of sea level, rapid loss of wetlands, extreme weather events such as persistent droughts and flooding, off season rains, frequent hurricane storms and fearfully, rapid mass extinction of species.

A report published in Nature in 2004 concluded that a climate warming in the mid-range of current projections will by the year 2050 lead to the extinction of 15 percent to 37 percent of the species examined in the study. In all that, one important thing we need to admit is, climate change occurred due to human activities.

This is because increases in the concentration of green house gases in the atmosphere is resulted largely from burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, which led to an observed and projected warming of the earth, known as the enhanced greenhouse effect.

This is why many scientists regard "human-caused (anthropogenic) global climate change to be the most important environmental issue of our times" (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2004). This is also why as a human being, involving in mitigating the adverse impact of climate change not only for humankind but also for other biodiversity has become moral obligations.

Should Church involve in the fight for Climate Change?

Healthy biodiversity is essential to ecosystem resilience as it, biblically speaking, is the manifestation of God's Glory. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the rich diversity of earthly creatures gives humanity a glimpse of the beauty and glory of God. However human greed is leading to over-production which is depleting natural resources and climate to change rapidly.

So, when natural resources are degraded or scarce, the deleterious impact on an individual, group, or population is cause for concern, but even more than that, it requires corrective action and it is here that the Church is called upon to rescue God's creations from destruction.

Referring to the Bible, the very first chapters of the Scripture itself is unequivocal about the call for God's people to tend the earth. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Genesis 2:15. Creation in God's eyes was good, but at the same time he entrusted it to the care of woman and man.

Furthermore, "The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it." Psalm 24:1. In Revelation 11:18, it is said that we need to respect and treat our earth with care and those who abuse and destroy the earth will not go unpunished, for earth is not ours but God's own possession.

When God's creation is threatened, Churches are called not only to speak out but also do good works (Hebrew 10: 24, 3 John 1: 11) as an expression of commitment to life, justice and love. Every Christian has a divine mandate to be committed to actions that are geared towards climate change mitigation and adaptation and other.

Kathrine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and climate activist beautifully remarked, "If I say that I respect God, that I love God, and God has given us this incredible life-giving planet, then if I strip every resource at the expense of my poor sisters and brothers — one in six of whom die because of pollution-related issues, who are suffering and dying today — then I'm not somebody who takes the Bible seriously". She further noted "What kind of love is it when someone gives you such an amazing gift and you leave it in a smoking ruin?"

Let us join the Bandwagon

When the first Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was held, The World Council of Churches (WCC) participated, and later in that year published Redeeming the Creation. The book contains useful reflections on the Summit and other valuable insights, including a Letter to the Churches. Council delegates wrote, as they said, "with a sense of urgency".

Their words are stark: "The earth is in peril. Our only home is in plain jeopardy. We are at the precipice of self-destruction. For the very first time in the history of creation, certain life support systems of the planet are being destroyed by human actions". Later in the letter they stated, "You will understand why our hearts are heavy and why it is extremely urgent that we as churches make strong and permanent spiritual, moral and material commitments to the emergence of new models of society, based in deepest gratitude to God for the gift of life and in respect for the whole of God's creation".

An "Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation" was formulated in 1994 by the Evangelical Environmental Network in the United States, and while it reflects a different theological orientation, its content is broadly similar to other such statements. This Declaration acknowledges the degradation of creation, and lists land degradation, deforestation, species extinction, water degradation, global toxification, the alteration of atmosphere, and human and cultural degradation as particular issues. It then sets out four spiritual responses involving both attitudes and actions.

On December 19, 1995, the Seventh Day Adventist has put up statement for its members to fight for climate change and was approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Administrative Committee (ADCOM).

In 2000, the Interfaith Partnership for the Environment in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a volume called Earth and Faith, in which the environmental insights of many of the world's religions were summarised. The Director of the UNEP Adrian Amin wrote that "We … view the convergence of spiritual values and their respect for the environment as an inspiration for environmental actions today so that our succeeding generations may all be beneficiaries of a healthy planet and a development that is sustainable"

Association like the Evangelical Climate Initiative, Lutheran World Federation, The United Methodist Church and the National Association of Evangelicals of U.S. have accepted that climate change is anthropogenic, and in 2013 more than 200 evangelical scientists released a letter calling on Congress to address climate change. Many other protestant denominations have made serious commitments to combat climate change, and among them, the United Church of Christ prominently leads the way.

In its resolution issued in 2007, they declared the "Christian complicity in the damage human beings has caused to the earth's climate system," and in 2013, became the first denomination to divest from fossil fuels. Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Presbyterians have all recognised the problem of climate change an urge its members to live and act in more sustainable ways.

It is also worthwhile to note that in 2008, prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States with 16 million adherents, challenged the denomination's official stance by declaring that "humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contribution to climate change – big and small." The Baptist Union of Great Britain released a video with a strong statement; "We hope more Christians will gain a clearer picture of the human impact and moral urgency of climate change."

Catholic Church, the largest Christian group, has been vocal on environmental issues since 1990, beginning with Pope John Paul II. Just before COP21, or Paris Climate Agreement, 2015, Pope Francis wrote encyclical, prompting people of all creeds, at all levels of society, to join in the battle against climate change. His encyclical letter – Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home was regarded as one of the important landmark for religious group to fight for climate change.

In it, the Pope urged that "The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature," but at the same time "she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction". He also noted that "…living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. It calls us to care for creation and care for the poor. But there is an urgent message about climate change that we must get right and we must start now."

In this backdrop, Churches in India also have taken up the issue of climate change. Among the many initiatives, mention may be made of the first join campaign on climate change by the Church in Germany and India in March 2018, during Lenten season. 12 Points Green Protocol of the Protestant Churches, an initiative of the Church of South India could be another movement worth mentioning.

Even in Manipur, many Churches are leading the way; the Diocesan Social Service Society, Imphal (DSSS) under the Catholic Church, for example, is doing a tremendous job in this regard besides reaching out to thousands of poor people across the state. Churches under Manipur Baptist Convention (MBC) are also showing great promise where many work has already initiated. Nonetheless, there are so much more to do and Churches need active participation.

Why is the Church important in the fight for climate change?

One of the main emphases of the Church is love and care. If one is just emphasising on caring and loving humankind rather than inclusive of all other species, one is simply doing disservice to God and His creation. Moreover if we continue to reduce the Creator to an anthropocentric projection who privileges and protects only humanity, however alienated we may be from His created order, and neglect the care and redemption of other creation, then ultimately it will come back and hunt humankind where practice of religion will also become difficult.

Giving the fact that Christians in Manipur too share the vast expanse of beautiful landscape God has given; Christian leaders can play a crucial role in the fight for the adverse impact of climate change. Combating and mitigating climate change need not be something unreachable or obscure. We can start by simply following the three simple principles of Rs; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This can be done even by adhering basic conventional activities such as switching off excess use of electricity or water or opt for more sustainable way of living by working closely with nature.

The role of the Church leaders should not limit to educate the members but they must seek to inspire them from their heart to furtherance God's purpose and moral calling. The Church can gain deep understating of the local issues and build relationships based on trust within their communities and make use of their coordinating body (e.g. Diocese or denomination) to gain the credibility, respect and authority. In a state like Manipur, those are crucial to effect policy formation and implementation in the fight for climate change.

* Apao Bunii wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author can be reached at apaobunii(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 27, 2018.

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