Responding to Climate Change

Monday 10 July

At #Sligo17, Stephen Trew led a seminar looking at our Christian response to environmental issues.  Here VOX magazine brings you a summary of what he had to say.

I have an environmental background.  I studied Environmental Sciences in Queens and I currently work for the Dept. of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland. But I’m not an international speaker or author.  I am just an ordinary Christian. But a couple of years ago something changed in me.  I reached a tipping point and I became an environmental activist.  I don’t mean a clown that would join a protest and try to get arrested.  I mean someone who would join a protest to stand up for what it is right. 

So what led an ordinary Christian guy to turn to activism, to writing a blog and to tweeting every day about this?

See the Problem

The first step is to see the problem. I saw a graph measuring temperature and greenhouse gasses in the Antartic.  Over hundreds of thousands of years the temperature has fluctuated but over the last 150 years CO2 levels have shot up by 30%, methane has increased by 300%.  We are heading towards serious trouble.

“I have always understood that once we reach the 3 -4 degrees range, humanity’s survival on this planet will be put in jeopardy.” - Petteri Taalas, World Meteorological Organisation.

This graph stirred something in me but it was an event in 2013 that really provoked a gut reaction.  8 November 2013 the most powerful storm ever to make landfall devastated the Philippines.  It killed thousands, left 2 million homeless and caused 2.8 billion of damage. It was a “game changer.” 

Yet, we continue to put 90 million tons of global warming chemicals into the atmosphere every day.  More powerful storms are fuelled by CO pollution and extreme events become more and more common.

In Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and southern Sudan, 16 million people are suffering from famine.  Why did this happen? Climate change >> drought >> failed crops >> political unrest >> conflict >>  famine.

When you see the problem, it is like putting on reading glasses.   You can see clearly.  The thing about climate change is that it hits the poor hardest.  It is not a problem of the future, it is a problem of today. 

Understanding the Theology

When you see and understand the problem, it can spark something in you.  What fans that spark into flame and a burning desire to act?

As Christians that drive to act is the work of the Holy Spirit.  When we see the problem, we can then turn to the Bible and see how can it help in our journey to cause us to act.

This is what happened to me.  I am an evangelical. Reaching out to the lost is vital.  I’m a big fan of the Alpha course.  Nothing thrills me more than seeing someone coming to know the Lord. 

But in the kingdom of God, we are also called to minister to the poor.  (Matthew 25: 34- 36)

The Lausanne Movement spells out the call for mission and evangelism in today’s world and their declaration calls for integral mission that has equal concern for people, social and creation: “All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.”

This leads us to Creation Care.  The Bible does not begin at Genesis 3 or end at Revelation 20.  The Bible begins with creation and ends with the new creation.

Genesis 2:15 tells us, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  Part of the mission of proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel is to care for creation.

The Church of Ireland has five marks of mission:

  • To proclaim the Good News
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need in loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation
“Of all the global threats that face our planet, this is the most serious.  Our whole planet is in jeopardy.  Crisis is not too dramatic a word to use.”  John Stott.

Care of Creation is not a liberal theology.  It is about understanding the whole gospel and what integral mission means and how that is part of the kingdom of God.  It is a gospel issue!

Recommended Reading:  “Hope in the Age of Despair”

Looking for Solutions

This is a gigantic problem.  We need to understand the problem. I have learnt that time is short if we keep on producing emissions at our current rate.   Scientists estimate that 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground if we are to keep below the carbon thresholds. We must move quickly away from fossil fuels to a low carbon future.

And there are solutions to this problem if we can get governments and institutions to change direction quickly.  In recent years, the price of solar panels has dropped by 50%. Yesterday, in China they opened a new solar farm in the shape of a giant panda.  This solar farm will save 1 million tons of coal from being burnt.  If we go big, there is hope.  We live in exciting times.  The change that is going to happen over the next 30 years is bigger than the industrial revolution. 

Choose to Act

What tipped me into being an activist was the realisation that there are things you can do that will have a greater and more profound impact than personal choices. We need to look at our sphere of influence and see how we can influence decision makers.  Each one of us is a small cog in a big machine.  In your church, you are connected in to that congregation but that congregation may also be connected to a wider network or denomination.   You can affect change even as a small cog.

I am part of the Church of Ireland.  In 2014, a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines.  The Bishops’ Appeal raised €186,000 to help the victims.  But at the same time, I discovered that the Church of Ireland was investing in fossil fuels. 

Fr Edwin Gariguez a Catholic priest in The Philippines said, “Now is the time to break the stranglehold of fossil fuels over our lives and the planet. If it is wrong to wreck the planet then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart.”

We need to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I decided to take action.  But what could an ordinary parishioner do?  That year in 2015, I was elected onto General Synod.  I spoke to a bishop friend and I challenged the church about its investments in fossil fuels. 

I wrote to the Church of Ireland Gazette.  Also I got some motions past at the diocesan synods… the decision makers read those! God can move through these structures.  I also used social media.  Four bishops were on twitter and I decided to follow them, to like their tweets and reply to their tweets. 

Around that time, I discovered that they (the CofI) invested in ENI and I discovered they were opening up a drilling in the Arctic.  I contacted one of the bishops and it went straight to the decision makers meetings!  We need to speak truth to power, to communicate through established and new channels.

I organised an event and invited my MP.  The people who were important got the message.  You can connect with the decision makes and begin to influence them. 

When we started, four of the top 10 Church of Ireland investments were in fossil fuels.  In 2016, they excluded coal from the list. In 2017, they excluded tar sands and also they divested from 70% of investments in Oil and Gas.  They released a new policy on climate change to increase green investments and divest fossil fuel investments.  The single biggest investment was in a company called Kinder Morgan (gas pipeline) earlier this year, they divested those investments.  You can make a difference..

As individuals can influence the decision makers.  I will continue to hammer on to the church of Ireland about the solution.  We need to move our money away from investing in the pollution problem and into a renewable energy!