What Does Climate Change Have To Do With Spirituality?
Paul Joshua Bhakiaraj is the husband of one wife and father of three children. A Commended Worker from the Brethren Assemblies, he serves as the Director of the Mylapore Institute for Indigenous Studies, a research institute dedicated to the study of Christianity in South Asia. Besides overseeing research and its dissemination through books and journals, including the Dharma Deepika: A South Asian Journal of Missiological Research, he also teaches at seminaries and is a popular speaker at various youth and mission conferences.View all articles by Paul Joshua Bhakiaraj
It was in 1988 that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to, as their website puts it, “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation”.
As with most intergovernmental initiatives the IPCC was not immune to political pressure from various quarters rendering its work less than persuasive to those who weren’t keen to listen. But a few days ago (2nd Feb 2007) in Paris the IPCC released a 20 page summary of a forthcoming report that seems to have garnered support from most if not all corners of the scientific and political communities – no small feat in and of itself.
The soon to be published four volume ‘Climate Change 2007: The IPCC 4th Assessment Report’ is reviewed by 2500 scientific experts, has 800 contributing authors, 450 lead authors from 130 countries and has taken 6 years to compile. This comprehensive report lays the blame for the alarming climate change we are experiencing at humanity’s door. With more than 90% certainty, the summary attributes this change to the harmful emissions from use of fossil fuels, namely oil and natural gas and to a lesser extent to the destruction of large tracts of forests.
Scientists affirm that carbon dioxide levels today are nearly 30% more than they were before the Industrial Revolution; the polar ice cap is now melting at the rate of 9% every decade; ice thickness in the Artic has decreased 40% since the 1960s; the rise in sea-levels is about three times the previous rate; category 4 and 5 hurricanes have almost doubled in the last 30 years. If greenhouse gasses continue to be emitted at this rate, average temperatures could rise from 2 to 4 degrees C. As IPCC Chairman and former director of The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi, Dr Rajendra Pachauri clarified, we have “already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”. Pachauri went on to urge that if humanity is to survive, “immediate and very deep” cuts in pollution are necessary.
In India we have been riding a wave of euphoria driven by winds of impressive economic growth – now said to be close to 10%. Such economic growth is characterised by increased production and increasing consumption, both of which rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels. While it is true in our case that the services sector leads the way, yet it does not mean that our reliance on fossil fuels is any less crucial. For example the growth of the automobile industry, which is directly dependant on fossil fuels, is spawned in large part by the success of the services sector. The hard fact is that chain reactions set off by growth invariably implicate our treatment of the environment. Yet another argument is that India’s contribution to present state of affairs is miniscule compared to other developed nations. While it is true that present levels of greenhouse gasses are the result of emissions of western nations 20-30 years ago, what prospect do we have, if we desire to maintain double digit growth, of doing any different? If the damage in the past is the making of the west, will the future be yet more unmaking by the east?
So what are the alternatives? Obviously it would be foolhardy to expect one to go back to the days of the bullock cart. To be sure one cannot entirely abandon reliance on fossil fuels for economic activity must go on. But if Pachauri words are to be taken seriously how can we cut emissions immediately and drastically? Wasteful use, for one, can be avoided. What are the areas you recognise wasteful use of energy? How could you alter those habits? That, you may say, is only a drop in the ocean! But isn’t the ocean made up of droplets of water? If large numbers do take action then we will most certainly make a difference. Besides acting we can also advocate greener lifestyles. What are the practical ways in which you could encourage your local church to promote greener lifestyles? As IPCC scientists emphasise though matters are rather serious we can begin to reverse the slide. But, they hasten to add, there is no substitute for stern and quick action.
For those who find that unconvincing another pertinent question remains: why do we need to think and act green? What does climate change have to do with spirituality? Right from the word go Biblical teaching underlines that creation was God’s handiwork and He considered it good! Stewardship of that good creation is then a divine mandate. In Gen 2:15 we see that Adam and Eve were given the task of working with God in tending creation. But as a result of sin we also recognise that creation groans in pain (Rom 8:22). The call issued to Adam to work with God is a call that is just as relevant to us here today.
We are called to tend and care for creation and help usher in God’s shalom into this fractured world. This is God’s world and His desire is that His children will be good stewards not only of their time and talents and treasures, which are essentially His gifts to us, but also of the world, another valuable gift of His. In that reckoning climate change has everything to do with spirituality. An unengaged spirituality that has nothing to say about climate change will neither be faithful to Biblical teaching nor fit for this world. In contrast a Biblically based spirituality will empower us be salt and light in this world being destroyed among other things by uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gasses.
Salt and Light are fecund metaphors for an engaged and constructive discipleship within the culture we inhabit. Salt preserves and light illuminates. As disciples of Jesus Christ how can we be S&L within the context of the grave threat that we human beings have posed to the environment?