We are likely to see longer fire seasons, worse droughts, and more frequent floods and cyclones if the earth’s temperature heats up by just 1.5℃. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicated we could be 10 years away from this becoming a reality.
In its most comprehensive report on climate change, the IPCC observed that, by 2050, humanity was on a trajectory to heat up the earth by 2℃, and called on policymakers around the globe to take urgent action.
The hotter the earth’s temperature, the more difficult it will be for humanity to survive, let alone thrive. These major climate changes also have the potential to negatively affect our agriculture, fishing and farming industries, impacting food supply worldwide.
It’s easy to be fearful of the bleak future painted by the report, and overwhelmed by the change it would take to reduce carbon emissions globally. However, understanding the place of creation and climate change in the Bible helps us face the future calmly.
Fear God, not the future
The Rev Dr Lionel Windsor says acknowledging God’s sovereignty over all things, including creation, helps us avoid despair and complacency. Mr Windsor is a New Testament lecturer at Moore College and the author of Is God Green?, which explores how humans should relate to God’s creation.
“Sometimes we need to be motivated by fear, but the problem is that ongoing human fear as a motivation doesn’t work long term, and ends in despair,” he says. “The flipside is complacency. We hear the doom and gloom and we say, ‘It can’t be true so I don’t need to care’ or, ‘God has it under control so I don’t need to worry’... [but] fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
“We do need to feel the seriousness of things but God is the one we fear first. That’s not a kind of fear that leads to despair or complacency, but it leads us to confidence, action and obedience. If you want to know how to act rightly towards creation, understand who God is. He does call us to account, but he is great and wonderful and sovereign.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know about creation but in knowing God, we can act rightly and responsibly towards creation.”
The right fear leads to the right action
When we consider where we fit in the doctrine of creation, and couple that with the fear of the Lord, we can form a healthy response to environmental reports.
“We are put in creation to work the garden and to keep it,” Dr Windsor says. “Our job is not just to do whatever we want with creation and make creation serve our needs, because we’re supposed to guard and keep creation. It’s for God’s purposes. But we’re [also] not just here to make sure nothing happens to creation either.”
He adds that human industry is a good thing and it can have consequences that are good – as well as negative consequences that, at first, we may not see or understand.
For example, “the coal industry is good, not demonic, and climate science is good inherently, it’s not demonic. But climate science tells us things about the coal industry we didn’t know when we started it, especially as our work in this industry has [grown]. Both are part of human wisdom and need to be incorporated in [this discussion]”.
Sin also impacts our relationship with creation, and creation itself. However, the fallen nature of the world leaves no room for complacency. “We all sin together and we bear responsibility together,” Dr Windsor says. “Romans 8 speaks about the future of creation being bound up with our future because the futility of creation is bound up with our sin.”
Drawing from Hosea, he adds that while we can’t undo the damage of the fall upon this world, repenting from sin has a positive impact. “Christians should inherently be repenting from sin and leading the way, and Christians have repented of the great sin of turning our back on the Creator… one thing we keep in mind is God’s sovereignty over creation. It makes us humble, and humility and the fear of the Lord lead to wisdom.”
Fear leads to love
Dr Windsor says a healthy fear of the Lord should lead Christians to love God and their neighbour, which will affect how we treat the world and approach environmental issues – “as long as we have a big view of love and we don’t try and limit it. One of the things about climate issues is that [they’re] complex. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it’s complex.”
The complexities of loving your neighbour can mean that sometimes a co-ordinated and organised effort is required, especially if campaigning for policy change at a government level.
“That’s why it [can] involve politics, and all those things are messy and complex and people disagree about how to do it… [for example] we need to think about having to use the massive benefits of technology responsibly. If we discover problems, if we use mining, computers, phones, we need to take responsibility corporately. Since technology has extended to this broad, complex thing we are all happy to use, our responsibility should [be] broad as well.
“Should we be committed to doing right by the world? Yes. But are we committed to having a particular view on how that happens? No. We’re not mandated by God to do that.”
Shift the focus from green to greed
Loving your neighbour can be simple at an individual level. When we examine our hearts, often greed is an underlying root cause for our actions. “You can do things yourself to put greed to death,” Dr Windsor says. “When did you last buy a phone? That’s a question we could ask – did we need the new phone? It uses a large number of resources. It’s not bad to own a phone, but can we do less and can we not be so greedy? If you can do that, it’s a large witness to others.
“The power that any company has comes from us as consumers… If we make a change, it might not make a huge difference but it will make a difference. At the same time, it is right for us to ask governments to put into place whatever [is appropriate so that] companies who act out of self-interest will have limits placed on what they can and can’t do.”
He observes that if we start to say individuals should “know” which is the most environmentally friendly tomato to buy, this is a “recipe for disaster”. However, “if you say that it’s down to the individual to put greed to death, whether or not we buy the right tomato, we’re going to be less greedy. In the end, we need to keep coming back to Jesus – what he has done and what he will do with our world.”