The subject of my letter last month was that of hope – a major, if no defining theme of Easter which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are countless examples of enduring hope and resilience in individual lives, even through the most extraordinary adversity – and we can only marvel at the strength of the human spirit.
But all this has to be placed in the context of recent reports which warn of impending chaos and destruction on an apocalyptic scale. Whilst there are still climate change sceptics, it is undeniable that there is an unprecedented consensus among scientists about the fact of global warming and that this is directly related to human activity. Climate science is inevitably inexact and there are of course statistical quirks which can be cited by those who wish to question the emerging consensus; but these voices are becoming ever more an unconvincing minority. It is now difficult to challenge the conclusion that our planet is warming, that the warming is being driven by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity and that the consequences are immensely concerning. It seems that whatever we do now, there are going to be serious impacts this century and well beyond, which we shall have to live with.
And alongside the impending crisis that is global warming is the growing concern about diminishing biodiversity. The report, published in May, of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, sponsored by the UN, claims that a million species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction; three-quarters of the world’s land and two-thirds of its marine environments have been “significantly altered” by human action; urban areas have doubled in size n just the past 30 years; more than 85% of wetlands have been lost; more than 90% of ocean fish stocks are being harvested at or above sustainable levels; and in the last 50 years the number of wild animals have fallen by 85%. We are not merely losing some interesting species, we are endangering the eco-systems necessary for human existence. Sir Robert Watson, who chairs the report writing body writes: ‘We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.’
But what t do?
From a Christian perspective, there are two principles which may help and inform us.
First, it is a conviction that our planet and all its resources are a gift from God; they are given to us both to enjoy, but also to steward – to look after and nurture. So it is not about being miserable, we are to live life to the full – but in doing so we have a responsibility to use what we have wisely and to care for it and respect it.
Second, in teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus (and later St Paul in his letters) speak about a radical inclusivity where everyone, indeed every created thing, is of ultimate worth and value. No one, nothing created, is outside the love of God and all living things deserves our respect. This demands that we drastically reassess the way that our actions impact upon others and upon the whole natural world. It also challenges us to focus on our self-serving interests which so often put our own needs and desires before the well-being of others. The fact that, over the last three or four decades, we have not adequately addressed the major issues facing us is testament to this failing.
So where is the hope?
The hope surely is in us, and we can all make a difference; the hope is in our young people who are demanding change. There are encouraging signs: people are walking and cycling or using public transport instead of their cars; people are eating less meat; people are much more aware of waste and the need to recycle; people are turning their thermostats down and insulating their houses.
As Jesus spoke about God’s Kingdom, he also spoke of the empowering Holy Spirit encouraging us to discover a new reality based upon justice and peace. It is this gift which we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday - 9 June this year. Perhaps there is a growing new realisation that rampant consumption is no longer sustainable; perhaps, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are at the point where there can be a real paradigm shift in our thinking and our behaviour which will put the well-being of all creation before our immediate desires.
There is hope, there is cause for optimism, but we need to act.