Is there a Christian perspective to Climate Change (CC)? If there isn’t, there should be, because Christians, at least notionally, constitute 50 % of the world’s population. Secondly, some of the worst polluters are industrialised nations that have a Christian history. Thirdly, some of the most densely populated countries in the southern hemisphere are Christian, and largely Catholic. In that sense, Christians would be directly or indirectly responsible for 80% of CC, and cannot shy away from that responsibility; guys like Donald Trump notwithstanding.
I am writing this in the post-Diwali cracker pollution in north India, where I live. It coincides with the stubble burning in the paddy fields of Punjab and adjoining States, causing the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Delhi and northern India to assume life threatening levels. This piece is being written in the small window between Diwali and Dubai – the Conference of Parties (COP 28) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate, beginning this 30th November.
I am not a specialist on the environment or ecology, hence shall refrain from quoting statistics and data, both easily available on the net. Besides, we can always be selective and manipulative about the data we quote.
The effects of Climate Change are staring us in the face, everywhere. We are told that global temperatures have risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius, post-industrialisation. A cold statistic (double entendre). Polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are receding, and sea levels are rising. Extreme weather conditions – storms, cold or heat waves are increasing, causing death and destruction. My wife, who has been working with “special” children for 30 years, noted another development. In and around Diwali there was a spike in the number of premature births. CC and the resultant jumping pollution levels are hurting all of creation, in more ways than we can imagine.
Yet there are some, or possibly many of us, who continue to live in denial mode, a la Trump, who is a great influencer in his own right (pun intended).
Many of us may have reconciled to the inevitable, a good excuse to do nothing. Others may be waiting for the Government or UN agencies to act. After all, what can an ordinary individual do to address the CC monster? Right? Wrong! Helplessness and passing the buck may placate our consciences, but that only aggravates the situation, for which each one of us is responsible.
Recently I read a cover story in a Christian magazine questioning Pope Francis’ plan to attend the Dubai summit. The illogical contention was simple – Why bother about CC because we are all going to die anyway? It’s like saying, why eat today, I’ll be hungry again tomorrow? Convoluted logic.
While addressing a recent meeting in Goa on Vatican II ecclesiology (the Catholic response to modern situations) some participants said that this was heresy. They only believed what is written in the Bible (gospel truth). Such thinking is not uncommon, especially among self-righteous Christians. As the old saying goes, “You can’t teach something to someone who already knows everything”! Since this article’s primary readership is Christian, we need to ask ourselves a basic question. Does a Christian have a fundamental duty to protect the environment?
I will start at the very beginning, to address a common misconception. Fundamentalist or conservative Christians quote the biblical passage, “God blessed them. Saying to them: Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of … all the living creatures that move on the earth” (Gen 1:28). This is from the very first chapter of the Bible and is used by the nay-sayers to claim their masterly right over all creation; and even to abjure responsible parenthood. These are dangerous assumptions that need to be squarely addressed. I see this as the biggest hurdle to be crossed; if at all Christians are to assume responsibility for CC.
Bible thumpers believe that this is the “undiluted” Word of God that brooks no argument. We need to deconstruct this misconception. I shall now extensively quote from the introductory notes to The New Jerusalem Bible that I use for prayer and study. For the benefit of Catholics let me state that it has a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur by Cardinal George Basil Hume OSB, then Archbishop of Westminster, on 18/6/1985.
Genesis is the first of the five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch. It is accepted in Judaism as the Torah and in Islam as the Toreth. To truly understand sacred scriptures, we need to study how, when and where it was written.
“The Pentateuch is an amalgam of four documents issuing from different places and times, but all much later than Moses (who was earlier believed to have penned the Pentateuch). Moses was a contemporary of Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II (1290 – 1224 BC) in the late Bronze Age. “The Pentateuch was probably committed to writing for the main part during the reign of King Solomon” (970 – 931 BC). “However, the Homo Habilis is dated at 2 million BC. The end of the second Ice Age, the development of food gathering, began in about 13000 BC; stock raising and agriculture began in 9000 BC, corresponding with the story of Cain and Abel”.
“The discovery of dead literature of the Middle East … show that many of the laws and institutions in the Pentateuch had extra biblical parallels far earlier than the dates attributed to them. For example, the story of the Great Flood is found in various texts and traditions, including in the remote tribes of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
Coming specifically to Genesis, we are told that “it falls into two unequal parts, where chapters 1-11 deal with primordial history … The first eleven chapters must be considered separately. They give a description in a simple, pictorial way suited to the mentality of unsophisticated people … The Genesis account of creation is using a scenario familiar in the poly theistic myths of the ancient near east”.
From the above we are constrained to conclude that what was recorded in the 10th century BC could never have been a “literal” documentation of events that may have occurred thousands of years earlier, more so when language or scripts had not even been developed. That being so, Christians cannot use obscure ancient texts, no matter how sacred, to abdicate responsibility. New wine requires new wineskins (cf Mat 9:17), as evidenced in contemporary church teachings.
These thoughts may sound heretical to some Christians. I run that risk, but I believe that there are many more Christians who will see sense in what I have just stated. So let me propose some practical suggestions. From biblical exegesis I switch to practical personal experiences, even at the risk of seeming egotistical. The reason is that my concern for the environment has been influenced by the example and words of others. In like manner I too fervently hope that my experiences may inspire or influence others too.
My first experience is of vermicomposting, using deep burrowing worms to convert kitchen and garden “waste” into organic manure. I produce 500 kgs every year. Secondly, when I shifted to a new house 20 years ago, I had a choice of developing an immaculate lawn with beautiful flowers, or growing oxygen emitting trees. I now have ten different shady or fruit trees. When I contracted Covid in 2021, I would lie in the shade of my oxygen generating ashoka and neem trees.
Birds also require trees, especially fruit bearing ones, as birds are part of the ecological balance. We therefore allowed a mulberry tree to come up on its own. We get to eat less than 5% of the fruit. The birds and bats enjoy the rest.
We talk about water shortage and rain water harvesting, then proceed to construct houses with concrete all around. We chose to leave all the open spaces earthen “kutcha”. Even in the drive way we placed flagstones on porous sand with grass growing in between.
For over 30 years I have been into organised retailing (no profits accrued). When the government raised an alarm about single use plastic, I began a scheme of giving out expensive jute shopping bags. When customers returned without them, I offered a cash discount to those who brought along their shopping bags. I always carry my own bag when buying vegetables and fruit.
I try to plant/ grow as many trees as possible. This rainy season I squeezed out space in my garden for two more trees. I have also eschewed all forms of disposable plastic or Styrofoam glasses/plates etc for both social and personal events. I never consume bottled/packaged drinking water.
These are but a few personal examples that I have shared in the hope that they may strike a chord with readers, who in turn will explore ways to curb pollution and CC. Where there is a will there is a way. We cannot claim to love the Creator, if we do not love Creation. This is the “Gospel truth”.
(The writer has been espousing environmental issues for the last 30 years. He may be contacted at email@example.com)