When it comes to the environment, Australia can be a confusing environment.
We know Australia is a place of both abundance and fragility. Solar energy is readily available at the neighbourhood level, and we’re pretty sensitive about water use — suburban Adelaide has had good water restrictions in place almost as long as I can remember.
And yet, at the national level, our agriculture has lent heavily on our waterways, and the coal industry enjoys extravagant support from our government. There has been a pretty clear picture coming from the scientific community for at least 25 years, but journalists and politicians have generally added more heat than light.
How can we navigate the issues as Australian Christians? I can recommend two key resources.
The first resource is a 50-minute seminar by Byron Smith, When Life Gets Hot: Following Jesus on a warming planet (185mb video). (Read more about it here.)
Byron begins by asking about the circumstances in which the church finds itself today. The gospel doesn’t change, but our setting changes — so, when we examine the idols of our world, and the plight of our neighbour, the picture that emerges will be shaped by our context. Today one of the critical aspects of our context is the state of the Earth.
The second resource is a book, A Climate of Hope: Church and mission in a warming world by Claire Dawson and Mick Pope. (The book also has a website here.)
The book begins in a similar way to the seminar, probing the issues behind the issue, and asking about worldviews. How do we get a handle on ecological truth in the first place? Before we talk science, what’s the state of our spirituality and theology?
Both resources show that this is not a niche issue, something to be left to the experts or activists, but an issue affecting all of us, an issue that must be addressed at the community level — and that to do so is more about our community’s everyday priorities and practices than simply parsing a scientific or political debate.
In other words, these resources don’t leave us to simply make up our own minds, but instead call us to do the work of understanding and taking responsibility in the setting of Christian community.
This is a ‘spiritual’ issue as much as an ‘environmental’ issue — although we all are beginning to learn that those were never separable things in the first place.
Both resources explore the ways in which we are all implicated as consumers. If the Earth is struggling, it because we ourselves are struggling, explains Byron:
Climate change is the visible manifestation of the consequences of human greed and hubris. Perhaps it started in ignorance, but by this stage it’s only continuing because of the refusal of certain powerful interests to walk away from profits and so, as such, it powerfully unveils and challenges some of our dominant cultural narratives, revealing the self-destructive cruelty of some of our most cherished idolatries.
So while this is something that should figure in our churches’ preaching, it is more than just a topic to cover or a point of ‘application’. It reveals the pivotal life issues of our times.
Imagine the church ignoring the people’s well-being during the Black Death. Imagine the church ignoring abolition during the Atlantic slave trade. It’s a bit like that if the church today decides to ignore creation care: it might be a convenient option but it’s not a good one.
Byron concludes by posing two questions:
- Will we love the Creator or participate in de-creation?
- Will we love our neighbours or serve ourselves?
Even if ‘the climate debate’ seems daunting, it has become clear that our society’s pattern of consumption has no real future. As a way of life, it is deadening and dying. With that reality in mind, we can begin to ask more of ourselves and begin to live differently.
Image credit: Gili Benita
Edit: This post was originally entitled What We’re Doing About What We’re Doing to the Earth
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.