Image Credit:  Snopes

The latest development in world politics is the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, a voluntary, non-binding covenant signed by 195 of 197 countries that are members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  As for the two countries that didn’t sign the agreement, Nicaragua didn’t sign because there were no provisions in the agreement to punish countries that did not comply and Syria didn’t sign because they are currently in the middle of a civil war.  The US withdrawal will officially take effect on November 4, 2020, which is, coincidentally, the day after the next presidential election is scheduled to take place.

You may believe that climate change is real.  You may believe that it is a hoax.  For believers in Jesus, however, there are some things on which we can agree: 

  • Creation belongs to God, not to us
    • “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.  The world and all its people belong to him.” (Psalm 24:1)
    • “The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all.” (Psalm 89:11)
    • “But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens.  For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.” (Psalm 50:9-12)
  • God cares about creation
    • “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the cloudsYour righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths.  You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.” (Psalm 36:5-6)
    • “You take care of the earth and water it, making it rich and fertile.  The river of God has plenty of water; it provides a bountiful harvest of grain, for you have ordered it so.  You drench the plowed ground with rain, melting the clods and leveling the ridges.  You soften the earth with showers and bless its abundant crops.  You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.  The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture, and the hillsides blossom with joy.  The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain.  They all shout and sing for joy!” (Psalm 65:9-13)
    • “They all depend on you to give them food as they need it.  When you supply it, they gather it.  You open your hand to feed them, and they are richly satisfied.  But if you turn away from them, they panic.  When you take away their breath, they die and turn again to dust.  When you give them your breath, life is created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:27-30)
    • “‘Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?‘” (Matthew 6:26-30)
    • “‘What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.'” (Luke 12:6-7)
  • God commands humans to care for creation (for even more specific commands about taking care of creation, see this post)
    • “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’  So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.  Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.'” (Genesis 1:26-28)
    • “Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth.  All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror.  I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.'” (Genesis 9:1-3)

Therefore, whichever position believers take on the climate change issue, we can agree that we are to become partners with God as we take care of God’s creation.

Another Consideration

Believers can also agree that the Lord is concerned about justice.  In Isaiah 61:8, we read these words: “For I, the Lord, love justice.”  God is especially concerned for:

Regardless of whether we accept that our planet’s overall climate is being impacted by human actions, it is difficult to argue that human presence has not affected our planet — and not always for good:

  • We have witnessed the extinction and near-extinction of certain species through the destruction of natural habitats, over-hunting/over-fishing and poaching, and the introduction of invasive species and hybridized species (both accidental and intentional).
  • We have witnessed environmental consequences caused by industry such as the Sydney Tar Ponds in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; multiple oil and chemical spills on land and at sea; and nuclear disasters at Chernobyl, Ukraine, and at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan.
  • We have witnessed the health and environmental problems caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.  One doesn’t have to travel too far to see air, land, and water pollution and its effects on humans, animals, and the overall environment.

The poor tend to be those most affected by environmental problems.  Unlike the wealthy, the poor cannot afford to move away from an unhealthy environment.  In fact, the poorest of the world live in slums where sanitation and waste removal are minimal, if not non-existent.  The poor are often the ones who work in unhealthy and unsafe environments as well.

The poor often do not have access to clean water.  Their food security can be affected if invasive species destroy crops or grazing areas or if biodiversity is affected in a way that prevents crops from growing (i.e. when deforestation reduces the growing area available for shade-grown crops traditionally grown by a particular community).  Environmental pollution can prevent crops from growing properly; normally healthy food can become unhealthy because of environmental contaminants taken in as they grow.

Other aspects of social justice come into play as well.  Racial inequities mean that non-whites make up a high proportion of the world’s poor.  Unfortunately, non-whites have greater difficulty obtaining relief, aid, and insurance compensation when disasters strike (for example, compare the response after Hurricane Katrina with the response after Hurricane Sandy).  Gender inequalities also mean that women (and their children) are a high proportion of the world’s poor and are, therefore, disproportionately affected by environmental problems.

The rights of indigenous peoples also come into focus during discussions of environmental issues.  The traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples are closely tied to the environment, which means that indigenous cultures themselves are threatened when the environment is damaged.  Treaty and land rights are supposed to give indigenous communities an opportunity to have a say in how traditional lands and their natural resources are used, but large corporations can use considerable resources and influence to pressure governments (including indigenous governments) into accepting detrimental long-term environmental and health consequences in exchange for economic development.  The long-term systemic oppression of many indigenous peoples has caused them to lack the finances, knowledge, and skills required to adequately protect their traditional lands from harmful environmental practices.

Conclusion

We dishonour our Lord when we ignore environmental issues, especially when we consider that environmental damage usually leads to injustice for the poorest and most oppressed people groups in our world.  In this light, environmental protection becomes one of the ways that believers can display the Lord’s concern not only for creation itself but also for those who are the most helpless against injustice.

How will you work toward environmental justice locally and around the world?

 

Additional Resources

  • A quick Google search will come up with lots of resources and ideas for how you can do your part to protect the environment
  • Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate is an interesting read from a Canadian author that discusses how our capitalist economic model is affecting our relationship to the environment
  • I’ve included the Spring 2017 edition of mosaic magazine from Canadian Baptist Ministries below, which includes articles about caring for creation both locally and globally and about how CBM is helping in areas affected by environmental disaster

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