The ink is barely dry on the latest plan to deal with climate change. One can hardly claim that Lima was a resounding success, but it’s not a complete failure either. With 2014 looking to be the hottest year on record, very fast action is needed to keep a global mean temperature below 2°C over pre-industrial levels. Given that people are suffering now from less than 1°C, it is already too late to avoid some consequences of climate change. However, there is still time to avoid the worst of the scenarios. Lima at least commits all nations to act, even if the harder decisions are to be made in Paris in 2015. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking.
In Australia, things have looked pretty grim for those of us concerned about the future. While I’ve been encouraged as I have gone around speaking at churches and Christian organizations, our reaction in the public sphere has often been muted. There are sections of the church who could be showing much greater moral leadership on this issue. Climate change is an issue for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religion or politics. The reality of a drying continent, a longer and more volatile fire weather season and deadlier heatwaves does not discriminate.
Further, with the removal of the carbon tax here in Australia, an attack on the Renewable Energy Target, and the continued pushing of coal at state and federal level, we seem to be going backwards not forwards. It is heartening to see an about face on the Green Climate Fund, but it simply isn’t enough to play Good Samaritan when you are one of the robbers waylaying the innocent.
I believe it was climate change activist Bill McKibben who said climate change was too important to leave in the hands of the politicians. Why should our democratic participation be limited to voting once every few years? Of course, one of the charges made against organizations like the UN is that they are not democratically elected. For some on the far right of politics, the UN is some leftie plot designed to steal our sovereignty. For some Christian fundamentalists, the UN is a beast from the book of Revelation. In fact it’s neither, but another frail human institution that has delivered some good outcomes on climate (IPCC), health (WHO) and refugees (UNHCR). These organizations attempt to display the best of globalization, cooperation and human ideals. To thumb your nose at them is not some valiant statement of independence but nationalistic hubris – something both the US and Australia have been guilty of.
But Christians too are both international yet national, heavenly minded while committed to a place. As Claire Dawson and I were writing A Climate of Hope: Church and Mission in a Warming World, we wanted to tell both the global story of climate change and the theological story that makes acting on climate change an essential part of the Christian life. But we also wanted to talk about the story of political failure and the many smaller stories of ordinary Christians living lives dedicated to walking more lightly on the Earth, from community gardens to being arrested at a coal mine. A Climate of Hope is written for believers to show them how to move forward. We hope those outside the church we also see that inside the walls of the church is an ethical framework, a worldview breaking out that can do good, when perhaps too often the stories that have leaked into the media have been about those who have done ill.
And so as part of this having a voice in the public sphere, Common Grace is “Get Up for God Botherers”. It’s not that we don’t take part in what other organizations do; it’s just that we want to say that we are passionate about Jesus and justice, and climate change is a justice issue. It’s a justice issue because those who’ve contributed the least to the problem will suffer the most, people like Nicholas Hakata, an elder from Han Island, part of the Carteret group of island that are disappearing beneath the waves. Or people like my 12 year old son who will inherit a world unlike the one I grew up in.
On Thursday, a group of Jesus and justice junkies will deliver some crowd funded solar panels to our Prime Minister on behalf of many of us who chipped in a few bob. We really want to wish our Catholic brother Merry Climate… err, I mean Christmas. We think that solar panels are a matter of climate justice and a #MerryClimate for all. The narrative of a child on whose shoulders the government sits compels us to cut across the crass consumerism of Christmas which helps drive climate change and make a genuine gift to Tony Abbott. It is both peace offering (celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace as well as making peace) and a prophetic proclamation, pointing to new possibilities.
Common Grace means we believe Jesus loves all people, and so we are to do the same. If that means being chained up to block work on a coal mine no one needs, or buy a politician their own set of solar panels, or a range of different things – we think this is just the sort of cheek-turning, extra-mile walking kind of obedience the Sermon on the Mount asks of us.