A recent study suggests that a glacier in Greenland with enough water in it to raise sea levels by half a meter, is starting to crumble. As Washington Post writer Chris Mooney notes, this represents a floodgate of ice into the ocean. Of course, scientists have been warning about this sort of thing for a long time. The suggestion that systems can get to a point where changes in response to warming accelerates are known as tipping points.
All of a sudden, our tinkering becomes obvious. All of a sudden, we can’t deny any more that the world is changing. Of course, some will continue to deny this reality, but it is clear that the concentration of carbon dioxide rising past 400 parts per million is due to human activity, and we need to stop now.
Christians view events through a theological lens, shaped by the bible, our faith traditions, and our wider culture. While no one lens sees everything clearly, some distort what we are doing to the planet more than others. Some Tuvaluan Christians, as Mark Lynas recorded in his book High Tide have had an optimistic view of God’s actions, based on a narrow reading of the account of Noah’s flood. Some have said, “We’re Christians. God will protect the island.” Another believes that “Only the Creator can flood the world” and “I believe in God – I don’t believe in scientists.”
Apart from some of the usual arguments about this story, the flood should be thought of as an act of uncreation, where human sin released the forces of chaos (the waters) under divine control and the waters divided in Genesis 1 are recombined.
More than 200 million people live within 5 metres or less of sea level. With at least 1 metre of sea level rise expected by end of century, the results are truly apocalyptic. Tropical storms producing more damaging flooding, enhanced erosion, and increased coastal salinity will all contribute to cause vast human movements, loss of ecosystems, etc. And sea level will continue to rise for centuries to come.
We know that there will be many other impacts. Even the approximately 1 degree Celcius we have experienced to date has been implicated in heat waves, droughts, fires, and paradoxically, heavy snow falls. With heat and water stress, crop yields are currently declining which will make feeding a growing global population difficult indeed.
It is easy then to think of this in apocalyptic terms. Famine, Pestilence and Death in particular ride out with climate change. Drought and possibly our warming climate has been implicated in the Arab Spring. Some might embrace the apocalypse, wanting the tribulation to come as it is meant to precede the return of Christ. However, reading Revelation like this is a recipe for disaster. We are not to sit back and watch the end of the world like some B-grade horror movie when we ourselves are the agents of destruction. This is not just bad theology, but bad faith.
Of course, Paris now reminds us afresh of other apocalyptic visions, with the spectre of War; an eternal war of non-nation agents against Western civilisation. All clash of civilisations rhetoric aside, the complexities of faith traditions, Western imperialism and Middle Eastern politics are messy and often left unexamined in the calls for vengeance. Rather than looking to hurrying the apocalypse by welcoming such a war, Christians are called to be peacemakers. This may not be exclusive of calls for justice, so long as the lens of justice looks everywhere, even deep into our own closets to find the skeletons there.
Part of this peacemaking, this divine shalom includes trying to make peace with our world. It is good that the climate talks will go ahead despite the recent tragedy. Christians need to embrace these talks, while neither expecting a secular messiah that will heal all wounds and save the planet or demonise it with mumblings of world government or the mark of the beast. The former ignores the role of the return of Christ to put all things to rights including the non-human creation, as I discuss at length in a recent book. The later is bad exegesis and shows us how often we fear challenges to national sovereignty not just by military invasion, but by limits on our own countries imperial ambitions. Nationalism is an idol that still dogs the modern world.
Christians can get behind this by supporting the People’s Climate March and marching as a congregation or denomination. I’ve been involved a little in the faith sub-group, meeting with other Christians and people of other faiths. For some Christians, involvement with other faiths or conservation groups is the slippery slope to syncretism and apostasy unless the sole goal is evangelism. And yet if the Kingdom of God is about peace and justice, then Christian involvement in such events provides the opportunity to work with others for shared goals and to articulate our unique hope.
I’ll be marching and praying for wisdom in Paris to prevail. But I’ll also be praying for an apocalypse of peace, love and justice – not cheering on destruction but hoping for restoration. Will you march with me?