Before I was ordained I did research into long-term climate change. Recently one of my ex-colleagues was telling me of the warming he saw while working in the Arctic. He described it as ‘unprecedented’. Reports of global warming are more than just anecdotal; there is sound evidence from temperature measurements around the world and from melting of glaciers and the polar ice caps. Climate scientists are very concerned about what they see. Most lay the blame for warming climates on human produced greenhouse gases such as the Carbon dioxide produced by burning oil, gas and coal. Some scientists disagree and claim some of the change is because of natural changes in the earth’s climate.
Politicians and businesses also have differing ideas about climate change and especially about what we can, or should, do about it. Some say that the scientists are conning everyone in order to get more grants to continue their work. They say that agreements like Kyoto are aimed at increasing the power of bureaucracies like the EEC and the United Nations and damaging free trade. They also point out a number of flaws in the running of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that stifle dissenting views.
The other side argues that some politicians, especially the Bush administration, are too closely connected with multinational companies to be unbiased. They also think that governments, particularly the USA, are suppressing research into, and information about, climate change.
Climate change has caused a large part of the Upsala glacier to melt.
The stakes are very high. There could be an environmental disaster of huge proportions, but we don’t know. Even if some global warming were due to a natural change, it would be wise to cut greenhouse gas production. In the words of the climate scientist Wally Broecker - climate is like an angry beast and it is unwise to provoke it with additional Carbon dioxide. If we do not alter the way we live what does it say about our Christian stewardship of this planet? Care of the earth is part of our God given responsibility. The church should be doing things. Our churches nearly all have south facing roofs; we could use them to generate solar power. Many vicarages are energy inefficient, we ought to invest in insulation, double-glazing and renewable energy. It is not just the church; all Christians should consider reducing the amount of Carbon dioxide they produce.
Climate change is likely to hit world’s poorest countries hardest. Parts of the world could become impossible to live in if they get hotter or drier. Sea level rise will affect poor countries like Bangladesh. Christians have a duty to the poorest people of the world. We cannot claim to love others if we are not prepared to make small sacrifices to help them. We need to help developing countries prepare for difficult times. These hard times will come even if we reduce greenhouse gases. So, in addition to cutting our greenhouse gas emissions we need to support charities that will help countries to prepare for global warming.
Our church life also needs to reflect concern about global warming. Harvest services could be a particularly good time to reflect on how global warming could affect food supplies. In Wales we can buy food from the rest elsewhere if our harvests fail. Christians need to think about those who can’t afford to buy food.
This is not just about energy but using our churches to help wildlife when the environment is getting more difficult. Churchyards are a great place for fungi and Abergorlech is one of the best, with a wide variety of different species. In Llanfihangel we are hoping to make use of the church field in a way that increases the diversity of habitats for plants and animals. This will involve cutting some of the field, leaving some as scrub, and creating a labyrinth that will have different heights of plants within it. We need to think about the needs of birds that could nest in our church yards and even our churches. As Psalm 84:3 says ‘Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God’.
If we don’t take the planet’s problems seriously we will be judged for our lack of love and stewardship. God will judge each of us, but the church will be judged by society. That makes the environment a missionary issue.