God, Us, and Climate Change: Blog Action Day 2009

“It can be very easy to be radical, sacrificial or subversive for its own sake or to achieve a sense of self-righteousness.  But if we really believe that God calls us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of his creation, and if we really believe that the greedy exploitation of people and natural resources is wrong and sinful, then our mission is clear: we must fully engage in all aspects of loving our neighbors and caring for creation with everything God has given us.”   Ben Lowe

Happy Blog Action Day, everyone!  This year’s theme is climate change.  This, you may be surprised to hear, is very much related to the general themes of this blog.

One of the charges often leveled against environmentalists — especially, perhaps, Christian ones — is that they shouldn’t be working so hard to take care of the earth when there are so many people who need help.  (With things like, say, AIDS, or hunger, or war,  or … and so on.)  This is something I’ve thought and wondered about.  How do you balance care for the natural world with care for its human inhabitants?  The answer boils down to this: helping the earth IS helping people.

I’m reading a brilliant book right now called Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation.  It was written by Ben Lowe, who graduated a year ahead of me at Wheaton College.  (I met him a couple times: he’s a really, really nice guy, and incredibly smart.)  The book is profound, yet very readable discussion of why Christians need to care about the environment, and how they can put that concern into action.  As hinted at in the title, the author takes the position that we need to care about the earth, first of all, simply because it is God’s.   He discusses creation care in the context of God’s desire to renew and reconcile all things.

Towards the beginning of Green Revolution, the author carefully explains why the environment matters in human terms.  He makes a compelling case for this simple argument: if you care about poverty, if you care about hunger, development, peace, social justice — if you care about people — you need to care about the world people live in.  In short, “we cannot separate loving our neighbor from caring for the natural resources we all depend on to survive” (p. 42).

Problems like pollution and the effects of climate change have something in common with diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria: they disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable.  Ironically, the impact of irresponsible use of natural resources is often felt most by those who had least to do with causing the problems.  As Ben Lowe points out, rich, developed nations “are ‘exporting’ pollution to the developing world, where exposure to these pollutants is responsible for 20 percent of human disease” (p.25).  That’s shocking, egregious.

Climate change, in particular, stands to hurt the world’s poor the hardest.  For one thing, scientists believe the biggest and most traumatic changes will be felt in low-lying tropical regions — ie. in much of the Global South.  Many densely populated areas could well be submerged due to rising sea levels.  But there are also other, more subtle effects of climate change.  In the book, Ben Lowe talks about a time he spent doing research around Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, in 2006.  This lake, one of the largest in the world, is home to great numbers and diversity of fish, which are heavily relied on for food and economic activity in the surrounding communities.  But fish populations are going down, and scientists have discovered that warming water temperatures — the result of global climate change — are almost certainly at fault.  The author describes the pain and helplessness of talking to poor and frightened Tanzanian fishermen, whose livelihoods (and lives) were being put at risk due to environmental problems that had nothing to do with them.  He writes, “Seeing firsthand this example of how global warming is already affecting some of the world’s poorest people — the least of these — has had a profound effect on my life” (p. 77).

Beyond just describing some of the environmental problems facing the world today, Green Revolution is really a call to action.  Whether you read the book (I highly recommend it) or not, I hope this post and others this Blog Action Day will remind all of us of the importance of doing everything we can to care for the world and its people — or, I should say, God’s world and His people.

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~ by h.e.g. on October 15, 2009.

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