Christianity and climate change

Two weeks of international climate talks in Bali marked by bitter disagreements and angry accusations culminated Saturday in last-minute compromises and an agreement to adopt a plan by 2009 to fight global warming. What role will churches, synagogues and mosques play in this crisis?

“This is the beginning, not the end,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Associated Press (AP) following the contentious climate conference, which went a day longer than scheduled. “We will have to engage in more complex, long, and difficult negotiations,” reports National Geographic

The New York Times reports disappointment with the outcome of the talks especially with the United States role:

The news from Bali was particularly disheartening. The delegates agreed to negotiate by 2009 a new and more comprehensive global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. (Kyoto expires in 2012 and requires that only industrialized nations reduce their production of greenhouse gases.) They pledged for the first time to address deforestation, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And they received vague assurances from China — which will soon overtake the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — and other emerging powers that they would seek “measurable, reportable and verifiable” emissions cuts.

From the United States the delegates got nothing, except a promise to participate in the forthcoming negotiations. Even prying that out of the Bush administration required enormous effort.

Can religious groups play a part in saving the planet?

The World Council of Churches weighed in at the Bali meeting with a call to address climate change with concern for the poorest and weakest – least able to cope with disasters.

On Tuesday, 11 December, conference participants and locals were invited to an ecumenical celebration followed by a panel discussion that featured a video-message from the archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. Giving proof of the intention to work not only ecumenically but also closely with people of other faiths, the celebration took place at a Protestant church which is surrounded by a Roman Catholic church, a Hindu temple, a Buddhist sanctuary and a mosque.

The delegation lead by Elias Abramides, a Greek Orthodox layman (Ecumenical Patriarchate) from Argentina, monitors the discussions at the governmental level. On Friday, it will present a statement to the plenary of high-level government representatives calling for a “paradigm change” towards the principle of precaution and priority for the poorest and weakest. The WCC also hosted a workshop on greenhouse development rights on Monday.

AlterNet sees a change among Christian denominations across the spectrum.

…despite the differences within and between religious communities in the United States, we are also aware of what joins us together. We share, among other things, a desire and most importantly a religious call to protect all of God’s creation. And increasingly, because of its severe, sweeping potential impacts, we have seen the need to come together to address global climate change.

From a religious perspective, global climate change is a moral crisis. Not only because it affects future generations and those around the globe, but because it will hit hardest among the “least of us,” the vulnerable communities and people in poverty across the globe. As a community that strives for justice, then, it becomes doubly important that we put our concerted efforts into addressing global climate change.

Blogger Byron Smith writes: Many people think of spirituality as downplaying the importance of the physical in favour of the ‘spiritual’. For Christian spirituality, the physical and what we do with it is spiritual, because it is God’s Spirit that brings life to all that lives. Or put another way, matter matters. He quotes Archbishop Rowan Williams:

“In order fully to access, enjoy and profit from our environment, we need to see it as something that does not exist just to serve our needs. Or, to put it another way, we are best served by our environment when we stop thinking of it as there to serve us. When we can imagine what is materially around us as existing in relation to something other than our own purposes, we are free to be surprised, educated and enlarged by it. When we obsessively seek to guarantee that the environment will always be there for us as a storehouse of raw materials, we in fact shrink our own humanity by shrinking what is there to surprise and enlarge, by reducing our capacity for contemplation of what is really other to us.”

Rowan Williams, Ecology and Economy lecture (2005)

Ekklesia reports here.

And Dave Walker comments here

UPDATE: Archbishop of Canterbury on youtube about the imperative of action as moral justice. Watch the video here.

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