How many COPs does it take to arrest climate chaos?

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Written By Martyn Link
As the eyes of the world turned to Glasgow for the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) the question on the world’s lips was “can we keep 1.5 alive?”

For some of us this cryptic question may well leave us cold, I have heard some ask “why bother with trying to arrest climate change if the world will be destroyed by fire in the final judgement?” (2 Peter 3.10). Others point to the urgency of the Great Commission as a counter to the calls for climate change to be seen as a priority for the church.

So as the world raises the level of urgency to face climate change to fever pitch, should our response as Christians be to deflect this sense of panic towards their deeper, spiritual, needs? Perhaps in some conversations this can be an effective approach to pushing people to the ultimate finality of their beliefs. But I would suggest this should not be our first, or our overriding, response.

Being on the ground in Glasgow during COP26 there was an incredible sense of history being made on the streets of Scotland. Yes, not everything that activists were hoping for was achieved, but significant progress was made in a number of key areas around methane emissions, sustainable finance and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting.

In others areas it felt like we had stepped up to the precipice of seismic change and hesitated. Nations agreed the future of coal was down but not out and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out. It seems Business as Usual is still clinging on!

I had the privilege to hear Al Gore and John Kerry speak at events during the first week, and as I listened to their passion, their pain and their purpose I felt my heart strangely warmed. How can it be that often the most passionate speakers for climate change are those who have no love for the Creator? Perhaps their desperation drives them? Does our comfort and confidence that God will provide a new heavens and Earth bring a sense of complacency?

It is my deep conviction that those who should be the most passionate for creation are Christians, for out of everyone on earth we are the only people who have a genuinely divine mandate to steward and care for nature.

Seven times in Genesis 1 God tells us his creation is good, with the Creator pausing after each creative act to reflect on His work and appreciate it. Verse 28 is our mandate to steward society, verse 29 asks us to oversee flourishing flora and verse 30 to bestow our favour on the fauna.

Against this backdrop it is hard to hear that one third of all plant and animal species on the planet could be extinct by 2070. The world we were given to rule has been ravaged. Should we not wake up to our part, however small individually, in contributing to this tragedy? Should Christians not be at the forefront of demanding change from governments, businesses and society? Could we not do more collectively to bring real, tangible change to our communities?

When we really grasp the situation we are in it often leads to a sense of despair. Eco-anxiety is on the rise, especially among our young people. Into the chaos, conflict and confusion the need of the hour is for people who can bring a calm hope that there is a better future ahead. I believe this is when we get to speak into the deeper spiritual needs that exist in every created being, once we have established the emotional connectivity of a shared concern.

Hosea was someone who knew about conflict and chaos. Through a painful story of failure and futility God weaves a beautiful image of the final state of all things – a perfect unity between God, humanity and nature:

“It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,” says the Lord; “I will answer the heavens, And they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer With grain, With new wine, And with oil; They shall answer Jezreel.”
‭‭Hosea‬ ‭2:21-22‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
This powerful image of a reconciled people and a restored creation is what we all want to see. If we work so hard to try and change the character of people who we know will never fully experience this depth of unity in this life, shouldn’t we also see value in working to avoid large swathes of our planet becoming unliveable in our lifetime?
(The title for this article was taken from a placard that was seen during COP26)

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