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Address to General Synod

2017 was BP’s biggest year of exploration since 2004. Shell boasts on its website: “We have no immediate plans to move to a net zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years”

At Shell’s annual meeting in May this year, only 5.5% of investors supported a resolution calling on the company to set emission-reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

According to a 2017 report from ShareAction, Shell and BP’s ‘base case’ scenarios for business planning were both found to be ‘consistent with 3-5°C+ of global warming (source)

The world is on a trajectory to catastrophic climate change if nothing more is done. We need a much greater urgency in this debate grounded in a hope that things can change.

I sit as a member of the Advisory Board of the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute, one of the most respected global institutions for interdisciplinary study on these themes. I was asked to join the board 18 months ago in recognition of the key role that faith communities need to play in the change we need to see.

Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science at the ECI and closely involved in the IPCC. Myles has argued that the most important figure in the Paris Agreement is not 1.5 or 2 degrees. The most important figure is zero: we need net zero carbon emissions to stabilise global temperatures at any level: 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees.

We potentially need to reach net zero as early as 2050 if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met. Any company making 40 year investments that does not have a plan for net zero by 2050 is either counting on Paris goals not being met or neglecting its duties to its shareholders.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to see global peak carbon in 2020 and a reduction to net zero by around 2050.

Therefore the most important question to ask fossil fuel companies now is what are your plans for the reduction of carbon emissions to zero by 2050? What are measurable the staging posts along the way? How will you remain profitable through that transition?

I am sure that the period 2015-2020 (or thereabouts) is the right period for engagement. I am really grateful for all that NIB’s have done and for the Transition Pathway Initiative. The work has been outstanding. I think TPI will be needed for a long time into the future whatever the outcome of our debate today.

But there is a growing global community of churches, institutions and investors who are realising that engagement alone is not enough. Laboured and incremental change is nowhere near what is needed. Internal engagement needs to be combined with external pressure to make radical change.

We have a very serious ethical issue before us as a Church. Achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement requires 30% of oil and 50% of known gas reserves to remain unburned. If we continue to invest in these companies beyond 2020 we will be making money from practices which will harm the poorest people on earth and the planet itself.

The threat of imminent divestment beginning in 2020 is not an alternative to engagement but a vital part of that engagement. We will not be walking away. Engagement can and should continue by different means.

The Church of England has a responsibility to lead on this issue within the United Kingdom and internationally through the Anglican Communion. That moral leadership depends on aligning our investment practice and our lifestyle with the global vision for a net zero carbon world by 2050.

 

+Steven
8 July 2018

Further reading

Bishop Steven at General Synod

Time for divestment. Image of an empty fuel guage

A Presidential Address to the Oxford Diocesan Synod

“The world has woken up to the dangers of single-use plastic,” said Sir David Attenborough interviewed by the Daily Mirror a few weeks ago. He was speaking of course about the public response to Blue Planet 2, the remarkable study of the oceans broadcast here in the autumn and then across the world. Viewers were shocked by footage of albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic and a sea turtle caught up in a plastic sack, among other gripping images.

The BBC itself has now banned single-use plastic across the corporation. Plastic-free aisles are appearing in supermarkets. Care for the environment and tending creation is back, it seems, on the national and popular agenda.

The first step in the responsible stewardship of creation in the 21st Century is to accept that the activity of humankind is shaping and changing the very ecosystem of the planet. The volume of discarded plastic in the oceans is choking marine life. The volume of greenhouse gas emissions is leading to a critical rise in global temperatures which leads in turn to dramatic shifts in climate and rising sea levels. Deforestation on a massive scale, caused by humankind, leads to soil erosion which leads to changed weather patterns, which leads to mass migration which is felt across Europe and shapes our political life. Christian Aid has reminded us this Lent that there are 40 million refugees in the world displaced within their own countries.

Humankind is no longer simply one of a number of species on the planet, our fragile and beautiful home. We are the dominant species. The global population stands at 7.6 billion and rising. Our collective need for water, energy, food and our waste are reshaping the planet we inhabit.

In the 21st Century, the Church of Jesus Christ should be at the forefront of tending creation and care for the beauty and life entrusted to us, ensuring that the world can sustain life for future generations. Such is the crisis facing our world, that in the 21st Century, the tending of creation should be at the forefront of the witness and mission of the Church.

In the story of Genesis, God places the man and the woman in the garden to till it and keep it, for the blessing of the earth, not its exploitation. Paul makes clear in Romans 8 that the mission of Christ is to the whole of creation, which groans in labour waiting for the freedom of the children of God. The best-known verse in Scripture, John 3.16 reminds us that God so loved the world, the cosmos, whole of creation that he sent his Son to save it.. The fifth mark of mission of the Anglican Communion goes beyond conservation to restoration and undoing the damage we have inflicted on God’s world. We are called “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.

Rubbish accumulates, seas rise and people are displaced and global temperatures rise further year by year. Yet still, there is a lack of energy across the Church and society around this agenda. In 2016 Pope Francis published his great encyclical, Laudato Si’, a letter to every person on the earth pleading for a greater urgency in tending creation.

Pope Francis appeals to his namesake, Francis of Assisi. St. Francis reminds that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. He writes:

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth itself, burdened and laid waste is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor. She “groans in travail” (Romans 8.22).

Francis quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict: ““The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts are so vast”(LS217). Francis sets tending the earth at the front and centre of our discipleship and calls for an ecological conversion of individuals and of communities (LS216-221). It is this call to ecological conversion which I want to us to reflect on in this Synod and across our Diocese today. What would it mean?

We are exploring as a Church our call to be a more Christ-like Church: contemplative, compassionate, courageous. A sense of creation runs through the Sermon on the Mount. The meek will inherit the earth. We read of salt and light; of the earth as God’s very footstool; of sun rising and rain falling. We are asked to pray each day not for abundance but for just enough, for daily bread. Jesus calls us to open our eyes and look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He draws lessons from pigs and pearls and wolves, from grapes and thistles, from sand and storms and wind and rocks.

Tending the earth is rooted in contemplation of Scripture and of creation. In Psalm 8 we read: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them”. Creation stirs us to awe and wonder and mystery and wise stewardship of the earth.

How are we to care for the earth unless we have taken time to contemplate its beauty and reflect the beauty and order of creation in our worship?

As we look and listen and ponder, we are drawn then to compassion, to mourning and lament for the wounds of God’s creation. Our looking needs to go beyond gazing at the night sky to the science of our climate. Our gaze needs to pass beyond what can be filmed and shown on our screens to the invisible gases which are causing the rise in global temperature. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases cannot be seen but we can measure and see their effect. Climate change caused by human intervention is a present reality. We feel it least in this temperate climate. For our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world, the effects of climate change are a daily reality. In South Africa, there is severe drought in the east of the country and extreme weather in the west. In Polynesia the oceans are rising. If the world does not take action the human suffering and environmental costs will be incalculable.

In 2015, the nations of the world made an historic agreement in Paris to work together to seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels. The Churches and other faith communities have been at the centre of raising awareness of these issues. Our influence across the world is hugely significant, much greater than we think it is. The Church is a global community of people facing common issue of climate change from the perspective of justice and compassion.

Ten years ago, long before the historic Paris agreement, the UK’s environment agency asked 25 leading environmentalists what most needed to happen to limit climate change.

There were 50 suggestions. Second on the list, behind improving energy efficiency was that religious leaders should make the environment a priority for their followers because of the enormous potential influence for change. Imagine the impact if we were truly to do that in this diocese.

Out of a global population of 7.6 billion just 1.1 billion people are secular, non-religious, agnostic or atheist. The remainder belong in some way to one of the great world faiths. 31% of the global population is Christian. 22% belong to Islam. It is our responsibility to give a lead. Together we exert enormous influence as consumers, as shapers of opinion, in our lobbying and voting, in our investments. This is not an issue which will go away or which we can afford to leave to others.

For those reasons we need to move from the call to be contemplative and compassionate to be courageous. We need to deepen the action we are already taking to tend creation for the sake of the whole earth. The ecological conversion needs to be expressed as ecological discipleship.

What are we doing already and how might we deepen and our engagement with this dimension of God’s mission.

Roger Martin and Sally Osberg offer three ways churches, charities, businesses seek to change behaviour and culture: social service provision, social activism and social entrepreneurship. We need to be active in each of these three areas.

Social service provision is part of the life of every parish church. There are people who care passionately about the environment who are already part of our parishes and deaneries and who give freely of their expertise. Martin and Margot Hodson, who work in this area, argue that the parish church itself is an inherently green concept. The more people engage and do things in their own communities, the less energy they use, the more they encourage local skills and businesses. Our Department of Mission is working to connect those who are keen to be a resource in this area through the Earthing the Faith network and make them known to local churches.

As a Diocese together we consist of more than a thousand churches, schools and chaplaincies across our three counties. We are a major consumer of energy and a major source of influence in every community.

I am delighted that the Archdeacons are inviting every Church to switch or consider switching to green energy, to consider an energy audit and to register for the Eco-Church programme. We are putting in place a support programme to help parishes with all of this which will be made known in the next couple of months. This programme is being done in conjunction with the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment – though it will apply to the whole diocese – and through them we have already secured over £17,000, including funding from the Beatrice Laing Foundation, to subsidise these energy audits and to help churches implement their recommendations.

There are already several Eco-Church award winners in the diocese (including in Holy Trinity Headington Quarry, St John’s and St Stephen’s in Reading and St Andrew’s, Chinnor and some fantastic environmental projects in schools. St. George’s Washcommon is one of the first carbon neutral churches in the country.

Cafeplus in Haddenham is a fresh expression of Church with an environmental focus and holds clothing, book and plant swaps, bike services and MOT’s and apple pressing in the autumn. In Wargrave, the church has formed Friends of Mill Green to manage a community space in an environmentally sustainable and friendly way. In Owlswick close to Monks Risborough, the church gained grants to install a composting loo together with disabled access to the toilet and the chapel. St. James Finchampstead won a Church Times green award in 2017 for their biodiversity project. The churchyard project at St Mary and St John Cowley has had a positive impact on the local community. There are too many good stories to tell and to celebrate in one morning. Each is making a contribution. But we can do more.

Social advocacy is vital. I am the patron of a small charity, Hope for the Future, which trains and helps local people lobby their Member of Parliament and local councillors on climate change and environmental issues. We held a training day on advocacy with Hope in the diocese last year and more are planned for 2018. Christian Aid are asking people to ask their banks to disinvest in fossil fuels. We have a motion before us again this morning asking the Church Commissioners to set an example through their investment policy to phase out fossil fuels, to adopt renewable energy in line with the timetable set by the Paris climate change agreement. I’ve spoken to several people across the Diocese who have been inspired by Ruth Valerio’s campaign to give up single-use plastic for Lent. Already this is changing the way people shop and creating conversation both within and outside the church.

We are all aware of the number of new homes which will be built across the Diocese in the next decade. What are we doing to engage with the developers to ensure that they are built to the highest environmental standards for the sake of those who will live in them and for the sake of the earth?

Finally, we need in this area as in others to go beyond social service and social advocacy to social entrepreneurship: to encourage good sensible green businesses which keep jobs on the land locally and for the benefit of the local community. There are many green businesses in the Diocese also which develop green technology which is used very widely.

I shared in my first Plough Wednesday in January organised by our rural team. First stop was the Mapledurham Estate, just north of Reading: managed for a generation to create and keep jobs on the land and in the local economy.  Land which cannot be used for farming has been developed in other ways as a golf course, a centre for paintballing and other outdoor pursuits.  The impact has been significant.

We were introduced for the first time to an anaerobic digester.  Slurry from the cattle goes in, along with maize grown on the estate.  Electricity comes out along with dried residue which is ploughed back into the ground as fertiliser.  Back down the hill then to the working water mill using the energy of the Thames to generate clean electricity.  An essential part of the shift to renewable energy the world over is the move from a few large power plants to many different smaller sources.

As we will hear later in this Synod, there are many different ways in which we are called to work out what it means to be Christ-like: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. One which has emerged consistently in our listening across the Diocese is the urgency of environmental care, the call to tend creation. An essential mark of God’s mission is to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. May Almighty God give us grace and strength to give this mark of mission the priority it deserves and needs and a sense of urgency in our task as we live as disciples of Jesus Christ in this earth, our beautiful and fragile common home.

+Steven Oxford
17th March, 2018.

Last week I had the immense privilege of speaking with about 50 senior climate change negotiators from all across Europe and the developing world.  I spoke personally to lead negotiators from Sudan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Sweden, Bulgaria and Fiji. Everyone I spoke to affirmed the reality of climate change affecting their country through drought or extreme weather events.

The negotiators were in Oxford for three days for an annual conference which gives them the chance to get to know each other outside of the detailed pressure of negotiations.

The occasion was a dinner in Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History.  We dined among the dinosaurs and alongside the dodo.

The Museum hosted a famous debate in 1860 as one of its first events between Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford and Thomas Henry Huxley, later known as “Darwin’s bulldog”.  The debate centred around faith and science in opposition to each other and in particular Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published a few months earlier.  The debate is commemorated on a large stone at the entrance to the museum.

The dinner last week looked back to this debate and focussed on the climate change and the approach of the faith communities and of scientists.  I was there as the present Bishop of Oxford.  Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change spoke for the scientists.  There were also contributions from Professor Paul Smith, Director of the Museum and Professor Benito Muller, Managing Director of Oxford Climate Policy, for the philosophers.

Unlike 1860, all parties were agreed that we must do all in our power to use our different insights to combat climate change for the sake of present and future generations.

After dinner there was an address to the delegates from Fiji’s Ambassador to the European Union on Fiji’s priorities as it takes on the Presidency of COP23, the UN Climate Change Conference which takes place in Bonn in November.  More on this here : http://newsroom.unfccc.int/cop-23-bonn/

My favourite photo of the evening shows the ambassador speaking under the Tyrannosaurus skeleton: a reminder that life on earth can change radically and of the urgency of climate change action.

The contributions were filmed and will be posted on the conference website in due course.  My own remarks are below.

Here are five compelling reasons why you should engage with faith communities in your role as senior climate change negotiators.

First and foremost because faith communities make up the majority of the global population.  Ten years ago, long before the historic Paris agreement, the UK’s environment agency asked 25 leading environmentalists what needed to happen[1].

There were 50 suggestions.  Second on the list, behind improving energy efficiency was that religious leaders should make the environment a priority for their followers because of the enormous potential influence for change.

Out of a global population of 7.1 billion just 1.1 billion people are secular, non religious, agnostic or atheist. The remainder belong in some way to one of the great world faiths.  31% of the global population is Christian.  22% belong to Islam.

Within Europe Union 72% of the population still claim some sort of adherence to Christianity.  Just 20% would claim to be atheist or secular though there is considerable variation across the continent.  What the churches and faiths teach on this subject matters.

Second faith shapes values and lives in powerful ways.  The Christian faith helps people aspire to virtue, to living as God intends and often against personal self interest and for the sake of others.  That is exactly the attitude the world needs to combat climate change.

The most powerful line in the Lord’s Prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread”.  It is often misunderstood as a hook on which to hang our petitions: the things we ask from God. Actually it is a prayer which points back to the worshipper: help us to be content with exactly what we need this day: “Help us to be thankful just for what we need to stay alive”.  The Lord’s Prayer is the most powerful antidote to greed and consumerism the world has ever known.

Third the faith communities are global communities.  We are conscious in the Christian Church of our sisters and brothers across the world.

I am looking forward to visiting South Africa in September with our link Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman.  Many local churches and dioceses have these international relationships.  In one of our sessions we will be studying climate change.  When we listen to the news about the disproportionate effect of climate change on the poorest in the world, these are our sisters and brothers.

Fourth, our feet are are dancing to a different song (or they should be).  There is a close connection between the global economic system and climate change.  The planet cannot sustain continuous expansion in energy consumption.

Increasingly the world of politics and economics dances to a single tune: continuous economic growth and expansion.  We need alternative ideologies to support a more sustainable world.  The faith communities have an alternative ideologies – a different authority: in the case of Christians, the Scriptures and the person of Jesus Christ.

That ideology understands the connection between our inner and outer life.  Pope Francis is one of the few contemporary figures able to write a letter to the entire world – his great encyclical Laudato’ Si.  One of the most telling quotations in his letter is from Benedict his predecessor: “The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts are so vast”.

Our external ecology is connected to our internal ecology.  Faith communities nurture that inner life and offer a different song and strength to resist.

And fifth, faith communities know how to take action for change.  Christians are called to be disciples: always learning.  We understand the world is imperfect.  We are committed to making a difference.  We know or we can learn how to mobilise others to achieve common goals.

I am the patron of a small campaigning organisation, Hope for the Future.  Hope was founded in 2013 by a small group of churches in Yorkshire and specialises in equipping local churches and other faith groups to lobby their MP’s on climate change issues.  Last year Hope for the Future trained over 1,000 people in our lobbying approach.

Through our training and one to one support, we have impacted over 100 climate conversations between MPs and their constituents this year.  We know from feedback from local churches and from MP’s that Hope makes a difference.

The anthropologist Margaret Mead said this.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.  I suspect that most of us will know that quotation more from the West Wing that from Mead herself.

Faith communities are places where those small groups of thoughtful and committed citizens are found.  We are not perfect.  We are not uniform.  But we are communities of hope whose values lead us to work for change, not against the findings of science but in tandem to bring about a more sustainable world.

For more on Hope for the Future see http://www.hftf.org.uk

For more on combatting climate change in the Diocese of Oxford see https://www.oxford.anglican.org/mission-ministry/environment/

[1] As reported by Jo Ware in the Church Times, 11th August, 2017.

This is a key week for the future of the earth.  The Climate Change talks in Paris are seeking a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming above 2 degrees.  Many experts believe our target should be more ambitious still: to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees only.

The weather, rather than the climate, was making the news last weekend with the dreadful floods in North West England and South West Scotland.  Extreme weather events are just one symptom of global climate change.

Most years in this season I try and write a new hymn or song as the verse for my Christmas card.  Writing the verse helps me to begin thinking about the great themes of the Christmas season.  This year I have tried to focus on the gift of creation and the earth, our fragile common home.

The first chapter of John’s gospel is always read in Church at Christmas.  John 1 speaks of the creation of the world through God’s Word (or reason) and of God’s Word taking flesh to live among us in Jesus Christ.  John 1 echoes the beautiful words of Genesis 1 where God creates the heavens and the earth, separating sky from land and sea (“In the beginning….”).

The new carol in turn echoes both of these Bible passages.  I’ve also used a couple of phrases taken from the recent letter of Pope Francis on climate change, Laudato Si, which is subtitled: “On care for our common home”.  The letter speaks powerfully about discipleship and care for the created world.

Finally, I’ve set the hymn to the well known tune: “The King of Love my shepherd is” – music many people link with God’s love and care for all the world.

You’re very welcome to use the words as a prayer, as a song you sing by yourself or one you use in Church.   As you pray, remember those caught up in the dreadful floods this past weekend and those working hard in Paris to prevent the warming of our world.

Creator of our common home
And maker of such wonder
You crafted fire and sky and stone
Dividing seas asunder
In love you set the earth in space
In joy ordained its pathway
Filled earth and sea and sky with grace
That we might praise you always
We turned away your gift of life
Polluted all you gave us
The land was spoiled, we favoured strife
Lives turned away from goodness
In Bethlehem you gave your Son
Creator in creation
To win us back and call us home
Revealing your salvation
The Word of God took human form
Eternity in person
Reason and love came to transform
God’s gift for our conversion
Creator of our common home
Redeemer of such mercy
Sustainer of all life on earth
To you always be glory.

+Steven

As churches across the Diocese prepare to celebrate Harvest it’s worth pausing to think about a momentous event in world history which took place last week at the United Nations.

World leaders gathered from every continent at the United Nations in New York.  The purpose of the meeting was to agree the new Global Goals, or the sustainable development goals for the next 15 years.goals

The media didn’t give the occasion that much attention.  ITN led that night with Pope Francis’ visit to the 9/11 memorial rather than his time at the United Nations.

But it was a really significant moment.  Fifteen years ago, the United Nations agreed the Millennium Development Goals.  They were shorter, simpler and very effective. The MDG’s have had a huge impact in helping to reduce extreme poverty, improving health and education and in helping women and girls across the world.

The new Global Goals have emerged from an international three year process of listening.  The UK government, led by the Prime Minister, played a really key role.

There is huge ambition here.  According to the UN document: “Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda”.  And again, “We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet”.

The goals are more comprehensive this time.  There are 17 goals and 169 targets.  They are therefore less catchy but much more realistic.  They recognize that all kinds of things are interconnected in tackling poverty.  They are also goals for every country not simply for the developing world.  The British government has promised to implement them alongside governments in Africa and Asia.  There is a much stronger emphasis on building strong, honest, robust governments and institutions as well as on aid and generosity.  There is a strong slogan which focuses on helping the weakest so that no-one is left behind.

There is now a massive challenge ahead in bringing the new Global Goals to the attention of the whole world.  I hope parishes and schools across the Diocese will play their part in that process.

As we celebrate Harvest together as Christians, we give thanks to God for the good things of the earth.  We will focus on sharing what we have and on the care of creation.  It is a good moment to remind each other of the new Global Goals and this common vision to end poverty once and for all.

For more information see https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

+Steven

Combatting Climate Change: the Paris Summit and the Mission of the Church

I am very grateful for this debate, for the work done by the Environmental Working Group and the lead given by Her Majesty’s Government that we heard about earlier.  I wholeheartedly support all parts of this motion.  Together with other northern dioceses, Sheffield has supported the Hope for the Future Campaign, which has been one of the campaigns encouraging lobbying of MPs and candidates which continues its work.  I want to address my remarks especially to what used to be clauses (d) and (e) and are now (e) and (f).

As Chair of the Ministry Council I wholeheartedly support the call of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network for programmes of ministerial formation and in service training which address this issue, and I will willingly ensure there is an audit of the way ordinands and others engage with these issues in the coming year, and I expect to find a great deal of good practice already in our Colleges and courses.

Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, calls for nothing less than an ecological conversion of individuals and communities, and I love that phrase ‘ecological conversion’.  He quotes Pope Benedict: “The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast” and he writes “a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion.”

The strength of Laudato Si’ is the deep rooting of the environmental crisis not in some esoteric branch of theology but in the centre of the Christian vision of God and the earth, the centre of what it means to be human and the centre of a theology of hope.  Limiting carbon emissions is absolutely vital but will not in itself address the whole problem.  The environmental crisis, as we have heard, is also a social crisis and a spiritual crisis and the roots of this crisis lie, according to Pope Francis, in what he calls the omnipresent technocratic paradigm, in the cult of unlimited human power and in the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s immediate interests.

So I am cautious about a new branch of theology called eco theology and a new branch of ethics called eco justice.  We simply need to rediscover the ecological imperatives at the heart of all Christian theology and all Christian ethics, and set these perspectives at the heart of all Christian formation in catechesis, in schools, in local churches and in all forms of ministerial education.

One of the pieces of work I have done over the last few years is on the Lord’s Prayer and I have become more and more convinced that the petition ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is not a petition for God to give us things but it is a petition to learn contentment in all our lives and in every day that we ask each day only for enough for that day.  Thank you.

I received a letter last week from Pope Francis.  So did you.  The letter is addressed to the whole of humankind, not only Roman Catholics and not simply Christians.  Francis writes “I wish to address every living person on the planet” (2).

The letter addresses the profound danger the world faces from environmental deterioration: the destruction of Sister Earth, our common home.  The title of the letter is taken from Saint Francis’ beautiful canticle, Laudato Si’, Praise be to you my Lord – best known now through the English hymn, “All creatures of our God and King”.

Francis plea is for the whole human family to come together at this key moment in our history to seek sustainable development across the earth.  The letter describes what is happening to our common home: an accelerating process of decay.  He draws attention to pollution on a massive scale; to climate change which threatens to change life on earth for ever, to acute water shortages, to the loss of biodiversity.  The letter draws out the clear consequences for human life and the breakdown of human society.  All of these developments heighten and increase inequality across the earth and disproportionately affect the poorest nations.  The poor should be at the heart of our concern for the environment and the two cannot be separated.

The world faces immense problems rooted in the misuse of the earth: “never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years” (53).  And yet: “it is remarkable how weak international political responses have been” (54).  The letter is a wake up call to a complacent world.

Chapter Two of the letter set out a clear and detailed basis for Christians (and others) to renew their commitment to the earth rooted in Scripture and the doctrine of creation:

“The entire material universe speaks to us of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.  Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God” (84).

Chapter Three explores the human roots of the ecological crisis.  This is where the letter becomes far more than a call to recycle or reduce our carbon footprint.  The abuse of Sister Earth is linked in a profound way to our way of understanding human life and activity.  Our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.  We have placed ourselves at the centre of the universe, as masters of creation and failed to understand in a profound way what life is for.

A better and more profound understanding is needed.  At its heart is the concept of the interconnectedness of life caught by the phrase an integral ecology.  We are not isolated individuals but part of the larger universe and in a particular place within it.  In Chapter Four, Francis explores environmental, economic and social ecology, cultural ecology and the ecology of daily life.  These three central chapters on the theology of the environment, on the roots of the crisis in our misunderstanding of what it means to be human and on a better vision are immensely rich and creative.  The quotation which best sums up these chapters is from Benedict XVI:

“The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast” (152).

Evironmental degradation is a consequence of the human condition, not an accident of it.

In Chapter Five, Francis turns to lines of approach and action.  These are to be rooted in Christian hope and the expectation that things can change.  He highlights, as expected, the importance of dialogue on the environment in the international community and the forthcoming Climate Change conference in Paris.  But Francis highlights as well the importance of more local dialogues and local politics and the call to bring economics politics, science and religions into the conversation at every level.

In the sixth and final chapter, the letter turns to what we ourselves can do.  “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal” (202).  We are to be partners not observers in this conversation.

Lifestyle is key as we each learn to live sustainable lives.  Education is vital in schools, homes and seminaries.  Francis coins and uses the term “ecological conversion”: part of our discipleship is recovering our responsibility to the earth:

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to the life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (217).

But individual action is not enough.  Love must lead us to political action as well, to act in hope to renew the mindset of the world and reform our stewardship of the earth.

Laudato Si’ is a profound and helpful document and I commend it to you.  Last week our Archbishops and other Faith Leaders signed a renewed Lambeth Declaration calling for all people of faith to recommit themselves to the care of the earth and action on climate change.  On 17th June, 10,000 people took part in a mass lobby of Parliament organized by the Climate Change Coalition (which includes our own Hope for the Future campaign).

Next month one of the key debates at General Synod will be on combatting climate change, the Paris Summit and the question of climate change and investment.

Each of us needs to take seriously this aspect of our discipleship: our ecological conversion.  Care for the environment is one of the major issues of our age.  How will you engage with all that it means and help your church, your parish, your school, your local council and your government do the same?


Some links and resources:

The Encyclical Letter, LAUDATO SI’ can be found here.

The Church of England General Synod document on Combatting Climate Change and the Lambeth Declaration is here.

The Christian Aid report of the mass lobby of Parliament is here.

Hope for the Future’s website and campaign details are here.

blog-steven-croft-1How should a Christian think and speak about climate change?

Climate change is a present reality not a future threat.  It’s a present reality for millions of the poorest people in the world who are affected today by rising sea levels, by changing weather patterns, by water shortages and violent storms.

On Saturday, Hope for the Future offered a training day in Sheffield for Climate Change ambassadors.  It was a privilege to be there.  Hope for the Future is an ecumenical, nationwide campaign to encourage and equip individuals, churches and groups to lobby their MP on climate change.  Further details are here:  http://www.hftf.org.uk

2015 is a key year for Climate Change campaigners.  Action to prevent climate change has to be global to make a difference.  This year, there are a series of key international conferences and meetings.  The UK has the potential to play a leading role in all of these, whatever government is in power.  Now is the time for the churches to speak out.

The different aid agencies and charities have formed the Climate Coalition (http://www.theclimatecoalition.org).  Big things are planned for Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks time.  Pope Francis is to issue a major encyclical later in the year.  Christian Aid, Tear Fund, CAFOD and others are all mobilizing their supporters.

But what will move us to take action?  One of the most helpful stories to reflect on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  Almost everyone knows it.  A man is travelling down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He is set upon by robbers and left for dead.  Over 66% of the people who travel down the Jericho Road that day see the problem but they do nothing about it.  They pass by on the other side.

meetingThe Samaritan is different.  He sees and is moved with compassion.  Compassion moves him to action.  That is exactly the journey many of us need to take in respect of climate change.  We need to see what is happening and its consequences.  We need to be moved with compassion.  We need to take action: in campaigning for change, in changing our habits and in encouraging others to do the same.

What helps people to make that change?  Jesus tells the parable to answer a lawyer’s question: who is my neighbour?

Think about it.  People in the Philippines, in Bangladesh, in Bolivia, in Malawi, affected by climate change today are my neighbours.  The generation now being born, who will live through enormous climate trauma if we do nothing are my neighbours.  To love them means to take action, to do something.

My full reflection on the Good Samaritan is available here.

For ideas on what action to take please go to one of the websites above.

Hope for the Future have partnered with Operation Noah to deliver a second training day in London on March 14th exploring our Christian call to climate action. This will include contributions from Bishop Richard Cheetham, Our Voices and CAFOD.  More details on the website.