January 2006 Anglican Church Letter
Keith examines the "myth" of Global Warming
Global warming certainly seems to be having an effect around here. As I write just a few days before Christmas, I am thinking of the extraordinarily bright (if cold) weeks at the end of November. I am thinking of the heavy frosts we have had in the past couple of days. But, as I look out of my window I can see a row of old oak trees along the edge of the wood - a couple have now lost all their leaves, but several still have many leaves on their branches. I can not remember ever having seen oak leaves on the branches into December! We have just been told this was the warmest (other reports said the second warmest) year in recorded history.
The recriminations abound. Some scientists say this is probably a natural cycle, although most are apparently convinced that it is caused by the extraordinary explosion and continuing acceleration in the burning of fossil fuels in the past two hundred years or so. Does this argument actually matter - except to environmental and climate historians? Surely the more important questions should be as to what is going to happen to the environment(s) in which all God's creatures live and what (if anything) should we and can we do about it?
There seems to be a consensus that reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could slow down the process of warming even if it cannot now reverse it. If we think that the effects of the warming are harmful, then surely we should all be able to agree that we need to reduce the carbon emissions for which we all bear some part of the responsibility. The other challenge, of course - and, of this we hear very little - is to plan for the effects of the overall warming of the earth's atmosphere. If countries like Bangladesh and large areas of Indonesia and Holland and . . are to disappear under the sea, then we really ought to start to think about it now. Maybe someone somewhere is thinking about it, but I am reasonably sure there is no evidence of it in the popular press. Is there actually a plan to transplant the Bengalis from their flooding homeland to the thawing expanses of unpopulated Siberia?
There is a Christian perspective to this and I am bound to try to be aware of this and to ponder on it. All Christians and many non Christians are very familiar with the words of the Lord's Prayer. In it we pray for the Lord to 'give us our daily bread'. Most of us are also familiar ( and Jews as well, of course,) with the story of God's provision for the Hebrews as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years before they came to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. During most of that time God provided daily 'manna' to eat, with a very strict rule that it was sufficient for one day (the 'daily bread'). Any who gathered more than needed for the day found that it rotted before the next morning. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that Jesus told his disciples not to worry about their food and drink and clothing, because God would provide. 'Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.' 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.' 'Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will be sufficient unto itself.'
That appears to be a recipe for saying to God - 'OK then, its up to you, we will sit at home and let you do it all for us. We won't worry about what is going to happen and needn't do anything about it.' Well that's bad theology - bad Christian theology anyway. Its not what those passages, taken out of their contexts, mean at all. Perhaps one way to illustrate this to is remind you all of the Footsteps Story, which appears on so many fridge magnets and the like. It's a lovely story of the man, who walks with his God, but looking back finds that whenever he was in trouble there was only set of footsteps. He upbraids God with leaving him when he needed him, but is gently informed that it was at those times that God carried him - hence the single line of footsteps. So, while they were in the wilderness, God helped the Hebrews, but when they arrived in the Promised Land, God backed away and left them to provide for themselves in so far as they were able to do so. The promise is not that God will do everything for you but that he will never desert you. So, going back to the Footsteps Story, however often God carried the man, he then set him down again to walk on his own two feet, when the circumstances permitted.
So the message for Christians, at this time of concern about the momentous changes to our environment, is to continue to pray that God will be with us ('Emmanuel' in Christmas language), but at the same time to respect his gifts of Self Will and of Intelligence and to remember his command (in Genesis) to be a steward of God's Creation - in other words to think and plan ahead.
God's provision is bountiful - it is for us to make appropriate and sensible use of that provision. Maybe it is fanciful to talk of putting the Bengalis into Siberia (and the residents of Kent in Cumbria?) but nonetheless, what ever the effects of climate change (within the context of the next thousand or so years), there will be space, there will be agriculturally friendly sub-climates, there will be scope for the maintenance of the human population - much more difficult to look after the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and the lilies of the valley. It is so easy to say that ALL that is necessary is to think intelligently and cooperatively about it, but actually surely that is all there is to it. God supplied the Hebrews with their daily bread where they were as they made their way towards their objectives - he did not supply it to them so that they could sit on their bottoms and wait for the Promised Land to come to them.
At last the Americans have opened a chink in their long term objections to joining in on these discussions. That did not seem possible a couple of months ago. I suspect that the number of footprints, as they struggled to bring the USA into line, reduced as God lent a little of his weight to the arguments.
Licensed Lay Minister