Tag Archives: climate justice

Why I’m in Paris: Climate Justice

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Bishop Ephraim Tendero addressing the Paris climate summit

Bishop Ephraim Tendero addressing paties at the  Paris climate summit

Today, we at the Paris climate summit were privileged to hear from Bishop Efraim Tendero, Pesident of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). In addition to leading the 600-million-member WEA, Bishop “Eff” serves as the presiding Bishop of the Philippines. And so his lecture, titled “Climate Justice,” rings with special authority, as the nation of the Philippines leads a bloc of nations that claim to be the most harmed by climate change. That bloc, called the V20, is demanding justice from polluting countries that are causing them harm.

Indeed, it has long been recognized that poorer countries are most vulnerable to climate change, without having contributed meaningfully to its causes. Bishop Eff noted that China and the US account for 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, the low-lying Philippines account for only 0.28% of those pollutants. And while the big polluters will indeed suffer in a world of climate disruption, it is the Philippines which are already being devastated by monster storms like Typhoon Haiyan.

The leader of the WEA isn’t the only one telling this story, either. The Global Climate Risk Index, maintained by GermanWatch, ranks countries by the harm they have suffered from climate change. In the last 20 years, the Philippines has ranked fifth in the world in climate damage, behind Honduras, Burma, Haiti and Nicaragua. In fact, of the ten most affected countries, nine were developing countries in the low-income group. The red circles on the map below highlight the hotspots, with Bangladesh, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Pakistan rounding out the ten countries with the dubious honor of paying most heavily for the cost of our oil and coal binge in China and the US.

The Christian witness at this global gathering is meaningful and visible. And with the voice of leaders like Bishop Tendero, the evangelical world is now demanding justice for the poor, in an increasingly inhospitable world.

Gullible Press Brands Evangelicals as Climate Deniers

Several week s ago, we asked the question: “Climate Change – Who Speaks for Christianity?” We traced the formal resolutions adopted by the largest Christian denominations and ecumenical bodies around the world. And we found that churches comprising over 90 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians have formally acknowledged the reality of manmade climate change and its harm to the poor.

Apparently, the New Republic, a prominent progressive magazine, did not read our findings.

We know this because the New Republic just bought hook, line and sinker the claims of a libertarian fringe group – that they speak for Evangelical Christianity in America when it comes to denying the findings of climate science. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s what happened.

The New Republic just published an article titled “Pope Francis Has Declared War on Climate Deniers.”  Overall, it’s a pretty decent little essay. Yes, Pope Francis is planning to publish an encyclical on climate change in 2015. Yes, most Catholics around the world are united in demanding strong climate action. Yes, Christians everywhere recoil at the injustice inherent in carbon pollution, where rich countries pollute heavily, and poor ones suffer the bulk of the consequences.

So far, so good. But then they note that not everyone is cheering. And here’s where they go completely astray. “Evangelical Christians,” says the New Republic, “have already warned that they will protest” the Pope’s encyclical and related actions.

Photo by: Pastor Augustine Joseph of Disciple Union Ministries , Pakistan

Photo by: Pastor Augustine Joseph of Disciple Union Ministries , Pakistan

Really? So who – in the view of the New Republic – speaks for “Evangelical Christians?” Maybe the U.S. National Association of Evangelicals? Maybe the massive World Evangelical Alliance? Maybe major mission agencies like World Vision International?

No, nope, and no-siree. Instead, they chose to listen to a guy named Calvin Beisner. He’s not a pastor or an evangelist. He doesn’t represent any Christian church or denomination. But he does have one of those libertarian think tanks, and he’s a treasure trove of climate denial quotes.

“The pope should back off,” said Beisner on behalf of the controversially-named Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the U.S.”

That’s what the New Republic settled on as the voice of American Evangelicals.

Oh my. A think-tank spokesman named Beisner speaks for “millions of evangelical Christians” in the U.S.? Well, I suppose that would be hard to disprove, wouldn’t it? In a majority-Christian country of 316 million living souls, it’s entirely possible that “millions” might indeed join Beisner in his denial of climate science. We suspect millions of others might believe that Elvis is still alive, or that the President faked his birth certificate.

But what do we really know about evangelical beliefs about climate change? Well, for starters, we could look to the National Association of Evangelicals, the biggest affiliation of evangelicals by far in the U.S.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE): In 2011, the NAE published a survey of the impacts of climate change, called “Loving the Least of These.” The NAE’s president, Rev. Leith Anderson, introduced the work with these words:

“While others debate the science and politics of climate change, my thoughts go to the poor people who are neither scientists nor politicians. They will never study carbon dioxide in the air or acidification of the ocean. But they will suffer from dry wells in the Sahel of Africa and floods along the coasts of Bangladesh. Their crops will fail while our supermarkets are full. They will suffer while we study…. Please read with an open mind and with open hands. But most of all, join me with an open heart for the poor.”

Okay Rev. Anderson, our minds are open. And what does the Evangelical report actually say? Regarding climate science, the NAE is measured, but firm: “The global average temperature has risen at a rate that is most likely greater than natural variability can account for. Evidence suggests that an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accounts for much of the warming over the last 50 years.”

The Evangelical group urges us to listen to the scientists: “Look to official joint statements from professional societies,” they write. “For example, the nation’s top scientists in the National Academies of Science (NAS) and other professional societies represent the conclusions of tens of thousands of scientists.”

And for all their scientific acumen, the NAE majors in ethics and ministry, not science. That’s why they devote most of their ink to the injustice of rampant climate pollution. With eyewitness testimonies from missionaries and Christians around the world, they tell us of increasingly erratic weather, of glaciers disappearing, of sea levels rising, of increasing water stress and drought, of the loss of forest habitats, of disappearing fisheries, of malnutrition and spreading tropical diseases.

In summary, the institutional leader of Evangelicals in America issues this call to action: “If the things we have been reading are true—that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor, that our climate is changing, and this change will affect the poor most of all—then we, the evangelical family, have no choice but to act on this problem.”

It’s clear. The U.S. National Association of Evangelicals believes that the global climate is being threatened, and that we’re complicit in the harm. But what about Evangelicals all over the world?

World Evangelical Alliance:  The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) represents 600 million Christians in almost 200 countries. And it’s no secret what the WEA thinks either. In 2010 and again in 2012, the WEA sponsored global gatherings of Evangelicals under the banner of the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism. And each time, the conferees issued global calls to action on climate change.

“We lament over the widespread abuse and destruction of the earth’s resources, including its bio-diversity,” they wrote in 2010. “Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. This will disproportionately affect those in poorer countries, for it is there that climate extremes will be most severe and where there is little capability to adapt to them. World poverty and climate change need to be addressed together and with equal urgency.”

World Vision International (WVI): When Evangelicals want to engage in missional giving to the world’s poorest people, more often than not they turn to World Vision. And if evangelical associations like the NAE and WEA are calling for action on climate change, their concerns pale in comparison to WVI, which is constantly combating the ravages of drought, flood and famine.

And what does WVI think about climate change? Christopher Shore, WVI’s Director for Environment and Climate Issues, speaks with a passion driven by first-hand experience among the world’s poorest:

“For the people whom World Vision serves throughout the world, climate change is not a fictitious or a far-off threat. It’s a very real intensifier of poverty today. For those already struggling under the weight of poverty, climate change increases vulnerability to environmental shocks that are outside their control, and it decreases the resources that would help them cope. The effects have already undone years of development investment by driving people climbing out of poverty back down the development ladder. Climate change is a global phenomenon that affects people everywhere, but it hits the poor hardest.”

So please listen, New Republic editors. For the sake of the Christian church in America, I deeply wish that evangelicals were more vocal about protecting the world that belongs to our Savior. And I wish that we were much quicker to demand justice for those who suffer from the effects of manmade climate change. But when you run to non-credentialed fringe elements as spokesmen for Christianity, and ignore clearly recognized religious associations and authorities, you participate – unwittingly, I’m sure – in a gross distortion of the witness of the church of Jesus Christ in our country.

If you take the time to look, you’ll find that evangelicals everywhere know who this world belongs to, and who has been appointed for its stewardship. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the Psalms tell us. And mankind was placed in the Creation to “tend and keep it” on behalf of its Creator, whom we love.

Please take the time to look. Climate deniers speak for themselves and their sponsors, not for the rest of us.

Steven Cohen to Earth-Keepers: Don’t Get Hysterical!

One of the world’s most intelligent and accomplished policy researchers has just urged us all not to get hysterical about climate change. I’m not so sure.

Steven Cohen is the Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, which deals with some of the world’s most intractable problems – climate change and environmental degradation, poverty, disease and the sustainable use of resources. In that capacity, he has doubtless done immeasurable good, and we give thanks for his contribution to a better world.

But I admit to scratching my head in bewilderment at his column in yesterday’s Huffington Post, liberally quoted in today’s New York Times. It’s a short piece, and I encourage everyone to read it. There’s a lot to like here, of course. For example, he lends his well-deserved authority to those confronting the assault of oil-funded climate denial:

“I know that both the global academic community and the science media find it frustrating that the facts of climate change are still subject to question. The ongoing attacks on proven science are beyond absurd.”

And he also points to the complexity of non-linear impacts of climate disruption as it interacts with social, economic and cultural factors. In effect, no one can predict with certainty what wars, famines, and human displacement will occur from changing climate in the century ahead: climate change tends to aggravate the ills we already face, rather than creating them from nothing.

But two disturbing themes jump out at me, as they might well at many people of faith. First, Cohen largely ignores the profound issues of injustice related to climate pollution, as adaption technologies will certainly favor the polluting rich, beyond the reach of the vulnerable poor. And second, Cohen’s narrative suggests that Earth itself has little intrinsic value as belonging to its Creator; its principal value rests on its ability to sustain our species, or some technologically-advanced remnant of it.

And somehow, earth-keepers of all faiths are not supposed to get too riled up about the carbon binge that threatens God’s Earth and the innocent victims of our excess consumption. Here’s a representative snippet:

“I think the questioning of science by the American right wing and the political assaults funded by their rich benefactors are proving to be a distraction to those interested in moving the planet to a path of sustainable economic growth. It is turning analysts into advocates and advocates into hysterics. The IPCC report focused a great deal of attention on solutions, but the media accounts of the report focused on the possibility of food shortages. Here we go again: Chicken Little’s sky is falling in.”

We Need Food: Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the strongest storm on record

We Need Food: Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the strongest storm on record, killed more than 6,000.

So, settle down. Be reasonable. Don’t get hysterical.

Unless, of course, you’re one of 18 million Bangladeshis who will be forced to flee inundation from rising sea levels within 35 years. Or one of the millions of East African subsistence farmers whose growing seasons are already wholly disrupted by permanent drought conditions brought on by climate change. Or any of the world’s millions of island dwellers facing the loss of freshwater resources, coupled with the prospect of seeing their homelands slip below the waves. Or the billions who rely on marine ecosystems for their livelihood, facing the impact of ocean acidification and destruction of reef habitats.

We’ve got to stop somewhere, but the list could go on and on. To them, Cohen has this to say: “Maybe we can’t stop the sea waters from rising, but we can place our utility rooms on the second floor instead of the basement.”

Hmm. The next massive storm in Cohen’s ultra-rich Manhattan won’t do nearly as much harm if we spend millions to move our utilities up a little higher. That’s a hopeful sign, no doubt. But what about the global South? What about Bangladesh? Technology will surely offer some protections from climate change, but does anyone think that it will protect the poor the way it may help the rich?

There are fundamental issues of justice raised by the IPCC’s report, including a finding that rich countries need to transfer $100 billion to the poor every year to help them adapt to the climate conditions our consumption has created. Really? Does anyone think the U.S. and others like it are going to come up with those sums every year in the name of justice for poor nations? Just imagine the invective in Congress if the idea was ever seriously floated.

But Cohen’s don’t-get-hysterical narrative doesn’t merely ignore injustice to the poor. It also gives short shrift to injustice toward all other things God has created. “Currently,” writes Cohen, “we do not have the technology to supplant nature. For that reason, and possibly others, the IPCC’s projections do not consider the possibility that natural systems could be replaced by artificial ones.”

Hmm, again. If you read Cohen’s piece for yourself, you’ll see that this isn’t all black and white. He wonders whether we’d really want to supplant nature with technology if we could, and recalls the pitiful holographic garden in the Star Trek series – all that was left of a despoiled Earth.

But in all this, he can’t help himself from seeing humanity as the arbiter of Earth’s survival: “Because we do not have the technology to survive without functioning ecosystems, we need to manage the planet and its resources in order to survive.”

Against this, the biblical account makes clear that “the Earth is the Lord’s, together with all its fullness.” We sing that “this is my Father’s world,” not my own. The Bible tells us that we are merely “sojourners and tenants” with Him, exercising our created purpose of “tending and keeping” His good Creation – or refusing to, at our dire peril.

Lest you think that we’re arguing here about obscure theology, I think this is a seriously practical matter. On the one hand, you have a feeble narrative that will mobilize just about nobody. It’s rallying cry – Protect the Earth, because we haven’t yet found a way to do without it! – is nearly laughable.

But what if the billions of humans who worship the Creator of heaven and Earth could reimagine a world worthy of protection because it is the cherished possession of their Father? Because the brothers and sisters of their Savior are under dire threat from the destruction of their farm ecosystems and homes? Because the judge of all men will render justice upon those who foment and then ignore the hunger, thirst, and oppression that results from manmade climate disruption?

Dr. Cohen, forgive me if I’m getting too hysterical. You continue to do abundant good in your leadership of the Earth Institute. But in this case, your own faith tradition has much more to offer than you’ve given us today.

The Racialization of Climate?

I recently returned from several weeks in Kenya, where a group of North American scientists, teachers and church leaders were examining the impact of global climate disruptions on poor farmers in that country. We travelers shared a profound commitment to creation care. We also shared a sincere faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As we met with farming and church groups, we heard dolefully repetitious themes: the planting seasons are disrupted, often cutting harvests from two per year to one or less; droughts are much more frequent; more intense floods are washing away fertile soils; changing climatic patterns result in new crop pests never seen before….

At every visit, we took pictures of our new Kenyan friends. But I can’t help noting: They all look so different from me. Their suffering moves me. But at some level, it’s a bit harder to see their suffering as my suffering. Would it be different if they looked, spoke and dressed like me?

This is the question addressed by Albert Hamstra, a career missionary with the Christian Reformed Church, and a member of our traveling team.

A Question

Written by: Albert Hamstra

Hamstra planting a tree near Nairobi

Hamstra planting a tree near Nairobi

What if the main people who were suffering from the effects of environmental degradation and climate change were white? Would the reaction to it be any different in the USA and Canada than it is today?

One of the reasons these problems are so difficult to address is because they have been racialized. Whenever “the other” is of another race, sustained empathy with them is extremely difficult and rare. It becomes easier to find reasons for our indifference and inattention.

This scenario has been played out repeatedly in many situations so that most, if not all, of our major social/ethical challenges are racialized.

We Christians have been given the grace to escape from the destruction of racialization and the racism that accompanies it. This is a significant reason why the Church is especially qualified to address issues of the abuse of creation. We know God the Creator; therefore there is no “other” whom we can dismiss as having less value.

I encourage us to spend a few minutes imagining what it would be like if the main people who were suffering from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation today were white. What does that image say to us?

Albert Hamstra serves the CRC as its Global Impact Director. This post first appeared on May 1, 2013 in the CRC’s World Renew volunteer website.