Creationtide 2: Where We Are Now - Fire and Ice.

Sunday 20th September 2020
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Service of the Word
Genesis 1.31

In my last Creationtide reflection I ended with the idea of sacrifice. I want to go further now by considering where we are now and what we need to do about our sad world.

As I write, even before the height of the fire season in California, the fires have already broken annual records, the same goes for the Amazon basin. At the same time, we have learned of 800 meter deep channels of warm water burrowing under the great Antarctic glaciers. I recently read a book by Richard Macfarlane* which described so-called merlins in Greenland, little pock marks in glaciers which are deepened by climate warming and which therefore self-accelerate melting so that the pock marks become funnels down which water rushes until it works its way under the glacier and begins to undermine it.

There are two intertwined responses to this crisis which are well represented in the Gospel of Matthew in particular where principle and pragmatism unite: we might perform an action because it is principled but also because it prevents harm. Now I believe that what will drive any effort to curb climate change will be largely pragmatic but it is our role as Christians to ensure that principle is not forgotten. Pragmatism alone solves few things because it is too often driven by self-protection. We might be met with scepticism, or even derision, but we must stand firm.

Our basis for the struggle - not the fight but the struggle - are God's statements in Chapter 1 of Genesis that the Creator God saw what he had made and found it good. Would he find it good today? The simple answer must be "no". We live in a world where species develop and die out, where ice ages have come and gone, where what were once jungles are now overlaid with ice. It may well be that what we are going through now is a cosmic meteorological cycle but it has so far not been subsumed into a climatic paradigm so at least even climate sceptics should surely apply the precautionary principle such that we take action to moderate our own consumption even if we think that that is not the cause of the gathering catastrophe. It may be that if we operate the precautionary principle this will involve massive sacrifice which turns out to be either futile or unnecessary but we were not created simply to lie down and take what's coming as if we were powerless. We are familiar since outbreaks of grievous flooding in the last decade of the need to take precautionary measures against floods; and it may be that these will never be needed again; but as humans we are expected to assess risk. We do not leave houses to be repeatedly flooded but say to ourselves that we must take precautions, even if they are costly, because the increasing odds are that inundations will return. The same principle goes for international precautions.

I believe that sacrifice by the rich will be essential to protect the poor. We are now familiar with the idea that the polluter should pay; and so I think that global industries should largely finance the precautions we need to take through paying much more tax. But we have to recognise that this in itself imposes sacrifices on all of us who benefit from investments in the form of our pensions and holding of shares.

As a matter of principle, then, as opposed to pragmatism, we are called upon to sacrifice; but we might argue that we should not be expected to shoulder the burden unless the major corporates do their duty. On the contrary, love is not contractual; we do not behave well only when other people or entities behave well. We are bound by our obligation of love to honour creation as stewards and ensure that resources are distributed in the context of love.

We rich and clever people have been seduced by the argument of largely notional meritocracy; that we thrive because we are more intelligent and enjoy what we deserve. There are two serious arguments against this position: first, where we are born and how we thrive is largely accidental and there is increasing evidence that well-being is handed down through the generations; but the second argument is that all creatures are born on this earth without their consent and we are all equal in the sight of god; Jesus treated everybody alike but, if anything, leaning towards the poor and being suspicious of the rich. I have said before, but it bears repeating, I sometimes think we should suspend reciting the Magnificat because we don't believe in what it says. I think of contented folk in Cathedral pews at Choral Evensong hearing that the mighty shall be put down from their seats and replaced by the humble and meek; and that the hungry will be filled with good things and the rich sent empty away. Really?

Those who believe that this transformation can be brought about by the rich, in the persons of politicians like Donald Trump, may turn out to be correct but I have not heard any coherent arguments in favour of this solution. There are some arguments which say that we would not be where we are without competitive liberal capitalism; and they may be right. But what has that done for the dregs of us, the starving of us, the not very bright of us, the disabled of us? And when the water rises and coasts are threatened, I see house prices in the hills rising and large removal vans climbing the slopes, leaving the rest behind to manage as they may.

As I said in my previous reflection, these are difficult issues on which most of us will not be professionally qualified to pronounce; but I know the division of the rich and the poor when I see it; and I know the limited extent to which we are committed to dealing with it.

As we ponder the change which has transformed birds and animals from being our co-inhabitants to being so rare that they are treated like objets d'art, it is time to examine our consciences, neither excluding the tiniest act nor the largest from our prayer and consideration.

*1 Macfarlane, Richard: Underland.