Who is my neighbour? Climate Change and Global Impact.

Commentary on workshop slides

Page 1. The intention was that the workshop would look at the large-scale environmental issues – in particular the effects of climate change. This is not to say that the other large-scale issues, such as plastic pollution, aren’t important. I have simply concentrated on something I know a little about. Some of the slides have been used elsewhere – in the sermon I preached in February, and in a School Assembly for Years 5 and 6 at St Michael’s School.

Page 2. This contains an outline of the workshop and an introduction to climate change. Climate change occurs because of a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that blankets the earth – letting in solar radiation, but impeding the reflected radiation. This results in a general warming of the earth as shown in the bottom left hand figure. The science is now firm. This temperature change is caused by anthropogenic (i.e. human) effects due to industrialization. The graphic on the bottom right doesn’t work in the handout, but I have included it separately below. In my view it illustrates global temperature rise in a particularly graphic way (click the icon on the bottom left if the graphic is not visible).

Global temperature change

Page 3. These slides show the effect of glacier melt and sea level rise, droughts and wildfires caused by elevated temperatures and the specific effects of temperature increase on the UK and Europe. Very broadly, the effects of climate change for the UK are threefold – hotter drier summers, warmer wetter winters and more extreme weather events. The bottom right slide introduces the scriptural background, and in particular the three reasons for taking action on environmental issues that I outlined in my February sermon – the stewardship of God’s creation; the redemption and restoration of creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and through us as his disciples, leading to the hope of a new creation; and the principle of neighbour love. What follows concentrates on the latter. 

Page 4. This introduces the story of the Good Samaritan. A teacher asks Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”,which Jesus then gets him to answer himself with the words of the two great commandments. These are used frequently in BCP communion services, but only irregularly in the more modern services (Yes, this is a whinge). The first of these commandments is part of the Shema, the regular daily prayer of Jewish worship. The Shema also contains the passage from Deuteronomy 11 shown in the bottom left slide, which indicates that love for God will also result in a harmonious relationship with nature, which is interesting in the present context. The injunction to love one’s neighbour, from the book of Leviticus, is not itself part of the Shema, but seems to have been linked with the verse from Deuteronomy. Jesus certainly used it that way in his teaching. In the Old Testament at least, the concept of neighbour probably applied to those with whom you lived, or to your tribal or ethnic grouping. 

Pages 5 and 6. In response to the self-justifying question “Who then is my neighbour?”,Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the next few slides are illustrations of this. In the School Assembly, the children told me the parable with no problem, so I will assume all readers know it well enough. On the map, I show the relative locations of Jerusalem and Jericho, about 20 miles in distance and 1500 feet in elevation apart. This would be a journey of a day or two in high temperatures in a quite barren environment.

Page 7. Here I return to the question “Who then is my neighbour”. The answer given by Jesus in the parable is obvious and memorable. On the map in the top right hand corner I try to make the point that Jerusalem and Jericho are a day or so apart (the red circle), and the distance between Jerusalem and Samaria (the purple circle) somewhat greater. Jesus defines one’s neighbour in more than local or ethnic terms. The modern map shows the distance we can travel in a day or so – which of course encompasses most of the world.  I would suggest that, using this analogy, the definition of neighbour we should use is a global one. 

Page 8.  In the last slide of page 7 and the first two on page 8, I ask the question again “Who then is my neighbour” – those in low lying Pacific and Indian Ocean islands for whom climate change poses an existential threat; those in Australia suffering from drought and wildfire; or those more locally suffering from an increased frequency and intensity of floods? I then go on to ask the question “What can we do” and introduce the concepts of mitigation (by cutting carbon emissions) and adaptation (helping those vulnerable to the changes that are already occurring).

Page 9. Firstly I show some numbers that illustrate carbon emissions for the activities of St Michael’s church in 2018 and compare them with values for typical households in the UK and for various countries around the world. The figures are self-explanatory and certainly provoke thought.  As I type I realise I have included no carbon emission figures for public transport, but in general the climate emissions per passenger mile for bus and train, are much, much lower than for private cars.  I also introduce the idea of climate advocacy – of using the influence we have through politicians and those around us to argue for change. This might be to advocate more renewable energy sources (including land based wind energy which will not be popular!); to encourage public transport use; and to encourage the provision of electric vehicle charging points. Note that the latter are not a complete solution to the issue of carbon emissions with the current electricity supply mix, and electric vehicles still produce environmentally damaging particulate pollution.  The last slide returns to the theme of adaptation and illustrates the ideas of hazard and vulnerability. Natural hazards will always occur, but they only result in disasters when they impinge on vulnerable individuals and communities.

Page 10. The first slide continues with the adaptation theme – and suggests ways in which we can support the vulnerable – through practical support to overseas communities and advocacy for an increase in overseas development aid; and perhaps for communities at home by using church buildings as refuges in emergencies (they can be very pleasantly cool in heat waves for example) or again by advocacy so that flood protection and emergency health provision is taken seriously by government. At this point I was going to suggest we talk to each other about what we could do, both as individuals and as a church. Perhaps we can take this up in discussions to this post? My first suggestion is that we could carry out individual and household carbon audits – there are a number of simple tools for doing this on the web. This would at least give us a basis for further action.  Other suggestions would be very welcome.  Finally I end with the Anglican Communion five marks of mission, drawing attention particularly to the last one “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. Environmental concern is a vital part of the church’s mission. The last slide is another saying from Jesus that we know well (particularly if you come to the BCP communion service…). We are called to let our light shine before others. We must never underestimate the importance of our choices and lifestyles as a witness to others, both in persuading them to consider the effects of their lifestyle on the environment, and in showing the love of Jesus in a practical and real way. 

2 thoughts on “Who is my neighbour? Climate Change and Global Impact.

  1. Hi Chris, I’m sorry we couldn’t meet to discuss this after your hard work in putting it together. I’m going to start at the end. When I was selecting clergy for the church, one of my areas for discussion was the five marks of mission of the church and how they might implement them in future ministry. Some of them were not even aware of the 5 marks of mission, which was worrying. Most of those that knew of them, could wax lyrically on the first four and then ground to an embarrassing holt on number five. Occasionally, I would meet a candidate who had really thought about issues concerning the environment and the role of the church. I do hope, two years on, that there would be a greater awareness of ecological issues amongst those being called to ministry in our church. Its easy to focus on the God bits and not the world bits.I’m going to be controversial here, maybe because that is easier and doesn’t impact so much on our daily life and routines. We can internalise and think of our spiritual growth and development and deepen our prayer life and Christian fellowship- yes, all important. If you focus on “who is my neighbour” and think globally, which we all need to do, it means being aware of issues facing all people across the world and being aware that our lifestyle choices may be making their lives worse. We can all make a stand and think seriously about how we live, how much energy and world resources we use and how we could do better and that means “self limiting” not using so much of either on behalf of our neighbour.

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  2. The notion of self-limiting, following the example of Jesus in the incarnation, is a very powerful one. Most of the issues we face are because we use / take much more than we need in all sorts of ways. All of us need to think it through with regard to our own lives.

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