climate change

Good news for the anthropocene has to be a non-anthropocentric Gospel

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the nature of the Gospel for some time; it’s been one of those intra-Christianity debates I’ve followed with interest because I’m convinced that the Gospel, and how we understand and articulate it, is pretty central to being God’s faithful people in the world. I’m convinced our world needs good news that is both actually good, and that represents, or heralds God’s plans for the world.

The word ‘Gospel’ comes from the Greek word ‘euangelion’ — ‘good news’ — but in the ancient world a ‘euangelion’ had a particular function, especially when brought by a ‘keryx’ (a preacher). A keryx was a herald who spoke on behalf of a king (or empire), and where the keryx proclaimed ‘good news’ it was often the announcement of a victory or the beginning of a reign of a king in the world. The subject of the good news, and the attention of the keryx (or their function as a representative), was about the king, the empire, or the victory — the benefits to the people receiving the proclamation were self evident fruits of that victory.

So there’s this debate about what the ‘heart’ of the Gospel is; and whether it has truly been proclaimed if you haven’t articulated certain shibboleths particularly around penal substitution or propitiation; and so also whether you have made the heart of the Gospel the forgiveness of sins dished out to you as an individual as God’s wrath is turned aside from you and laid on Jesus. The thing is, there’s a certain vision of the Gospel where it is reduced to these truths (penal substitution and propitiation and the individual implications of the Gospel) that becomes not just individualistic but anthropocentric — that is, centered on the Gospel being ‘good news’ not just for us, but in a way that becomes ‘good news about us being saved from sin, and its penalty (judgment).’

An anthropocentric Gospel is good news; but it isn’t all the good news caught up in the victory of Jesus, or even the fruit of that victory. An anthropocentric gospel met with an individualism and a commitment to identity construction through personal choice and authenticity produces a particular kind of Christianity (and a particular approach to Christian mission and discipleship). It can lead us to limit the goodness of the Gospel to the salvation of the self (and selves), and when that’s coupled with a sort of neo-platonism, where we have this sense of salvation being ‘escaping from this world’ into some spiritual nirvana-like heaven, we can end up focusing on ‘saving souls’ rather than ‘making disciples who live as God’s kingdom in his world.’ These arguments are well rehearsed by the likes of Scot McKnight and N.T Wright, and make of those scholars what you will, but there’s one warning buried in their critique that all Reformed evangelicals should hear; that is those of us who are a product of a movement in church history that sees how human traditions and institutions can distort the Gospel and abuse power (that’s the very nature of the Reformation), who with the Reformers (and Augustine) see human nature as ‘curved in on the self,’ and who want to be on about the good news (that’s what evangelical should mean). If we were seeking to be true to these labels (if indeed these labels are useful and good, and if these descriptions are essential to owning these labels), then we should constantly be assessing where worldly ideas and institutions have infected our thinking about the church, and the nature of the Gospel. We should constantly be questioning whether our hearts are pulling humanity to the centre of the story of the world, for our own glory — at the expense of God’s (ala, say, the Fall, and the tower of Babel). We should be sympathetic to critiques that the Gospel we proclaim has become more anthropocentric (about us) than Christocentric (about Jesus).

One way to test the truth of an idea is to look to our source material (the Scriptures), another is to assess the fruits of what is being proclaimed (particularly against the sort of fruit the Scriptures describe), or, to compare what is produced from a Gospel we proclaim versus what is produced if a less reductive Gospel is proclaimed. One can draw a fairly straight line between a Gospel that is reduced to the salvation of souls through substitution and propitiation and an approach to church that emphasises conversion over discipleship, while also buying in to the culture’s expressive individualism and its attendant identity politics and power games. One can then draw a line between this and the sort of politics that sees ‘evangelicals’ aligned with Donald Trump — selling our birthright for a bowl of putrid stew that doesn’t even satisfy our hunger — or with a church culture that promotes narcissism and feeds consumerism and the uncritical adoption of worldly forms and methods in the church. Anthropocentricism is not the way of the Gospel, it is the model of humanity flat out rejected from the opening pages of the Bible, and when our Gospel is anthropocentric it prevents the church embracing the way of Jesus, and it is not good news for the ‘anthropocene.’ It offers no alternative kingdom to the kingdoms that have brought us into this present moment both culturally, politically, and environmentally.

The ‘anthropocene’ is a name that gets bandied about for the particular epoch we’re living through in a ‘big history’ view of the world. It’s the idea, in short, that sees “recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.” You can read more about the problems associated with the anthropocene at Welcome to the Anthropocene.

Welcome to the Anthropocene is an exercise in secular prophecy — with a degree of judgment, truth telling, and expressions of hope. It’s promises of hope aren’t ‘good news’ yet, because they are unrealised, and if human hearts are ‘curved in on themselves,’ its chances of success rest on convincing humans as individuals and societies, that environmental action has to be an expression of self interest; which is ultimately self defeating and we’ll just end up with a modified anthropocene, an approach to nature still centered on human flourishing at the pinnacle, or, it will rest in convincing humanity to embrace ‘re-wilding,’ where we submit ourselves to nature and let it shape our paths. Now, this isn’t to say where we’ve over-reached in our subduing of creation, that some ‘rewilding’ won’t be necessary to restore a healthier dynamic of relating, in fact, I’m a fan of the concept as described here, but rewilding, like many environmental programs in a secular world (that is one where the physical world is the only reality and does not, in any way, reflect transcendent or supernatural realities — like a heavenly realm), runs the risk of enshrining nature as the ultimate concern or reality (or a god), and that will shape our humanity, and order our loves and concerns, like any worship or religion does.

The Christian answer to these problems — where we submit ourselves to the God who orchestrated nature, and seek to bring him glory — but where he must first change our hearts by his Spirit, and where we must live in the world first in right relationship with him (which is achieved through the forgiveness of sins and new start brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus) — is genuinely a more hopeful story, for us and for the world, especially coupled with the promise of the Bible that our king, Jesus, will return to make all things new, in a beautiful picture of a ‘garden city’ where built architecture and nature work together in harmony to bring life and to bring glory to God. Welcome to the Anthropocene shares stories of hope, but none is more hopeful as a picture of ecological renewal and harmonious life than the church forests of Ethiopia and humanity’s rediscovery of our task as ‘gardeners’ working in partnership with our gardener king.

Now, in case the idea of human contribution to climate change is something you have theological issues with — let’s just rehearse, again, the argument that the Bible actually lays responsibility for the state of the world — post Eden (and outside Eden) with human sinfulness and God’s curse. The idea that humans are responsible for the state of the world, within God’s sovereignty, is not foreign to the Biblical account of the world. And, anticipating another argument — that creation, Biblically, is anthropocentric — ie, ‘given to man’ where we are the pinnacle or centre of creation — consider that our role was not to dominate or destroy the world, but act as God’s representatives in a world that is his (Genesis 1), that was made to reflect his divine nature and character (Romans 1:20), that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,’ that ‘heaven is his throne, and the earth is his footstool’ (Isaiah 66:1-2)  — the earth itself has a theocentric purpose — to glorify God, and a Christocentric telos, it is being reconciled, redeemed, renewed, and re-created through the death, resurrection, heavenly rule, and return of Jesus. The Gospel — the message of Jesus’ victory, includes good news for the world — when we reduce it just to ‘good news for ourselves’ — making it anthropocentric, we offer no path out of the anthropocene — no alternative kingdom that might offer an alternative paradigm for stewarding God’s world towards goodness, truth, and his glory.

A Gospel that offers hope to the world is a Gospel that is not primarily about us, and the mechanism of our individual salvation (though it won’t deny those truths), a Gospel that offers hope to the world curves our hearts away from ourselves, and away from God’s world and its goodness (these are idolatry) towards the rule of Jesus in the heavenly realm, and the reconciling work he is doing in the world as the children of God are revealed (both now, and when he returns).

Any Gospel that is about escaping the world — rather than its renewal and reconciliation in and through Jesus — is not good news in the anthropocene. It just entrenches a pattern of domination and subjugation of the physical world because it doesn’t matter to God, or ultimately to us.

Any Gospel that is about human individual salvation (or the mechanics of such) is not good news in the anthropocene because the victory it celebrates is not total, without a victory that involves the renewal of all things.

Any Gospel that is not about Jesus — at the centre — is not the Gospel of the Bible, and doesn’t have us escape the anthropocene and its anthropocentric view that everything is about us. We are not the pinnacle of God’s creation. Jesus, in his perfect humanity, and also his divine sonship, is.

The Gospel is the story of God’s glorification of Jesus, the story of God exalting Jesus to the highest place, and giving him the name above all names, so that at his name ‘every knee shall bow’ (Philippians 2) — it’s the opposite of Babel, where people lived for the glory of their own names and tried to exalt themselves. The opposite of the anthropocene. The good news for us is that we’re invited in to the glory of Jesus through our union with him, and invited to participate in God’s renewal project for the world as ambassadors of reconciliation, but this comes as a fruit of Jesus’ glorious victory through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension.

We can run all sorts of shibboleth tests around Gospel proclamation, or evangelistic textbooks, but if our Gospel is not Christocentric, and aimed towards the glory of God through the eschatological renewal of all things — not just us — secured through the victory of Jesus over Satan, sin, and death — not just on an individual scale, but a cosmic one, then we’re not really preaching a true Gospel, we’re preaching a true aspect of the Gospel, and we’re not really offering hope to the world, or to the individuals living in it.

The climate apocalypse is real, and here’s why we need a different sort of climate apocalypse that begins with Jesus (and us Christians)

11,000 scientists from around the globe have joined forces this week to declare a climate emergency, signing a paper warning of catastrophic threat to humanity. It’s a pretty apocalyptic sort of vision.

Are you listening?

I’m not a scientist, so I tend to leave science to scientists. Which means I am listening.

I am open to questioning the worldview or default assumptions underpinning some science — in that, as someone who is a Christian I do also believe in a supernatural realm and a God ‘in whom we live and breathe and have our being’ who ‘sustains all things by his powerful word’ and I’m skeptical of scientific overreach where conclusions are drawn about the legitimacy of such a being because of ‘science.’ As a quick tangent — science as we know it is born out of theism — Christianity specifically in the western world, and Islam in other parts of the world. For Christians, from the Bible (for eg Romans 1:20), through Augustine, the Bacons, and other pioneers of the scientific method science was a way to study the cosmos as ‘God’s second book’ — understanding God from what has been made. When we observe natural operations and order in the cosmos (like mathematics and natural laws) we are seeing God’s handiwork. Part of the problem, in the Bible, is that we can’t always get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ because we humans are so busy writing our own stories into the fabric of the universe as we build and break, but also there’s this dynamic right from the first pages of the Bible where that good order is thrown into ‘disorder’ or decay, frustration, and curse as a result of human sin. Plus, a sensitive reading of Genesis 1-2 suggests there are bits of creation that are less than perfectly ordered in that the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are meant to “cultivate and keep” this garden, so probably to expand it over the earth as they “be fruitful and multiply.” The Garden, Eden, does not yet cover the whole earth. There’s space for some chaos existing outside the garden in a plain reading of the text of Genesis.

Christians have typically understood God’s first book — the Bible — as the primary authority in a way that shapes (and underpins) the scientific endeavour. If there appears to be a conflict we’re either reading one (the Bible or the science) or both books (the Bible and the science) the wrong way. When they line up we can be pretty confident, as Christians, that there’s something to pay attention to. We don’t need to reject or be suspicious of science simply because it is ‘science’; or to conform every bit of what we believe to be true about the universe to what scientists tell us (or the conclusions that naturalistic scientists then might seek to draw from the data).

So when 11,000 scientists — and plenty of Christian scientists — tell me that the world is heading towards catastrophic change, and I can see a pretty direct link to individual and systemic sin — particularly greed or selfishness or our culture of instant gratification and taking what we want from the world rather than stewarding it sustainably as an act of love for God the creator, and our neighbour — as a cause then I’m happy to take note. I’m not, for the record, a Young Earth Creationist TM  so I’m not inclined to reject science simply because it is science, but I do take Genesis very seriously as a text that informs my position on this question. I’ve been puzzled for a while about an apparent link between young earth creationism and rejecting anthropomorphic climate change because it seems to me that a plain, literal, reading of the text of Genesis directly links the state of the planet to human action (the subsequent promise not to wipe out humanity with another flood in the Noah narrative notwithstanding). Here’s what God says to Adam about sin and the climate. The fall itself is a sinful, self-serving, grasping, pillaging approach to the created world — the taking of the fruit God had forbidden to use for Adam and Eve’s own ends.

“Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.”

This seems to be a big deal for Paul in the book of Romans, who spends a bunch of time showing that Jesus is a new Adam, who brings a new pattern for humanity (a new image of God to be conformed to), where we become the ‘children of God’ that the creation itself is longing for. Or, as Paul puts it:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. — Romans 8:20-22

The command for humanity to ‘be fruitful and multiply, rule the earth and subdue it’ is not a command to rape and pillage the creation, but to interact with the created world as image bearers of the life giving, life creating, God who makes things good and hospitable; it’s a call to cultivate Eden across the face of the earth not strip mine it to build little palaces for ourselves that mitigate the harsh conditions we find ourselves living in. The post-fall, cursed, world is the reality we exist in and have to figure out our ethics from. We don’t pretend the creation is not cursed or frustrated as a result of the fall of God’s image bearing rulers (we’re certainly not universally pursuing fruitfulness and the sanctuary where God dwells with his people post Genesis 3). We also can’t totally pull the conditions of the new creation — described in Revelation 21-22 back into the present. We should expect fallen people to be producing cursed conditions rather than life-giving ones as they depart from bearing God’s image in the world. This is one of the things that was most beautiful about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie a few years ago; the way it showed how the sinfulness of the generation God wiped out in the flood expressed itself in the treatment of the world; it’s what is beautiful about Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the way that Mordor is a picture of the destruction of the planet through the idolatrous pursuit of control, wealth and power (this link is to a great piece exploring this dynamic, but also check out the Eucatastrophe’s episode on why they’re called The Eucatastrophe for more on this). Human sinfulness damages the world, and you don’t have to be an expert on ecology to know that there are cycles in nature that can be thrown into different patterns as we tinker with or destroy the natural order — it shouldn’t surprise us that pumping anything into the air that wasn’t there in the same volume before has an impact (I mean, it’s obvious with air pollution and air quality in cities right? And in water quality when we pump stuff into rivers or oceans).

The Noah promise that I’ve seen politically conservative Christians rely on to reject climate change is one piece of Biblical data pulled out of the context of the rest of the Biblical narrative. You don’t even have to leave the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, a literary unit of which Genesis and the Noah story is a part) to find evidence supporting a relationship between human sinfulness and the state of the climate. What’s going on in God’s “never again will I curse the ground” with Noah is clearly not a return to Eden, and clearly not a restoration of a universal image bearing people — the children of God — who will live rightly with creation. It doesn’t prevent human intervention in messing up the world. God’s sovereignty doesn’t ever seem to totally try to wipe out the human impact on the world except at the flood. Maybe that’s significant in our interpretation… in fact, from this point onwards, fruitful, blessed creation where the conditions for human flourishing are most present in the world (not withstanding God sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous) are promised benefits for people living in harmony with God again — whether that’s Israel and the promised land (eg Deuteronomy 28:1-11), the promise that the land will become hostile to life if Israel becomes hostile to God (Deuteronomy 28:15-68), and restored if they return to God (Deuteronomy 30:1-11), Ezekiel’s description of the barren land produced by Israel’s profaning God’s name and subsequent exile, and the promise of a new Eden when God re-creates a new image bearing people who serve him from the heart… the conditions of the world are, from Genesis on always linked to whether or not the people living in the environment are in relationship with God or not; when they aren’t, curse and destruction follows.

The Bible’s approach to the natural world and its hospitality for life is anthropomorphic not simply about God’s sovereignty; though God’s sovereignty plays out in blessing and curse. Here’s a sample from Deuteronomy 28, which comes, of course, after the Genesis 9:11 passage that climate change skeptics love to quote. This is the sort of doom and gloom apocalyptic vision we now hear from scientists — talk about uninhabitable for human life…

“The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.” — Deuteronomy 28:22-24

Oh, and there’s this cheery bit in Deuteronomy 29…

The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” — Deuteronomy 29:23-28

If God, in his sovereignty, says this is how he will respond to sin — and sin often expresses itself in a failure to steward creation or to seek the flourishing of others (selfishness/self-gratification/pillaging) — then who are we to insist that climate change is not a result of human behaviour and not consistent with God’s sovereignty?

Now, these curses are just promises to Israel, God’s people — and it’s not a great principle to extrapolate from such a curse to a universal principle; but nor can we use the words in Genesis 9 to establish a universal principle that Deuteronomy 28 explicitly rejects. Especially when Romans 8 seems to still see a universal frustration of creation linked to humanity not universally being Adam-like children of God who bring fruitfulness. There’s also, in Genesis 12, the promise that God’s blessing on the nations — their flourishing — is connected to Israel. We see a slice of that in Joseph’s relationship with Egypt, but more with Solomon’s international relations (not the marriage bits, their coming to him for wisdom on how to live in the natural world (you know, the world he compiled proverbs about)). But this promise to Abraham is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus (which is where Paul goes in Romans 9), so that real blessing and the real people of God who really start unravelling curse is found in those united to Jesus as the new Israel; the people of God who bring life and relate to the world differently because we have the Spirit (which is the fulfilment of the prophecies in Ezekiel that start the new Eden project).

Jesus is the new Adam, the New Israel, who is faithful — whose heart is inclined to God so that the restoration promised in the Old Testament is possible. As a cool bonus detail, in his resurrection appearance he appears as a ‘gardener’ a new Adam bringing a new image of fruitfulness and, ultimately, the liberation of creation from sin and curse (Romans 8, Revelation 21-22). His obedience means that he and the father pour out the Spirit and re-create people who are children of God.  People who are called not to conform to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed (Romans 12). People who are part of a liberating project that will ultimately be fulfilled in the return of Jesus and the complete revelation of the children of God.

Here’s a fun fact about Romans 8:19, which says “for the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” That revealed word is ‘apocalypse’ — apocalypse just means ‘revelation’ — but creation is waiting for the apocalyptic children of God. People who will help creation meet its ‘end’ or fulfilment (as the children of God are revealed) and live in a new beginning for the created world too. The point of Romans is that the apocalypse doesn’t just arrive with the return of Jesus but with the coming of the Spirit into his people. We live in this apocalyptic, revealing, age pointing to the ultimate end (both purpose and future) for creation — and to where creation goes when we humans use it for our own godless ends.

Some Christian political visions do pretty odd stuff with Revelation as a text; Revelation is a pretty odd text. But Revelation is an ‘apocalyptic’ text (again, that word). It reveals true things about the world as it is; not just as it will be. It is a profoundly political text; a rejection of the beastly human empires that kill God’s children, including his son, Jesus, and who use God’s creation for selfish gain. It’s a text that offers a similar commentary on reality to the Lord of the Rings; especially in the first century. If you want more on this, check out Richard Bauckham’s work on Revelation. He’s got an interesting chapter on Revelation 18 and its economic/apocalyptic significance in a book called Image of Empire (though I think a better reading of Revelation than he offers has Rome as the beast, and idolatrous Israel who sold her soul to Rome and conspired with it to execute Jesus as the harlot).

Here’s an interesting promise, from God, about the nations and the climate… 

‘Come out of her, my people,’
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.
Give back to her as she has given;
    pay her back double for what she has done.
    Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
Give her as much torment and grief
    as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
    ‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
    I will never mourn.’
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
    death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. — Revelation 18:4-8

Sound familiar? Now, people have all sorts of positions on when this will happen (or has happened) — the ‘apocalyptic times’ — but the point of Romans and Revelation is that the apocalyptic times are now. This is life now because it is life opposed to God. John in Revelation describes the cargoes of all the merchants who belong to Rome/Babylon — they get rich from the things they dig up and produce from the world; things specifically mentioned in Eden in Genesis, but also recalibrated to give glory to God in the vision of the new Eden and new temple in Revelation 21. Revelation is a condemnation of the empires that set themselves up grasping and destroying the world and living for self and self-gratification and the moment, rather than living for God with eternal fruitfulness and the kingdom of Jesus in view. The message of Revelation is that kingdoms — lives — built on pillaging and destruction and greed and the rejection of God — the kind of lives it describes as belonging to Babylon — the nation that took God’s people into exile — will not last. Lives that seek to control the frustrated creation by building human comfort through making ourselves little gods, and through the robbery and misery of others will be destroyed… and that Jesus will make all things new. Jesus will, ultimately, fix the climate. And when this is our story, the lives we live now — and our interaction with and understanding of the natural world — will look different to Babylon; and we’ll expect Babylon and its sin to have an impact on the world.

The vision that is to animate Christians against the beastly Babylonian backdrop the first Christians found themselves operating in in Rome, and that we find ourselves operating in today (which includes economic and political powers that destroy the planet); is the vision of a new Eden; a new Eden requires a world that is broken by sin and curse — by human actions and God’s punishment for our sin — a world longing to be renewed.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” — Revelation 22:1-3

Those of us who are Christians now live in these ‘apocalyptic’ times differently. We live as those restored from exile from God — the exile that began for humanity in the loss of Eden, and for Israel in Babylon. We live as people with God’s Spirit in us; people living in the dawn of an ‘apocalyptic’ end times age. People knowing where things are going; but our neighbours don’t. And the world is still frustrated and will still be messed up by ‘Babylonian sin’ — by those exiled from God who aren’t bearing his image, but the image of the destructive idols we pursue instead. Those who don’t fruitfully multiply by cultivating the earth, but bring death and destruction by pillaging it. We live as a kingdom called to be different, with our vision of the future shaping how we live now, and the kind of solution or apocalypse we proclaim as we ‘garden’ and serve the resurrected gardener. Our apocalyptic vision is the new eden project.

When scientists say ‘we’re heading towards climate catastrophe’ and the reasons we get look a lot like us taking creation and trying to be God with it from sinful, selfish, hearts — then we Christians are pretty well positioned to say “amen” and offer a solution that isn’t just human-driven salvation, but a return from being exiled from the creator to being the image bearing gardeners we were created to be, who in partnership with God, spread the conditions of life through the planet again; that’s one way Christians might bear witness not just to the creation but to the new creation we see depicted in Revelation; where Jesus returns to make ‘all things new’ — until that happens, in a Romans 8 sense, we have the job of being ‘children of God’ who are mini pictures of the returning Jesus, being transformed into his image by the Spirit because we have faith that he is our Lord and king and the pattern for our humanity. Maybe we need to re-read or re-watch the Lord of the Rings and commit ourselves to a certain sort of heroism; maybe fantasy might help us see nature as part of a cosmic battle between God’s design and the patterns of the evil one. We can bring little pockets of life-giving liberation and resistance in those parts of creation we occupy and cultivate. We can commit ourselves to stewarding creation for our neighbours, and their children, as an act of worship. A friend of mine from church has launched a project aiming to live a carbon positive life; he’s blogging his way through it. Another friend is blogging through her own journey in stopping what I’d call ‘Babylonian’ practices and starting ‘Eden’ ones. We can do our bit to resist the systemic and individual patterns of life that bring destruction. We can do this while preaching the Gospel, proclaiming that the resurrected Jesus brings new life, and launched the new Eden project, that is the ultimate solution to human sinfulness and its impact on the world, and the end of God’s curse.

We need to embrace a different sort of apocalyptic way of life, one that sees the world and its patterns as they are, a source of death and curse, and Jesus and his patterns as they are, a source of life and blessing.

Solving drinking water problems one iceberg at a time…

This could be the future.

That’s a mock up of a tugboat towing an iceberg. The plan is to stop letting fresh water melt into the ocean and start shipping it to places where there isn’t much water. Seems clever. Though pretty inefficient.

Here’s how it “might” work.

This is just a concept – but it is, to use the obvious pun/metaphor – the tip of the iceberg. You can read more about the pie in the sky plan here.

“The cost of iceberg transport have not been made public yet, but pilot programs–initially just try to tow a mini-iceberg a short distance, says Simard–are underway. And there is talk, at least, of a real-world trial in 2012 or 2013.”

I’m sure there’s some sort of sermon illustration here. And it’s less ecumenically problematic than talking about bringing the mountain to Mohammad.

A silver wining

Climate change had to have a benefit somewhere… and I’ve found it.

“The consequences of warming are already detectable in wine quality, as shown by Duchêne and Schneider (2005), with a gradual increase in the potential alcohol levels at harvest for Riesling in Alsace of nearly 2% volume in the last 30 years. On a worldwide scale, for 25 of the 30 analysed regions, increasing trends of vintage ratings (average rise of 13.3 points on a 100-point scale for every 1°C warmer during the growing season), with lower vintage-to-vintage variation, has been established (Jones, 2005).”

Here’s the study (pdf).

Via BoingBoing

Conspiracy, correlation and causation

It looks like climate change is going to scupper one man’s ambition to be the next leader of our country. While Malcolm Turnbull considers this inconvenient truth, some might be thinking “at last, climate change has done something good”…

Some are looking forward to the day that climate change does away with our particular stretch of the Great Barrier Reef so that North Queensland can have waves.

And those who sell air conditioning are rubbing their hands together and counting their pools of money ala Scrooge McDuck.

This whole climate change phenomena has me thinking…

Many of my friends are skeptics. Some of my friends are believers. Most of the skeptics believe that the climate is changing (as it always has) though not because of human intervention. I oscillate between the two positions. I do think it’s funny that we’re worried about how much carbon dioxide is in the world when I always thought the net mass of chemicals everywhere was a constant… anyone who remembers photosynthesis lessons in high school science knows we just need to plant more trees…anyway. I’m not a climate scientist and do not intend to talk about what I don’t know in this post…

I have a theory that there are links there are between a few different philosophical outlooks on life.

I’m wondering about what correlation there is between the following beliefs and climate change.

  • Christianity
  • A “young earth”
  • The effect of sin/the fall on the planet
  • An old earth
  • Atheism

Biblical Christianity suggests that God intervenes in the workings of his creation, that it is under his control (particularly the Psalms) and that sin has tainted the planet as well as its people. There is an obvious link between humanity and any problems with the planet.

Because Atheism rejects the idea that anyone is in control – and must therefore assume that our finely balanced universe is always on the cusp of imploding under its own improbable existence* – atheists should be more concerned about climate change and therefore more ready to jump in and lend an environmental hand even if they’re not convinced by the science. Just in case.

My friends who believe in a young earth should find it heaps easier to believe that humans are partly responsible for what happens to the environment because we’re a more significant part of the planet’s history – and the change is occuring over a much faster period of time if the hockey stick graphs are to be believed. This has to be balanced against the fact that many of them are really good at ignoring scientists anyway.

Answers in Genesis has an article that pretty much sits on the fence, and one that suggests claims of our impending demise are greatly exaggerated

My Christian friends who believe in an old earth probably fall into one of two categories – they’re either the most skeptical of all when it comes to climate change, or they’re died in the wool believers. For the skeptics, the assumption that God’s sovereignty extends to the planet, meets the assumption that humans haven’t been around for long enough to have had a remarkable impact on the planet’s health.

For the Christian “climate change disciple” the idea that humans have wrecked the planet is consistent with the Bible, and the idea that scientists can teach us about how everything works is consistent with the way they understand the world.

I don’t understand atheist climate change skeptics. Where does their justification come from?

Regardless of these philosophical positions the suggestion that Australia should introduce an emissions trading scheme before the rest of the world is just silly. It comes from some sort of cultural aggrandising that suggests that somehow whatever our relatively small nation does will have an impact on the global scene.

From what I understand of the issue – particularly with relation to energy production (a fair bit at that point) – there are two things we could do that would have a major impact.

  1. Stop exporting coal
  2. Start exporting more uranium

I can’t see either of those happening any time soon.

*Not really what atheists think…

A dog’s life

Anybody who tut-tutted my coffee machine’s carbon emissions (2.3 tonnes per year) should think twice. Especially if they own a dog.

So says Good Magazine and a team of scientists… and who can argue with them… here’s a nice little infographic breaking down the comparitive eco-footprint of pets and four wheel drives… I’m guessing that a turtle is about on par with the hamster featured in the bottom left hand corner.

LaRouche is on fire

The nuttiness of the Citizen’s Electoral Council knows no bounds. Their latest press release comes complete with a 10 minute video of awesome badness. They’ve uploaded it badly on YouTube (it doesn’t work properly) – so you’ll have to check it out here.

They hate the Greens more than I do.

“Do you believe the world is overpopulated? Do you believe the world’s human population should be reduced?

If so, you are a sucker for a lie invented by the highest levels of the British oligarchy going back to the rapacious East India Company, and its Venetian ancestors, which lie is now about to be turned into official public policy in the form of cap-and-trade, through the efforts of the modern British oligarchy’s World Wide Fund for Nature and agents Prince Philip, Sir Crispin Tickell, Sir Nicholas Stern, and Al Gore.“

“The 10-minute LYM video is a preview of a planned feature documentary on the roots of the modern Green movement, going back to the evil race-science called eugenics, which was heavily promoted by the aristocracy of Europe in the early part of the 20th century, turned into public policy by Hitler, and repackaged post-war as the environmental movement, by leading eugenicist Sir Julian Huxley and his co-founders of the WWF in 1961, the Nazi-educated Prince Philip and Nazi Party-member Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.“

You’ve got to watch the video. I especially love where they say they’ve thrown down the gauntlet to Al Gore. Lyndon LaRouche challenged him. At a CEC conference. That nobody heard of, except the people they spam with media releases. I’d hardly call that a gauntlet throw down.

You must watch the video. And check out the CEC website – everybody who disagrees with them is a Nazi (including Obama, the climate change movement, and anyone pushing swine flu panic).

The fun starts at 7.07 where the narrator puts on a British accent.

They really need to think about the whole Godwin’s Law thing…

Steve Fielding is in trouble – because if these guys are for you, you’re going wrong somewhere.

The best bit

Eight thoughts on the environmental lobby

The last Green post scored 42 comments – possibly more by the time you’re reading this because the last one was a thoughful and lengthy comment from Joel. Anyway, like I said yesterday I am not sure I can keep going down this path because it seems pretty circular at times. But, Amy’s pastor friend challenged my biblical position and I haven’t really addressed that since, so here are some biblical propositions:

1. The great Biblical imperative – or the greatest commandment we are given is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Mark 12) we’re also to love our neighbours as ourselves. Some in the “green friendly” group make caring for the environment an outworking of “love” – I put it to you, readers, that God’s understanding of love should define ours. And rather than quoting John 3:16 – I give you Romans 5:8:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If Jesus death is the focal point of God’s love – and indeed the focal point of God’s word – then should it not be our focal point? Rather than distractions like the environment. There are plenty of people worried about the environment and not enough worried about evangelism as far as I’m concerned. And while some claim care for the environment does not mutually exclude care for people – but nor is it the purpose of existence – and in fact it is a distraction.

2. Creation was made for man, not man for creation – we are given the impression from the first page of the Bible – from the creation story – that creation was made to house mankind. As a location for the narrative of God’s redemptive story. Jesus’ priestly prayer in John 17 thanks the father for those he was given by the father “before the creation of the world” – and Ephesians 1:4a is helpful too…

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

And Psalm 115:16 is more specific:

The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.

God’s plans included us before the world was created. It’s not like we’re here as groundskeepers to look after the planet, the planet is here for us – in order that God might gather a people for his glory.

3. The great overarching trajectory of the Biblical narrative is a story of the movement from creation to new creation. The Bible starts and ends that way. The problem of sin breaks God’s good creation – so that it is no longer good – but cursed (in Genesis 3) and groaning (in Romans 8). We can not, by our toil, and based on the curse, expect anything but the fruits of our labours. There is no promise that we will redeem creation – but instead that God will. As Christians we must be careful not to make the mistake of trying to redeem that which is not ours to redeem. In Romans 8 the suggestion is that creation will only be released from bondage when God’s people are revealed – that to me suggests the order of priority – and indeed suggests that if you really want to see creation released you should be preaching the gospel. Romans 8:19

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

4. Putting caring for creation ahead of caring for people is a contravention of God’s command referenced in point 1 – there are examples where caring for the planet is a way to care for people, and I hear those points, but our priority as Christians is to worship God – and Romans 12:1 would suggest:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

And anyone who argues that less pollution is somehow of more value to a sovereign God, in control of the end of all things than the salvation of his elect should spend some more time reading their Bible.

I would contend that the Green movement often makes an idol out of the environment. The non Christians and pagans involved in the party would call it caring for the “mother earth” – and see some sort of spiritual significance to what they do. Significantly many “alternative” religions – those outside of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – elevate creation to the status of God. Thus doing exactly what Romans 1:25 tells us not to do:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

5. It is right to care for creation – because creation in its natural state points to a creator. Maintaining the beauty of creation is a worthwhile aim. But. The brokenness of creation also points to the brokenness of humanity and the curse. Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

6. Your concern for creation is shaped primarily by your eschatology – how and when you think creation will end will shape how and when you choose to treat creation. The Bible says that nobody knows when creation will end – Mark 13 – but that when it does God will control it.

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

It won’t be a cosmic accident. It will be purposeful. It may well be that God will use human stupidity to bring about the destruction (or almost destruction) of the world – that would be fitting. What we do know is that there has always been a sense of urgency given to gospel work because our lifespan is but a fleeting moment – evangelism is a task spoken of with far greater urgency than conservation. The gospel is the power of God – the same passage in Romans that argues that people will recognise that there is a God through faith is preceded by Paul saying just that – Romans 1:16:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile

And now some that for the sake of not spending too much time on this I won’t go into too much.

7. God’s expectation is that we use the resources of the planet for our lives. That’s been clear right from the start – the trees in the garden bearing fruit that was good to eat, the curse suggesting that man must toil the ground in order to survive, buildings have always been made from wood and stone (the Temple for example). We are called to be good stewards – but whether or not mining is stewardship is not a question of theology but of economics – and we should not expect non-Christians to act in any way but greed.

8. Jesus curses a fig tree – not really relevant just an instance of God interacting with nature in a not very positive manner… Matthew 21:19…

Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

Warming to the debate

It’s probably time I addressed Amy’s second point.

2. Global pollution and/or global warming are going to have the strongest effect not on the ‘Western’ world but the poorest nations and peoples. I think we have not only an ethical but a moral duty to ensure that this planet can support everyone on it.

I completely agree with the second sentence. We do (and particularly Christians do) have a responsibility to look after those in need.

Spiderman’s uncle summed it up best: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

If climate change is going to cause issues (and increased unpredictability in terms of weather events, changing rain patterns etc do have markedly enhanced effects on these villages) then we need to be helping people in areas at risk develop resilience to these events.

While I don’t like the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) because I think it’s economically, politically and scientifically stupid – I’d be less opposed if the money was being spent on mitigating climate change globally.

Personally, I don’t think climate change or pollution has a massive bearing on the debate – there are other issues I believe need solving first. I think we should be looking at how the benefits of technology and research developed in the first world trickles down to the third, particularly medicine, and agronomy.

I also really like the idea of microfinancing as a way for individuals to directly help disadvantaged individuals. Kiva seems like a good example.

So, not to harp on the egg thing, here’s an equation.

If I buy 12 dozen cartons of eggs a year at $2.60 each, rather than paying $7 for free range, I save $52.80 – that’s $52.80 I can lend to these entrepreneurs – who, if successful, will pay me back so I can lend it again.

The loans are made in $25 chunks.

Just remember though – if participating in this scheme – that the following warning applies:

By participating in the Program or otherwise using this Website, you hereby acknowledge and agree that (a) Kiva makes no representation, warranty, covenant or guarantee that any funds you lend to a Borrower via the Website will be repaid and (b) loans made via the Website (each, a “Loan”) bear a high risk of non-repayment.

Two ways to consume

The debate goes on back here. It’s been a thoughtful – and helpful I think – discussion on the environment, hippies, and sustainability.  Join in. If you like.

One of my objections to paying a premium to be green is that it seems like such a waste of money. For example, I don’t like that chickens live in terrible conditions in battery farms. But I like eggs. So I must buy eggs. Do I, when faced with this conundrum (and being unable to have my own chickens because we live in a townhouse):

a) Buy free range in the hope that this will stimulate the market for free range eggs and eventually remove the premium price we pay to soothe our conscience.

Or,

b) Save that money, buy the battery eggs and use the difference to pay for things I think matter more. Like giving money to support the work of my church.

I lean towards b. I think there are much better causes to resource. I like that the free market lets me make that decision, and doesn’t dictate the terms of my charity to me through levies and stupid taxes.

Which is why I don’t like emissions trading. Or the Green movement. They have no sympathy for that idea. They want their special interest to be everyone’s special interest. I have blogged about this before. In ranty fashion. Here. And Here. This little quote from  sums up what the dissonance I feel when it comes to the central green argument:

“Apparently our biggest problems are land clearing, extinct bird species, salinity and greenhouse gas emissions… and that my friends is why I hate hippies.”

That’s a quote that has stood the test of time.

Anyway, I didn’t start this post to quote myself – but rather to quote this guy, from a really interesting blog I subscribed to today:

“My grocery bill from Safeway, where I buy Nestle products and pesticide infused produce is 50% cheaper than my bill from a socially conscious store like Whole Foods, Mother’s Market or PCC.  While being committed to shopping in socially conscious ways, I am also committed to spending less. Savings on a grocery bill can be given to the Aid and Assistance Fund at church, go to help purchase backpacks for less fortunate students at my kids’ school, or be sent to my favorite non-profit organization in South Africa, Ithemba Lethu.

Divorce and climate change

There’s some interesting anecdotal evidence, and some reasonable studies that link divorce with social problems, developmental problems and property prices.

The argument on house prices goes that where traditionally couples would have stayed together in “wedded bliss” in the marital home – ie existed as one household – now they are splitting into two households. So the number of “households” has increased dramatically since quick and easy divorces came into being.

According to the ABS Census data on “Living Arrangements” – 9.6% of the population account for 24% of households – those are single person households.

I’m not really a fan of Family First. But I am a fan of families – and think they’re probably the most important “unit” in our society. Steve Fielding from Family First has just done the unthinkable. Linked climate change with divorce.

“We understand that there is a social problem (with divorce), but now we’re seeing there is also environmental impact as well on the footprint,” he said.

“Mitigating the impacts of resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce helps to achieve global environmental sustainability and saves money.”

Go get em Steve. So, the left blogotariat (like the commentariat but in blog form) have predictably panned him. The central pillar of the left’s argument is this:

“Fielding thinks that divorce is bad because the Church thinks divorce is bad, but most Australians accept it as a necessary part of life, so Fielding tries to link divorce to something that most Australians do think is bad”

The logic of that statement seems to be that Fielding is wrong that divorce is bad because most people think it’s “necessary” which seems to equate to “good” – with good being the binary, and logical, opposite to bad.

My question, particularly to my left leaning non-Christian friends, is does anybody actually think divorce is a good thing?

It’s not like anyone from the Christian side of things is arguing that it should be illegal – divorce is included in the OT laws in the bible and spoken about by Jesus – essentially as a necessary evil.

I don’t think anyone argues that – I would have thought someone suggesting that we look at ways to lower the rate of divorce as a way to lead more carbon friendly lives would have the backing of the left. It seems like a nice policy solution to an emerging cultural, environmental and economical issue.

It’s particularly an issue because while households are shrinking in number of people they’re growing in number and size.

The 2006 Census Housing Overview says:

Despite the decrease in average household size in Australia discussed earlier, changing lifestyle preferences and greater wealth have resulted in an increase in the average size of houses over time. This is especially evident in the increase in the average floor area of new residential dwellings; which increased by 31% in the 20 years to  2006–07.

And:

“The higher rate of growth in housing stock can be linked to the steady decline in the average number of people  per occupied private dwelling, from 4.5 persons in 1911 to 2.51 in 2006.”

Divorce must surely be one of the factors in this change – it’s not unreasonable to make the sort of link that Steve Fielding made. I’m not sure he deserves the scorn being poured on him by commenters at the Courier Mail and the original blog post from the left.

Climate nazis

My own personal climate change skepticism not withstanding… actually, I’m much more skeptical on the politics and economics of climate change than I am that the climate is changing… this little outburst by a Liberal MP has done nothing for the opposition’s credibility in a week where Malcolm Turnbull has slammed the government for not going far enough. When describing the myth that “scientific consensus” is meaningless Dr Dennis Jensen even managed to break Godwin’s Law:

“Albert Einstein was very much criticised by Hitler, and Hitler actually had a group of 100 top scientists in Germany write a book called 100 scientists against Einstein,” Dr Jensen said.

“Einstein was asked: ‘Doesn’t it bother you Dr Einstein that you’ve got so many scientists against you?’

“And he said: ‘It doesn’t take 100 scientists to prove me wrong, it takes a single fact’.”

Devine intervention

Miranda Devine sparked controversy by pre-emptively blaming green policy for the fires in the SMH last week. There was an outcry. I even wrote about it. I started following a fake Miranda Devine on Twitter (there’s also a fake Andrew Bolt) – but I can’t link to them because Twitter is down again.

The same venerated publication has another scribe – who leans more to the left – Elizabeth Farrelly. She fired this verbiage seemingly in the direction of her colleague in her take on events.

“Cut the trees! Burn the undergrowth! Hunt the sharks! Lynch the greens! Reprise, repay, repel. But in truth, to swim fish-filled, murky waters at twilight is to tattoo a big ‘BAIT’ sign on your behind. And to inhabit the bush, especially as climate change takes hold, is to make yourself fuel.

Certainly, we should feel compassion. And certainly, there should be regulations. Quite probably there should be more assiduous back-burning. But to blame green policies – to cull already endangered shark species, to reduce tree cover – is to blame nature for human folly.”

Now all the Herald’s big guns (except Annabel Crabb and Peter Hartcher who both write exclusively about politics) have had their say on the matter.

Black mark on green movement

While the green movement are trying not to jump up and down screaming “I told you so” when it comes to climate change and the fires/floods covering parts of Australia at the moment, and the loony “Christian” fringe is out blaming abortion laws, the right wing of the Australian media is lining up its ducks and preemptively declaring it open season on the green argument.

Arch conservative Herald columnist Miranda Devine – the paper’s attempt at providing “balanced” coverage – has weighed into the debate early. Blaming the green movement for the fires. I’m unsympathetic to anyone trying to advance their ideologies on the basis of tragedy. And giving air to this just “fans that flame” so to speak. Perhaps a poor choice of words…

The Herald ran this story alongside a piece on a resident who became an environmental vandal hero – after illegally clearing trees on his property to create a firebreak.  Perhaps the Fairfax group has decided inflicting “earth hour” upon the whole world wasn’t enough to give their environmental credentials any credibility next to News Ltd’s “One degree” committment. Maybe they’ve decided to throw out the centre left contingency and pitch to the Telegraph’s established right wing core… but here’s some of what Miss Devine had to say (readers from Townsville should note that she’s the columnist who said people who live in the tropics shouldn’t get cyclone aid because of their choice to live in a cyclone zone)… She’s shaping up as the Germaine Greer of the right (funnily enough she’d consider Greer as a nemesis in the true sense of the word).

“It was the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Governments appeasing the green beast have ignored numerous state and federal bushfire inquiries over the past decade, almost all of which have recommended increasing the practice of “prescribed burning”. Also known as “hazard reduction”, it is a methodical regime of burning off flammable ground cover in cooler months, in a controlled fashion, so it does not fuel the inevitable summer bushfires.”

Scarily, Devine actually makes a bit of sense regarding what is a stupid green policy. It’s just not the right time to be launching ideologically motivated political attacks.

Mothering instinct

You know what gets my goat. People who blame “mother nature” for things like massive bushfires and floods. 

How come “mother nature” is allowed to be evil and nasty and yet atheists and other anti-Christian philosophers say their big problem with the Christian God is that an “all loving, benevolent God” would not allow suffering.

Other thoughts:

I don’t know where the idea of God being “all loving” is – I think he’s holy and righteously angry as well. It’s in the bible people. 

Fires and floods don’t seem to be particularly “motherly” unless you’re a really nasty parent.

Why is it “more rational” to attribute this sort of disaster to “mother nature” than to God? I confess I don’t see “mother nature” out there trying to find followers. 

If there’s one thing that annoys me more than Christians trying to piggyback their causes cynically on the back of a disaster it’s hippies doing the same. If I hear one more hippy claiming that these fires are proof that we need more stringent carbon targets I will scream. My thoughts on climate change not withstanding the idea that Australia, a piddling island nation in the scheme of things, has much influence on the climate anyway is ridiculous. And calling for something that will cost Australian jobs while people are struggling with massive loss of life and a looming recession is not very sensitive. It could be political suicide though. On second thoughts. Go for it Greens. And invoke “mother nature” as you do it.

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