It is sometimes claimed that Christianity and concern for the environment are incompatible.
After all, the old ‘Penny Catechism’ assured us oldies (I am 69) that the earth
and all it contains was “...made for man’s use and benefit”. We also read
in Genesis that the Lord God gave Adam complete dominion over “all creatures that on
earth do dwell”. What we have forgotten is that with the gift of dominion we were also
given responsibility. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to
till it and keep it.” Yes indeed, we went on to till and to exploit our wonderful Eden
but we have long forgotten that we were also supposed to keep it.
For the more than 200 years since the launch of the industrial revolution that promised
dominion has become more and more complete. The large‑scale but relatively difficult
extraction and burning of coal was soon followed by the much easier and even more voracious
extraction of oil and gas.
Oil and gas, more than any other single factor, have facilitated revolutions in medicine and
agriculture. These have enabled the global population to grow from an estimated one billion
in 1800 to more than six billion today. Even optimists, however, expect that all but the
most difficult and expensive to extract reserves will have been exhausted within the
lifetime of those now in their twenties.
Of course there are still huge reserves of coal, enough for another hundred years if not
more, waiting to be extracted and burned.
Unhappily, the burning of oil, gas and coal produces carbon dioxide (CO2). This, as we now
know, produces climate change. Should we Christians – especially if we are Catholics
– care and act accordingly? Will we be condemned by an avaricious world if we do? Will
we be condemned by God and our own truer selves if we do not?
The Kyoto Treaty to limit the production of so called ‘greenhouse gases’ was
signed in 1991. It has proved largely ineffective – global emissions of CO2 are now
almost four times greater.
Scientists have begun increasingly urgent researches into the records of the varying CO2
concentrations in the atmosphere. Some of the relevant records date from hundreds of
millions of years ago. Scientists have also researched the records of average global
temperatures back through similar periods of time. This painstaking work has shown that
there is an inexorable relationship between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the
temperature of our planet. Increases in CO2 concentrations, however caused, are always
followed by increases in the average global temperature.
To apply the results of their research to forecasting what is likely to happen in the
decades to come they have also been working to develop ever more sophisticated computer
models of our atmosphere and biosphere.
Among the more alarming conclusions is that any rise in average global temperatures of more
than 2 degrees centigrade is expected to trigger a ‘loop’, a ‘positive
feedback’. Among other unstoppable consequences will be the release of vast quantities
of naturally stored CO2 as the Siberian permafrost melts down. Once that process kicks in no
actions by individuals or governments will be able to prevent the resultant further
increases in the average global temperature and the unimaginable catastrophes to
The sheer complexity of our interlinked atmosphere and biosphere and the vagaries of
existing records mean that scientists have been unable to produce any simple formula or
graph that might accurately express the relationship between any concentration of CO2 in the
atmosphere and the resultant global temperature. They have had to fall back on a combination
of statistics and the kinds of analysis employed by bookmakers and insurers to establish
betting odds and actuarial risks.
Among these complexities is that carbon dioxide is not the only gas known to increase global
temperatures. Methane, a byproduct of the decay of dead plant and animal matter (hence its
traditional name: ‘marsh gas’), must also be factored in. The result is
expressed as the ‘CO2 equivalent’.
The climatologist Malte Meinshausen suggested in 2006 that if the CO2 equivalent in the
atmosphere reaches a concentration of 550 parts per million (ppm) there will be an average
likelihood of 82% that global warming will exceed two degrees. At 475 ppm the average
likelihood falls to 64%. Only if concentrations are at 400 ppm or below will there be a
relatively low chance (an average of 28% – just over one in five) that a rise of more
than two degrees will ensue. The current level is 459ppm. Yet no government in the world has
set an official target lower than Sweden’s proposed 550 ppm CO2 equivalent.
The target set by our own UK government is for an apparently similar upper limit of 550 ppm.
However, scientists have discovered that this figure refers only to CO2. When methane is
added the actual CO2 equivalent rises to a very high risk 666 ppm. The ancients would have
considered ‘666v to be a very spooky figure indeed!
Moreover, the scientists stress that their forecasts are no more than approximations. They
are prepared, however, to agree with politicians and economists that the 28% risk of a rise
in global temperatures of two degrees associated with 400 ppm is ‘low’.
But let us imagine a situation in which one in every five planes leaving Heathrow was doomed
to crash. Would the public accept official assurances that such a proportion was a
‘low’ risk? That seems to be the kind of gambling with the future of our planet
being openly promoted by political leaders and their economic and business gurus in the
developed and developing world. In a society in which technology and wealth are the new
golden calves the inconvenient warnings and teachings of both scientists and priests have
become increasingly marginalized and ignored.
We have become the wealthiest people the world has ever known. However, we are not satisfied
and, as the newly elected President of France has emphasized to an adoring audience,
continued and increasing growth remains the only game in town.
CAFOD is promoting a campaign with the slogan: “Live simply so that they may simply
live!” If our collective dash for cash gamble fails there may indeed be no option left
but to live simply. Then we the wealthy ones may have some chance to simply live. The tragic
irony of such a scenario is that the poor and exploited and marginalized people in Africa
and similar regions who have contributed least to the fateful CO2 equivalent will become its
Am I my brother’s keeper? Are we? Is anybody? Are we truly free to do whatever we like
with our money, with our time, with our possessions, with our Garden of Eden? There is a
proverb that says: “Take what you like,” says God, “take it and pay for
It was Saint Augustine, I think, who said that we should pray as if everything depended on
God, but that we should act as if everything depended on us. Or, as someone else put it,
“He prays but little who prays only on his knees!”
The well‑known charity’s web page on this global problem.
Christians in Science
CiS is an international network of those concerned with the relationship between science and Christian faith, open to scientists, teachers, students and all those with an
interest in this dialogue.
United Nations Climate Change Conference – Bali, 3 ‑ 14 December
The Conference, hosted by the Government of Indonesia, brings together representatives of over 180
countries together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and the
The two week period includes the sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, its subsidiary
bodies as well as the Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol. A ministerial segment in the second
week will conclude the Conference.
Cardiff Transition Project
The Cardiff Transition Project is to here to help people in Cardiff plan how we can change our lives to create a positive future in the face of environmental challenges- low energy, low carbon and sustainable - healthy and happy.
Welcome to eFreeko - Recycle unwanted items for free.
Here you will find lots of items that people are willing to give away, for FREE! This is instead of taking them to a local landfill site. The aim of this site is to reduce
the amount of waste that goes to landfill (20.9 million tonnes of it last year in the UK) and recycling is great news for the environment. And FREE stuff is great news too!
It is too late to stop global warming in the short term, but by being "carbon neutral" we can slow the rate of change and give more time for human populations and wildlife to adapt.
Together we are irresistible - together we count. Taking steps together we can do almost anything we choose.
Just as we have polluted our world to the edge of climate chaos we also have the resources and knowledge to save it. It comes down to what we want, what we dream of. If we choose we can make our politicians take the action needed.
“...does exactly what it says – it helps you think biblically about climate change! I thought this might be yet another book telling us to live in a more environmentally
friendly way’ – but it wasn’t! I found that is was fresh, insightful, challenging (but not preachy) and really got me thinking.”
A Moral Climate by Michael S. Northcott
The ethics of global warming. Michael S. Northcott, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2007.
Human tide – the real migration crisis
On Monday 14 May 2007, Christian Aid published this report warning of the likely catastrophic consequences of
climate change on the already marginalised people of Africa.
Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living
Nick Spencer & Robert White: SPCK, 2007.
“. . . goes far beyond the boundaries of the problem of climate change, to a
future in which sustainability in all its aspects is paramount and where the whole
global human community no longer rapes the earth and its resources, but lives
harmoniously and comfortably with it...”
The food crisis – a global problem...
Climate change, whether or not due to human activity, is a demonstrable feature of our wonderful blue planet.
It is an aspect of the growing food crisis that cannot be painted out of the picture.