Evangelical Christians are not leaving discussions of the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people to the scientists and diplomats from more than 190 countries gathered at the COP21 United Nations climate conference.
At a Dec. 5 conference in Paris on “A Christian Response to Climate Change,” sponsored by A Rocha International and the Lausanne Creation Care Network, multiple speakers discussed the impact of climate change on poorer and vulnerable people.
Usually this topic included a reminder that Christians are to love their neighbors.
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) taped short remarks for the conference.
Noting a recent NAE statement on the environment and climate change, Anderson said their “primary concern is for the poor and vulnerable” and expressed hope that evangelicals will continue to “seek to protect God’s creation.”
He also expressed prayers for the climate talks in Paris and for the evangelicals there serving as advocates.
Rachel Hauser, a Swiss national who serves with the missions and development organization Servants in the Philippines, echoed Anderson’s call to particularly care for the poor and vulnerable.
The Philippines is one of 20 nations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
“The poor are always the first to be affected because they are living in the cheaper, lower-lying areas,” she explained, adding that poorer people generally are also less likely to have insurance or other types of safety nets.
Hauser noted that Christians are charitable after natural disasters hit. Since climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of disasters, she urged Christians also to give attention to creation care.
“It is certainly praiseworthy that many people donate a lot of money after natural disasters,” she said. “But maybe now it’s time to become active in healing the Earth [and] taking care of our planet, which was created by a loving God and entrusted to all of us.”
Dominic Roser, a political theorist who serves as the James Martin Fellow of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, talked about political and religious implications of climate change and the COP21 talks.
Since richer countries can afford to bring more negotiators to the table, he called the talks unfair. Ultimately, he said the COP21 “tree” will be “known by its fruit.”
Noting that critics of addressing climate change often point to emissions by China, Roser explained that much of China’s emissions are to make goods for Western nations.
If imports and exports are factored into national emission levels, the picture looks much different.
Even though we live in a globally connected society, national interests generally do not consider the needs of noncitizens who live in other countries but are impacted by a nation’s actions like carbon emissions, Roser said.
He added that when politicians talk about caring for the “common good,” they often actually mean only the “national common good.”
Roser discussed the prophet Nathan’s parable to King David about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb.
Much like David had previously not recognized his wrongdoings, developed nations are also blind to the impact of their carbon emissions on others, Rose argued.
“We, too, have a blind spot for a great injustice, and this injustice is climate injustice,” he argued, adding that climate injustice is harder to spot and explain than the injustice pointed out by Nathan.
“The rich man stole the lamb from the poor’s man’s arms,” he explained. “We, however, steal the lamb by a complex chemical process.”
Chris Walley, Mediterranean science and conservation projects coordinator at A Rocha International, led a breakout session on what geology says about climate change.
A former geology and environmental science professor, he argued that since “all truth is God’s truth,” Christians should not fear science.
“Because we are made in the image of God, we have some ability to understand what he has done in his creation,” Walley added.
Given the scientific consensus on climate change and the potentially devastating impacts of climate change, Walley believes people should work to prevent additional climate change even if they have doubts about the science.
Invoking the “precautionary principle,” he said one should not touch a stove even if they doubt that the stove is hot.
Similarly, he thinks that even if people have doubts about climate change, they should still work to reduce it due to the “risk of some sort of catastrophe.”
“The Earth can handle change, but this is very rapid,” Walley said of the evidence of climate change. “The change is almost certainly too rapid for many organisms to handle.”
Noting a common argument drawn from the biblical account of Noah about God’s promise with a rainbow, he offered a different theological take.
“God promises he won’t send catastrophe,” Walley said. “But does he promise to stop the catastrophe we bring on ourselves?”
Editor’s note: Kaylor is in Paris for the COP21 United Nation’s climate change conference. Pictures and videos from his trip are available here. Previous news stories on COP21 are:
Baptist Center for Ethics will observe its 25th anniversary in 2016. If you benefit from the daily articles appearing on EthicsDaily.com, as well as our documentary films, video interviews and other moral resources, please consider making a donation today. Click here to donate in $10 increments. Click here to donate in $50 increments.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.