The world’s environmental challenges will need to be met by a “different quality of spiritual leadership,” according to veteran green campaigner Jonathon Porritt.

Speaking at a Christian Ecology Link meeting in England, Porritt praised the “very special” talents of Christian leaders like the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishops of London and Liverpool.

But he said that the church’s influence on society had been weakened because it has been “self-indulgently obsessed by matters of human sexuality and women in leadership. It’s utterly wretched that this amount of passionate energy should be wasted like this.”

Speaking on “A Sustainable World: Reasons To Be Hopeful,” Porritt drew on work by Jeremy Rifkin, author of “The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis.”

“We take it for granted that we are wired for aggression, greed, short-termism, and that we live in a world of people geared toward self-interest,” he said.

But the idea that “the only way a species succeeds in life is by doing others down, by competition, the survival of the fittest at the expense of other people, being more competitive, more aggressive” is intellectually flawed, he said.

Instead, “We are wired for empathy. There is a trend of destruction, but there is a trend of rising collaboration. It is the sheer urgency of the crisis we face today that will bring humankind together as never before.”

He criticized the “cornucopian fantasy” of keeping the economic model the same as it is but said that moving toward a collaborative rather than a competitive model would be very demanding.

“Our economy depends on frenetic consumption. Without some kind of access to spiritual leadership, it’s a very difficult task.”

However, Porritt added, “There is a strand of deep wisdom in all religions that seeks to find a point of connectivity with other people. I don’t see how we can rise to the challenge of getting to that point of connectivity unless we call on our spiritual resources.

“Leaders are beginning to realize slowly that they have to demonstrate a different quality of leadership.

“Part of it is based on a reverence for creation, thinking through our obligations. There is a world of difference between respect for the workings of nature and reverence for creation.”

He made a passionate call for the spiritual value of social justice to be part of the environmentalist agenda.

“There is no version of green politics worth thinking about that is not also based on social justice. For me, social justice and the redistribution of wealth is as much a driver as concern for the environment.

“The radical concept of the call for social justice is there in the teaching of all religions. How long will we live in a world where social justice seems to be a vague abstraction rather than a pulsating reality? Justice is not just intellectual; it is a felt passion.”

He admitted that more scientists now believe that it was impossible to meet the challenges of population growth, now expected to level out at 10 billion, including the scarcity of natural resources, particularly water, and climate change.

But he said that he was encouraged by technological advances. Chinese manufacturers of photo-voltaic cells for solar power, for instance, were confident that they could bring the cost of energy down to the equivalent of gas or oil within three years.

“That means that hundreds of millions of the rural poor can now anticipate their children having access to very reasonably priced sources of energy.

“I can’t help but be excited when the genius of humankind couples up with large amounts of money to bring solutions to our problems. I am much more optimistic about the role of technology than ever before.”

This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.

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