At the beginning of 2008 I had the opportunity to visit Nepal, organized by BMS World Mission. One of the projects I visited was the People, Energy, Environment and Development Association, where I met Narayan Prasad Chaulagain, who has conducted a long-term study of hydrological, meteorological and glaciological data from the Nepal Himalayas.
We are increasingly aware that global climate change has led to changes in rainfall patterns throughout the world with longer periods of drought and periods of more intense precipitation, which gives rise to an increased frequency of floods and landslides.
These changes are having a dramatic effect on daily life and the economy of Nepal. Warmer temperatures are increasing the water-holding capacity of the air, which results in reduction in soil moisture, a decrease in ground water reserves and a reduction in river flow.
The increased temperatures are also reducing the growing season. Therefore, the production of food and reduced river flow are having a dramatic effect on the production of electricity through hydropower.
The supply of water is crucial to the whole economy of Nepal. In addition to rainfall, Nepal is heavily dependent on the runoff from the Himalayan glaciers and ice sheets. The agricultural land is particularly vulnerable to the amount and frequency of rainfall. With 93 percent of Nepal’s workforce engaged in agriculture and 91 percent of Nepal’s electricity coming from hydropower plants, water plays a crucial role in the economy of the country.
But the future looks bleak. It is estimated that 86 percent of the glaciers and 58 percent of the ice reserves will be gone by 2050 with no further increase in global surface temperature, and a warming of 0.060 Celsius per year will see no glaciers left in the Nepal Himalayas by 2070.
I saw dry watercourses and experienced daily power cuts of eight hours per day in February 2008 in Kathmandu.
But in January 2009 I heard from one missionary that the power cuts were up to 14 hours per day, and one couple, Anne and Alan Penn, wrote in March to say that they only had water every other day because there have been no winter rains and the monsoon is not due until June. This may be an indication of rapidly worsening conditions, although the political and economic situation in Nepal may be a contributing factor in the case of power.
This is one snapshot of a world in crisis.
Why should we be concerned for the environment? A brief overview of Genesis 1-11 will help us to answer this question.
Genesis 1 and 2 present a picture of the beginnings of the universe and this world. We find the theological declaration that God created it, God ordered it, God loved it, and God was pleased with it. With such affirmation of God’s purposes, we, who claim to worship God, should be concerned.
But then tragedy strikes in the form of human beings with God-given freewill. Human beings decided that they wanted to be like God and know all the answers. They became jealous and violent, and the killing started. They believed that they had no need of God, and God’s wisdom as creator, at all. This is recounted in Genesis 3-5.
In our modern technological world, we should be warned that we who play God and think we know all the answers should be concerned.
The story progresses through the account of the Noah Flood in Genesis 6-9. God was disappointed with creation, God regretted what he had done, and God destroyed all but Noah, his family and the animals God ordered him to preserve. When the flood receded at God’s command, God made a covenant with Noah and the whole of the created world.
If God cares in this way, if God is concerned, and if God has declared this covenant of faithful love with creation, then we too should covenant with God in our care of the planet.
But sadly the story of human power play returns in Genesis 11, where human beings seek to scale the heights of God only to become scattered and confused. We have built our “tower” of industrial development, committing the sin of idolatry as we do. We seek to become “world-creators,” claiming for ourselves that which belongs to God. The result has been a trail of violation, failure and destruction.
We recognize the counterpart of this tragic story at Pentecost, where we see the birth of the Church as a restored and redeemed community, which models for the world the possibility of a new humanity in Christ.
There is no longer any scientific dispute over the evidence for climate change, nor of the human contribution to its rapidly developing effects. The situation is getting even worse even faster.
At an emergency climate summit in mid-March in Copenhagen, 2,500 leading environmental experts agreed to a statement that called on governments to act immediately before large parts of the world became unfit for human living.
As disciples of Christ we cannot close our eyes to the facts. We will be complicit in the starvation, poverty and injustice that results if we do not act.
We as Christians have a contribution to make; it is our calling. God created the world and entrusted its care to us, and he will redeem the whole of creation (Romans 8:19-22).
We have the responsibility of thinking and acting ecologically. We need to be re-awakened to the Gospel ethic and recognize that human greed is at the root of the environmental crisis.
Understanding and perceiving the situation and moving to a change of heart or mind are repentance. There are steps that we can take in sustainable consumption, which involves ethical choices in our buying and lifestyle. We will need to recognize our ecological footprints on the earth – our impact on our local and global environment.
For us as Western Christians there is also a need to develop a global perspective that recognizes the impact of our lifestyle choices, and our economic, trade and industrial decisions on the rest of humanity.
In accepting our relationship with the developing world, we must actively seek to address the issues of justice and poverty, which are an integral part of global environmental concerns.
We identify the links of the increased consumption of fossil fuels and global climate change with starvation and water shortages in the developing world.
We also recognize the unfair distribution of resources and restrictive practices in international trade that are a factor in increasing environmental destruction in parts of the developing world.
The call of Christ is expressed as “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
This is a different sort of life, a Christ-like life, a life that is in Christ. It is to deny self by moving away from a selfish materialistic lifestyle, to take up the cross-shaped life of sacrificial love by sharing God’s good gifts of creation with all, and to follow Jesus in his compassion for others and for the world.
The call is to join in Christ’s redemptive mission. To see the created world as an expression of God’s order and love, to see everyone as equally valued by God, to take special care of the poor and the outcast, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We have a God who is intimately involved in creation, whose desire is to see the redemption of what was a good creation, and who invites human beings to share in God’s creative and redemptive activity.
Our response as those who would follow Christ is to be what we can become through the Holy Spirit – true children of God through whose Christ-like activity the earth might be redeemed.
John Weaver is the president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. His column appeared in Britain’s Baptist Times and is posted here with permission.
Vice president of the John Ray Initiative (JRI), an educational charity focused on connecting environment, science and Christianity in the United Kingdom. Weaver was principal of South Wales Baptist College until his retirement in 2011 and served as the president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 2008-09.