The threat posed by climate change and environmental degradation tends to make us think about survival and look for solutions that will guarantee survival. That's a reasonable response to any threat; but the sheer complexity of this situation and the continuing uncertainty about some of the precise detail (how late is it? have we reached the 'tipping point?) make us especially vulnerable. We are bound to realise sooner or later that easy solutions are not at hand and that there is no one cause of the whole crisis that will allow us to point to some single scapegoat. This in turn makes us vulnerable to panic on one hand, apathy on the other, and the illusion that someone will both take the blame and assume the responsibility of finding a solution – usually meaning a series of grand technological solutions requiring massive investments of money nobody seems to have.
- Rowan Williams, "The Climate Crisis: Fashioning a Christian Response"Either we're both barking up the wrong tree, or we're displaying similar bark because we belong to the same tree. Either way, at least I'm not alone.
This address, given just days ago in Southwark Cathedral contains many important insights and claims. To pick just some of them, I agree with Williams that the first casualty of ecological degradation is the human soul, that we can't damage what is not us without also damaging ourselves. And I also agree that we are in need a reality check about the meaning of being human, that we need re-examine the ways in which many of our cultural assumptions about affluence and consumption lead us away rather than towards human flourishing.
However, we depart company when he says "To be human, in the biblical world view, is to be given a responsibility for the future of life." I do not think that it is our obligation (nor, contra Williams, was it Noah's) to keep something (even ourselves) alive. We are to care for life, and respect it, and nurture it. But it is God who gives life and in the end it is also God who takes it away or preserves it. God may and does call us to a role of responsibility for one another and his good world. But to believe that we bear the full burden of the future of life is another form of human hubris, and like all hubris, it will eventually crush us.
UPDATE: I should have pointed out that Sam Norton has also been responding to the Archbishop's address here and here and we share much in common on this topic. I would affirm almost everything he says in his second post. However, perhaps the most significant difference between us would be that I believe national governments can still have a significant effect (for good and ill) on the effectiveness of the "airbag" and "seat-belts" and so national political action is not irrelevant (though it is by no means either primary or a "solution"). To shift Sam's car-off-the-cliff metaphor, perhaps if we think of a car that has lost traction and is sliding off the road, then even though a crash cannot be avoided, the actions of the driver can still make a major difference.