Article of the week: A Christian way to save the planet?

16 January 2021


Wesley Paxton considers our response to climate change 

WHAT should Christians do  about climate change? The  simple answer is, as much as we can. But that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

Not long ago National Geographic claimed that eight of the world’s ten most polluted rivers drain from Asia into the Pacific Ocean. This is where much of the plastic in the Pacific originates. The other two rivers feed into the Indian Ocean.

One could almost claim that we in the UK, next to the Atlantic Ocean, do not need to worry about changing our ways to combat the problem. However, we are all responsible for our own actions, and others not doing their bit is no excuse for us not doing ours.

If we are going to make a difference, then our individual actions need to be matched by social and industrial change.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has pointed out aviation’s contribution to rising CO2 levels. With coronavirus restrictions and consumer resistance to foreign travel, the aircraft that still fly can be as little as 10 per cent full. If or when travel aspirations return to pre-
pandemic levels, rebalancing to keep emissions down would be desirable.

Trains use far less fuel and produce far less CO2 per passenger mile than planes, but this is not always reflected in the price of a ticket. If airlines could agree to share passengers and fill fewer planes to prevent flying with thousands of empty seats every day, that would be progress.

When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions from road travel, unless one is willing and able to restrict movement to destinations that are within walking or biking distance, the options are not great. Electric cars are still too expensive for the majority of drivers to be willing to buy them. A century ago Henry Ford produced an average of two million Model Ts a year for two decades, and the price tumbled to make them the world’s most popular car. When the industry agrees to design a latter-day Model E (‘E’ for electric), running on exchangeable batteries, and share out the production lines to build two million a year, we will be on the way.

There is also simply not enough renewable electricity around to replace oil and gas. Electric cars are not an option for most drivers, especially one-car households, at least until we get battery exchange as we do with gas cylinders. Manufacturers need to agree on a standard battery that all cars will use, a standard location – probably between the wheels and under the floor – and the same method of exchanging them. An example was set more than a century ago when they all agreed on a standard fuel nozzle, without which we would not be able to fill up wherever we go.

Millions of single-use plastic drink bottles are used daily. Most could be replaced by a universal returnable, re-fillable-with-anything-anywhere glass bottle. Don’t hold your breath, though. Bottle deposits were claimed to be on the way a few years ago, but where are they now? Inertia that perpetuates the status quo is strong. And, paradoxically, over the past two generations, change has been in the wrong direction towards more disposable items.

In December last year there was an impassioned plea from the United Nations for us to drastically reduce our burning of fossil fuels to reduce CO2 production. Trees are one of the few ways of absorbing CO2 that actually works – and they are cheap. Planting millions of them, especially in areas with a 12-month growing season, such as West Africa, and paying people to look after them, might be a good solution.

Much of this is beyond the power of most of us and requires businesses and governments to agree. It is claimed that 95 per cent of food is sold by the 10 biggest supermarkets. Getting the top buyers into a room and refusing to let them out until they agree to use far less plastic packaging would be one place to start. 

Genesis 1:28 says: ‘Fill the Earth and subdue it.’ Although ‘subdue’ does have connotations of control, it doesn’t say ‘plunder and destroy’. However, in the next chapter, Adam is in the Garden of Eden ‘to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15). This suggests we have a responsibility to be good stewards.

Stewards look after things for someone else. We look after the planet for God because ‘the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’ (Psalm 24:1). We also look after it so that we can hand it on to our grandchildren, whatever state it is in. At the moment we could be doing better.




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