COP26 reflection from Ed Echlin

A new way of thinking

“Night shall be thrice night over you,

And heaven an iron cope.

Do you have joy without a cause,

Yea, faith without a hope?”

G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

The threat King Alfred confronted when Danes, “with horned heads” and “scarlet beards like blood”, swept into Wessex, demanded faith, hope – and resolute damage limitation. The climate crisis is even more frightening than that which faced Alfred and Wessex. Because as sea waters, like modern Vikings, rush across shores and into estuaries and, as valiant Maldives islanders and Bangladesh delta people poignantly remind us, our dominant culture of relentless economic growth and global trade, so destabilises the climate as to threaten the very future of life on Earth. Jesus and the Church – which is Jesus as community today – along with other faiths have much in our tradition to help stem the rising tide and restabilise climate.

We are the Jesus movement. We must remind ourselves that the Church, as Christ existing as community today, has a priceless contribution to offer the Earth community in its struggle to mitigate climate change and adapt to already irreversible damage. In a word, we have much to offer for the survival of the Earth’s ecosystems, of society, especially the poor, the Church itself, and our children.

Within his radically prophetic alternative lifestyle, dependent on God’s providence and human sharing fellowship, Jesus preached the dawning of God’s kingdom, using metaphors drawn from peasant and lake life. We are especially familiar with parables of seeds, the good shepherd, the good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the mustard bush, the vineyard, the net bursting with fish, and many more. Jesus preached and taught in more than words. He was in the inclusive tradition of his remote ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, welcoming people who found God in diverse ways. This is important for his followers today when different “faiths” unite and work together to stabilise climate, care for Earth’s creatures, and seek an economy of quality, not infinite “growth”. He also preached – and illustrated – the coming kingdom in his prophetic actions, notably in shared meals, some of which were outside (Matthew 15:32-38; John 6:1-14). These meals, inclusive of the fertility of the local soil community, and open to people “from East and West”, were enacted parables of the inclusive kingdom.

We cannot hope for God to stabilise the climate, securing our food and shelter, unless we ourselves live in active hope, urgently contributing to climate change mitigation, and by adapting and helping others to adapt to ineluctable human induced “climate chaos”.

Edward P. Echlin, Climate and Christ, A Prophetic Alternative, Columba, 2010.

We need a new way of thinking about the lethal power of technologies in our age. We can mine the oceans, fire the forests, pierce the ozone, poison fresh water, walk on and litter other planets, manipulate cells of plant and animal life and alter the climate. A radically reverent “new way of thinking”, and acting – more humble and loving towards the Earth – is essential if we are to survive. It’s a long way from the head to the heart, longer still from heart to hand.

We have become a globalised species with vast, even nuclear, technologies, more earth illiterate than our ancestors, prone to hate, shoot, stab, pollute and bomb each other. We need a new way of relating to the Earth as filled with the fullness of Christ, not as “resources” to dominate for “economic growth”, “development”, and now “free trade” for the “market economy”, but an Earth of interdependent creatures, relational beings, all filled with the fullness, the pleroma, of Christ. As Ignatius Loyola wrote to Frances Borgia in the sixteenth century, “The fullness of our eternal God dwells in all created things, giving them being and keeping them in existence with his infinite being and presence.”

In commitment to “our eternal God” to Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, present in all created things, we can heal and let be the Earth. Because we are Jesus people we can nurture the Earth community as created sisters and brothers. If, as Barbara Ward said, we listen to the wise people and prophets among us, we may yet avoid the extinction of which they warn. None of us alone can change all that needs changing, or heal all that needs healing. But by responding to Jesus, dwelling in the Earth, by making the journey from head to heart to hand, by living sustainably locally, by loving the created Earth community, and liturgising the cosmos, we can make a difference. We can be part of the solution. We can plant fruit trees. We can heal that part of Earth entrusted to us. We can leave our local Earth community a little better than we found it. We can let God’s glory through. God’s glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ.

Dr Edward P. Echlin

Edward P Echlin (1930-2019) wrote extensively on Christian ecology over many decades. His most systematic book The Cosmic Circle, Jesus and Ecology (2004) relates Jesus Christ to the Earth from his Nazareth years as craftsman and food grower to the inclusion of the Earth community in Jesus’ suffering and death on the cosmic cross, effecting the whole cosmos, and his resurrection “filling all things”.

One of the most effective things we can do about COP26 is to encourage our government to demonstrate genuine climate leadership in its own laws and policies. And one of the best ways to do that is to support the CEE Bill:

Have a look at all the actions we can take around COP26:

And for more inspiration…



Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 20 August, 2021 | Category: Articles Climate Emergency COP26 | Comments: 3

Comments on "COP26 reflection from Ed Echlin"

Iain Climie:

August 21, 2021

Thanks Paul, very kind. I'd sooner be remembered for what I did, how I contributed and what I did right (I'd like to gloss over the numerous errors but they were there) than what I owned. This seems unusual in the modern world.

Paul Strickland:

August 21, 2021

The analogy with Pharoah is excellent.

Iain Climie:

August 20, 2021

Can I suggest addressing waste (especially in the food system which has reached obscene levels) and the whole "make more money, buy more stuff" approach? Do we want to be buried like latter day Pharoahs with a lifetime supply of consumer goods or is a life that benefits people and nature more worthwhile? My post about food security on the climate coalition website is hopefully of some use or interest.

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