COP26 reflection from Melanie Nazareth
Environmental degradation, climate change and the structural sin of social inequality march together.
As we seek urgent action to mitigate and adapt in relation to the effects of rising global temperatures and ecological destruction, this acknowledgement must be the bedrock of our advocacy and agitation. The arc of Scripture and Christian tradition demands a contemporary discourse that seeks to protect and empower those who are marginalised, impoverished and oppressed by our hubristic devouring of resources created for common good. A theocentric compass for navigating this crisis of the human condition requires attention to the narratives of human dignity and agency, the rights of those in need, and to righteousness among nations – and in responding to the concerns of these narratives we will need to cultivate a critical awareness of the socioeconomic and racial intersections of the climate and ecological crisis and an openness to dialogue about its causes and effects such as structural racism and the need for reparative justice for the legacies of slavery and colonial extractivism.
Pope Francis reminds us that we must not shrink from demands for justice nor from our own culpability, “Authentic solutions” he writes “are never found by dampening boldness, shirking concrete demands or assigning blame to others. On the contrary, solutions are found by ‘overflow’, that is, by transcending the contraposition that limits our vision and recognizing a greater gift that God is offering” (Querida Amazonia §105).
Pope Francis reminds us also that our “[d]ialogue must not only favour the preferential option on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded, but also respect them as having a leading role to play” (Querida Amazonia §27).
A mission for environmental justice will centre those areas where the climate and ecological and other environmental crises sit closest, working to create global societal resilience and a capacity for adaptive agency within an increasingly dispossessed part of our human family. It is the justice, mercy and humility that God asks of us (Micah 6:8). Environmental justice must no less respect the integrity of the whole of Creation. In our just transition to sustainability we are called to honour not only our fellow human beings, but all the diverse goodness embodied in our Earth. Critical to this is the acknowledgment of the role of every part of Creation in the glory of God.
Instead of the perspective of human exceptionalism that allows us to to view the rest of Creation simply as ecosystem services to be exploited we need a metanoia: a spiritual and material conversion that reconnects human flourishing with being part of the flourishing of the community of Creation. These interlinked imperatives should make us sceptical about relying on technological fixes and on offsetting our emissions through schemes based in the global south to allow us to continue our business as usual, questioning whether utilising poorer countries’ abilities to absorb emissions, using negative emission technologies that may have unknown or undeclared potential to harm biodiversity and new energy technologies that may involve destructive processes in extracting rare earth metals are the means by which we live in right relationship within Creation.
The profit and growth imperatives that drive our systems imprison us in constructs that operate to defeat most individual efforts to live regeneratively and justly. However an acknowledgment that this is a systemic issue does not absolve us from acting. We participate in the structural sin of climate harm and injustice, and it is incumbent upon us in repenting our sinfulness to take what action we can to change the structures that cause the harm. As followers of Christ, we are given a route map for challenging our broken system.
- Throughout our biblical landscape is threaded a narrative of prophetic voice and truth telling: the Old Testament prophets challenged the leadership and the people when they had gone astray, they spoke truth to power.
- The Jewish culture into which Jesus was born was no stranger to the use of civil disobedience in the service of God’s purpose. The Jewish midwives of Moses’ time conspired to break the unjust law (Exodus 1:15-21), the book of Daniel is a charter for civil disobedience.
- The Jesus of the Gospel narratives not only followed the tradition of the prophetic voice, reminding people of uncomfortable truths about riches and prompting reparation (Matthew 19:24, Luke 19:8 ), he too had a radical message of civil disobedience.
- Jesus challenged and broke the law in very public ways and pointed to the need to assert God’s purpose over the inadequate and unjust law (Mark 3:1-6, Matthew 12:1-8, 15:1-7).
- Outraged by the injustice of the Temple regime, Jesus turned over tables and drove people out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17).
This route mapped for us in Scripture is one of direct action in faithful service to God’s truth and justice.
There remains the gritty concern of how to redirect and re-order our systems to bring about the concrete changes we need. The temptation for rich, industrialised economies to buy their way out of their climate responsibilities through offset credits and to disguise the extent of their fair shares of global decarbonisation by measuring in terms of production rather than consumption further entrenches historic paradigms of inequality and exploitation. The short-term cycles of government mitigate against the implementation of the strong policies needed to meet just climate targets. An ambitious law is needed to create legally binding obligations to address these issues: the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.
The CEE Bill is not a panacea for the groanings of Creation – pledges by rich countries to provide climate finance to poorer countries, limited reparation at best, are at risk in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic but, as Kumi Naidoo writes “The urgency and scale of the response required to tackle the emergency facing life on Earth is in this Bill. Those who are vulnerable are already suffering, the Bill provides a route for these communities to define the actions needed to protect them and all that they cherish.” (CEE Bill Executive Summary, https://www.ceebill.uk/bill)
Melanie Nazareth, mother to four young adults and a barrister with a practice in children work, whose ecological conversion followed an encounter with Extinction Rebellion in April 2019, is an activist within Christian Climate Action.
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…
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