• British theologian / cleric joins call for honest discussion of risk of societal collapse
  • Last week’s UN Climate Ambition Summit offers scant encouragement

A senior Church of England cleric has signed a public letter in The Guardian calling for open discussion of the risk that society faces ‘disruption and even collapse’ from climate change. The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, who was Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral until 2017, joins over 250 scientists and scholars from across the world in subjects ranging from climatology and agriculture to philosophy and theology in arguing that ‘it is time to invite each other into difficult conversations’.

The letter says that ‘five years of failing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accord, we must now face the consequences’. By the UK government’s own admission following this week’s United Nations Climate Ambition Summit, nations are still failing to commit to deep enough cuts to limit warming to 1.5C. The UN Secretary General called on all world leaders to declare a state of climate emergency.

In their letter published just before the summit, signatories accept that ‘researchers in many areas now consider societal collapse to be a credible scenario this century’. Governments and armed forces (including the UK Ministry of Defence) are making plans for the risk of catastrophic rises in global temperatures. However the signatories are concerned that ‘the topic is not well reported in the media, and mostly absent from civil society and politics’.

Dr Ward was Canon Theologian at Bradford Cathedral before her appointment as Dean of St Edmundsbury in Suffolk. Having moved to Cumbria, she wrote Like There’s No Tomorrow: Climate Crisis, Eco-Anxiety and God, published in March 2020 by Sacristy Press. She credits inspiration for the book to a paper by Dr Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria, who initiated the letter.

Explaining why she signed the letter, Dr Ward said:

“Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation article of 2018 has had an enormous global impact with its warning of societal collapse as a result of the climate catastrophe.  Christian voices need to engage, bringing the wisdom of our traditions to help people find the spiritual resources to lament, hope and act as we face into the disruptions that are already affecting many people across the world. With God’s grace, anything is possible; but it’s important that we all awake to the seriousness of the climate catastrophe before us and support the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Dr Ward is an advisor to Borrowed Time, a project of the charity Green Christian which helps churches develop pastoral care in response to climate anxiety.  The project’s leader, Paul Bodenham, commented:

“It is hard to face the possibility of collapse, especially for campaigners who have so much invested in averting it. This letter asks us to do two seemingly impossible things at once – to press for the best while also contemplating the worst. But as growing numbers of activists are finding, there is a way through this paradox to a place of greater courage and purpose. To get there we need precisely the existential skills that faith communities embody.  I sincerely hope that the churches take up the theological and pastoral challenge in this letter, and resist the instinct to look the other way.”


Notes to editors

The text of the letter is available from The Guardian website (edited) and the University of Cumbria (with footnotes, references and complete list of signatories)

For further information follow the links below:



Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 14 December, 2020 | Category: Borrowed Time Climate Emergency Media Release | Comments: 2


Iain Climie:

July 13, 2021

I have to say I sympathise with David here, especially as many actions which are essential if climate change generates the expected heating would have made perfect sense anyway e.g. less waste and switching from intensive to regenerative agriculture and/or silviculture. See also one of my regular explosions in the Guardian letters column: together with something I put here:

David Rhodes:

December 14, 2020

Lament is clearly the latest church buzz word. To help people 'find the spiritual resources to lament' and 'invite people to engage in difficult conversations' etc is pietistic bollocks. Apart from the Pope,the church leadership is utterly pathetic. The churches (2 billion members worldwide) could and should be threatening politicians with an ultimatum: Act or you're sacked. Climate change is upon us. The outcome will be catastrophic for our children/grandchildren. They need us to take immediate political action. The Church is failing them. This is an absolute betrayal of the command to love our neighbour. To do nothing is to aid the oppressor. The Church has been doing exactly that for centuries.


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