Our goal must be to make real the gospel, with its injunction to love our neighbors--not to drown them, not to sicken them, not to make it impossible for them to grow crops--but to love them.
There are many compelling reasons why it is important to protect the environment and take action on climate change. There are practical reasons: if we pollute our air, water and land, we will have nothing to breathe, drink, or eat, which will make survival extremely difficult. There are economic reasons: it is much more expensive to attempt to clean up our environment and atmosphere after the mess has been made than to stop the pollution in its tracks and develop a better, cleaner alternative. Another new, refreshing reason that many people—including myself—have never considered before is presented in the video below. Featuring 350.org founder Bill McKibben, the sermon in this video provides an inspiring take on the religious, moral, and spiritual reasons for protecting the environment.
(The good stuff starts at about the 2-minute mark)
One thing that is so intriguing about McKibben’s sermon is the fact that he is not arguing for the protection of nature for its own sake or intrinsic value, as do many people who take the moral and spiritual standpoint on this issue. Instead, he focuses on the side of the issue that is concerned with humanity and social justice—what are we doing to our fellow human beings on this planet when we choose to support companies and practices that degrade and pollute nature and use our natural resources unsustainably? Calling global climate change “an act of blasphemy acted out against the least among us,” he illustrates that our society is violating, if not blatantly ignoring, the order that Jesus gave before ascending to heaven: love one another.
Are we loving our neighbor if our own actions pollute their air, water, or land that they rely on for survival? How are we loving one another when we drive gas-guzzling SUVs whose significant contributions to global warming threaten to drown dozens of island nations and their residents as a result of rising sea levels? How are we loving our neighbors when we support oil companies who, in their extreme greed, take over and pollute the land of indigenous people around the world, sickening them with cancer and poisoning their water supply as they drill for oil? How are we loving our neighbor when we continue toward a future based on fossil fuels that warm the planet, change the weather, affect our ability to grow crops, and raise food prices beyond what most people in developing countries can afford? Do we claim that those aren’t our problems? One fantastic point of Bill McKibben’s sermon is the fact that each choice we make--as individuals and as a society-- can have far-reaching consequences. And on the other end of those consequences is a human being, a life put in jeopardy, a need to survive that should far supersede any need or desire that we may have, for example, to drive a big, inefficient vehicle just “because we can”, or the for oil companies to continue in their philosophy of making as much money as possible, regardless of the consequences. That attitude of disregard is not conducive to following the mandate from Jesus Christ that we need to love one another.
This video was posted on Facebook several weeks ago. I was curious to investigate other viewers’ responses to the video, so I decided to scroll through the comments at the bottom of the post—and what I read was shocking and disappointing. Many people who are avid environmentalists and supporters of Bill McKibben’s 350.org anti-climate change organization (and apparent atheists) were criticizing his sermon because of the fact that he was discussing biblical principles and scripture. Some commented that they had lost respect for him because of it. I just found myself shaking my head and asking WHY? What is wrong with framing the argument for environmental protection from a different perspective? I see no issue with speaking to a congregation of Christians and explaining that protecting the environment is one important way to show love to one another as followers of Jesus. Think of all of the Christians in this country—if we can also cause them to become “believers” in the issue of environmental protection and sustainability, we will have added a formidable number of supporters to the cause. The desire is clearly there: many churches have already participated in the growing campaign to divest from fossil fuels. When we’re facing such an ominous task as the issue of climate change, it seems to me as though we can use all the help and all the voices we can get! It was disappointing that many commenters disregarded the value of this message and the potential contributions of Christians who might be moved to action because of it.
I understand that many non-Christian environmentalists/scientists view believers as people who are ignorant of science, and who in general tend to deny that climate change is happening. As a Christian and avid environmentalist myself, I often have a hard time reconciling what scripture tells us versus what science tells us, but at the end of the day, I have to agree with Bill McKibbin: Jesus told us to love one another, and supporting destructive and unsustainable practices that perpetuate climate change and social injustice is not going to accomplish that task. That is yet one more excellent reason for us to be more thoughtful about our choices, to speak up and push for change in our society, to step away from environmental pollution, degradation, and unsustainable living, realizing that ultimately there are real people and real lives affected by the consequences. No matter what your preference-- religious, economic, practical--everyone can find a reason to stand up for environmental protection and climate change action.