Face the challenge of climate change

by Sarah Hagger

At this year’s Methodist Conference, a giant red ‘carbon footprint’ took centre stage. This unconventional piece of scenery was set up by the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) to highlight the danger posed by climate change to developing countries – and the size of Britain’s contribution to the problem. The average Briton has a sizeable carbon footprint, responsible for ten times more carbon emissions than someone in El Salvador, and up to a hundred times more than someone in parts of Africa like Mali or Niger. Yet it is these poor countries, where MRDF partner organisations work, which are already feeling the greatest impact of climate change: rainfall patterns are changing, drought is increasingly severe and extreme weather is more likely.


This year the Conference accepted a resolution entitled ‘caring for creation in the face of climate change’ which encourages every part of the Methodist Church to monitor and reduce its carbon emissions. This article explains why and how we can all play our part in tackling climate change through political action and personal choices.


How and why should Christians respond to the threat of climate change?L~

In recent months we have seen an unprecedented rise in interest in green issues. The film Inconvenient Truth, in which former Vice President Al Gore presents the evidence for human-induced climate change, became a hit. July’s Live Earth concerts attracted big name stars and a global audience of millions. Businesses started falling over each other to go ‘carbon neutral’ and to show off their green credentials.


Is concern about climate change just another passing fashion to be treated with caution, or will our response to this issue be a key test of the relevance of our faith? I believe there are three major reasons why Christians must take the challenge of climate change seriously and why we are well placed to take effective action.


The first is best summed up by the experience of Thomas Lekesike, the Programme Manager for an MRDF partner organisation in Northern Kenya. In October 2005, the rains failed – again - in the Samburu District where Thomas works. People could not remember exactly when they had last seen rain, but it had not been for at least two years. He explained the impact that climate change has had on this community: “The major effects of climate change in this area have been in the form of unprecedented changes in the weather conditions, in terms of rainfall patterns and occurrence of drought.”


Cattle serve as currency in Samburu District and, without rain, they die of hunger and thirst. Many communities are forced to migrate in search of water and better pasture, removing children from school or leaving behind established businesses. Whether to stay or go is a difficult choice; those who stay may have to walk up to 12 hours a day simply to find safe water for themselves and their animals.


In 2005’s famine, emergency food provided by MRDF partners saved the lives of some of the most vulnerable – children, elderly people and pregnant women. Today, Thomas and his team continue to work in those communities to help people find more stable ways of making a living in the longer term. However, climate change means that droughts are becoming more frequent and more prolonged; providing emergency aid is not enough.


This is not just a problem for Kenya. The effects of climate change are widespread and jeopardise people’s access to food, water and good health. Floods, droughts and extreme weather have always been a problem for farmers, but global warming increases the severity of these events. Jesus tells us that we see him and help him when we respond to the needs of the poor, hungry, ill or suffering (Matt 25). The link is clear: climate change increases the insecurity of poor communities, already on the edge of survival, and leads to increased suffering. How can we respond to this growing need?


The second reason why Christians need to take action on climate change is our responsibility for God’s creation. The impact on people, particularly on the world’s poorest people who have contributed least to the problem, is the most serious consequence of climate change. But our actions are also damaging the natural world around us, causing the destruction of animal and plant habitats. The Methodist Environmental Policy puts it like this: “We are called to be partners with the rest of creation and co-partners in the ongoing creative and renewing activity of God. Such partnership goes wrong when human beings act as if the whole earth were simply for their present benefit. God's way, revealed in the Bible and particularly in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, is a generous sharing of the divine love to serve the needs of God's creation until it reaches its fulfilment.”


The third reason is simple: because we can. It is possible for us, by acting together, to take action on climate change. MRDF has thrown its weight behind the Stop Climate Chaos campaign, a network of charities, environmental groups, faith groups and others, because we believe in the importance of this issue and that churches in particular can make a difference. The Church has people, buildings, resources and influence in every community and on a national scale. How inspiring would it be to see Christians at the forefront of action to prevent further climate change!


Taking action – at church, at home and beyondL~

Global temperatures are already rising. We can’t put off action any longer. 2°C has been identified as the maximum possible temperature rise if we want to prevent most of the harmful effects of global warming. Even a rise of 2°C is likely to lead to a 5-10% decline in crop yields in Africa’s tropical regions and up to 10 million more people suffering coastal flooding each year. To stay within this limit, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak and be falling irreversibly by 2015, only eight years from now. Therefore the choices made now and in the next few years, by politicians and decision makers, will determine the extent of the devastation faced by future generations.


We can start by measuring and reducing our carbon footprints and making different choices in our own lives. There are plenty of easy ways to save energy at home, at work and on the move – including using energy-saving light bulbs, changing your electricity supply to renewable energy, improving your insulation and many more. The Energy Saving Trust is a vital source of practical advice and information. Although these actions may seem small, they send out a clear signal that we are prepared to make necessary changes – large and small – to provide hope in the face of climate change.


Yet, we must not stop with individual action. As Christians we are called to live out our faith in relationship with others, and we are most effective when we use our different gifts and opportunities to work together (1 Cor 12). There are plenty of resources available to help local churches clean up their own energy act and commit to tackling climate change (some are listed in the final section) and many churches are already doing this. Clun Methodist Church is one of those who has taken up the challenge. This small rural chapel has installed energy-saving light bulbs, draught-proofed its building, focused on care for creation in worship, hosted environmental events in the church and has taken the message out to the wider community.


This activity has brought other unexpected benefits to the Church’s life and mission. Organiser Elizabeth Newman explains: “We make contact with people who wouldn’t normally go to church, making links with other local community organisations and shops, it’s a form of outreach. I’d advise other churches just to have a go – what works for one church might be different from what works for another, but have a go and see what happens.”


The Church’s role must also be to speak out with a prophetic voice. Old Testament prophets were not shy about speaking out on economic and social issues of the day, and expressing God’s anger at injustice. The injustice in the current situation is clear: communities like those in Northern Kenya are suffering increased drought as a result of global warming, caused by the carbon emissions produced by the rich world.


We can still influence our leaders. Although the UK may only count for 2% of global CO2 emissions, the activities of UK companies overseas account for much more, and the UK has a global reach far greater than its size. A groundbreaking Climate Change Bill is going through the UK Parliament at the moment, giving us the opportunity to influence government policy on climate change for many years to come. Although the direction of the Bill is positive, it does not go far enough. The suggested targets for cuts in emissions would not keep us in line with the goal of keeping temperature rises below 2°C. Now is the time to speak out, so that our representatives know that they have support for introducing stronger legislation.


As individuals, churches and citizens, we have the means to act to stop climate chaos. There is no time to lose, so let’s join together and take up the challenge – before it’s too late.


Further information and resourcesL~

~**MRDF produces materials to help churches engage with global development issues, including climate change. A Church Harvest Pack - now available – focuses on the impact of climate change and environmental damage in El Salvador. Worship material, activities and ideas can be downloaded from www.mrdf.org.uk or the complete pack ordered from 020 7467 5132 or mrdf@methodistchurch.org.uk. A new Bible study course for small groups will also be available at the end of 2007, helping groups to better understand a Christian response to climate change.*~~*www.creationchallenge.org.uk, jointly run by the Methodist Church and United Reformed Church, provides links to useful resources for churches relating to climate change.*~~*Ready to take on a bigger challenge? MRDF supports Eco Congregation, an organisation which helps churches to undergo a green audit and to integrate environmental concerns into their life and worship. Churches that complete the course receive an Eco Congregation Award. www.ecocongregation.org.uk*~~*Operation Noah’s Ark in a Box kit helps churches to save energy and is available from www.operationnoah.org*~~*Stand up and be counted: join the I count campaign, run by Stop Climate Chaos, on www.icount.org.uk. This positive and engaging website provides energy saving ideas, and also will feature information on how you can join others in lobbying your local MP about the Climate Change Bill this October.**~

Sarah Happer is Media and Communications Officer, Methodist Relief and Development Fund.

Headline, Autumn 2007, pp. 19-21