Agreeing to differ?

With conflicting, politics and opinion on climate change, half an hour on the internet can leave anyone puzzled. You might be sure of the reasons why we should care for creation, but what if a conversation suddenly takes a difficult turn?

Michael Taylor is a former Director of Christian Aid and a climate activist in Summertown, Oxford.

You suddenly realise that a friend, a colleague, someone at church or in the family has a very different take on things. They’re not convinced that climate change is happening, or is anything more than a natural cycle of events that will right itself as it has done in the past. And if they are convinced, they think it’s all too late, or there’s not much anyone can do about it, including them.

“Often, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

I’ve been caught out once or twice and have not handled things all that well. I’ve tried to work out one or two rules of thumb. Often it’s not what you say but how you say it.

How not to say it

The moral high ground, for example, is not the best place to start. When it comes to caring for the planet, none of us has clean hands. The Church, imagining they were backed by Genesis 1, exploited the earth like other people until science and experience told us to stop!

Mr Know-All, who I eventually realised I sounded like, is best asked to leave the scene. Take comfort from the fact that no one is entirely sure what to say. On a personal level, most of us are not experts; and the experts are well aware that they’ve still a lot to find out. “I’m right and you’re wrong” may be true, but it’s best not to give that impression.

A frank discussion might be better. For example, if you are tempted to give up, why not change the direction of the conversation? There are all sorts of interesting, technical-type subjects that can steer you away from conflict. Many look promising and also raise questions. Can we successfully replace fossil fuels? Do solar panels produce more energy than is used to make them? Where does the electricity for electric cars come from? Is the final solution, if there is one, not in technology but in changing our way of life to make it more sustainable? Can we turn the vision of a low carbon economy into a reality? Talking things over without forcing the issue may be the best way forward.

Take an interest in others

I tell myself that it’s often better to take a genuine interest in someone else’s view rather than impose my own. The denials may not be all they seem. In America, there’s a link between climate change deniers, more right-wing thinkers and Christian conservatives. These denials are probably rooted less in their faith than in a distrust of what they regard as left-wing politics. Nearer home there may be business interests, feelings of helplessness, a non-scientific background, fear, personal or family issues, all of which can foster denial and get tangled up with the problem. We learn from listening. We won’t get much further if we don’t.

Confessional mode

After all of that, I’m going to stick to what I call the confessional mode. As I’ve already confessed, in one sense my general approach to the conversation is admitting I’m not without sin. Far from claiming to know everything I will stick to “confessing” in another sense or simply sharing what I think and what I’m up to. I won’t suggest that anyone else should do likewise. And I shall confess selectively and where it fits into the conversation, rather than getting it all off my chest at once.

“The evidence for climate change is everywhere I look.”

What do I think?

The evidence for climate change is everywhere I look. The weather is different and scary at times. The ice is melting, green land is turning brown and livelihoods are threatened. Seas are rising. Floods and drought are driving people from home. The gaps between the well off and the desperate are getting wider.

Political leaders are generally doing too little, too late. The emissions at

the root of the problem are declining, but not fast enough. It’s not me but my grandchildren who will take the brunt of it all. There are lots of promising initiatives from technology to lifestyle. We can get there if we really try. As a Christian I have a duty of care for the planet that I love. All of us are far from perfect, but in all of us are sparks of love, generosity and creativity.

Jesus’ love for justice makes me think that playing fair might get us on the right road. After all, it is the poor that are suffering the most and have the least chance of defending themselves. As a Christian, I’ve been taught to hope since it seems that no situation, however gloomy, is entirely closed and devoid of promise.

What am I doing?

What am I doing? Not enough, of course, and not always for the best. I’m still flying, though much less than I did. I’m driving a car less than I did. I walk whenever and wherever I can, more than I did. I’m still eating meat, though less than I did. I’m heating the house with gas, though less than I did. I’m thinking about switching. I’ve got a bit of money which I’m trying to invest in sustainable enterprises which play fair.

I go out and find eco-companions because I know I can’t do it alone. I help with the gardening at church in the hope that its eco-friendliness may inspire someone else. I support one or two charities: conserving the environment, reducing carbon emissions, standing by refugees and poorer communities here and overseas. I hesitate to say too much about Extinction Rebellion in case it upsets you. Still, somehow I have to try with others to mobilise public opinion and force governments to act.

I go to church despite its record, say my prayers, say thank you for a wonderful world, hope to hear the Gospel, get reminded that I am forgiven and that justice is required of me, realise that I’m not alone, and learn to hope again that we’ve got enough love to see us through.

Should you be somewhat taken aback by all of that, well, it’s come from the ‘me’ I wish I was and struggle to be. If you’re disappointed that I don’t do more or have more helpful things to say, well, I’m human like the rest. One way or another I hope it helps you get your act together, gain a bit of quiet confidence and find a few more things to pop into that tricky conversation – not all at once of course.