All this has to change – A sermon from Bishop Olivia

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Reading Minster YCCN Climate Service

Bishop Olivia gave the following sermon at a climate justice service at Reading Minster on 31 July 2021, to mark the presence of the Young Christian Climate Network during their Relay to COP26. You can read all about that here.


Welcome

Let me add my welcome to Sonya’s. Thank you for coming to join us this morning, from near and far, and thank you to those who are going to continue on the relay to Twyford later on today, carrying the Relay baton, the flag which started in Cornwall and will end in Glasgow. When we arrived at Wesley Methodist Church from Aldermaston Wharf on Wednesday, David Shaw reflected on the importance of passing on the baton, and as it moves towards Glasgow, we think not only about this journey of protest and advocacy, but about the baton of responsibility which has been given to us by God for the care of God’s creation, and passed down the generations.

My generation has mucked this up badly, and in sorrow we stand alongside the younger ones to witness together to the damage done, and to work for climate justice and a more sustainable way of living. We stand alongside those who are already bearing the cost of climate change, whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed, while they contributed very little to the root causes.

And we are motivated by love – for God, for our brothers and sisters across the world, and for creation.

A stark picture

Such an inspiring poem from the great Amanda Gorman. We know, with greater clarity every day, that we are heading for more than 1.5 degrees of planetary warming. We know, without a shadow of doubt, that this is part and parcel of a more vast biodiversity crisis. The numbers tell their own story:

In the last half century, about 50% the world’s animals have been lost. Of all the mammals left on Earth, only 4% are wild mammals, 36% are humans, and a whopping 60% now are livestock. 70% of all birds on the planet are now poultry.1 Insects have declined by 75%. Three quarters of the crop types we grow rely on insect pollination.2

These numbers present a stark picture of the effect we are having on the web of life which sustains us and provides for our needs. Ecosystem collapse and climate change are a real and present threat to our continuation as a species.

Climate finance

We know the crucial importance of the COP26. It simply cannot afford to fail. And yet one of the greatest stumbling blocks to getting global agreement is the turning of ambition into firm commitment.

The issue of climate finance is crucial. Finance for the developing countries, not only so that they can meet the costs of mitigation and adaptation, which is underfunded, but also to pay for the loss and damage which they are experiencing as a result of climate change. These countries have not developed their economies using vast quantities of fossil fuels. And they are now trying to develop their economies and raise the standards of living for their populations, but they simply don’t have the economic resources to pay for green development, or for the loss and damage caused by our decades of inaction.

Without firm commitments to this finance, not only will the losses mount up, the damage get worse, and the costs rise, but there will be no political goodwill from these countries when it comes to international agreements on carbon emissions.

It is essential that this funding comes from those who have accumulated wealth through polluting activities, not from those already struggling.

Justice

The four asks of YCCN, which they are taking to Glasgow, are:

For reinstatement of the foreign aid budget to 0.7% of national income.

To get firm agreement from rich countries to double the commitment of $100bn a year for climate finance.

Work with other governments and international organisations to develop a loss and damage mechanism

Push for the debts of the world’s poorest countries to be cancelled.

These are all issues of justice.

Justice lies at the heart of the discussions about the climate crisis.

The Bible paints a picture of a God who is very very keen on justice.

So many times, we read of God’s concern for the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable, the stranger and the refugee. So many times we hear of the cause of the wronged being righted; the hungry being fed; those who wield power needing to have a special care for the weak.

The costs of climate change are not evenly spread. According to the IPCC, climate change will not only affect the different regions of the world differently, but also the different generations and genders. The poorest populations will be most affected. 70% of this population, according to the UN, are women, and a large percentage are young women.

We face lots of transnational challenges in addition to climate change: public health, inequality, social and political polarisation. Only if we build bridges of human solidarity will we survive as a species. That’s what we have learnt from Covid. The principle of social justice must be at the heart of the conversation, and how to put it there is one of the defining questions of our era – brilliantly highlighted by this Relay.

Raise your voice

Here is an issue which links directly to our faith. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to raise our voices for those who cannot.

And we also have a responsibility for our own actions and the example we set.

At its heart, we are dealing with spiritual issues. We have disrupted the ecological balance of all that God created on Earth, and we owe it to God and to each other and to all the species we share the planet with to restore the balance.

A senior academic scientist recently said:

“I used to think that the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environment problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

But we people of faith do know how to do that. This is the greatest physical and spiritual challenge humanity has ever faced. And we have the tools and the understanding to go right to heart of it.

Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbour. Be good stewards of the earth and all that is in it. This is the challenge we face, because we recognise in ourselves our greed, envy, laziness, indifference, and our insatiable desire for more and more stuff.

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. We are not going to return to a life of simple hunter-gathering, back to nature and very basic consumption. That ship has sailed. We are bound up in a highly complex financial and economic web with global reach.

Religions are deeply implicated in this crisis, and they are deeply implicated in the way out of it. But we have so far mostly failed to integrate scientific and ecological findings into our preaching, teaching and living.

Religion’s got the power to appeal not just to our minds, but to our souls, and that’s where change is most needed. Conversion even.

Our actions are the true indication of our commitment. We have known about this looming crisis for decades, and for decades we have continued to assume that it is someone else’s problem.

We have collectively taken millions of plane flights and driven billions of miles using fossil fuels; we have eaten a tremendous amount of food cultivated through unsustainable and even dangerous processes; we’ve wasted unbelievable quantities of energy and water; we’ve thrown away billions of tons of non-biodegradable materials, polluting our oceans and our land; and we’ve created personal coatings of Teflon so that no responsibility has stuck to us.

Time to change

All this has to change. We can make choices which are good and not bad for the environment; we can do it visibly; we can talk to others about it, and spread the word and the message, and if enough of us do it, there is a real probability of a critical mass leading to wider behavioural change.

We saw it in the way in which driving while drunk has become more and more socially unacceptable. We’ve started to see it in many aspects of environmental awareness and care – we turn lights out more often; we sort our rubbish; we grow bee-friendly plants in our gardens or leave parts of them a little wild, and so on. And we live in a society and a world which is powerfully networked; so there is a real possibility for traction.

What messages shall we hold in our hearts? Here are some:

To consume in moderation. To think about how much is enough? How much do I need, as opposed to want, knowing how much I am conditioned to want what I do not need.

To be farsighted, to keep the far distant future in sight – the future of my children and grandchildren and their grandchildren– so that I will see the effects of my actions, or the consequences of my inactions now.

Not to lose hope. We can do this if we act now. If we act personally, locally, nationally and globally, and if we each play our part – the part we have been given, in this planetary drama which is being played out principally in the next decade.

So I salute and stand in solidarity with the young Christian climate activists and all who join them. We support you, congratulate you, pray for you and thank you for what you are doing. May God bless you who have walked this road to Reading from Cornwall, and you who will walk on from Reading to Glasgow, and may God go with you and guide your way.

Amen.


You can follow all the action from the diocese during the Young Christian Climate Network’s Relay to COP26 on our website.


1. [Facts taken from this article in the Guardian, based on a PNAS study, and refer to overall biomass, not numbers of individuals or species]
2. [From The Wildlife Trusts’ Reversing the Decline of Insects]