In his 2018 book ‘Wizards and Prophets’, C. C. Mann describes the work and approaches of two of the most important environmentalists of the 20th century – William Vogt and Norman Borlaug. Unfortunately, their ‘blueprints’ are contradictory approaches to the problems of Climate Change. Mann categories those who follow Borlaug’s model of ‘techno-optimism’ (that science and technology will resolve the problems) as Wizards. Those following the Vogt model are described as Prophets – ‘those decrying the consequences of our heedlessness’, those calling for a lighter carbon footprint. Whilst each derided the other’s view, neither are described by Mann in terms of ‘good and evil’, but in terms of ‘different ideas of the good life’. These group of followers I describe here as groups One and Two. Many in society fall into these two categories and of course, we find them in the Christian Church.
There are however other categories, as Mann acknowledges, though he sees these as part of a continuum of thought – overlapping in places. Group Three, the ‘Climate Deniers’, are those who in my terminology, seem to believe that Climate Change is nothing more than a giant conspiracy. There is a fourth group, those I describe as the ‘Vested Interests’, who know of Climate Change but choose to continue to maximize their wealth and influence, regardless of the damage to the rest of society – likely ‘the principalities and powers’ that the Apostles identified as the opponents to a Christ-like life and human salvation.
Recently, the IPCC gave its latest, probably penultimate warning to the world – a framework for human survival. The first two groups of humans are not surprised at its findings and continue to worry at the lack of action in the timeframe that is available to act. The fourth group is also not surprised, but they are too rich to worry, as they have already bought enough land in enough places to beat the odds, and of course, have super-yachts as a fall-back position, should the time of Noah return. But what of the third group who refuse to listen to those whom God has sent to warn of the impending ‘flood’? Without help from the Christian Church, which ought to offer a different voice to group Four, they are likely to continue to listen to the vested interests. Is it ignorance or arrogant indifference that we find in this group? Whatever it is, they need guidance.
As our governments overall, have ignored the previous reports and urgent timeframe, it is reasonable for a theologian to ask – who will be in the 21st century ‘Ark’? The answer is likely to be two-fold. Firstly, there will be several ‘Super Arks’, with group 4s on board, and perhaps some smaller versions with some group 1 and 2s on board. Secondly, Group 3 will be left floundering and are likely to die of starvation due to food scarcity; or on their exodus from their lands that are underwater or parched dry; or in the civil unrest and war that will arise as societies break down into lawlessness and mass migration, as climate instability, food and water scarcity increasingly manifest, and they realise their foolishness in listening to those in group 4. So, is that it? Is nothing to be done? As the IPCC suggests, there is a still a small window of opportunity available to us.
All four categories of human outlined above are to be found in the Christian Church. Thankfully, most Patriarchs have acknowledged the existential danger of Climate Change and instability, and most have spoken on its perils and of the need for Christians to lead more eco-theologically sustainable Christian lives. However, there remains a gap between what is taught at the top of our Christian Churches and what is happening at parish level, and after decades and decades of prophetic Christian teachings, we must ask in earnest why this is so?
There is a group of powerful clergy in the traditional Christian churches that exist between the Patriarchs and the priests and whilst there are a few Archbishops and Bishops that are actively encouraging their priests to engage with the Climate Crisis unfolding before us, many – too many – are not. The forensic question to ask is why? What is it that prevents them from giving their priests the permission or instruction to engage with the most pressing issue of our time? Maybe some of them belong to group 3 – they hear the teachings, hear the warnings, but refuse to believe them? C. S. Lewis writes brilliantly on this possibility in the ‘Screwtape Letters’, as one of the errors our human race can fall into – that is, in not believing in the existence of the devil – or in modern terms – the powers that work against Christ and us, to prevent us living a Christ-like life and thus achieving salvation:
‘Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head…Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church…Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real’…But the best of all is to let him read no science..’
Whilst we might expect this to be the case in the majority of group 3 ‘Climate Deniers’ in wider society, we ought not to expect these views in our churches.
Maybe some Archbishops and Bishops are under the direct influence of some of the rich and powerful group 4 and feel unable to speak out due to financial pressures, constraints, or threats of defunding? If this is the case, then we must pray for them and keep praying for them until the veils/scales fall from their eyes, and they take on the courage of Christ. Whatever their reasoning – they have lost their way.
The final forensic question, which is set with the backdrop of plentiful material and courses available for use in our parishes is this – will there be a soteriological consequence for those who have been given the privilege and power to act to save their flocks, the wider communities, and the other creatures within them, but fail to do so?