David Atkinson introduces the Carbon Exodus
David Atkinson, Operation Noah board member and Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Southwark, spoke about our Carbon Exodus at the Operation Noah Supporters' Meeting on 6th June 2011.
As you will know if you have looked at our website in the past year or so, we have launched as part of our work what we call Carbon Exodus.
Inspired by the Exodus story, the journey of Moses and the children of Israel away from the bondage of Egypt, we are involved in our own journey - away from dependence on carbon towards the ‘promised land’ of a Zero Carbon Britain by 2030 and we want you to join us!
We are persuaded that the majority scientific view is sufficiently robust to gives us grounds for urgent action, namely that there is a significant human component to climate change, and that we are the only species that can do anything to mitigate its effects on ourselves and other creatures, and enable humanity - both here and in the poorest parts of the world, both now and for future generations - to adapt fairly and creatively to the changes that are coming.
Because the Exodus story begins with slavery - and we find ourselves in bondage not only to the effects on our climate of human action in fossil fuel use, industrial agriculture and deforestation, but in bondage to the neoliberal economic model of perpetual growth, which is simply unsustainable.
Because the Exodus story is about a journey - a pilgrimage towards freedom from bondage, and towards a more fulfilling opportunity for human flourishing in the future. It takes time; it has ups and downs, but it has a definite direction and purpose.
Because the narrative includes pointers to many aspects of our human engagement with God’s world which we believe we need to take very seriously, and encourage other Christian people - indeed all people of good will - to take seriously also.
For example, the story begins with God remembering his covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob - God’s faithfulness to his promise. And of course behind that covenant with people there is a more cosmic covenant between God and every living creature - but the theme is the same: God’s faithfulness to his promise. And God’s faithfulness expects a faithful response from us - to care for the world God has given us to live in, and to do so as God’s image bearers, loving him and loving our neighbours, - indeed all creation - and seeking justice in all our human affairs.
Then the story of the burning bush and the call of Moses includes the voice from the bush: ‘the place on which you are standing is holy ground’. We need to recover a sense of the sacredness of the created order. Not that it is divine (as pantheists would say), but that it is God’s gift and therefore sacred.
Passover night is the moment of God’s rescue, but it also illustrates the cost of pilgrimage: the cost to God, as it were, in the death of the lamb of sacrifice; but the cost to the people of God also - this was no dressing gown and slippers occasion. They had their loins girt and their staff in their hands when they ate their Passover - ready to move; ready to act; ready to obey.
Then at the Red Sea, with the sea in front of them, the desert on either side of them, the Egyptian army hard on their heels, God says to Moses ‘Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.’ In other words, the future is in God’s hands; salvation and rescue is something that God does; the overcoming of the obstacles to creation flourishing is one aspect of God’s faithfulness. But our human part, our task, is faithful obedience - and that includes response to the Ten Commandments which come next in the story - the pattern of life for the people God has rescued, summed up by Jesus in terms of love to God and love to neighbour - indeed love of all creation. And there is a commandment also not to worship other gods - the gods of consumer choice and unsustainable economic growth among them.
The Exodus story include the wonderful image of the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle of the Lord - but it also leads us into the disturbing later narratives of battles and struggles and failures and judgement.
And yet, despite everything, the Exodus story is essentially a narrative of hope.
So what do we take from this?
That a Christian response to the questions forced on us by climate change will recognise that this is not just about science and technology - not just about political will and economic theories - all of these are part of the story. But this is also about a spiritual dimension to human lives - that we live on holy ground and the whole created order is part of God’s gift. That God has given certain parameters for human flourishing, and that when we go astray from these there is judgement - a judgement sometimes expressed in terms of climate change.
Think for instance of this disturbing paragraph from Isaiah 24:
Operation Noah’s Carbon Exodus initiative is an attempt to say that these things matter a great deal, because they affect God’s creation and God’s purposes for humanity and for all other creatures. Concern about climate change is not a happy hobby for those who like that sort of thing. Care for creation is a central theme in Christian mission - it is about the creation and redemption and future hope of God’s world - it is part of the Gospel.
This is the reason why Operation Noah has recently brought together a Theology Study Group. We have just begun our meetings, and hope before long to have something to show for our work. Our aim is to produce material which will encourage and inspire and enable clergy and lay leaders, ordinands and students, perhaps teachers in our schools, to realise that there is a strong Christian theological rationale for taking all this very seriously.
We are not only responding to the scientists who tell us about desertification, mass extinctions, change in ocean acidity, sea-level rise, more violent weather events, changes in disease patterns, uncertainties about food production and water availability, likelihood of huge migrations of population. Nor are we only responding to the economists who indicate that investment in mitigation and adaptation now is likely to be hugely less costly than the investment that will be needed in a decade or two’s time. We are seeking also to respond to the fact that humanity has made a mess of Gods creation - often unwittingly - and that we are the generation who knows that something has to be done, and has the responsibility to do something - in faithful response to God’s faithfulness to his creation, and as part of our calling to care for creation as God’s image bearers, and to bear witness to the God in whom all of us live and move and have our being. The God in whom we hope.
So we pray that our Carbon Exodus programme will encourage churches and communities and individual Christian people, to play their part in seeking to reduce our polluting greenhouse gas emission, and make this a healthier home for all God’s creatures.
We thank God for God’s gift of creation. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. The heavens are telling the glory of God. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature have been understood and seen through the things he has made. In God the whole evolving universe lives and moves and has its being. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
We thank God for entrusting us with the calling to be God’s image bearers, with responsibility for care of creation, and to give a voice to the silent creation that all things, with us, can sing the Creator’s praise.
We recognise human sin, stupidity and selfishness have polluted the earth and spoiled God’s creation. We have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. May God forgive us for our part in this foolishness, and enable us to see clearly what the call to discipleship now requires.
We acknowledge Jesus Christ as the first born of all creation, and that in him all things in heaven and earth were created. We look for a new heavens and a new earth in which justice and righteousness dwells, for the time when justice and peace will embrace, and God’s glory will dwell in our land. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and hear again God’s promise that God makes all things new.
We recognise our interdependence with all God’s creatures: the wild asses, the birds of the air, the cattle, the young lions. ‘These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you open your hand, they are filled with good things; when you take away their breath they die’.
We celebrate the rich fullness of God’s bounty in the provision of food for the hungry and water for the thirsty, and grieve over the way human selfishness has led to so many injustices in the sharing of God’s provisions.
We pray for a spirit of justice in our response to climate change - in mitigation of its effects, and in fair adaptation to the changes it will cause. We pray for all who are hungry and thirsty; we pray for governments and NGOs that they may be led into the way of truth, justice and peace; we pray for a more equitable distribution of the rich fullness of God’s gifts.
We acknowledge our dependence on economic models which too easily lead to the idolatry of wealth and greed, and pray for our leaders and all who advise them, that we may find ways of human flourishing which are sustainable and health-giving.
We pray for a change of ethos in our culture, and a move away from dependence on fossil fuels, and towards a more sustainable pattern of life.
We pray for our church communities that we may catch the vision for the renewal of the face of the earth, and be inspired to play our part in responding in Jesus’ name to all the fresh questions forced on us by climate change.
We pray for ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, that we may be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to make wise choices about our lifestyles. May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, that we may about in hope. And may we live as beacons of hope in God to the world around us.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, all God’s works, in all places of God’s dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.