The issue of Climate Change that has enveloped over the last generation has involved both religion and science.
Science and religion are tools to investigate reality from two different angles. Each discipline asks a fundamentally different question.
Science asks: how does the universe work?
Religion asks: why is there a universe and what is its purpose, and what is our purpose of existence as human beings?
Now, as the Earth is affected by climate change and other environmental problems we need science to learn more about the causes, effects, and solutions to these problems.
So what’s the role of religion? While scientists can tell us what needs to be done, they are usually not able to motivate society to implement these solutions. That’s where we need religion. Religion provides us with the spiritual understanding of our responsibility towards the Earth and towards other human beings including future generations. In other words, religion provides an ethical or moral framework. And it motivates us to act!
The concern of the environment is an interfaith issue and not just Christian. All faiths have talked about it.
The issue in the Bible goes right back to the early Israelites
A major theme of Deuteronomy is that God’s covenantal gift of the land came with a warning: the Israelites were not to forget God’s commandments; if they did, they would lose the land. Here is Deuteronomy 8 “… the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with/lowing streams, ‘with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes”
As with any gift, the need to preserve it was crucial. They couldn’t do well unless they maintained the land. The soil was thin and easily eroded. The rain was sparse and came in the winter, the wrong time of year. They were a partner with the Lord
More specifics came from Exodus and Leviticus the land was to be allowed to rest, to lie fallow one year in seven; second, crops growing at the edges of the field were not to be harvested, but left for the poor, those who had no land. The covenant was not only between Jew and God but Jew, God and Land.
In Jeremiah, every family was allocated a farm in the promised land Over time the Israelites abused God’s hospitality by living in ways that were unjust, ways contrary to Torah, ways that desecrated the land. Time and again God offered to forgive the people if they would only repent and live faithfully. But they refused, and so God’s commitment to the land required that the Israelites be exiled. But exile was not the end of the covenant. It was intended to be a sabbatical to reconsecrate the land and people, a time of fallowing for land and people. The birth of Jesus was an end to the era of exile which began with the takeover of the temple 500 years earlier.
The Israelites and us all live in fragile land. Our collective impact on the global environmental system has increased since the Industrial Revolution, and we now find ourselves in a situation much like that of the Israelites. To continue to flourish, we need a sabbatical to understand as impact and judge what we can do to reconstitute our relationship to the environment. We are bringing back the kingdom by understanding how everything is connected with everything else. There is a balance which is getting out of balance.
The sun is the source of all life and of all energy. It provides the temperature necessary for the existence of life. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen with the help of sunlight. That’s called photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, plants transform atmospheric carbon into organic compounds, especially glucose (sugars). That glucose is used in various forms by every creature on the planet for energy and growth.
Also important is keeping trapping some of this energy warming the planet and enabling man to survive. Atmospheric gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide are called greenhouse gases because they act similar to the glass in a greenhouse by trapping heat.
Since the industrial revolution, greenhouse gases have sharply increased upsetting the previously long-lasting balance. The increase comes mainly from emissions from power plants, cars, airplanes, from deforestation and industrial activities. In a very short period of time, human beings have used huge quantities of stored solar energy (fossil fuels) thereby releasing unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The more greenhouse gases there are in the atmosphere the warmer our planet becomes. This has warmer climates particular in southern areas and has eliminated a percentage of glacial coverage. The balance is upset and we are likely to pay the price.
We will look at more of these impacts next week.