A reflection on our current climate crisis
25 October 2021
As the Melbourne Anglican goes to press, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is in Glasgow at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). Here Ebony Staker, a young Environmental Science graduate, shares her reflections on the climate conversation. How little she thinks about climate change might surprise you. But is that what God wants?
I was born in the early 1990s and for most of my life I’ve lived in south-east Australia. I completed an Environmental Science degree, which led me to my current job in field-based bushfire prevention, working for the state government.
My preferred mode of transport is cycling. I instinctively scavenge for discarded things and try to find uses for them. I’m drawn to areas of wilderness when I want to calm my frantic thoughts, seek God’s voice or remind myself of the intricate wonders of creation. Composting brings me joy.
On paper I appear to be a young, climate-conscious citizen who thinks about and acts against climate change, and hopefully corrals those around me to do the same.
In reality I spend little to no time actively thinking or learning about climate change.
“Why?” you might ask.
I find the whole climate debate morbid, overwhelming and completely out of my control. There are already so many things in this world that are broken and hurting, and this is another one to add to the heap.
A few years ago, I used to think that I was “doing my bit” by riding my bike, reusing, recycling and repurposing goods, buying bulk, unpackaged foods, and saying no to takeaway cups.
All these things I still do, and I believe they are good to do. But I realised a while ago that those actions won’t save the world.
I am one of 7.7 billion people! How could my small actions possibly change anything?
Please don’t take this as a defeatist. I’m just trying to be honest.
It’s a surreal position to be in at the moment, in my late 20s, living in an affluent society. Many moments in life seem calm and untroubled, but there’s always a sense of uneasiness about what lies ahead.
I’m inundated by news that is saturated with the negative changes occurring in the environment. At the same time I’m promised that the situation will only worsen with time.
The outlook for our future life on earth is grim and we as humans are scrambling to try find a way to fix it. I can’t help but see all of this chaos and fear, and wonder when God will intercede. Or whether God will intercede?
I do think about the future, but often I just don’t know what to think.
I started learning about climate change while studying environmental science at university. My lecturers and fellow students were passionate about the wonders of our environment, and many despaired at the inevitable extinction of species around the globe.
I volunteered in small scale projects that had an underlying sense of “help save the planet”, and it was addictive.
I formed everyday habits that, in small ways, lowered my use of our finite resources and it felt good. I learned many things while at uni and I’m glad I had the opportunity to witness the fire that drives people to continue working in thankless and sometimes hopeless restoration jobs. I’m also glad I could develop my own small insight into the devastation that will happen if the planet continues to warm.
Then I went from learning about the natural environment everyday, to working in it everyday. After uni I began my summer job in bushfire prevention. It’s a field where workers come from every background imaginable. Here, I went from discussing climate change everyday, to not talking about it at all.
Despite what many of my friends assume, talk involving climate change at work is very rare, if it happens at all.
Instead, we talk about long-term trends in weather patterns and the fact that extended droughts breed horrific fire seasons. Often at the end of a long shift on the fire line, I hear old timers reminiscing about “the good old days”. I hear things like:
“Bushfires aren’t like what they used to be. They never used to burn this hot.”
“Oh yeah, they’re more fierce now than I’ve ever seen them before!”
There’s an underlying understanding that changes are occurring. But people seem to take it in their stride and keep doing what they have to, without dwelling on it.
However, I rejoice that my reaction to the climate change crisis isn’t the only type of reaction.
Many people are passionate about mitigating climate change. Leaders from almost every country in the world gather at climate summits such as COP26 in Glasgow. It’s a huge relief to know that leaders are uniting their efforts to reach targets that will hopefully turn our situation around.
I praise God is that he gifted us with different skills and interests. In Romans I read, “though many, [we] form one body”. I’m not naturally a politically minded person and I struggle to relate to climate action on such a high level.
One of the people I’ve met who is Spirit-led and God-empowered to work towards change at a local level is the missionary agronomist Tony Rinaudo. Tony has built relationships with farmers in Niger and, together, they have worked with nature to bring native vegetation back to once arid areas.
I asked Tony why he cares about climate change and his answer sobered me. He said his care for this world was born from the intertwined perspectives of being a humanitarian, an environmentalist, a Christian, a father and a grandfather.
Tony has seen hope re-enter the lives of people in Niger and now in many African countries because of the work that he and the locals have done.
“You can’t underestimate the significance of hope, restoring hope … What that does to people’s sense of self-worth and dignity is extremely powerful,” he writes in The Niger I Came To.
Tony’s answer struck me because of its simplicity. This issue we’re faced with will affect us as a population in every way.
That has helped me to see the foolishness of my ignorance. God makes it clear that we are weak without him. In Isiah we hear:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
What a wonderful and powerful God we serve. Hallelujah!
So often I act out of fear or without God’s strength. So often I’m caught up in the things I see before me, and fail to look heavenward to the things unseen. I’d wager that is a tendency I’m not alone in.
Tony’s answer reminded me of another simple truth: God cares. And if God cares, then I should care too.
But I ask again, what can I do? My parents taught me that the best way to start anything is in prayer.
Right now, I don’t actually know what else I could do. The whole thing is still overwhelming. As the earth groans, I end up groaning too because I’m at a loss of how to pray.
Thank God that we know his “Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. Again, hallelujah!
COP26 in Glasgow is believed by some to be the world’s “last best chance” to get runaway climate change under control. We can only pray: God’s will be done during this monumental gathering. So that’s what I’m going to do. Why don’t you join me?