Is it still possible to be ‘an extreme environmentalist’?
I recently encountered a pejorative reference, by an able Christian leader, to “extreme environmentalists”, and it troubles me. I wonder what it portends as to his understanding of the climate and wildlife crisis. Is it an indication of underlying climate denial? Will it not have the effect, however unintended, of encouraging people to avoid attaching to the climate and wildlife crisis the extreme importance and extreme urgency it deserves? Will it not ‘blunt the edge’ of the truly monstrous threat facing us – “the defining issue of our time”, as Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations put it in 2018.
“Creation care is an urgent issue in today’s world”, says Chris Wright, of the Langham Partnership. “Only a wilful blindness worse than any proverbial ostrich’s head in the sand can ignore the facts of environmental destruction… To be unconcerned about it is to be either desperately ignorant or irresponsibly callous.” Unhappily, my experience is that Christian believers, like others, need no encouragement or excuse to keep ‘their heads in the sand’!
Furthermore, I’m not at all sure that I understand to whom the writer was referring. Greta Thunberg naturally comes to mind – “People are suffering, people are dying, whole ecosystems are collapsing… how dare you?” (UN New York, Sept ‘19), as does Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam – “In full knowledge of the science, the global north is pumping lethal levels of CO2 into the atmosphere, turning whole regions of the world into death zones.”
But are their statements so very different to those of the highest possible international repute, expertise and authority? Can they all be ‘extremists’?!
Statements by senior international agency leaders:
On 2nd December 2020, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “Let’s face facts. Our planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature and this is suicidal [note: “suicidal”]. Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing, deserts are spreading, oceans are choking with plastic waste.” And he warned of “irreversible” impacts that would be “absolutely devastating for the world economy and for human life”.
The International Red Cross reported to the UN (at the same time – Sept ’19 – as ‘Little Greta’ was making her impassioned denunciation of world leaders) that two million people each week need emergency assistance because of the climate crisis. “This is intolerable!”, said Francesco Rocca, President of the IFRC. Indeed it is.
“The science is clear. Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth. The window of opportunity for action is almost closed.” (Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organisation, Nov ’18)
Statements by senior governmental advisers:
We are facing “massive rises in sea level, whole areas devastated by hurricanes and others turned into uninhabitable desert, forcing hundreds of millions, possible billions, of [the poorest and most vulnerable] people to leave their homelands.” (Lord Nicholas Stern, the UK’s government’s former chief advisor on climate change)
“There are times in the history of humanity when fateful decisions are made. The failure of our generation on climate change mitigation would lead to consequences that would haunt humanity until the end of time.” (Professor Ross Garnaut, former advisor to the Australian government)
Statements by leading scientists:
“I find it hard to exaggerate the peril. This is the new extinction and we are halfway through it. We are in terrible, terrible trouble and the longer we wait to do something about it the worse it is going to get.” (Sir David Attenborough)
“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency and that the world’s people face untold suffering due to the climate crisis unless there are major transformations to global society.” (Article in Bioscience endorsed by 11,000 scientists from 153 nations, 5th Nov ‘19.)
“Never have we faced such a global threat.” (Lord Robert May, President of the Royal Society, the UK’s National Academy of Sciences))
Statements by Christian leaders, of various traditions:
“I urge you to work together to find sustainable solutions to avert a catastrophe that will exacerbate human suffering to a magnitude that perhaps the world has not yet seen.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
Failure to act decisively on global heating would be “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations” and I urge world leaders to “hear the increasingly desperate cries of the earth and its poor”. [Amen to that, brother!] (Pope Francis)
“Creation care is an urgent issue in today’s world. Only a wilful blindness worse than any proverbial ostrich’s head in the sand can ignore the facts of environmental destruction… To be unconcerned about it is to be either desperately ignorant or irresponsibly callous.” (Chris Wright, the Langham Partnership)
In conclusion, I urge every ‘person of conscience’ to watch the major film on climate change by Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS – no ‘extremism’ there, just ‘The Facts’!
Climate Change: The facts: FULL EPISODE-BBC
David W. Golding CBE PhD DSc DCL
Associate, Faculty of Science, Agriculture & Engineering, and Honorary Chaplain, Newcastle University;
Development Coordinator, North East CALL TO ACTION; Founding Trustee, Jubilee Debt Campaign; Trustee, Blue Sky Trust (ACET North East); Spokesperson for Tearfund in NE England; (Self-appointed) Representative for The Climate Coalition in NE England.