by Andy Atkins
Christians are humans like everyone else. Why should anybody campaign, is a question surely worth looking at first. The answer is this. Only governments have the power, the resources and the legitimacy to do the things that urgently need doing at scale to resolve the climate and nature crises. We as individuals can take worthwhile practical action in our own lives, but we have to be really clear that the scale and nature of the emergency requires Governments to above all and everyone else. Why? Because we as individuals don’t have the power to, for example, stop spending our taxes on fossil fuel subsidies, invest the national budget in a green recovery from COVID, pass laws editing out polluting products or establishing a mass home insulation scheme. Only Governments can sign international agreements to cut global greenhouse gas emissions faster, or raise rich country aid to help poorer countries go green.
The hard fact is that there is no other way out of the climate and nature crises except by the Government acting. It’s not the only thing that needs to happen; but it’s absolutely essential to obtain the actions we need at the scale and speed we now need it.
The second question is why should Christians in particular campaign? Have we got any special role in this, anything different to offer? I would say ‘definitely’, for two reasons. First, there’s our belief in a biblical mandate to give us perseverance. We have a powerful, double biblical mandate to act on God’s creation: because he created it and loves it and wants us to care for it too, and because we are called upon to love our neighbour and we now know, of course, that climate change is undermining our neighbours’ ability to live.
But it’s not just right; there is an urgent need for it, and especially for influential sectors of society to speak up. The church and Christians have enormous potential influence. Consider this: there are 50,000 churches in the UK, in every village, neighbourhood and city. Between us, we are around 3 million regular church-goers. Imagine if just a quarter of churches and Christians actually took action on this issue – stood up publicly and said “we need the Government to go further faster.” It could have a huge impact on politicians locally and nationally, and encourage others to use their voice too.
Thirdly, why campaign on nature and climate? Well, if you’re a long standing member of A Rocha UK, you won’t need any convincing that we need to be working on nature. However, it is becoming starkly apparent that the climate and the nature crises are inextricably and multiply linked. The two crises have common drivers such as overconsumption. They also have mutual impact: for example, climate disruption is increasingly having an impact on nature. (UK bird and insect species, for example, are increasingly having to move north as the country gets hotter; but if they are a highland species, where do they go? Mountains can’t go any higher). And the destruction of nature impacts climate too. For example, the more we destroy our forests, wetlands and grasslands – our ‘carbon sinks’ – the less able the Earth is to absorb greenhouse gases back safely into the soil.
Happily, there are also mutual solutions. Stopping the extraction of fossil fuel would not only be good for climate change, it would be directly good for nature too: oil and gas exploration is a major cause of pollution of our rainforest, of our seas and so on. Likewise, restoring our carbon sinks would be good not just for climate change, but for increasing habitats for wildlife. So there are big ‘co benefits’ of acting on these things together.
A Rocha UK’s specialism is nature conservation; we do not pretend to be a group of climate scientists. But we believe the science; we know climate change is having a massive impact on nature. So, with our small capacity it makes a lot of sense to focus our campaign efforts on solutions that work for both climate and nature. We made that decision 2-3 years ago. And then, just a few weeks ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that there can be no solution to climate change without addressing biodiversity destruction and there can be no solution to the biodiversity crisis without addressing climate change. it’s now ‘official’ that we have to deal with both together.
Of course it’s between each of us and God what we feel led to campaign on. But where we have an opportunity, it probably makes sense for all of us to use our limited campaigning time pressing for solutions that work for both. I hope this will help you when people ask why you are campaigning and why a nature organisation is speaking out on climate change.
About the author: Andy is Chief Executive at A Rocha UK. He is also chairing the Climate Sunday initiative and has a track record of campaigning and mobilising the public around environment and development issues, with both Christian and secular charities. He was previously CEO of Friends of the Earth in the UK for 7 years, also chairing the Board of FoE Europe. Prior to that he was Advocacy Director at Tearfund, where he established the development charity’s work on climate change and was a founding member of the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign.
This blog was written for A Rocha UK’s Wild Christian email, October 2021. Sign up here to receive future Wild Christian emails and join this vibrant, growing on-line community.