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Rome, Constantinople, and Canterbury join in urging ‘meaningful sacrifices’ to protect Creation

07 September 2021

People, whatever their belief, are called on to make sacrifices


A man pushes his bicycle across a wooden bridge over a canal dried up during ongoing drought, in Madagascar, on Saturday

A man pushes his bicycle across a wooden bridge over a canal dried up during ongoing drought, in Madagascar, on Saturday

CLIMATE CHANGE is “an immediate and urgent matter of survival”, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Francis, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, write in a joint message released on Tuesday. They call on people to make “meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us”.

It is the first time that the three church leaders have jointly addressed “the urgency of environmental sustainability, its impact on persistent poverty, and the importance of global cooperation”, they write in “A Joint Message for the Protection of Creation”.

After noting that September is the Season of Creation, and that world leaders are due to meet in Glasgow in November for the COP26 climate talks, they write: “As leaders of our churches, we call on everyone, whatever their belief or worldview, to endeavour to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor, examining their behaviour and pledging meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us.”

They refer to Bible passages which “invite us to adopt a broader outlook and recognise our place in the extended story of humanity”; but they go on to say that “we have taken the opposite direction. We have maximised our own interest at the expense of future generations. By concentrating on our wealth, we find that long-term assets, including the bounty of nature, are depleted for short-term advantage. . .

“Nature is resilient, yet delicate. We are already witnessing the consequences of our refusal to protect and preserve it (Gn 2.15). Now, in this moment, we have an opportunity to repent, to tum around in resolve, to head in the opposite direction. We must pursue generosity and fairness in the ways that we live, work and use money, instead of selfish gain.”

There is a “profound injustice”, they write, in the fact that “the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses [of the planet] are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them. . . there is an innate call within us to respond with anguish when we see such devastating injustice.”

They go on to argue that the extreme weather events and natural disasters of recent months demonstrate “that climate change is not only a future challenge, but an immediate and urgent matter of survival.

“Widespread floods, fires and droughts threaten entire continents. Sea levels rise, forcing whole communities to relocate; cyclones devastate entire regions, ruining lives and livelihoods. Water has become scarce and food supplies insecure, causing conflict and displacement for millions of people. We have already seen this in places where people rely on small scale agricultural holdings. Today we see it in more industrialised countries where even sophisticated infrastructure cannot completely prevent extraordinary destruction.”

The future could be worse, they warn: “Today’s children and teenagers will face catastrophic consequences unless we take responsibility now, as ‘fellow workers with God’ (Gn 2.4-7), to sustain our world. . . For their sake, we must choose to eat, travel, spend, invest and live differently, thinking not only of immediate interest and gains but also of future benefits. We repent of our generation’s sins.”

The message concludes by calling for co-operation. “If we think of humanity as a family and work together towards a future based on the common good, we could find ourselves living in a very different world. Together we can share a vision for life where everyone flourishes. Together we can choose to act with love, justice and mercy. Together we can walk towards a fairer and fulfilling society with those who are most vulnerable at the centre.

“But this involves making changes. Each of us, individually, must take responsibility for the ways we use our resources. This path requires an ever­ closer collaboration among all churches in their commitment to care for creation. Together, as communities, churches, cities and nations, we must change route and discover new ways of working together to break down the traditional barriers between peoples, to stop competing for resources and start collaborating.”

Those in positions of leadership, such as politicians, investors, and business leaders, are urged to “choose people-centred profits; make short-term sacrifices to safeguard all our futures; become leaders in the transition to just and sustainable economies. ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ (Lk 12:48).”

They conclude: “Caring for God’s creation is a spiritual commission requiring a response of commitment. This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it.”

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Archbishop Welby was asked what “meaningful sacrifices” he had made in response to climate change. He replied: “I’ve cut back on travel. We , like so many people, [are] very committed to recycling and all that. I used to have an official car, a diesel car, I no longer have that. . . We’ve cut right back on meat. I’d like to pretend that was entirely virtuous, it’s also something to do with health and money.”

The Archbishop was also asked what steps were being taken in the Church of England to combat climate change, and whether the Church’s investment bodies had disinvested entirely from fossil-fuel holdings. He said that parishes were committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and that, as investors, “we believe in engagement and not just divestment”.

He continued: “Christians believe in conversion. We want to see companies change their behaviour. We’ve divested of coal because there’s no clean way forward. We chair and set up a group called the Transition Pathway Initiative, which has more than £10 trillion under management around the world . . . and we have a tool which enables us to engage with companies, particularly in the extractive industries, and see if they’re changing or not. We are progressively divesting from those who refuse to change, and we’re working with those who are keen on change.”

Read the full text of the message here.

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