By Belinda F. Espiritu
24 December 2016
The problems arising from global warming
are the biggest challenges facing governments. Climate change is induced by
global warming, which in turn is induced by human activity. There is now a
consensus among scientists that the current warming of the planet is due to
human activity, specifically attributed to the burning of fossil fuels over the
past two centuries since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The signs of climate change are with us
now: more frequent and violent storms, extreme weather, melting of glaciers,
rising sea levels, thermal expansion of water, desertification, increase in
health problems, threatened extinction of plant and animal species, peoples and
cultures under threat, and the impact of global warming on agriculture, marine
life, and forests.
Christian Leaders on Climate Change and
Unsustainable Economic Growth
Sign of Peril, Test of Faith, Accelerated
Climate Change, the document published by the World Council of Churches (WCC)
in May 1994, challenged the validity of the global socio-political system where
economic growth is extolled as the panacea for all problems by pointing out
that unlimited growth is manifestly impossible in a finite world. The drafters
of the document recognize that governments are much more responsive to the
vested interests of powerful economic groups who are committed to the present
economic growth-oriented system for as long as they can make profits from it.
Pope Francis, in his book Laudato Si’, has quoted Patriarch Bartholomew
of the Eastern Orthodox Church who stated the following words:
For human beings….to destroy the biological
diversity of God’s creation, for human beings to degrade the integrity of the
earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural
forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s
waters, its land, its air, and its life—these are sins.
The Pope further quoted the Patriarch, who
For to commit a crime against the natural
world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.
It can be said that today’s environmental
crisis is, at its roots, a moral crisis.
Many Christian leaders are today affirming the necessity of having a
shift in moral values in order to tame humanity’s exploitative behaviour and
inspire the human race to obey God’s charge to be His caretakers over creation.
This requires that our ethical behaviour must no longer be confined solely to
our relationship with God and other human beings but also extend and include
our relationship with all creation.
The Islamic Declaration on Global
Echoing similar views, Muslim scholars have
expressed the Islamic viewpoint on creation and climate change in the Islamic
Declaration on Global Climate Change, drafted during the International Islamic
Climate Change Symposium held in Istanbul on August 17-18, 2015, in the
following words (from www.islamicclimatedeclaration.org):
We recognize that we are but a miniscule
part of the divine order, yet within that order, we are exceptionally powerful
beings, and have the responsibility to establish good and avert evil in every
way we can. We also recognize that –
We are but one of the multitude of living beings with whom we share the
We have no right to oppress the rest of
creation or cause it harm;
Intelligence and conscience behoove us, as
our faith commands, to treat all things with care and awe (Taqwa) of their
Creator, compassion (Rahmah) and utmost good (Ihsan).
The said Declaration expresses the urgency
felt by the Muslim leaders to halt actions leading to an increase in global
temperature, which would expose yet more millions of people and countless other
creatures to drought, hunger and flooding. The brunt of this would continue to
be borne by the poor, as the Earth experiences a drastic increase in levels of
carbon in the atmosphere brought on in the period since the onset of the
The Declaration succinctly enumerates the
urgent actions needed to be done by people of all nations and their leaders:
We call on the people of all nations and
their leaders to –
Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions
as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the
Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy
and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the
environmental impact of their activities;
Invest in decentralized renewable energy,
which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;
Realize that to chase after unlimited
economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not
viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on
increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate
change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to
Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing,
based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes
resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.
Prioritise adaptation efforts with
appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to
adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and
The proponents of the Islamic Declaration
on Climate Change particularly call on the economically well-off nations and
oil-producing states to –
Lead the way in phasing out their
greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of
Provide generous financial and technical
support to the less well-off to achieve a phase-out of greenhouse gases as
early as possible;
Recognize the moral obligation to reduce
consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s
Stay within the ‘2 degree’ limit, or,
preferably, within the ‘1.5 degree’ limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of
the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground;
Re-focus their concerns from unethical
profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the
condition of the world’s poor.
Invest in the creation of a green economy.
Birth Pangs of the World to Come
Personal responsibility to contribute to the mitigation of climate
change is a call of both Islamic and Christian leaders. The need to reduce our
consumption, reduce our carbon footprint, live a simpler lifestyle, and apply
the maxim “reduce, reuse, and recycle” in different ways is imperative for
everyone to address the global environmental and moral crisis.
A cosmic optimism is at the heart of both
Islam and Christianity. This is a yearning for Paradise, the perfect world God
originally designed and intended to be our home, but which was lost in the
horrible tragedy of the fall. Because God has not given us any desires that do
not have a fulfilment, this yearning for Paradise will be fulfilled in a
future, renewed “new heaven and earth” where nature will be restored to its
former glory. In the perfect world of Paradise, there will be no pollution of
any kind. Meanwhile, we have the responsibility to take care of the present
world, our common home. In the words of Pope Francis:
…we come together to take charge of this
home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists
here will be taken up into the heavenly feast….Let us sing as we go. May our
struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.
Belinda F. Espiritu teaches at the University of the Philippines in Cebu
and is a sustainability and peace advocate.