Caring for Creation – Climate Change

Global Warming… Luke 14:7-14

It is a very simple message about humility and hospitality. Jesus noticed that people liked to sit in places of honour. They liked to sit at the top table at weddings and enjoy the good life. They liked to receive the best treatment. Traveling first class can be fun but it’s also addictive. It’s very easy to think this is normal and forget that for most it isn’t normal. Jesus said be careful, be humble.
He then talks of who you might invite into your own home for dinner. Is it just your friends and people who are just like you? Is it people who are already part of your circle of friends and family? Jesus talks of another way when he says make sure you invite the others, the poor, the ones you don’t normally mix with, the ones that don’t really matter. And he says when you do this, when you invite the people from outside the fence to your table you’ll be blessed.. You’ll learn something.
Now I suspect there is plenty here to challenge in the way we live our day to day lives. Humility and hospitality are key elements of a Christian life. Our celebration of communion where we all gather around around a table no matter who we are is a constant message and reminder of how it is in the kingdom of God. All are equal, and it doesn’t matter if you are Donald Trump or Joesephine Bloggs you are welcome. We are all interconnected as part of Gods creation.

I wonder what that might have to say to us as we address one of the most pressing issues in our world – climate change. However we might want to look at it, we are part of the small group that sit around the top table and there is plenty of evidence we are very good at thumbing our nose at everyone else in the world. They don’t matter. Who cares if the people of Tuvalu no longer have a home because the ocean has risen. I think it’s now an established reality that the world is heating up and that human activity is “extremely likely” to blame. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are now at levels “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” Sea levels are expected to rise and the oceans have acidified as they have absorbed increased levels of carbon dioxide. We can expect more mosquitoes, more extreme weather events, and a shrinking of land mass as oceans rise.

I see varying responses. The United Sates seems to be backing right off. They have a president who is more interested in saving coal miners jobs than taking a lead in addressing climate change. We may go tut tut, but I wonder whether as individuals we are pretty good at saying someone else’s problem. So what if hurricane wipe out life on some Pacific island or sea level rise destroys millions of homes in Bangladesh. So long as we are OK all is OK. Those others don’t really belong at our table. As a nation it’s easy for us to say we are just a very small contributor to the greenhouse gases that seem to be at the heart of the problem. But when you bring it down to the personal level there are only ten nations in the world that emit more greenhouses gasses than we do – per person. When it comes to pumping out carbon in various forms we punch well above our weight. The global average of carbon dioxide equivalent per person is something like four metric tonnes per year, but we manage just under 20 metric tonnes per person – five times the global average. Of course a key issue for us is cows – we have a lot of cows out there belching out methane, which is actually a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The only good news is that it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere. To put it bluntly we sit at the top table in terms of lifestyle and we need to open our eyes and make some real changes to our lifestyles. We need to invite others to our table and understand we are part of a global issue that affects us all.

So where are the problem areas? Well we know for us kiwis the cows are an issue as they produce lots of methane and we also put lots of nitrogen onto the land. The methane is a short term greenhouse gas, but unfortunately it’s much nastier than CO2. We are going to have to find ways to reduce these emissions. The obvious answer is reduce the numbers of cows. But dairying is carrying our economy. It’s not easy. We have good people working on resolving this. It’s easy to point the finger elsewhere and say others need to change.

What about us? City folk. One of the big issues for us is that we consume lots of stuff, and just about every product or service we use causes CO2 emissions in its manufacture or in the transport to get it to us. Ensuring we consume less and live more simply is possibly one of the biggest things each of us could do. Buy products that last and don’t have to be replaced regularly. We often don’t need to replace our perfectly good cell phone or TV so why do we? Buy products without packaging. Sharing more stuff with others would really help. A group like us could start a stuff to be shared resource bank. Literally all the stuff we have is killing us and will certainly kill the planet if everyone has what we have. Cutting down consumption of stuff and living more simply is fundamental to a future planet that resembles the good creation God longs for.

Another major contributor of our CO2 emissions is our love affair with cars. We have more cars per head of population than just about anyone else in the world and we love to use them all the time. We could be walking or cycling more and incidentally enjoying better health, but no, even if it is a short trip to the shops we use the car. We have a great public transport system in Christchurch but often buses trundle around half empty. Far too many of us have never used a bus. Land transport, cars buses, trucks, including the trucks and other vehicles carting around all the stuff we really don’t need, accounts for about 40% of our CO2 emissions and it’s growing rapidly.

We also love to travel by air and we need to remember that one return flight to a European city produces about ten metric tonnes of CO2 per passenger, or two and a half times the global annual average in one hit. Travel is good as it reconnects us with family and opens our eyes to other cultures and peoples, but we really need to be careful about how often we use planes. Planes also bring in all sorts of food from around the world. How good it is to have Italian kiwifruit out of our season, but remember those imported food items are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

We are it seems very definitely at the top table gobbling up the best food and living as we wish while the earth it seems is heading towards death and destruction for many. Climate change will affect all of us but it will be the poor who suffer most. It’s time we invited others to our table and looked beyond our narrow self interest.

The Bible has a term that describes what is required, and it’s the term repent! Repent means changing direction and that is never easy. It requires work and effort. But currently the way we live is the equivalent of taking our place at the top table and saying to hell with everyone else. Jesus would simply call it sinful, and invites us to head down a different road.
I don’t for one minute suggest it will be easy. There isn’t any immediate threat that we can see will threaten us in the next five minutes so why get worried. There is no elephant standing on our toe so why do anything? We find it hard dealing with issues that aren’t immediate and don’t have immediate effect. Like the frog being heated in hot water it’s easy to put off jumping out of the pot until of course it’s too late. Toss in an element of uncertainty because we actually don’t know precisely what will happen as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, and it becomes incredibly easy to put our head in the sand and hope that it won’t be so bad for our grandchildren as the scientists tell us.

I believe Jesus Christ came to heal and save the world, and as a faithful disciple I need to change my lifestyle. I believe Jesus cares so much about this sacred world that he would sacrifice even his life to save it, so where is the sacrifice in riding my bike or the bus more often. I believe Jesus meant what he said invite others to sit down and share our table and our life with them. Picture the people of every low lying country, listen to the cries of species going extinct as temperature rises. Hear the weeping of the planet, and the weeping of God..

I know I can’t solve the issue by myself, but I do believe we can be light and salt. We can work together to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting into the atmosphere. We can do things like choosing to live simply, sharing what we have – couldn’t someone with skills amongst us start a sharing pool of tools and other items, buying things that last. Reduce, recycle, reuse. Be someone who leads the way with an electric vehicle. I’m blessed to be fit enough to bike. I know I could use the bus more. Reduce our trips by air. , ensuring the power we use is generated by renewable means. Simply doing what everyone else does isn’t enough – we are called to be a light. We are called to be salt. God has given us responsibility to care for the earth. Conversation, encouragement, creative thinking, courageous action.
Let’s stop sitting around the top table with our heads in the sand. The first step is simple…. We have a coffee or cup of tea after worship. Have a conversation. Share something you already do that helps turn this beast around. Celebrate that. Then see if you can agree on something you can do together that will help honour the call to be salt and light.

Dugald Wilson