Climate Justice: A Christian Response to the Challenge of Climate Change Lenten Ecumenical Talk: 11 March 2020



Climate Justice: A Christian Response to the Challenge of Climate Change.

(Part 1)

This presentation will examine the current effects of Climate Change on the poorer communities in our world. These communities, who are the least responsible for the carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change, are the most adversely affected. A sense of justice must call forth a Christian response from all followers of Jesus. This presentation will raise awareness of the issues involved and what we can do, individually and collectively, as church and parish, to respond to them.

First of all some definitions so that we will all understand the terminology used. (These are on the screen also)

Climate Change

Climate change is any significant long-term change in the expected patterns of average weather of a region (or the whole Earth) over a significant period of time. It is about abnormal variations to the climate, and the effects of these variations on other parts of the Earth.


Previously we used to talk about Global Warming –this is related to the long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system. It is a major aspect of climate change.




Global warming is the unusually rapid increase in Earth’s average surface temperature over the past century primarily due to the greenhouse gases eg carbon dioxide released by people burning fossil fuels and other activities.


Climate change therefore happens as a result of the planet heating up – this means the weather gets more extreme and unpredictable. And for the last 150 years human activity has meant we’re releasing a huge amount of harmful gases into the Earth’s atmosphere, and records show that the global temperatures are rising more rapidly since this time.

Many people think of global warming and climate change as the same thing, but scientists prefer to use “climate change” when describing the complex shifts now affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, and a range of other impacts. All of these changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.


Young people today care about many things – we care about people, we care about inequality, we care about racism, intolerance, suffering and homelessness. And yes we care about global warming, climate change, destruction of the earth and loss of animal species. We care about our future and we wonder what kind of world will be there for us and our children in 10, 20, 30 years time.


But it was only while researching this topic of Climate Justice that we were reminded that there is a whole cohort of people, who are being hugely impacted by climate change right now, and have been for many years. While we worry about the future and how our lives MAY change, and what restrictions we MAY have to put on our lifestyles, many of these people are struggling to have any life at all right now, because climate change has affected them so adversely that their very means of staying alive is being taken away from them. And the real injustice of that, is that they are not wasting the earth’s resources, they are not living beyond their needs, they are not shopping and consuming endlessly, they are not releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – all behaviours that are contributing to the Climate Change emergency that we now find ourselves in.

However we, in first world developed countries and China and India, are doing all these things.  A useful way of assessing a country’s contribution to global warming is to measure carbon emissions per person in that country. This type of measurement shows that the leaders in this area in 2017 were Australia, with emissions of 17 tonnes per person per year, the US with 16.2 tonnes and Canada with 15.6 tonnes.   The Environmental Indicators Ireland report shows Ireland generated 13.3 tonnes per person of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2017 – the third highest in the EU.


On the other hand the countries with the lowest emissions per person in 2017 were Sub-Saharan African countries such as Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. The average carbon footprint here is 0.1



tonnes per person per year – more than 160 times lower than the US, Australia and Canada.


So not everyone on the planet is equally responsible for climate change. And not everyone is affected adversely to the same extent. The injustice is that while climate change will affect all of us, those countries which tend to be poorer and to have contributed less to climate change, are set to disproportionately suffer, and are already suffering, its severe effects.


We read in the Bible, in Genesis 1:27 “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” We are all created in God’s image, we are all creatures of the Creator, children of the Father and therefore brothers and sisters to each other. If we truly believe and live this, we cannot ignore the cry of the earth or the cry of the poor. Pope Francis tells us that the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are one and the same. He also recently declared a global “climate emergency”, warning of the dangers of global heating, and that a failure to act urgently to reduce greenhouse gases would be “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations”.


Examples of what is already happening to the impoverished and those already living hand-to-mouth in developing countries are widely available if we want to know more about the adverse effects of climate change. The UN Environment Programme tells us that no continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa.


The risks of climate change on agricultural production, food security, water resources and ecosystem services will have increasingly severe consequences on lives and sustainable development prospects. The continent has limited capacity to adapt to the changes brought by unpredictable floods and drought and this is exacerbated by widespread poverty. By this year, 2020, between 75 and 250 million people on the continent will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. In this same year in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent, pushing some areas over the line from a hand-to-mouth existence into famine. And there are other hidden impacts too. Take one country Zambia as an example.

Zambia has been quite a success story in Africa with relative peace since independence and has been spared many of the horrific tribal disturbances that have flared in other countries in the past. Approximately 2/3 of the country’s labour force is employed in agriculture with 80% of the country’s farmers engaged in subsistence farming. The rising frequency of drought and shorter rainy seasons has led to increasing crop loss and food insecurity especially in the central and southern areas. On the other hand, floods from heavy rainfall events are also threatening food production, particularly in northern Zambia, leading to destruction of crops, increased malnutrition and hunger, soil erosion, reduced cultivatable land, and loss of livestock. The drought in southern areas has resulted in less water for hydro-electric power and even impacted on tourism with the reduction of water at the Victoria Falls Waterfall on the Zambia Zimbabwe border. You can see on the screen the difference between



the level of water during the height of the rainy season, (in the top picture) and the level of water last year during a period of drought. A drop in tourism numbers can only exacerbate living conditions for those who depend on it for work.

Another area where climate change has been impacting is the area of health. In light of increases in heavy rainfall, and rising temperatures, both of which facilitate mosquito breeding, the spread of malaria is of particular concern. Increases and changes in geographic coverage and survival of mosquito populations may expose more of the Zambian population to malaria, including some that previously may not have been exposed to the disease. More than 16 million people are at risk of malaria in Zambia and malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds. The ability to contain and control this disease is being hindered by the increase in the mosquito population and their appearance in new places due to rising temperatures. Other diseases that have persistently increased mortality and morbidity rates in urban and rural Zambia include cholera, and respiratory infections. So it is obvious that the effects of climate change are not just those we can physically see and report on like drought or floods but there are many other hidden aspects to it, that are adding to the challenges that people in the developing world face every day.


Just some further statistics:

In Dec 2019 scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that temperatures are rising twice as fast in Southern Africa as in the rest of the world.



This finding supports the United Nations forecast that 45 million people in southern Africa will need food aid in the coming months.

Ethiopia is suffering its worst drought for 30 years and the search for water has become more desperate: women walk for two to six hours a day just to get water, and people have to dig wells deeper and deeper to access water.

In Ethiopia alone 9.7 million people are currently in need of emergency food aid.

Finally, climate change is already forcing people from their land and homes, and putting many more at risk of displacement in the future. Supercharged storms, more intense droughts, rising seas and other impacts of climate change all magnify existing vulnerabilities and the likelihood of displacement – disproportionately affecting low-income countries, women, children and Indigenous peoples. People in poorer countries are at least four times more likely to be displaced by extreme weather than people in rich countries. The result is that in the years ahead we will see many more people on the move – as environmental refugees.

The world faces a race against time to reduce emissions and help the most vulnerable cope with climate impacts that they are already facing today and that will escalate in the years ahead. It’s time to act now.







(Part 2).

So what can we do?

First of all, we must ensure that we use the language of Christians, that we speak with compassion and love for all those suffering in our world today, including those who have to leave their homes and countries to try to find some level of security for themselves and their families. After all the Bible tells us in the letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”


Ireland has always had a great reputation for supporting charities overseas. For example in 2018/2019 Irish people donated €7.6m to the Trocaire Lenten Campaign. In 2018 the estimate for household charitable donations in Ireland to all charities, both at home and abroad, was €350 million. So we are a generous people and must continue to support developing countries with our financial donations.


We have just heard that there is a big question over carbon emissions and that this is the main contributor to the global warming effect. The giant petroleum and oil companies are the main guilty parties here and we might think that it is impossible for individuals like ourselves to go up against big business like this and governments that do not seem to care. But we can all apply pressure on our own government and make our voices heard in a variety of ways. There are many examples in history of a handful of people making a difference in the world, for example those who worked for the abolition of slavery in 19th century Britain. One voice multiplied many times can make a


difference and there are many ways to show our concern. It doesn’t all involve marching on the street either – there are many organisations that send in petitions to Government and the UN to try to lobby them to put pressure on big business and to keep a focus on environmental concerns and climate change. All it takes is a signature from me and you. You will find these petitions online with organisations like Oxfam, Cafod, Friends of the Earth, Trocaire etc. We also need to keep ourselves informed about what is happening in the world, what our Government has signed up to in terms of making the necessary changes and whether we are complying with those changes.


We need to be prepared for the impacts these changes will have on us and our lifestyles, and if we truly care about those suffering and dying in the developing world, be prepared for the cost that will be involved. For example can we reduce or stop altogether the number of flights we take? Perhaps we have to travel for work but could we make more use of technology to teleconference or connect online. Can we change our car to a more eco-friendly or electric model? Or could we reduce our car journeys at all? Do we use the car for short trips where we could actually walk instead – giving us a health boost as well as helping the planet. Could we install a solar panel in our roof and produce our own electricity from solar power? Can we reduce our use of coal and turf? Perhaps we cannot, but if we can do so, are we willing to make the changes necessary even if more costly and inconvenient?


There are many other small but effective things we can do as individuals that can have a positive effect on the environment if many


of us do them. We created a short simple survey which was circulated to some parishioners here to see what people knew about these basic issues. About 40 people completed the survey. The results were quite positive in many ways in terms of what people are doing already. For example 60.5% of those who responded walk to Church while 37.2% take the car. Perhaps in summertime the number walking may increase. 97.7% have recycling bins at home and 97.7% know what goes into each one of one – which of course is so important.

27.9% admitted to having food waste each week – this is something each of us needs to try to reduce, not only because it is a shame to throw out food when there are people hungry in the world, but also because much of our food involves air miles to get it here and this of course impacts on the environment. The more we can buy local produce the less pressure we put on the environment.


67.4% of people bring their unwanted clothes to a charity shop which is a good thing, but 11.6% buy a lot of clothes, and 48.8% buy a lot of clothes occasionally. A reduction in buying clothes, if possible, would be better for the planet on many levels – the amount of water and electricity used in the production of many materials including cotton is huge, and the cost to humanity is even higher as many of the clothes we buy are made in sweat shops in China and Bangladesh. That’s another area where we can make our voices heard – only buy in stores where they can show they source their garments from factories that pay their workers a living wage and where conditions are safe and decent for people to work in. Most stores now will have some information about this on their website – if not, contact the store and


ask them can they guarantee that the clothes they stock are ethically produced. If they cannot, don’t buy there and tell them why!


67.4% of people use LED lights at home but 30.2% only use them in some rooms while 2.4% do not use them at all. LED lights have been proven to be energy efficient, long lasting, and safer, and do not accumulate harmful chemicals in the environment. So all good reasons to make the switch to them now. 62.8% of people turn off lights when they leave the room but 34.9% only do so sometimes. That’s an easy one to start with – also switch off anything electrical on standby, as it is still using electricity.


There are many other areas we could have included in the survey and hopefully you might like to find out more that you, as an individual, can do to protect the earth and slow down carbon emissions.

If you are interested in how your current way of living is impacting the planet you can check what is called your Carbon Footprint. This is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community. Many websites make this available for people to enter in details about how much electricity, gas, petrol you use, how many flights you take, how often you use the car etc and then you can calculate how much carbon you are responsible for releasing into the atmosphere. The point here of course is to then look at ways you can reduce it. Just google “carbon footprint calculator” and you will find many to choose from.



Sometimes it can be easier to make changes as a group rather than as an individual – it also means we are more likely to succeed as we can hold each other to account and provide support for each other.   So as a parish or congregation what changes can you make that will benefit the environment and ultimately the lives of the poorest in the world?

Could you become a Fairtrade parish for example? Fairtrade promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions for marginalised producers and workers in the global south. The movement focuses on products that are typically exported from the global south to the global north such as coffee, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, chocolate, fresh fruit and flowers. Ireland has 48 Fairtrade towns at the moment. Perhaps Malahide or the various churches in the area could adapt an ecumenical approach to becoming a Fairtrade town or shared parish- Initially this involves widely offering FAIRTRADE food and drink options internally in the parish and making them available for meetings and events in the parish, and promoting the Fairtrade initiative communications and parish newsletters etc. And as individuals of course we can always choose to but Fairtrade products. You can find out more on the Fairtrade website.


One final area that you might like to consider is the initiative proposed by Eco-Congregation Ireland, which is a project initiated by the Church in Society Forum – a standing committee of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting. The Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches are involved as well as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Eco-Congregation Ireland (ECI) encourages churches of all denominations to take an eco approach to worship,


lifestyle, property and finance management, community outreach and contact with the developing world. Their vision is to see churches of all denominations throughout Ireland celebrate the gift of God’s creation, recognise the inter-dependence of all creation, and care for it in their life and mission and through members’ personal lifestyles. They invite Christians everywhere to reflect on the beauty of God’s world and to consider what practical steps can be taken to prevent further damage to the environment. Also, to pray for our wounded planet, for people in the developing world already affected by climate change, and for future generations.

They provide a wide range of resources on Worship and Teaching, Children and Youth Work, Property and Grounds Management, Finance and Waste, Personal Lifestyles, Working with the Local Community and Thinking Globally. All these resources are free to download from their website The first thing you might consider is to complete the survey for an environmental check-up for your church and see what else you could be doing as a congregation. Eco-Congregation Ireland reminds us of the influential role the churches can play, and indeed must play, in reversing the effects of climate change and speaking up for the poorest of the poor.

Some doomsayers say the damage is done, there is no going back. But the Christian response must be one of hope. Hope because God has created a world that God judges to be ‘very good’. Hope because, in spite of repeated human failings, God has promised never to give up on His Creation. And hope because it is not too late for us to do our bit to bring about change.



We must identify solutions and take our responsibilities seriously by making changes in our own lives, encouraging others to make similar changes and by exerting pressure on our policy-makers at a local, national and international level.

Thank you for listening and I would like to finish with this prayer for the earth. I invite you to join with me in praying it together:

Most gracious God, we come before you to pray for the wellbeing of our planet. We pray for the people around the globe who suffer and die because of climate change and environmental damage.

We pray for the defenceless creatures harmed or made extinct by our selfishness and ignorance. We pray that we humans have a change of heart and stop harming the planet.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us that we may have the passion and wisdom to work effectively to restore your creation. Guide us in our personal, church and community efforts. Give us strength to continue on with this work when it is difficult and requires sacrifice. Bless the Earth and all that live on it. We make this prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen.