Hothouse Earth: With the world facing a climate change tipping point, how should Christians respond?

In the middle of the estate I live on is a lovely green. It's a communal area where children play, people walk their dogs and families have picnics. Locals unofficially call it The Green. Today though it would be more appropriate to call it The Yellow. The heatwave is having its impact.

In the UK we've been facing our longest heatwave for five years, with temperatures regularly hitting 33 degrees Celsius and water companies issuing water warnings and urging people to use water carefully. With the worst wildfires ever in California, wildfires in Greece and Portugal, and deadly heat in Japan, this will be a summer to remember.

ReutersAerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps water onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, August 6, 2018

Or will it? Will it just become one summer among many, each one breaking temperature records – the norm in a world that is one degree warmer than at the start of the industrial revolution and is warming fast?

Am I allowed to admit that this scares me? The thought of no rain and running out of water (as was nearly experienced by the residents of Cape Town as they headed towards Day Zero) and the impact of long periods of severe heat is awful. The vegetables in my garden this summer have been noticeably less bountiful than usual, but that's nothing compared to the people Tearfund serves who have been hit by drought over the last few years in places like Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia where millions need food aid to get back on their feet.

This summer's heatwave is a wake-up call. We've had a few of those – things like floods, droughts, unreliable rain, and record typhoons which have been pushing people into poverty, and so have shaped Tearfund's work over the last 10 years and more. We've had quieter wake-up calls too, like our garden birds migrating earlier in the UK. This week we had another loud one from the 'Hothouse Earth' report from the American Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reminding us how terrible it will be if we go past the Paris Agreement target (1.5 degrees) and get warmer by two degrees since pre-industrial times, reaching a tipping point which will probably set in train a range of feedback loops that will lead to further warming. At that point... we dread to think.

The question facing us is, will we wake up? The science is certain. We know we are on a certain trajectory already, even if we were to stop CO2 emissions overnight. The challenge for us now is, armed with the scientific knowledge we already have, how bad are we going to let it get? Will we take bigger steps than we already have to keep us from getting to that two degree level?

The authors of the report (more properly entitled 'Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene') tell us that what is needed is 'a fundamental re-adjustment of our relationship with the planet'. As Christians we can say a loud 'Amen' to that.

The consumer culture we are in teaches us to see the planet as simply 'the environment' – something akin to a stage on which we, the important actors, play out and make our lives. We have been taught to see the world simply as a resource, for us to use however we like for our own benefit.

However, Scripture gives us a different picture. The world is something that God has made and loves. He thinks it is 'very good' (Genesis 1:31) – so good in fact that he creates a whole species which he tasks with the job of looking after his precious creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). We are 'adam from the 'adamah (Hebrew for earth), intricately connected to the rest of creation. When the wider creation is harmed then we will be too.

The planet was made by Jesus and through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). That's a stunning declaration of the value that is in this world. It is as if the planet was created to be a gift from the Father to the Son. How dare we defile something that bears the hallmarks of God in this way?

So how will we live out this transformed relationship with the earth? Or maybe the better question is, how will I live out this relationship? I need to make a response myself, I can't just tell you what to do. So here goes:

Because I want to love this world and don't want to see millions pushed into poverty or other species destroyed through climate change, I've looked long and hard at how I live my life. This year, any travel I've done in the UK and mainland Europe I've done by train or car rather than flying (it's more time consuming but it's much nicer, and I can get work done or look out the window depending on my mood). I turned down an offer to be the main speaker at a conference in Australia (that was tough - I would have liked to have done it). But I also know I've flown too much because of my work and am determined not to do that next year.

I've switched to a mostly plant and grain based diet and grow a lot of my own vegetables as well as supporting a local organic grower. When I took my job at Tearfund and knew I'd have to drive more, I asked them to install charging points and I got an electric car which is charged with electricity from a green energy supplier (and from my solar panels at home). Take a look here for more we can all do.

Because of the urgency of this situation, I started up Eco Church, a scheme to help churches look after God's world through all areas of church life. We can act as local churches and as the global church together, acting and praying to see change. Get your church signed up!

I'm determined to use my voice to speak up and push our governments to fulfil the commitments made under the Paris Agreement – and yes let's push Trump to do so too. And, please join Tearfund in calling the World Bank to switch their billions of pounds of energy investment in developing countries from fossil fuels to renewable power.

What will you do?

As followers of this Jesus through whom all things were made, let us be at the forefront of demonstrating a different relationship with the planet: a relationship of humility, servanthood, gentleness, mercy and compassion; one in which, instead of striving to pile up more and more goods for ourselves, we commit ourselves to working for justice and the flourishing of the natural world. Let us join God in loving this world that he has made.

Dr Ruth Valerio is global advocacy and influencing director at Tearfund. Follow her on Twitter @RuthValerio

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