The Christian case for tackling climate change

This autumn marks the 500th anniversary of the great schism that divided the Christian Church. Today, Christian brothers and sisters on both sides of this historical divide work together in pursuit of the moral vision that is laid out in the Gospels. We house the homeless together, feed the hungry together, and pacify conflicts together.

As part of this Gospel work, many of us have devoted ourselves to assisting migrants from Syria. Those who work on the front lines of migrant support have heard stories of the period in Syria before the 'Arab Spring', when a severe drought in the countryside drove over-crowding in Damascus, Aleppo, and other cities.

ReutersSyrian refugees trying to cross into Turkey.

Unfortunately, the disaster in Syria was undergirded by another disaster, and one that will continue to grow unless we stop it. The tragic truth is that experts believe that the Syrian drought was made more likely by climate change.

Droughts have happened in the Near East and around the world for millennia. Climate change is different. Climate change is deeply and drastically altering long-established patterns of rainfall. Small-scale farmers' and herders' livelihoods depend on predicting the weather, and for them, the drastic and ongoing alteration of weather patterns means disaster.

Syria provides a real-world example of the consequences of a climate-forced drought, with analysis provided by, among others, former leaders of the United States military. The Syrian drought drove newly impoverished people out of the countryside, creating enormous pressure in urban areas. In Damascus, Aleppo, and other cities, a dramatically expanded presence of desperately poor people fed into to a wider sense of unrest.

Climate change did not cause the refugee crisis. But climate change very probably contributed to the social crisis that prompted it. Events such as the drought are more likely to occur with greater frequency and severity due to climate change.

Unfortunately, the migration of the past several years is only a precursor of what's to come. Drought is one consequence of climate change and one that will have long-lasting repercussions. Another is sea level rise.

Over the coming decades, the highly exposed, highly populated coast of Bangladesh will probably see sea level rise that will flood the homes of tens of millions of people, driving human migration on a scale the Earth has never seen. Caring for these migrants will challenge all of us.

We stand committed to protecting migrant families, all of whom deserve our help. But we're also committed to limiting the cause of needless future suffering.

The scientific consensus on climate change is clear. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In the atmosphere, these added gases function like a blanket, trapping heat from the sun and holding it close to the Earth.

The consequences of a warmer Earth are profound – and they are already here. From the countryside of Syria to our backyards in London, climate change is disrupting how we live.

Because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, the United Kingdom has already seen increases in average rainfall. Heavier rains mean more flooded homes and businesses, more stresses on expensive infrastructure, and days of missed school or work. Coastal areas are also vulnerable to increased flooding from sea-level rise and storm surge.

For believers in Jesus Christ, the divine command to love one's neighbour requires us to understand how our actions – or inaction – affect others. Christians must reduce the causes of climate change. The call to love our neighbours requires no less.

Worldwide, Christians are now observing the ecumenical Season of Creation, the period from September 1to October 4 when we pray and act together to protect the good gift of Creation. As was witnessed by the joint statement for World Day of Prayer for Creation, jointly issued by Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, environmental protection is being met with a unified Christian response.

Here in the United Kingdom, the Catholic Church of Wales and England is supporting the livesimply Award. The Catholic communities that have received the award have made real progress in caring for Creation. In Stowmarket, Our Lady's Parish created reusable shopping bags for parishioners. In Leamington, the Parish of St Peter Apostle encouraged parishioners to walk or cycle to church to shrink their carbon footprint. These parishes join 25 others who have achieved the rigorous standards of the award.

The Lutheran Church in Great Britain has taken steps to make its practices more sustainable and to incorporate care for creation into worship and education services. The church has diverted trash from landfills by instituting the use of reusable cups and service materials and installing recycling bins. It has highlighted climate change and environment issues in weekly intercessions and educated congregants about the need to reduce, re-use and recycle as part of Lenten Disciplines. The church has undertaken a significant education campaign, discussing the importance of caring for our environment with children during children's addresses and children's church, planning a 'litter-picking' event with the children in the near future.

Now it's up to all Christians to continue and expand this collective response.

Catholic or Lutheran, ordained or lay, we're all called by our Creator to love and protect the human family and our common home. We are standing together to answer God's call.

John Arnold is Bishop of the Salford Diocese of the Catholic Church and chairperson of the Environmental Justice Committee of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

Dr Martin Lind is Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain.

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