Prospects for Christian Ethical Deliberation amidst Climate Fears. Lay Summary of Byron’s Phd Thesis submitted this week:
The recent rapid warming of the planet, driven overwhelmingly by human emissions and activities, represents a novel and dire threat to both human and natural systems. It also constitutes an unprecedented global injustice, with those facing the first and, in many cases, the worst impacts being least responsible for causing the problem: the global poor, other species and future generations.
The seriousness and complexity of climate change calls for carefully thinking about what we ought to do in order to respond well at various levels: as individuals, communities (including churches), nations and as a global society. Yet before we even get to think about such questions, there is often a problem.
As we come to an awareness of the serious nature of this issue, it can often provoke deep emotional responses such as fear, anger, sorrow, guilt and helplessness, especially since understanding the issue can challenge our sense of self, core beliefs and identity. As a result, it can be common to use a variety of coping mechanisms that keep the issue at arm’s length, in order to prevent such unsettling emotions from overwhelming us. These largely subconscious coping mechanisms operate to keep the true scale of the problem below the level of our full attention, and can prevent the necessary frank assessment of what may be required of us.
Yet without careful attention, it can be possible for the economic and political forces that were primarily responsible for the crisis in the first place to exploit our uncomfortable emotions by offering false solutions and distractions. And so superficial and inadequate responses proliferate while many feel paralysed into inaction.
In the face of this threat to thought, this thesis explores some resources in the tradition of Christian thought in order to deal well with the uncomfortable emotions climate change generates. When these emotions are dealt with well – neither being suppressed nor manipulated, but put into a new light by certain Christian beliefs and practices – then this can open a space for careful thought about what we ought to do.
And so instead of being paralysed by fears about climate change, this thesis argues that fear can instead illuminate and motivate us when it is re-situated in the service of love. And this can happen when people come to understand that they are fundamentally united with the suffering Christ, with the poor and with the whole community of creation.