1000 years ago – so the story goes – King Canute tried to stop the rising tide: did the King have the power to command the elements? The story is often told as if Canute claimed the power and was proved wrong. Actually in the earliest version Canute was looking to prove to his courtiers he did not have the power and he sat there and was covered by the rising tide to prove his point.
Today the tides are coming in as sea-levels are rising. Communities on low ground are facing total destruction. Living rather higher up in Turton we are safer, at least from the immediate threat. We can’t see the change in sea-levels first-hand.
There are various voices – those who describe the likely serious effects, including what may prove very difficult to reverse and who exhort us to make changes; those who think it is all a scare-story (after-all there have been ice-ages etc in the past), and a third group that seems to acknowledge the need but who challenge the “cost” (we can’t afford to change at least not that fast – what about the pilots and airlines who will go out of business?).
Global warming is being accelerated because more humans use more stuff; the increased burning of fossil fuels, coal, gas, oil as a growing human population wants warmth in winter, petrol in their cars, and factories which are efficient so goods are cheap.
Aeroplanes are particularly greedy for fuel – but we like going on holidays, we particularly like a cheap flight, and we like having fresh flowers, pine-apples etc in our shops and cheap.
Cattle also are a “global-warmer” and a growing human population is now eating much more meat. Forests are cut down to make space for cattle, making it a double-whammy. But it is not only meat: avocadoes and almonds are cultivated in larger quantities because we want more, but they require huge amounts of water, draining water tables underground. We may think we eat “green” by being vegetarian, but if our soya comes from Brazil, it is probably at the expense of the rain-forest. Palm-oil likewise is now grown where once jungles provided green lungs and biodiversity.
So one key contributor to global warming is my consumption and yours, or more specifically, over-consumption. If I am an over-consumer it seems reasonable to ask me to reduce, but if I have got used to over-consuming then I will feel the pinch. When Adam was accused of eating what he should not have eaten, he made excuses! Do we also make excuses for our consumption?
Eco-systems are complex and so are economic systems. Profits are made and harvested, often by those who are already rich; to some extent many (of us) benefit, and could suffer from changes – suffer in as much as have less, not have nothing.
The Gospel reading for this week contains the summary of the Law; Love God (our Creator – so treat this world with care as it is God’s gift to us) and Love your Neighbour (including those further away who live lower down (geographically and economically).
It is our changing habits which have led to over-consumption, changing our habits can therefore lead to more moderate consumption. As a world, the wealthier have been living beyond their means for too long. Bishop David Sheppard of Liverpool said those of us who live in a “colourful” world, a rich world, need to get used to a slightly greyer world for ourselves, otherwise for too many the world will be darkened and dark. The poorest do not have a large carbon footprint though they may well damage their eco-system to survive for today (seeking firewood as they cannot afford gas).
Will we co-operate in reducing consumption, for the sake of others? How do we do this? – If all do a bit, it will make a significant difference, if we wait for others it won’t. And making a difference will affect us, our spending and our priorities – there is no getting away from that. It is not just for others to do it.
Creator of this wonderful but damaged world
Forgive us our indifference
and our narrow interests.
Open our eyes to see as you see
and strengthen our hands and wills
to do as you seek us to do.
Guide the leaders of our world
that they may make the right decisions
for the sake of the needy,
the damaged earth
and future generations.
We thank you for this wonderful world;
may we cherish it and its future. Amen
Rev’d Peter Reiss