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Casa Laura Issue 1 July 2020

A Christian Response to Deep Adaptation

by Mike Pepler

Although I was already well aware of current climate science, reading reading Jem Bendell’s paper on Deep Adaption prompted me to take time out to think about how the current situation and risk of climate/ecosystem collapse fitted in with my faith. I’m writing from the perspective of a privileged white male in the UK.

After accepting the situation when first reading of Deep Adaption almost a year ago, my initial response was anger, along the lines of “How could you allow us to do this to ourselves, God?” – but that leads pretty quickly into questions about free will, as we have voluntarily got ourselves into this mess. By ‘we’, I partly mean those in positions of power and privilege over the centuries, but also those of us who have played along (knowingly or not) with the system that was being created.

Then I got to thinking about the prophecy in Revelation, Daniel, etc. I’d always expected God to end the current world at some point, ready for the new heavens and new earth, but I’d assumed this would be a series of supernatural phenomena. Suddenly, I realised that the end of the human race may come about through the action of a minority of humans, with little divine intervention required. Of course, the worst part of this is that the majority has not participated in bringing us to the brink of extinction — some have played more prominent roles, while others have been victims of the chain of decisions and events.

This made me think that the mess we are in is in a way natural justice. God created a world with a balanced ecosystem and bountiful resources (including minerals and fossil fuels) — all we had to do was be responsible with it. But, instead, a portion of humanity succumbed to temptation and committed sins of pride, greed, envy, etc. leading to consumerism, industrialisation, exploitation, and oppression. These developments brought huge benefits, of course, but, because they were pursued out of greed, with an attitude that humans could be ‘masters of the universe’, it was taken too far and the entire human race is now facing the ‘judgement’ that was already built into the ecosystem. As Hosea 8:7 says: “They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind.” And we must not forget that the majority of people in the world have not received the benefits of industrialisation, but have in fact been exploited and oppressed to enable a minority to receive the benefits. For that majority there is no justice — yet.

Of course, the final point is idolatry. God dealt with the Tower of Babel because the people had become arrogant, thinking they could achieve anything and be like gods. This time, he let it carry on for longer – technology and progress have become almost a religion, and some people are sure that human ingenuity can solve any problem — they feel as if they have become minor gods in the natural world. But, of course, we aren’t; we’re still created beings, and some of us have seriously overstepped our boundaries and now the price is being paid — and the cost is falling disproportionately on those who have played little or no part in bringing the situation about.

A related point comes back to my first question: why did God allow this? Why put the fossil fuels there, and give us enough rope to hang ourselves? Perhaps (and this is just my speculation) there is a factor of humanity needing to realise its inadequacy and limitations before turning to God in humility. When people feel like technological gods with power over nature and are able to satisfy all their physical needs by their own power, then they lose sight of God. So, by allowing the affluent portion humanity to overreach itself and then find it has screwed up and lose all these physical comforts, God may actually prompt more people to really stop and consider what life is all about. There is a huge tension here though — because many billions of people were not in the position of enjoying the benefits of technology, yet they bear the brunt of the ‘judgement’. So, I think there is more to discover here, as I would expect God to hold those in privileged positions to account for their actions. After all, Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b, NIV)

So where I’ve ended up at present is here:

  • It’s best not to make things worse. This is the world God gave us that we’re abusing, and that’s disrespectful to him as well as self-destructive. So I save energy, use renewables, don’t fly, eat less meat, etc.
  • It’s vital to recognise that the comfort experienced by privileged people has come at the cost of exploitation and oppression over the centuries. It’s vital that any action taken now is carefully considered to ensure it is reversing this situation, and benefiting those who have been marginalised.
  • The coming collapse could be an opportunity for those who have lived in comfort to question the meaning of life.
  • It’s better to focus on things that are positive both immediately and eternally. Everything I do that helps another human restores justice or protects part of Creation. I bring glory to God, if I do it in his name. So there’s plenty to get on with, and as the collapse progresses there will be a lot more.
  • Finally, I have to be clear that I do not know the future. During the Black Death, some English towns lost 70% of their population – they may have thought the end of the world was upon them, but they would have been wrong. I could also find that this isn’t the end, that a remnant makes it through the collapse and life goes on, albeit very differently. Given this possibility, I also have a responsibility to try and mitigate the damage that’s been done and is still being done, and also to build up resilience and skills that would benefit a remnant of humanity surviving the collapse.

I should also add that I know I’m not done thinking about this — the above is just where I’ve got to so far.

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