Saying Yes to Life

April 11, 2020

When I was asked to write the Archbishop’s Lent book for 2020, little did I or any of us realise what a tumultuous Lent it was going to be or how particularly relevant the themes of the book would be – my goodness, there is even a section in there on pangolins and pangolin trafficking, now thought likely to be one of the things that allowed Covid-19 to jump species onto people. Justin Welby’s Foreword is uncannily prescient too and speaks right into the present situation – particularly the final paragraph (you’ll have to read it for yourself, it’s too long to quote here!).

Connection has been one of the key themes from the last few weeks. We recognise that we are connected to each other; that there is indeed something called society, and that we all need to work together to save lives. And we recognise that we are connected with the wider natural world; that terrible things happen when we don’t look after it and other creatures, but also that there is beauty out there in our gardens and parks and skies to notice again and appreciate. Connection is what Saying Yes to Life explores as we go through the creation story of Genesis 1 and consider the amazing world God has created and our role in it as people made in his image: created to look after our neighbours and the rest of creation.

The initial response to the book was hugely encouraging as the Church of England decided to give over its whole Lent focus (called #LiveLent) to the themes of the book around creation care and I began to hear of churches from all sorts of denominations and networks all over the UK (and around the world) deciding to use the book together over Lent. It became an Amazon bestseller and I’m led to believe it’s the best selling Lent book ever. It felt as if what I and others have been working towards for so many years was finally bearing fruit.

So can I be honest and tell you how gutting these last few weeks have been for me as, totally understandably, the focus suddenly shifted? It felt like all the momentum that had been building and the potential that was emerging was brought to a sudden halt. I’ve needed to grieve – as we all have, for the hopes and dreams and people that we have lost and will lose through this time.

Will we be able to regain that momentum at some point? The good news is that so many of us (at least in more economically developed contexts) have been rediscovering the absolute joy of hearing birdsong, seeing bumblebees and clear skies, breathing unpolluted air, and realising just how nurturing and good for our wellbeing it is to spend time outdoors.

Alongside this, I know many people have continued reading Saying Yes To Life and a good number of churches adapted their Lent study groups to read it together virtually. I’ve heard time and time again how much the book has sustained them through this time and the messages that I’ve been receiving have been helping sustain me through this time too.

All is not lost, and as we leave Lent and head into Easter I am reminded to hold onto hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. In his great passage on the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us to ‘stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain’ (v. 58). That’s what I’m choosing to stand on. My work isn’t finished yet!

So can I just say THANK YOU. Thank you to all of you who walked with me and helped me bring the Lent book into being, and thank you to all of you who have read it and engaged with it and been inspired to act because of it. May we be resurrection people in resurrection churches, and may we look at all that God has made and say yes to life. And Happy Easter!


So What Do We Do? From Swords to Ploughshares: Climate and Conflict Part 3

January 30, 2020

In this series we are looking at the link between climate breakdown and conflict. In Part One we looked at how the two issues are linked, where in the world the problem is most acute and how it is affecting people generally. In Part Two we unpacked some of those issues in more detail, looking at how the concerns of climate breakdown and conflict are often mutually reinforcing. Here in Part Three, we consider what action we can take to respond to this unfolding crisis in our world.

Many of us reading this won’t be living in conflict areas nor be in a position to work directly into those situations with their complex, large-scale problems. But there are still things that we can do to respond:

1. Campaign: on climate action, adaptation finance, independent aid

First and foremost, if we want to see climate-induced conflict reduced we need to see the climate crisis tackled, through slashing global carbon emissions. At the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015, 196 countries agreed to phase out the use of highly polluting fossil fuels to keep global temperature rise to well below 2℃. We need to hold our governments accountable by asking what they are doing to achieve this and what more could be done. In the UK, this means delivering net zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible. Additionally, we must call for alignment of our national contribution to keep us on track for 1.5℃ of heating globally, as well as using our diplomatic influence in the run up to hosting the UN climate talks later this year to press other countries to do the same. We need to demand that all overseas investments are compatible with the aims of the Paris agreement, moving away entirely from fossil fuels, and increasing investment in zero-carbon energy development. One way to join with others in lobbying the government in the UK is through the Climate Coalition, a network of over 100 organisations made up of 19 million individuals, all dedicated to action against global heating.

As well as the crucial preventative work of cutting emissions, we also need to call for measures to adapt and reverse the damage that has already been done. These will include climate adaptation initiatives and financial support from richer countries for poorer nations to help them continue to develop using green energy sources, as outlined in the Paris agreement, with an ambitious plan for international climate finance post-2020. Alongside this, it is vital we keep independent aid a priority in the UK, with its own Department for International Development (DFID) and Secretary of State. A merger with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) would lead to less aid going to the world’s poorest people and to help the situations of conflict and climate breakdown they are facing. So we can also make a difference by lobbying to maintain this crucial government department as a separate entity, where it can be the most effective.

2. Support organisations working on peacemaking

Another way that we can help tackle the issue of conflict which exacerbates the climate crisis around the world is to support those organisations that are working to alleviate it. Peacebuilding is an increasingly important part of good development in many places, and it is an area that Tearfund has invested in heavily in recent years. As an organisation, Tearfund has made working in fragile states affected by conflict one of its three corporate priorities, and has created a team dedicated to peacebuilding work with affected communities to see context-appropriate, locally-owned and sustainable solutions to issues of fragility. Its work encompasses the spectrum of responding to immediate needs, supporting people’s recovery and building their resilience, and the longer term addressing of root causes. By giving to Tearfund, you will support the work we do in this and other areas, and you can help to make a real difference in people’s lives. Please do read more and give here.

3. Pray

Crucial for Christians, alongside calling for change and giving our money to support this work, is prayer. So another way to take action to help alleviate climate and conflict issues is to bring these concerns into our churches in sermons and prayers, helping people understand why involving ourselves is a Christian calling. Let us pray for peace in places around the world that are experiencing violence in the face of climate-induced difficulties, for their governments to know how to respond and to have the resources to do so, and for factions and rebel leaders to find solutions for the issues at the root of conflict and fragility. I strongly believe that change happens when we pray, and particularly when we pray together, and this year, linked with number one above, we need to stand together to pray for climate action. Please join in – we need you!

4. Live low-carbon, peace-filled lives

Finally, if we’re going to see climate-induced conflict addressed, then alongside pushing governments to take action on the climate crisis, supporting organisations that are working to combat conflict and praying to see a change, we must also consider our own lives and lifestyles. This means thinking about our personal carbon emissions and consumer habits, recognising that we hold part of the responsibility for the difficulties we are experiencing. But being part of the problem means that we are also empowered to be part of the solution! There are lots of steps we can take in our ordinary lives to make changes and help resolve these issues. We can change our eating habits to a predominantly vegetable and grain-based diet. We can use less polluting means of travel to get around, such as public transport, car shares or electric cars – and of course flying significantly less, or not flying at all, is one of the most effective things we can do. We can switch our domestic energy supplier to one that uses 100% renewable energy, or even install our own solar panels, as well as planting trees and reducing our energy use when we can (such as by choosing energy efficient appliances and turning things off wherever possible). And let’s work to live peace-filled lives ourselves, caring for others and seeking peace in our relationships.

Rather than losing hope in the face of these vast issues of climate and conflict, we can choose to act, to contribute to the solution and be part of reversing the terrible trends we are seeing in our world. It has becoming increasingly clear that the fate of the planet cannot be separated from its effects on people – and this fact will perhaps see both the climate crisis and human conflict addressed with the urgency they require at all levels of society, starting with us.

Bible/Theology, Environment

Why have Christians not responded sooner to the climate crisis?

January 25, 2020

Why has the Christian faith not responded more wholesale and seriously to our climate crisis and caring for the natural world in general?

This was a question I was asked to say something about at a small inter-faith dialogue at St George’s House, Windsor Castle. The gathering brought together leaders from the seven main faiths who are active in engaging their constituencies on climate issues. About twenty of us gathered, along with a couple of leading climate scientists. It was an incredibly rich time – better than I was expecting, I confess! – and I came away with a number of things to reflect on as well as some new relationships which I hope will continue and bear fruit.

My contribution was very brief and each of these points needs much more nuancing and investigation.  Nonetheless, my main points were:

1. Dualism

Those of you who have heard me speak or read my books will know this is something I talk about a lot. We have inherited a damaging theology, rooted in Greek Platonic dualism, that has separated out body and spirit, earth and heaven, natural and spiritual. It exalts the latter and denigrates the former, so that nature/creation is held to be inferior to the ‘supernatural’ realm. It goes hand-n-hand with a view that says the created order is doomed to destruction and our mission is to save souls onto the lifeboat of the church, ready to be whisked off to eternal life in heaven. Anything else there, such as looking after people’s physical needs or tending the natural world, is seen as a distraction.

2. Individualism

Many of us in the Christian faith stand in the cherished tradition of the Reformation – that move of the Church that saw Christianity wrested out of the hands of the religious leaders and given to the people, in their own language and culture (forgive me Church Historians – I know there’s a lot more to the Reformation than this!). Salvation came not through paying an indulgence or touching a holy relic, but simply through having faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Other wonderful church movements followed – German Pietism, Pentecostalism and many others that placed the focus on one’s own personal relationship with God, not mediated through priests and rituals.

These are hugely to be welcomed – and I am firmly rooted in their tradition – but it is interesting that the rise of consumerism came at the same time, and this ‘turn to the self’ has allowed this influential branch of the Christian faith to become unhealthily preoccupied with one’s own salvation and with the personal benefits that brings. Other concerns have been labeled ‘too political’ and dismissed as not Christian.

3. New Age

Some decades ago, the soul-destroying effects of our high consumer lifestyles became felt, and there was a reaction against our increasingly secularised, materialistic culture. This led to a growing interest in Eastern religions and a flowering of ‘new age’ philosophies with a desire to ‘return to nature’. Often they rediscovered the paganism and Celtic cultures of the pre-Christian era, and these were much more firmly embedded in the natural world than was the Church, which had sought to erase this sort of thinking due partly to the reasons above.

The Church therefore became deeply suspicious of anything that talked about our connection with the wider natural world, or the need for us to be embedded in and engaged with it. Despite the powerful figure of St Francis, the Church has not welcomed theologies or practices that show an interest in or indeed a compassion for other creatures.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment has caused many problems for the Christian faith – not least an unnecessary antagonism between science and religion, and a negative view of other animals as ‘machines’. When I look at the evangelical wing of the church (the wing that, somewhat nervously, I know I am a part of), I see that the Englightenment has brought fear. The foundations we felt so secure in have been eroded – in the UK at least we have moved away from being a ‘Christian nation’, and the Church has felt beleagured. This has led to the Church focusing too much on particular issues such as sexuality, which have been seen as a part of Christian identity, and this has resulted in us failing to notice millions of people being pushed into poverty by colonialism and consumerism, and the natural world being destroyed.

Dualism, individualism, the new age, and the Enlightenment. Four things which I think have been barriers to Christians and the Church as a whole responding sooner and more seriously to the climate predicament we are in.


From Swords to Ploughshares: Climate and Conflict Part 2

November 26, 2019

I gave a lecture at Chichester Cathedral recently for World Peace Day, examining the relationship between climate breakdown and conflict. In Part 1 of this mini-series, we looked generally at whether there is a link between them, where in the world we are seeing it, and how it’s affecting people, both at an individual, local level and a national one. In Part 2 I will look more closely at the key issues and some of the links between the two problems.

Given we can see that the two issues are linked, how do they affect each other? Let’s take a look at some of the key areas that mean climate and conflict are often mutually reinforcing…

1. Agriculture and food security
Changing rainfall patterns affect the fertility of the land and force people whose ancestors may have lived in an area for many centuries to relocate because they are unable to produce enough food to eat and make a living. A 2016 study showed that a 1℃ temperature rise in countries that are dependant on agriculture was correlated with a 5% increase in migration to other countries. Migration due to food shortages can also take place within the same country, e.g. from rural to urban areas. This problem of climate-induced food insecurity is not limited to land-based food sources: ocean acidification is also forcing communities reliant on dying fish stocks to migrate to find new sources of food. As we will see, migration can have significant effects for stability and levels of violence.

2. Climate adaptation capacity
In the case of slow-onset disasters, people will usually try to adapt to changes in climate (like those mentioned above) as a first response over migration. But this can actually serve to increase tensions, by highlighting or exacerbating societal inequalities more than sudden shock events, that affect everyone in the same way in the short term. Relative deprivation and perceived injustice can create conditions that make conflict more likely. Conflict in turn significantly affects an individual’s ability to adapt, making it much more difficult to deal with the challenges arising from environmental degradation.

3. Weak governance
Adaptive capacity is not only significant at an individual level, but at a societal one too, meaning the role of governments is pivotal. In fact, vulnerability is caused by society – hazard, exposure to hazard and capacity to cope are determined by people’s social, political and economic situation. In turn, climate-induced scarcity has been recognised to increase areas of ‘ungovernable spaces’ by contributing to economic hardship and fuelling social tensions that allow for increased recruitment into terrorist organisations with the potential to destabilise a region. In countries that are on the verge of conflict, sudden climate-related disasters can be exploited by those seeking to achieve a particular political aim, because the ensuing chaos stretches military and police capacity and allows their activities to go unnoticed and unchallenged. This then facilitates further environmental degradation because, although measures such as the SDGs and the Paris Agreement make provisions to help the most vulnerable countries, support hardly reaches the most fragile contexts where this vulnerability is most acute and climate finance is most needed.

4. Displacement and migration
Where individuals and governments are unable to adapt to situations of climate shocks and conflict, people often have no choice but to leave their homes, either for another part of their own country or a new country altogether. Global displacement is currently at an all-time high, and one person is displaced every second by natural disasters, whether climatic shock events, chronic droughts or cyclonic flooding. One place we see this is in coastal cities whose inhabitants are suffering the effects of sea-level rises. Sometimes it works in reverse with people displaced by conflict exposed to unpredictable climates in their new environments. For example, in Colombia, many people moved to the Mocoa area to seek refuge from armed groups, not knowing that it was a hotspot for flash floods and landslides. The landslide there in 2017 claimed 300 lives, and left many more people missing. This issue is set to become more problematic. By 2050, the World Bank estimates that given high greenhouse gas emissions combined with unequal development, more than 143 million people could become internally displaced, with potential knock-on effects for political stability, as the resources of host regions become increasingly stretched.

5. Resource competition
Competition over natural resources, often exacerbated by climate change, can lead to conflict and movement of people. For example, low-level disputes over water or land can escalate into armed conflict during a drought. Migration can in turn increase the pressure on resources in host communities, leading to tension and violence. One example of this is the way that climate change is moving the borders between agriculturalists and pastoralists in the Sahel region in north Africa, as desertification is decreasing the land available for cattle grazing, meaning pastoralists are increasingly encroaching on farmers’ land, which is directly linked to the upsurge in violence in these areas. Resources are also sometimes deliberately restricted as a means of manipulation for political ends. One example of this is water weaponisation, involving tactics such as cutting off the flow of freshwater, the policing of narrow seaways or the re-routing of shipping (e.g. in the Panama canal or Palestine).

These brief thoughts from my lecture give just an overview of some of the main ways that climate change and conflict interact, but this is an area that is just gaining traction amongst researchers and future study will shed more light on these important interrelations. In Part 3, we’ll look at what needs to be done to help address these issues.


From Swords to Ploughshares: Climate and Conflict Part 1

November 11, 2019

We know that climate change is an ever-present and increasingly serious threat, and it seems there is always more news of wars, conflicts and violence – but is there any link between the two?

I was recently invited to give a lecture for World Peace Day at Chichester Cathedral, looking at the relationship between climate breakdown and conflict. As I prepared for the lecture, I was reminded of the moving day I spent with Daniel a few years ago, on his shamba, on the floor of the Rift Valley in Tanzania. One of the things that became apparent on that day was how the climate crisis was leading to conflict between him and the herders around him, as they looked for land on which to graze their goats. With good grazing ground becoming increasingly scarce, the goats kept breaking through his thornbush fences. He would have to throw stones at them to scare them away, and you can imagine he was none-too-happy with the herders themselves.

We have been aware of the reality of climate breakdown for decades, and wars and conflict have gone on since the beginning of human society, but there is a particular interest growing in looking at these two topics together. It has become increasingly recognised that – alongside poor governance – conflict and climate change pose the biggest threats to international development, and their effects could see millions of people pushed back into poverty, reversing the progress that has been made in the last thirty years. In fact, Tearfund has seen these two issues as so central to combating global poverty that it has made them two of its three corporate priorities.

So how might climate change and conflict relate to each other? Although a strong causal relationship between the two has not yet been proved by research (this is a new area where further study is needed), there is evidence to show that they are linked. Some researchers have suggested that climate change ‘loads the dice’, increasing the likelihood of the outbreak of violence. But not only that, for both agriculture and warfare, the way we use the earth’s resources has undergone a radical transformation – more intensive methods of production have gone hand-in-hand with greater exploitation of the natural world. Tearfund has found as it has developed its work in these two areas that the root causes of fragility and the challenges for environmental stability are very similar.

There certainly seems to be a correlation between climate issues and fragility: 26 of the 39 states with the highest fragility have chronic, high exposure to multiple climate hazards, facing some combination of floods, wildfires, chronic aridity, rainfall anomalies, cyclones, and coastal inundation. And, of the 10 countries in the world with the largest number of multilateral peacekeepers, 8 of these countries are also highly exposed to climate change.

This correlation means that there are climate and conflict ‘hotspots’: the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), the Lake Chad region in west-central Africa, the Sahel region in north Africa, parts of west, central and east Africa, parts of Latin America (particularly tropical Latin America), and parts of Asia. For example, in the Lake Chad region armed conflict and climate change are compounding each other and affecting water governance, leading to displacement and poverty. There were 11 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance there in 2018. To take an example from a different area, Iraq is both one of the countries in the Middle East that has been hit hardest by climate breakdown and one that has seen much conflict and instability. And in Latin America, which is more than 85% urbanised, the rapid movement of people from the countryside to cities driven by climate breakdown (particularly in tropical Latin America), has fuelled deadly violence given a context of poor government services, lacklustre policing, plethora of firearms, inequality, youth bulge, and dislocated families. These are countries and regions nearer the equator that are less developed, meaning their governments are less able to cope with the effects of climate change, and there are pre-existing higher levels of poverty and instability, increasing the risk of conflict.

Nigeria is a notable example of a country where climate change and conflict are perpetuating and reinforcing each other. Drought and desertification have seen a significant reduction in crop yields for farmers as well as pasture for herders to graze their cattle, leading to competition for the limited fertile land and water resources available, which in turn has led to violent clashes between the two groups. The country is now the poverty capital of the world, with the number of absolute poor rising there and in DRC, meaning that by 2030 these two countries will account for more than 40% of Africans in extreme poverty. The Global Terrorism Index also named it the third most terrorised country three years in a row, whilst the Fragile States Index ranked it 14th in its listings for 2018. Between 2010 and 2015, Nigeria lost 6500 citizens and $14.7 billion, with 62,000 others displaced in a record 850 perennial clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the middle belt region of the country. The crisis is now a full-blown national security threat.

So climate change and conflict are increasingly appearing together, worsening the crisis that fragile communities find themselves in. In Part 2, we’ll look at some of the key issues that tie these two problems together before looking, in Part 3, at how we might work to bring about change.


Saved by Zero

May 2, 2019

Businesses are saying ‘get on with it’, adults and children across the UK are calling for it and now the committee advising the UK Government on climate change has said it’s both feasible and affordable: the UK setting a net zero emissions target by 2050.

This net zero target is needed to meet the Paris Agreement commitment to stay ‘well below 2C’ and pursue efforts to limit temperature rises to 1.5C. In order for businesses and others to work confidently towards this target, we now need the UK Government to legislate for this and start implementing the changes needed. Tearfund is asking the Government to raise that ambition further and become net zero emissions by 2045 at the latest. Research from WWF and Vivid Economics shows it is possible for the UK to go net zero by 2045 by reducing emissions and then balancing the remaining emissions out by planting more trees, restoring peatlands and using technologies to capture and store carbon.

This guidance from the Committee on Climate Change comes at a crucial time when the UK public is making it clear that we want increased and urgent action on climate change. Over recent months we’ve seen a seminal TV documentary by David Attenborough, protests, school strikes and declarations of a climate emergency by local and regional authorities, and this week, the UK and Scottish Parliament.

Today’s recommendation, if adopted, would be a key opportunity in turning that sense of urgency into action and be a litmus test for how serious the Government is to tackle climate change.

The Committee has calculated that to reach net-zero emissions will only cost 1-2% of GDP.  This is the same as the cost it estimated for reaching the 80% emission reduction target enshrined within the Climate Change Act in 2008.  All the economic evidence is that the cost of action is far less than the cost of inaction. Dangerous levels of climate change could cause massive and permanent damage to the UK and global economy.

We know that climate change is already affecting all of us, but as we’ve seen from the unprecedented occurrence of two cyclones in five weeks hitting the coast of eastern Africa – people in poverty are hit the hardest. So, the decision the UK government now faces is a no-brainer – it has to act swiftly to implement today’s recommendations.