London/Truro Diocesan Synod Motion on Environmental Programmes
My 11 and 13 year old sons have become a bit obsessed with a American infomercial on YouTube proclaiming the virtues of Flextape. Flex tape is super sticky, tough and waterproof, the host tells us. To demonstrate, he bisects a speedboat with an angle grinder and sticks it back together with Flextape. Before you know it, he’s zooming through the Florida Keys, dodging the alligators, in his boat held together with tape. Now it may be that tape is perfectly good for fixing speedboats, but it doesn’t strike me as the best solution to the problem.
Climate change is a problem. The suggestions in this proposal are good, but my impression is that they are not the right tool for the job. You see, the problem with climate change is that it is religiously motivated. The religion is called consumerist materialism and its more popular than any other way of seeing the world and life in our society and others like it. Consumerism’s key doctrine is that you and I are autonomous consumers. We find our true purpose and identity in acquiring things: the more we have, the more valuable and meaningful our lives. Adverts, the consumerist sermons, offer us youth, popularity, beauty and so much more when we make the right purchase. Consumerism is deeply spiritual: there’s nothing quite like the thrill of the new car you couldn’t quite afford and the wearing the new clothes you couldn’t quite justify. Consumerism is fundamentalist: it can’t be questioned. Consumerism is the reason so many people are in debt. Consumerism is the reason so many people scarcely know their families because they’re so busy making a success of the work that gives them wealth that gives them stuff that gives them identity. Consumerism is the reason why the oceans are full of plastic. Consumerism is the reason we buy bigger and bigger cars and use them more and more and more in our busier and busier lives. Climate change is a symptom of religious extremism. The solution to it is not so easy as a matter of employing consultants to advise and working harder at heating our church buildings in a way that is sustainable.
The ultimate fix for climate change is already in our possession. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Consumerism is spiritual and needs to be outclassed by a better story of life in all it’s fulness. Jesus said, ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’. The Gospel offers our consumerist society freedom from the relentless need to acquire and consume more that we need. The Gospel offers us an identity that we could never buy, win or earn: the unparallel status of being children of God – born not of the will of man, or of the will of the flesh, but born of God. The Gospel alone is the key to the contentment that leads to simple living.
It’s for us, then, as the people of God to proclaim the Gospel. We need to live it too by showing contentment and simplicity in our daily lives. It would be much better for the environment if Christians gave up glamourous international holidays and took public transport. If we need to spend some money, why not invest in a clergy cycle to work scheme. This isn’t available at the moment because clergy don’t technically have to travel to work, but why not come up with our own cycle for work scheme. People in my parish can’t believe that an employer as big as the Church of England isn’t part of this scheme. We might even end up with healthier, happier and more visible clergy as a result.
Climate change is a symptom of a spiritual problem. Let’s use the right tools to fix it.