Better late than nutter

‘Are you Cornish?’ I asked a friend at a church social this weekend. ‘Why?’ he replied. ‘Only, you’re looking a bit pasty,’ I said. As I laughed, bowed and did the ‘I’ll be here all week’ thing, a latecomer to the conversation said: ‘that’s not how you pronounce it’ and there, before my eyes, I watched an innocent joke die. By way of an extremely tenuous link between that and last week’s news (in keeping with the tradition of tenuous links in sermons and Christian columns everywhere—‘you know, that’s a bit like Jesus…’), that’s a bit like Christians. We often miss the point by being late. A good example is climate change. We ignored the environment for years and now we have vicars telling us that flying is a sin and if Jesus were walking the earth today he’d be ‘keying’ 4x4s in the church parking lot. Now, I am not among those Christians who want to give more consideration to pseudo-scientific, global-warming-denying conspiracy documentaries such as the The Great Global Warming Swindle (or ‘muppets’ as I like to call them). But I’m dubious of our approach.

Last week, Christian Today ran a story about Christians changing lifestyles to save the climate. And that’s us all over. We’re late-starters, but by gum we’re going to get off the fence, dispense with politeness and jolly well turn off some lights. Oh yes. Hear us roar.

Lifestyle change is good, but as Robin McKie of The Observer pointed out on Sunday, ‘The lead must come from government and industry.’ Using less electricity does not stop electricity being produced in a hugely wasteful and damaging way, and thus does not deal with the root problem.

‘We can’t wait for the government to solve our problems’—it’s an attractive message (particularly to Christians who believe anything worthwhile must make you suffer), but it misses that point again. The fact is, without government forcing them to, companies producing everything from electricity to car engines, plastics and paper, have no reason to reduce manufacture or product emissions. The legal obligation of a corporation is to make profits for its shareholders, not make consumers happy or make the world a better place. So with the exception of curbing our rampant consumption so much that less, generally, is being produced (unlikely because planned obsolescence in all we buy forces us to keep buying) consumer action is only likely to force polluters to create campaigns to convince consumers that small changes are good enough (think of the percentage of fairly traded products at Tesco) and get us to leave them alone.

So yes, we can’t sit around waiting for government to solve our problems. We must force them to. As the European Union attempts to bring in measures that would mean companies guilty of environmental crimes could be shut down and those responsible could face heavy fines and prison sentences, are Christians being asked to show our support for such measures by writing to our MPs, signing petitions or attending demonstrations? Or do we leave the nasty politics to others and take solace in the fact that if we’re sacrificing some comfort that in itself must make a difference?

All that said though, it’s not the ineffectual or the apathetic Christians we should be worried about, but the proactively stupid. Last week a bunch of them, including big-hitters like James Dobson, urged US evangelicals not to accept the issue of climate change as an important part of their agenda. The move was reported and supported on the Christian website LifeSite.net, which elsewhere suggests that environmentalists have a mass-abortion agenda and that environmentalism aims to become the new world faith. Which kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

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