By Lois Mitchell on November 16th, 2016
I live in the small fishing community of Deer Island, New Brunswick. My husband, son, and son-in-law are commercial fishermen. (As was my father-in-law and his father before him and his father before him). As fishermen, they are conscious of the shifting patterns in the climate they see on the water.
In fact, if you were to sit down with a group of fishermen or farmers anywhere in the world and ask them about climate change, it might surprise you to hear the things they could tell you. Small-scale food producers are struggling to adapt. Environmental and political whims threaten not only their livelihoods, but also their capacity to produce food or catch fish and seafood to feed themselves and the world.
Some might argue that we just need better technology: new pesticides, genetically modified organisms, more drought resistant seeds, bigger boats, better fish finding technology, or increased aquaculture (growing fish rather than catching them in the wild). Climate change, they seem to think, is an unfortunate by-product of progress that we can ignore until science and technology come to our rescue.
But we are borrowing against our future.
For the people who make policies aimed at tackling this problem, climate change may be more of a theoretical concept than a pressing reality. And they have many competing objectives. Job creation and economic development often take precedence over the environment. Sustainability is a well-worn buzzword in the corridors of power, though too often talk does not lead to effective action.
You don’t need to convince small-scale farmers and fishermen of the importance of true sustainability. They know! Governments and corporations may think in four-year cycles or fiveyear strategic plans. But farmers and fishermen think in generations as they strive to pass their unique way of life on to their children and grandchildren. And whether they are from rich countries or poor, there is a fraternity among small-scale farmers and fishermen that transcends other social, economic, or political categories.
But where is God in all this? What, if anything, does he call us to do about climate change? What does Scripture have to say that will help us navigate this issue?
I am not a theologian. But as a thinking person and a Christian, I do want my life to line up with God’s commands to love him and love my neighbour (Mark 12:30-31).
So here’s how I see it. God created the world and, in the beginning, everything was in dynamic balance (Genesis 1-2). The environment wasn’t fixed but was fluid. Everything was good. But after the fall (Genesis 3), the balance was upset. We fractured our relationship to one another, to the land, and to God.
Over time, humanity sacrificed the environment for economic growth. The population grew and grew and we had more mouths to feed. An agrarian economy gave way to an industrial economy, and local economies gave way to globalization. All of this added further stress to the environment, which has been groaning as a result of our rampant mismanagement (Romans 8:22). This affects our capacity to live in harmony with one another and with the land and water that sustains us.
In Revelation 21, God promises that one day he will redeem his creation, and there will be a new heaven and new earth. But in the meantime, we have a mandate to care for this earth and “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6:8)
So how can we come alongside those who are directly affected by changing climate patterns? I believe that there are three levels of response. The first is to recover our own sense of stewardship as we consider how we live, day-by-day. The second is to provide immediate assistance. This can be in the form of food aid, programs designed to help mitigate the effects of climate change, and assistance in adapting food production practices to get the best yields with the use of limited inputs. And the third is to advocate for justice in the form of better policies and supports for the vulnerable.
We have both an opportunity and an obligation to address the justice issues that are a direct result of shifting climate patterns. Let’s get at it!
Lois Mitchell is the director of Public Witness and Social Concerns for Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada and the director of International Studies at St. Stephen's University in New Brunswick.
Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr