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21 October 2021 | Tavistock, UK [David Wright]  

‘Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not’, states Greta Thunberg. It seems clear that ecology and environmental action have not only moved to the top of the planet’s agenda, but every inhabitant has to decide whether and how to respond.

Many believe that the twelve days in Glasgow from 1 to 12 November may be the world’s last chance to get climate change under control, as the UK Government hosts more than 190 world leaders and thousands of negotiators, governmental and business representatives at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). ‘It’s Code Red for humanity’.1
 
For almost thirty years the United Nations has been steadily bringing together nearly every country on Earth to consider the actions needed to avoid further environmental catastrophes caused by global warming. Between the first global climate summit in Berlin in 1995, and now the twenty-sixth in Glasgow, climate change has gone from a fringe issue to a global priority, as storms, floods and wildfires intensify, air pollution affects millions, and unpredictable weather causes untold damage to ecosystems, homes and livelihoods.
 

Glasgow Code Red 500x300'It's Code Red for humanity', said UN Secretary General, António Guterres [Credit: Jimmy Botha]

 
The conference agenda is huge, with goals that include securing net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century to keep further global temperature rises under 1.5 degrees and, even if this proves successful, taking all necessary steps to protect global communities and natural habitats from its predicted impact. To deliver these targets, all participating countries are expected to phase out coal use, reduce other fossil fuels, curtail deforestation, switch to electric vehicles, and invest in renewables. Collaboration is also expected, to mobilise the considerable financial resources required to restore damaged environments, build flood defences and warning systems, and create more resilient infrastructure and agriculture to ensure a more secure future for all human beings on the planet.
 
The critical and urgent nature of the conference was clearly reinforced in August, when the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report provided revised scientific evidence that climate change was not only ‘widespread, rapid and intensifying’, but the changes already set in motion were ‘unprecedented in thousands of years’, with some now being ‘irreversible’. Bloomberg, the global business data company, responded to the 42-page report with five key summary points.2
 
  1. The last decade was hotter than any period since records began – humans having dumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to have already heated the planet up to the additional 1.5°C limit set by the Paris Agreement in 2015, and fine-particle pollution from fossil fuels having masked it by providing a cooling effect.
  2. Specific weather events can now be directly linked to human activity – or, to quote: ‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land . . . and no government has any excuse to duck their responsibility to act.3
  3. The estimated range for how temperatures respond to greenhouse gas emissions has been narrowed, providing a clearer picture of what’s in store if we don’t act quickly.
  4. The earth might still reward good behaviour: that is, if emissions cease, heating will cease and temperatures should stabilise in a few decades. Humans, however, are already behind in the race between the avoidable and the unavoidable.
  5. Consensus exists between scientists and governments that the findings about global warming have been summarised accurately.

April 22 marked the 52nd observance of Earth Day, when over a billion people from 193 countries mobilised to change their behaviour and bring about global policy changes. In 1972, just two years after the first Earth Day that marked Climate change 300x200the birth of the modern environmental movement, the influential Ecologist magazine published a special ‘Blueprint for Survival’ edition that drew attention to the urgency and magnitude of environmental problems then facing the world. Over thirty leading scientists of the day argued for radical global restructuring to prevent what they referred to as ‘the breakdown of society and the irreversible disruption of life-support systems on this planet’. Later published in book form, titled How to Save the World, the second chapter read ‘Why the world needs saving now and how it can be done’.4 Yet, despite these early warnings, fifty years later the future of the planet continues to remain in doubt. The theme of this year’s Earth Day was ‘Restore the Earth’, and the November COP26 event is themed ‘Together for Our Planet’. What happens during and after Glasgow is certainly going to demonstrate whether human beings have the capacity and resolve to work together in tackling what is considered the planet’s most critical challenge.
 
The Christian writer John Stott once wrote that the best approach when facing environmental problems is to ask one basic question: ‘To whom does the earth belong?’ The native American leader, Chief Seattle, who throughout his life promoted respect for a Creator, is recorded as saying, ‘The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.’ Many Christians believe that when God created our planet, He ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good’.5
 
According to Professor Calvin DeWitt at Wisconsin University, God originally designed our world with seven interdependent systems on which all creatures and human life depend – ‘indicative of the remarkable integrity and beauty that have engendered awe, wonder and respect for the Creator and creation throughout the ages’:6
 
  1. The regulation of the earth’s energy exchange with the sun, designed to keep earth’s temperature at a level supportive of life, protecting life from the sun’s radiation by filtering sunlight through the ozone layer.
  2. Bio-geological and soil-building processes which cycle oxygen, carbon, water and other vital materials through living things and their habitats and build life-supporting soils and soil structure.
  3. Ecosystem energy transfer and materials recycling, which energises life and continually allocates life-sustaining resources.
  4. Water-purification systems which distil, filter, and purify surface and ground waters.
  5. A biological and ecological ‘fruitfulness’ which supports and maintains a rich biodiversity of life on Earth.
  6. A global circulation of water and air which distributes moisture, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other vital materials between living systems across the planet.
  7. The human ability to learn from Creation and live within its laws, making it possible for people to live sustainably on Earth, and so safeguard the creation.
 
DeWitt then suggests that an analysis of all the available scientific data paints a picture of the relentless destruction of these systems over time by humans as ‘seven degradations of creation’.
 
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the environmental threats being faced today all appear to be linked in some way with human choices and behaviour. Ancient writings two to three millennia ago record numerous prophetic Bible Hope 300x200warnings that relate human conduct with ecological imbalance. The Old Testament writer Jeremiah reported: ‘I looked at the earth – it was a barren waste; …I saw that there were no people; even the birds had flown away. The fertile land had become a desert; its cities were in ruins…’ Isaiah saw something similar: ‘The earth dries up and withers; the whole world grows weak; both earth and sky decay. The people have defiled the earth by breaking God’s laws…’ The apostle Paul describes the situation like this: ‘The whole creation has been groaning… right up to the present time.’
 
Christians believe the Bible teaches that God, having given us control of the natural world, made us responsible for taking care of it. To many, the current environmental crisis on Planet Earth is a moral and spiritual problem, suggesting environmental action only has meaning if there is real purpose in the existence and future of our world. The apocalyptic writer John, in Revelation 14, clearly tells us about a time when ‘every nation, tribe, language and people’ will need to be reminded that the ‘heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water’ belong to God, and that He intends to do something about our ecological mess soon.8


Seventh-day Adventists have always believed in caring for God’s creation – by advocating a simple, wholesome lifestyle with a plant-based diet, by mostly avoiding the goods-getting consumerism treadmill, by donating time and money to support overseas projects blighted by environmental catastrophes, and by promoting regular connectivity with the natural world. As their name suggests, they also observe their own weekly version of an earth day. Known as the Sabbath, it not only focuses on the creation of the earth and its inhabitants by giving full respect to its Creator God, but anticipates the full restoration of the heavens and the earth in the near future.9 For all delegates to the COP26 conference, and those watching, waiting and hoping for positive outcomes for the planet, they would recommend careful consideration be given to what is written in Acts chapter 4, verse 12. 

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1UN Secretary General, António Guterres, 9 August 2021., 2Roston and Rathi, Bloomberg Green, 9 August 2021., 3UN IPCC Report, 9 August 2021, 4Robert Allen, 1990, 5Genesis 1:31, NIVUK, 6‘The Care of Creation’, DeWitt, 2000, 7Jeremiah 4:23, 25-26, GNT; Isaiah 24:4-5, GNT; Romans 8:22, NIVUK, 8Revelation 14:6-7, NIVUK, 9Revelation 21.

This article first appeared in a special ‘Code Red’ edition of Messenger, Journal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the UK & Ireland. This 29 October 2021 edition includes a series of articles from specialists considering an appropriate Adventist response to current environmental concerns.


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