'Tis the season when the Christian world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. That child born in Bethlehem so long ago grew up to become one of mankind's greatest moralists, teaching messages of love, sharing and compassion.
As the cloud of climate change hovering over us grows ever more ominous, huge moral issues swirl about both the causes and the solutions. I can't help but wonder: if Jesus were here today, what would He say?
For example, is it okay for one generation to consume resources disproportionately to the detriment of subsequent generations?
In Hot, Flat and Crowded, journalist Thomas Friedman refers to the Baby Boomers as the Grasshopper Generation because we're a bit like locusts: we're consuming everything in sight.
Not flattering, but hard to deny. There are four times as many of us on the planet today as there were a century ago, and we are each consuming four times as many resources - everything from water to minerals to fossil fuels to the very environment we depend upon. We now know that's probably not a good thing, but we seem unable to stop ourselves.
It's hard to deny that our unbridled consumption, popularly defended by words like 'economy', 'growth' and 'development', will cause great hardship for future generations. I wonder what Jesus would say of that.
The vast majority of the greenhouse gases now in our atmosphere were generated by the developed world, specifically the U.S., Europe, Australia and Canada, as we built the comfortable societies we enjoy today. Yet some of the greatest impacts of climate change will strike developing nations.
Africa is expected to become much drier. The Philippines has been devastated by several typhoons made more violent by warmer oceans. The millions who live on Bangladesh's coastal plain are gravely threatened by rising sea levels.
Just three examples of consequences impacting people who bear virtually no responsibility for climate change. I wonder what Jesus would say of that.
In global discussions of emission reduction targets, fingers are often pointed at developing nations. True, the emissions of China, India and other rapidly growing economies are increasing quickly. But, in defense of those countries:
- Many of those emissions happen because they manufacture stuff we buy and use, so it could be argued that those emissions are at least partially ours
- Developing countries are undergoing the same industrialization process we went through decades ago, and who can blame them? They see how we in developed countries live, and aspire to a similar comfortable lifestyle. We had the good fortune of doing it before much attention was paid to emissions, but it's clear that the planet cannot bear a similar 'gimme' for the developing world.
- Even today, the per capita emissions of the average Chinese or Indian are still far below those of the average westerner, including the average Canadian
So for developed countries to expect developing countries to bear a disproportionate burden of emission reduction seems a bit like an obese person telling a hungry person they should diet. I wonder what Jesus would say to that.
A moral issue
When it comes to solving climate change, we have all the technological solutions we need. But as the recent climate talks in Lima reaffirmed, political solutions remain more elusive, largely because of the vastly different perspectives of developed and developing nations. As well, it seems we as individuals have a ways to go, both in thought and action.
So as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, perhaps we may pause to reflect upon His principles and teachings, and strive to be guided by them as we come to grips with the moral challenges raised by climate change.
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