'A focus not on climate change but climate justice'
Introducing Young Christian Climate Network, a new action-focused community of Christians in the UK aged 18-30, committed to following Jesus in the pursuit of climate justice
In the decades to come, rising seas could render the Marshall Islands of the central Pacific uninhabitable. Across swathes of Africa, droughts will lead to food shortages; worldwide, a destabilised climate could push hundreds of millions into poverty. Increasing tropical storms affect millions of people, wiping out lives and livelihoods. Around the world, many vulnerable people are already suffering from the life-changing impacts of a changing climate. We are in the early stages of a slow-burning catastrophe.
As I write this, sitting in my second-storey flat, watching a neighbour’s flag flutter outside the window and the odd car driving by, it doesn’t feel like that. I mean, I know it’s weird outside - people are covering their faces and avoiding each other on the street, like some Levite in the Good Samaritan. But it’ll pass in time. And everything else feels unalterably normal.
Despite some record-setting summers and ever-milder winters, I think that’s the way it is for most of us in the UK: the gradual breakdown of our climate system is so slow, and feels so distant, that for most hours of most days, we forget it’s happening. And while our governments occasionally talk big about facing it, they get away with acting lazy. To be honest, I’m the same.
But the storms, droughts and floods still come. For farmers in Malawi or typhoon victims in the Philippines, they’re already here; for others in the not-too-far future, they’re coming. I so easily forget how this is going to be around me for my whole life: perhaps the defining story of the changing world I’ll grow old in. Without an urgent shift in direction, it’s going to be a story of huge loss and suffering. Yet my day-to-day world seems so separate that it simply drifts from my mind.
We need to learn to remember. And from there, to act. And for that, we’re going to need to work together.
Jesus, Community and the Climate
I don’t think it’s surprising that when Jesus was travelling Judea, he gathered a group of disciples around him; when he sent them out to learn to preach, they did it in pairs. He established a community to continue his work when he ascended, and he prayed that they would find unity as they did so. There may have been moments for acting alone, but it wasn’t the starting point. Community is where we learn, grow, make our mistakes, and build things that will last.
Looking back at my last year in climate activism, I see the wisdom in this. I have been most engaged, passionate and clear-minded when among others with the same sense of urgency. And when those groups have drifted apart I’ve drifted too, struggling to recall the motivation to keep my focus. No matter how much I agree with an idea, it’s easier to believe it in practice when I place myself in a community that knows its worth.
This is part of the thinking behind the Young Christian Climate Network, a new network for 18-30s which launched in August. We’re hoping to create a space where young Christians from across the UK can come together to deepen our engagement in the climate crisis, and - crucially - to take positive action for change. But… hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t finished talking about Jesus yet.
I hope it’s obvious why Christians should care about cutting carbon emissions: the earth is the Lord’s, and I doubt he meant for it to get trashed; letting entire island nations disappear under rising seawater is not ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’. But I think Jesus has more to say than that about how we confront the climate breakdown.
Jesus didn’t just come to earth to stop a bad thing from happening. He didn’t just prevent people going to hell. He shed his blood “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven”. In this mission of reconciliation, it’s not enough to remove the source of a problem: Jesus comes to heal what’s broken, to bring together what’s been torn apart. And the climate crisis shows us a world desperately in need of reconciliation.
Justice and Climate Breakdown
In our vision for YCCN, we place the focus not on climate change but climate justice. This is a call not merely to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but to do so in a way that recognises how all this came about, and who stands to lose the most.
Put simply: rich nations got richer through our emissions, but it’s the poorer world that gets the worst of the consequences. This is partly a cruelty of geography (any global heating map will show how severely Africa is affected), but also one of wealth: the rich nations have the money to adapt. As reported in a BBC News article last year, ‘a UN expert has warned of a possible "climate apartheid", where the rich pay to escape from hunger, "while the rest of the world is left to suffer".’
We in these wealthy nations desperately need to be reconciled with our global neighbours. And that reconciliation requires justice: a recognition of where we have gone wrong, and a determination to set things right.
In practice, climate justice means many things: urgently cutting our own carbon emissions; helping poorer nations to develop in a low-carbon way; funding the adaptations they will need to protect their people from the coming droughts and floods. It means rethinking our relationship with the earth and its people, so we don’t continue to create these problems. It means recognising the leadership shown by those most affected - such as the coalition of small island states whose campaigning brought about the most ambitious components of the Paris Climate Agreement. And within the UK, it also means that as we decarbonise we must support those whose livelihoods will be threatened by a dramatically changing economy.
Honestly, I have no idea how we achieve this. Given our government isn’t even managing point one - cut the emissions - I find it impossible to imagine how anyone could bring about such a change in national and international perspectives. But then again, I guess when your faith is founded on a dead guy rising from the grave, impossible is a relative concept.
In the heart of Christianity, reconciliation is the call we hear. And here and now, this is part of what reconciliation looks like. Our goal with the Young Christian Climate Network is to follow that call.
Taking Action Together
So, here’s YCCN in a nutshell:
We are young Christians, anticipating a need for lifelong engagement with the climate crisis and its consequences. We want to connect with other such Christians across the UK, be they seasoned activists or totally new, to form an inclusive community around this mission.
We take collective action towards climate justice, knowing that while we may individually feel powerless, as we join with others we find the capacity to influence change - whether by running our own campaigns, or grouping up to join with larger movements. We do this motivated by our faith, trusting in God’s strength, and looking to follow his lead.
And we take the time to learn together, growing in passion and understanding, and most certainly making mistakes.
The network officially launched on 1 August, and we’re excited to hear from anyone who’d like to join and help shape what this will become. If it’s something you’d like to be a part of, please do get in touch.
If you’d like to find out more about YCCN, or join the network, check us out at yccn.uk or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re on twitter at @YCCNetwork and Facebook under the same name
Darren is a member of the Young Christian Climate Network, a new action-focused community of Christians in the UK aged 18-30, committed to following Jesus in the pursuit of climate justice
Rachel Mander, founder member of YCCN, takes part in a webinar on 2 September alongside our former President Dave Gregory. It's called Four Degrees Shift – Discipleship in a Changing Climate.
More details here. To watch the webinar click here.
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