Hannah Gray Reviews ‘Changing the Climate’ by Debbie, David and Jamie Hawker

Hannah Gray

This is a straight-talking, down-to-earth book, written by a married couple and their teenage son. Debbie and David Hawker are psychologists who work with mission organisations and their son, Jamie, is a teenage climate activist. The book has two subtitles ‘Applying the Bible in a climate emergency’ and ‘A resource for families and churches’.

Each chapter profiles a different Christian charity working to alleviate the effects of climate change amongst vulnerable communities around the world and highlights an inspiring testimony from a young climate activist in diverse cultures and contexts.

These real-life stories feature along the way, as the authors take the reader on a journey from the roots of the climate emergency, through the creation care narrative of the Bible, to the call for all Christians to wake up to the urgency and scale of action required.

‘Applying the Bible in a climate emergency’

The writers frame the climate emergency problem around our spiritual condition, beginning Part 1 with two chapters (Waste and Want) that describe how our collective greed and wastefulness has created global environmental problems. In Part 2 they explain the Christian imperative for creation care, in four chapters organised around core Biblical themes of Faith, Love, Hope and Wisdom. The final section, Part 3 ‘What we can do?’, takes inspiration from scripture to suggest changes to travel and diet, to boost biodiversity, and to consider politics and protest.

The whole book is grounded in scripture. Apparently, every book of the Bible is referenced somewhere in the text – but I will take their word for it! Each chapter begins with a Bible passage that has relevance to the topic addressed, and sometimes the authors offer a modern adaptation of the passage to suggest how it could read for society today. I found these climate-nuanced translations of familiar verses and parables particularly thought-provoking.

The book is also grounded in science. Evidence is laid out from around the world to show how planet and people are suffering from climate change. The information is clear and accessible; the colourful diagrams, photos and ‘Did you know?’ boxes make the pages visually interesting as well as aiding comprehension. For those who want to dig deeper, there are boxes for ‘deep thinkers’, an appendix that explains the science of climate change, and another which sets out carbon emission and climate vulnerability data for different countries.

A resource for families and churches

‘Changing the Climate’ spells out the urgency of the environmental problems we are facing, whilst also making a compelling Biblical case to take action. Yet the greatest strength is the practical ideas and tips listed at the end of each chapter. They range from quick and easy changes (e.g. re-use wrapping paper, be vegetarian once a week) to the more challenging lifestyle choices like how we heat our homes and whether to take a no-fly pledge.

Small groups could effectively journey together through the book, discussing issues highlighted in the green question boxes that punctuate the text. There are videos and websites mentioned in Appendix D for extra content in group study settings. Each chapter finishes with a box to write what you will attempt to do in the next month. Being accountable in a small group should be an effective tool for embedding change.

A humble tone and a brave attitude

The tone is informative, without being preachy, and encouraging, without being naïve. Importantly, the authors are humble, sharing what they could have done differently and how even determined eco-warriors can always do more. They acknowledge that individual change will not be enough to combat the climate emergency; there needs to be system change.

The chapter ‘Moving mountains: large scale action’ bravely faces up to contentious topics like nuclear power and population growth – ‘having one less child would reduce greenhouse gases 75 times more than adopting a vegan diet’. The controversial group Extinction Rebellion (XR) features as well: ‘members of XR have upset people, but so did Gandhi, civil rights activists, suffragettes and Jesus’. I think sometimes as Christians we tiptoe around these issues and I appreciate the refreshing assertiveness found throughout the text.

The book finishes with a reflection on 1 Corinthians 12, the Body of Christ, pointing out that some parts of the body are already suffering from climate change. They assert that each Christian needs to play their part towards a solution, whether that is praying, protesting, fundraising, innovating… what will your part be in fixing the climate emergency? This book offers plenty of inspiration.

Hannah Gray graduated from the CRES course in 2020. She is a mum to two children and works at the University of East Anglia, managing environmental research projects in developing countries. Prior to this, she worked in conservation management at the Broads National Park. She is member of Light of Life Baptist Church on the east Norfolk coast.