You might have noticed, there’s a general election on. And I’ve been wondering; how long do promises made in the run-up to an election last? As long as the Parliament? Perhaps a year? A few months? Up to when the doors of the polling stations close? A bit cynical perhaps, but most of the political parties are making bold promises about the climate crisis. You might call it ‘Climate Top Trumps’. My 30 million trees planted trumps your 15 million. My target for zero net carbon trumps yours! I guess only time will tell if they are serious about their almost newly found (apart from The Greens that is) evangelical zeal for the environment.
Don’t get me wrong. While global political progress has been slow, governments of all colours in our country have played a positive role over the past thirty years in raising awareness of and in practical action towards tackling climate change. It’s good that it is so clearly on the political agenda of this election, acknowledging the increasingly scary story that scientists will again be outlining to the governments gathering in Madrid for this year’s United Nations Climate Conference over these two weeks about the Earth that we are creating. Driven up the political agenda too, by the mood of the public, created especially by younger generations, the school climate strikes and the robust protest of others. I only hope that it’s not all “Greenwash”. Skin-deep, cosmetic changes that make political parties and other organisations look good and sound good. But dig a little deeper below the words and promises and you find other activities and policies that counter them, which resist a slowdown in the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Recently, walking around our local town, I have been approached by several people who want me to sign up to a renewable energy supplier owned by a well know fossil fuel company. They are enthusiastic about the product – 100% renewable electricity they promise! Less enthusiastic to engage after my usual reply – “When your company stops drilling for new oil and gas supplies, then I may sign up. But until then, I’ll stick with the renewable supplier I am already with.” “Greenwash” or a deeper commitment to the transition of their business model towards renewable energy? To be honest, I don’t know. But Jesus’ words to the teachers of the law and Pharisees ought to make us examine their claims carefully; “Woe to you … hypocrites! You are like whitewashed” – or greenwashed – “tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt 23v27)
It’s easy to be cynical, especially about someone other than ourselves. Jesus’ words, this time from the Sermon on the Mount, again caution us; “How can you say to your kindred, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7v4-5) We need to ensure that as followers of Jesus, as seekers after God’s coming Kingdom, our own care for creation is not just “Greenwash”. We need to go deeper.
So far, the steps towards freedom we have looked at can just lie on the surface. We acknowledged that our lives are addicted to fossil fuels that drive climate change. That we can feel powerless in the face of such a huge global issue. And in an age of climate change, we perhaps recognise our understanding and sharing the gospel needs to be wider than focused upon individual salvation. But the fourth step towards freedom digs deep. Deeper than “greenwash”. Deep into our individual lives. In fact, seeking greening all the way through. The fourth step towards freedom asks us to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Digging like this is hard. I think it means we need to make more than a list of what we do to help care for the environment. The small steps we are taking are important – perhaps your list includes some of these – looking to drive less, minimising plastic, buying locally grown food, switching to renewable electricity, turning down the thermostat. But it needs to go deeper. Not more doings, but deeper into our being.
The young man who came to Jesus was looking for things to add to his list of doings; “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’” “Obey the commandments” Jesus replies, which the young man agrees with but asks “what do I still lack”? And then it goes deeper – ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matt 19v16-22)
This step is not about lists. It reaches to the core of what drives and motivates us. So, before we question how long the promises may last. While we wonder whether they are simply “greenwash” or have a deeper substance. Even ahead of thinking about what else we might do to help tackle climate change, take time to come before our Lord, the saviour of all things. Take courage and pray the brave prayer of the Psalmist; “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139v23-24) Be open to what the Lord reveals about how your inner life is impacting the environment.
You see this journey to tackle climate change will not be over when the polls close. It will not be over by the time of the next election. It is a journey that will be spread over a lifetime. And that needs real change in the way we live, change that begins on the inside. And if going deeper seems hard, remember Jesus words to the disciples as the young man walked away, discovering that lists are not enough; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19v26)
This is the fourth blog in a 12 part series from Dave Gregory. To read the first post ‘Addicted’, please click on this link.
Rev Dr Dave Gregory is Ministry Team Leader at Croxley Green Church, a former President of the Baptist Union, and co-ordinator of Messy Church Does Science. He recently became a JRI Director.
This article was first published on Seventy-Two and it is reprinted with their permission.
Image by Mohamed Hassan, free on Pixabay https://pixabay.com/illustrations/vote-voting-voting-ballot-box-3569999/