Anglican bishops gathered here for the Lambeth Conference are preparing a statement expressing their concern for the devastating effects of climate change which they say are affecting the world’s poorest countries the most and urging churches to advocate for the environment as a moral imperative.
Churches have “no option” but to care for “God’s environment” because “this is our core business theologically,” Bishop George Browning, of the diocese of Canberra and Goulburn told a press conference. “This is something that is inherent in our faith…If we are going to make significant progress internationally it will have to come from some moral persuasion – the arguments of economics and politics will not deliver. This is not something that is being heavily driven by any government in the world.”
U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was an oceanographer before becoming a priest, said bishops have discussed how “interconnected” they all are and how climate change impacts everyone, but most of all the poorest of the poor.
“We spoke in the Bible studies today of creation as the body of God. All creation reflects the image of God, not just human beings… We’re gathered here to remind people that if we do not pay attention to all creation, the other things that concern us will be of no importance,” she said.
Bishops Browning and Jefferts Schori spoke to the media at a press conference Saturday afternoon to discuss the focus of the bishop’s discussion on “Safeguarding Creation: The Bishop and the Environment.”
During this session, bishops shared stories about how climate change has affected their own dioceses and countries, a press release issued by the Lambeth Conference media office said. (The bishops’ sessions are not open to the media for coverage.)
The bishop of Lebombo, Mozambique, Dinis Sengulane, “spoke of the effect of rising temperatures on the increase in malaria in his country, where a child dies every 30 seconds,” said the press release. “In addition, the cashew nut, both a primary food source and a cash crop, is not growing or fruiting as it used to. He suggests ‘the typical Anglican’ is a black woman carrying the precious resource of 20 litres of water on her head for her family to use, the times of flooding being simply the maker between droughts.”
Bishop Jefferts Schori said the indigenous peoples of Alaska, north of the Arctic, are losing their livelihood because of climate change. “In the South Pacific, indigenous communities are losing their ancestral lands because they are disappearing under the sea,” she said. “I can tell you stories about Haiti, where deforestation due to illegal logging” is affecting the poor. She said that Sudanese bishops have talked about “increasing desertification” in their areas.
“Every province (of the Anglican Communion) can tell you a story about how this disaster, already begun, is affecting the poorest people in his or her diocese,” said Bishop Jefferts Schori, adding that Anglicans need to put caring for the earth as a priority. “Salvation is about healing, wholeness and holiness. If we don’t pay attention to the incarnate of creation both human and non-human around us and the ways in which it reflects the image of God, we have not engaged our Christian duty.”
Prof. Chris Rapley, the director of the British Science Museum and a well-known expert on climate change, told bishops at the session that the unhealthy state of the planet is largely driven by human behaviour, in particular, the insatiable appetite for fossil fuels in the last 200 years.
Bishop Browning said he was saddened to hear arguments that people are “under pressure economically and cannot address” ecological concerns. “This is a short-sighted position because we will pay,” he said. “We need to maximize the choices that are available now, and the price we will pay if we don’t is so much greater.”
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of Australia and official spokesperson of the conference, acknowledged that the conference could have been greener. Some bishops and spouses have expressed disappointment about the lack of recycling bins and the use of plastic cups for water around the conference areas.
“We resolved earnestly to request conference organizers to see if recycling bins could be brought in,” said Archbishop Aspinall, adding that bishops want to make sure that steps are taken “now and into the future to make the Lambeth conferences as green as they can be.” He added that Lambeth participants have been invited to contribute to a carbon offset scheme for their travel, the proceeds of which will fund projects in Burundi and Bangladesh.
Bishop Jefferts Schori added, “We’ve heard a significant complaint about paper and how much more effective it would be to use projection equipment. But the fact that we’ve been walking a great deal is a good sign.” She said that there have been conversations about the walk in London and how “as important as it was as a public witness” bishops had to travel in a number of coach buses to get to London and back. She said there were suggestions that” if something like that were to happen in the future that it might be done locally and broadcast.”
Bishop Browning added only half-jokingly, “If we could ask everyone to put their washing on a line outside instead of putting it in the dryer, we might see how purple everybody is.”