During my studies an undergraduate theologian fifteen years ago, I first became aware of the term sustainable development as a response to humanity’s negative economic, environmental and social impacts in and on the world. I was also alert to the relative institutional silence of, and lack of practical action by, the established church in response to the idea.
Things have been changing for the better since, and this evening I learnt of the C of E’s initiative – given the catchy name, ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ – to reduce its ecological footprint. Whilst committing to a 60% CO2 reduction by 2050 – this despite cutting-edge opinion suggesting a 90% reduction is more apposite – the initiative is a start. And what’s laid out in the document, Sharing God’s Planet (£5.99 from the church publishing arm, Church House, but free here!), seems fair – both as a general compass to guide decision making and as an introduction to ecological concepts. Here’s a quote from the section ruminating on human impacts:
Christians will acknowledge that although the image of humankind having ‘dominion’ over the earth is a biblical one, it can become distorted into a justification for abuse and exploitation of the earth God has created. Thus, for example, the confident engineers of the Victorian era saw themselves as exercising their God-given right to command and control the world around them. Chicago businessman W. P. Rend said in 1892, “Smoke is the incense burning on the altars of industry. It is beautiful to me. It shows that men are changing the merely potential forces of nature into articles of comfort for humanity.”
(And Rend’s perspective is hardly out of date today, what with industry occurring on an unprecedented scale – mind-boggling pictures from China here – from which we in developed countries are, most would say, benefitting. China, of course, isn’t Christian…)
I’m glad, too, the Archbishop (Rowan ‘Cantuar’, as he signs himself in the Foreword) has cottoned onto the notion of contraction and convergence, which is probably the only equitable and constructive way the developed and developing worlds are going to move forward together in addressing climate change. The initiative’s website has a good set of links for making practical steps.