As Christians, how can we respond to this generational conflict over the state of our planet? By David Snoswell.
For better or worse, our standard of living is undoubtedly linked in many ways to the use of energy, whether it be for the mechanisation of farming, the supply of drinking water, transport, electricity, medical care or the clothes we wear.
Seemingly, every part of our lives is fuelled by the use of affordable energy derived, for the most part, from fossil fuels, arguably a gift from God that has raised our standard of living and helped to lift millions from poverty.
Nevertheless, this gift has not been shared equally and has promoted greed, war and wasteful behaviour. Energy use per capita varies by more than tenfold across the world: the average US citizen uses over ten times more energy than an Indian citizen.
This discrepancy is rooted in access to resources, with oil reserves in the US, the North Sea and the Middle East being prime examples. With the world’s population increasing from 2.5 to 7.7 billion in the last 70 years and global energy use per capita growing by 45% from 1970 to 2014, the result has been a sevenfold increase in fossil fuel use since 1950.
To some ‘Baby Boomers’, this is a story of unbridled success, the bedrock of prosperity and a fulfilment of Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it". To them, the environmental protests of younger generations can appear ungrateful and disrespectful.
For many younger people, the world looks very different: their future appears to have been stolen from them, with promises of jobs and affordable housing seemingly vanishing on a daily basis.
The term ‘OK Boomer’ epitomises the contempt for the old views amongst Millennials seeing a world increasingly tainted by pollution and climate change, with no credible action plan agreed.
The Christians among them will read Genesis 1 verses 27-28 differently, understanding the Hebrew words ‘rule’ and ‘subdue’ as mandating responsible stewardship of the planet for present and future generations, rather than as a licence to exploit it to the maximum.
Theft is a common biblical theme, starting from Jacob’s ‘theft’ of Esau’s birth right and the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:15). Equally, the thirst for justice also appears frequently, with Matthew 12:18 recalling that Jesus will “proclaim justice to the nations”. It is this same thirst for justice amongst the younger generations that is personified by Greta Thunberg.
As Christians, how can we respond to this generational conflict over the state of our planet? I suggest a number of steps, taking inspiration from the Beatitudes’ maxim “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9).
We need to stop and listen deeply to each other. Instead of proving our point, we need to place ourselves where we can see the best and worst from others’ perspectives.
Younger generations should acknowledge the pain their parents and grandparents may feel over the rejection of the work of rebuilding from the ruins of WW2 to achieve our current standard of living.
Express gratitude for what you have and accept the collective sin of ‘unintended consequences’ that the use of natural resources has caused.
Older generations should grieve with the young over their loss of opportunity and the damage caused to the planet. Confess the corporate sins of greed and consumerism that we have all taken part in.
The global pandemic provides an opportunity to re-evaluate and reset the way we live. More than ever, we need everyone to work together, especially across the generations. The changes required may be immense, but we cannot leave anyone behind: there is only one planet.
Similarly, we should engage with our perceived ‘enemies’. It is not the primary goal of industry to pollute the planet, but to make a return for shareholders. While profits in renewable energy have previously been dwarfed by those generated by fossil fuels, this is now changing.
The fortunes of the oil and gas sector have been declining since 2014 and multiple rounds of layoffs have left a much younger workforce, eager for change and with a strong desire to provide affordable and environmentally responsible energy. The hydrogen economy and wind power are key examples where these businesses are now actively reapplying their skills.
In addition to reviewing what we eat, the things we buy and the way we vote, we also need to usher in change through the power of prayer. We should identify the key decision makers and CEOs, consider their energy transition plans and pray for them personally.
We should pray for leaders in industry associations who are pushing for environmental change, as well as for the less visible people within organisations who are yearning for change. Pray for guidance and stamina and, if possible, send them messages of encouragement.
Finally, let us pray for unity, so that together we can strive towards a new hope, a cleaner planet, and a sustainable life, where we can all experience a ‘healing of the nations’ (Rev. 22:2).
David Snoswell is trained as a Chemical Engineer and with a PhD in Colloid Science, he has worked in industry and academia since 1994, both in Australia and the UK. More recently, he has worked as a Principal Scientist at Schlumberger Cambridge Research since 2012 where he has championed the energy transition for many years.
This blog was first published on the website of the Jubilee Centre and re-published with permission.