The US withdrawal will make climate change solutions more difficult, and climate catastrophe more likely. The decision is unjust, immoral and unworthy of a great nation.
At the beginning of June, President Trump announced his decision to begin the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.
I’ve been watching reactions to this announcement closely, as perhaps many of you have done.
Words that have been used to describe this decision include “reckless and indefensible”, “incredibly shortsighted”, “irresponsible”, “foolish” and “spiteful”. These are some of the milder adjectives being used, with reactions coming from across the political spectrum, from the world of business, and from national leaders around the world.
Though I was not at the Paris meetings, I have been watching the process closely. Besides supporting the evangelical contingent that did attend, I worked with colleagues on a public response document published by Lausanne, the World Evangelical Alliance, A Rocha International and Tearfund (Global Evangelical Leaders Welcome Paris Climate Agreement as Historical Accomplishment), and wrote a piece for the Lausanne Global Analysis Magazine, Climate Change After Paris: What it Means for the Evangelical Church.
In that first piece, we said:
As evangelical leaders, we commit to bringing the Paris Agreement home to the countries where we are represented all around the world, and to play our part in celebrating and promoting it, in working for its implementation and delivery, and in challenging governments and world leaders in the months and years ahead to strengthen it in the ways still needed.
For those of us who made that commitment, President Trump’s decision is disappointing and embarrassing. He ignored advice from the business world, from economists, from scientists, even from his own military and national security authorities. His summary of the content of the Paris Agreement and the economic and environmental effects of carrying it out are simply wrong. It was a bad decision.
But does it matter? Yes, it does, for two reasons.
1. US withdrawal will make climate change solutions more difficult, and climate catastrophe more likely.
Even though cities, states and even industry in the US have said that they will go it alone; even though National Geographic cites six reasons why climate progress won’t be stopped even if the US withdraws; and even though the text of the agreement does not allow for immediate withdrawal. (In fact, final withdrawal could not happen until after our next election.) Even with all of this, this announcement is bad news for everyone.
The problem is that time is not on our side. In the Lausanne article noted above, I used the analogy of a train needing to slow down to negotiate a long way ahead. The curve won’t even be seen for some miles, but the train must start slowing down now if it is to make it through safely. That is our climate change problem. The Paris Climate goals will not slow the train down enough – but they were a start, and everyone on the train agreed that it was time to ease back the throttle and apply the brakes. The US departure, means a little less effort at stopping the train, and a lot more uncertainty about the final outcome – about how bad the crash will be..
2. This decision is unjust, immoral and unworthy of a great nation.
One of my greatest joys coming out of Paris was to read this line from a senior US State Department official:
“The faith community has been essential in making the case that confronting climate change is our moral responsibility. The Christian community has led that effort, helping to push for a strong agreement that protects vulnerable and threatened communities.”
President Trump has built a case on faulty science, flawed economics and a selfish and greedy view of the world. We respond with a call to Biblical compassion, righteousness and justice. This is what will make America great again.
This is a justice issue because the climate change problem has been caused by the developed world, led by the United States. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we in the US have pumped far, far more than our fair share of CO2 into the atmosphere, followed by Western Europe. We have caused the problem, but the poor of the developing world are and will pay the highest price.
It is a moral issue because, setting aside blame and causality, we who are Christians are called to care for and minister to the poor, the ‘least of these’ in Matthew 25. Few commands in scripture are clearer than this.
SO HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND?
There will be a lot more action in opposition to these recent developments – petitions, marches, calls to Washington. I would encourage you to engage, energetically, publicly and with Christ-like anger and resolve. There are three organizations that I have worked closely with and would commend to you if public action is something God seems to be pointing you toward:
- If you’re “young” (let’s say below 30ish), Young Evangelicals for Climate Action is where you want to land. Good people, some great ideas and a lot of energy.
- For the rest of us, Climate Caretakers is a grassroots organization operating as a ministry of Care of Creation under the direction of Care of Creation staff member Brian Webb.
- Finally, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, though not a faith organization, is one of the most effective change-agents in this area that I’m aware of. They have local chapters all over the world.
That’s not going to be enough, though. Remember Paul’s warning in Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
We are engaged in a spiritual struggle for the future of God’s creation. There is only one place where that struggle can be won – on our knees in prayer. Remember the prophet Daniel’s experience (Daniel 9). When he became aware of the magnitude of God’s judgement against his nation, he “turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” (vs. 3).
Then he started to pray:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name … “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame— “ (vs. 4-7)
Daniel was not personally guilty for the sins that brought judgment on his land; nonetheless he approached God bearing the shame of his sinful nation, and on that basis pleaded with God for forgiveness. This is what we’re called to do, friends. Let us repent on behalf of our nations, pray for healing, and then go out and begin to do the work of healing among our people and in God’s creation.
The Jamaica Call to Action closes with a call to prayer that is fitting for this situation. I leave you with these words – may they burn in all of our hearts:
Each of our calls to action rest on an even more urgent call to prayer, intentional and fervent, soberly aware that this is a spiritual struggle. Many of us must begin our praying with lamentation and repentance for our failure to care for creation, and for our failure to lead in transformation at a personal and corporate level. And then, having tasted of the grace and mercies of God in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, and with hope in the fullness of our redemption, we pray with confidence that the Triune God can and will heal our land and all who dwell in it, for the glory of his matchless name.
Ed Brown, Executive Director Care of Creation; and Lausanne Catalyst for Creation Care.
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