In Sweden, the Interfaith Climate Summit has issued forth with the The Uppsala Interfaith Climate Manifesto, a perfectly ordinary amalgam of religious sentiment and environmental alarmism typical of ecumenical groups. Which is to say that there’s precious little political, economic or scientific insight in the broadside from Uppsala. Of course, there’s no indication from the summit’s participants that the causes and cures proposed for global warming may be controversial, especially in the scientific community. Yet, what sets the Hope for the Future! manifesto apart from total banality, and makes it interesting, is its unmistakably coercive tone about what both developed and developing countries “must” do about climate change. Apparently, the “global village” ethic of environmental activists does not apply when demands are made of the powers that be.
The manifesto was signed by Fr. John Chryssavgis, representing the Ecumenical Patriarch, and Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, director of external affairs for the Orthodox Church in America and Moderator of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. Now, involvement in ecumenical bodies necessarily bring Orthodox Christians into “strange bedfellows” situations. But in Uppsala, it got very strange.
There were presentations on “Gaia and God: an ecofeminist theology of earth healing,” “Daoist Humanistic Naturalness and Our World,” and “Ecological Values” in Islam. One presenter asked the question: Why are Earth and God Angry? To really understand the caliber of thinking, you should watch videos of the presentations here.
The theology expressed in the official statement is also, shall we say, muddled (emphasis in the quote is mine):
For the Earth, salvation is about more than new technology and green economy. Salvation is about the inner life of human beings. Life without hope is detrimental to human existence. The peoples of this beautiful precious planet need to dialogue about what it means to live together, with global empathy in a global village. Religions can contribute to this in a decisive way.
When the manifesto gets into its demands, it says, among other things, that there shall be “massive transfers and sharing of important technology” to address climate change. There isn’t any indication of who shall pay for this transfer, but “important technology” can only be transferred from the “rich” countries that have developed the economic means and technological prowess to come up with the solutions that could placate the angry Gaia.
— Rapid and large emission cuts in the rich world. Developed countries, especially those in Europe and North America, must lead the way. In the developed countries emissions should be reduced by at least 40 per cent by 2020 and 90 per cent by 2050 against 1990 levels.
— Binding cuts for the rich world on top of their domestic obligations. According to the principles of responsibility and capability countries should pay for international cuts in addition to their own domestic initiatives. These payments should be obligatory, rather than voluntary.
Europe and North America must “lead the way” but of course the punitive damages these lands will pay will be “obligatory.” But obligatory in what way? Who will play global environmental cop?
The Uppsala manifesto signing coincided with the opening in Poznan, Poland, of United Nations talks on climate change. The big problem facing delegates is how to convince the world to commit to aggressive emissions reductions while in the midst of a global financial crisis. In general, the people elected to govern most nations are not wildly enthusiastic about adopting measures that could lead to a severe contraction in industrial activity. For a view of how these sorts of benchmarks might affect U.S. economic growth at the state level, see here and here and here.
The real question in all this is not whether Orthodox Christians should care for the environment, but how. The “how” of climate change is best addressed with a multidisciplinary approach, and with an honest assessment of the consequences of any policy prescription advanced to address the problem. Signing meaningless manifestos in league with ecofeminists and other nature worshipers is a cheap and superficial substitute for advancing an authentic understanding of the stewardship of Creation. Orthodox Christians deserve something better.