Steven Croft: Why we must all act on climate change

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“A MAN was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.”

You probably know the rest of the story. It’s one of the best known in the world. A priest and a Levite are walking down the same road. They see the man at the side of the road and pass by on the other side. A Samaritan, a different race, sees the man. He is moved with compassion and steps in to help.

It is relevant because 2015 is a critical year for international action on climate change. The different faith communities will play a key role in the debates. Pope Francis is to produce a major encyclical to help guide the response of the church throughout the world. According to a report in New Scientist last month: “The encyclical may be published as early as March, and may be couched in terms of the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches that we 
have responsibilities to our fellow humans.”

But what does the story of the Good Samaritan have to do with climate change? It takes us to the heart of the problem.

Global warming is real. The causes of global warming are clear. There is a strong and growing scientific consensus.

The effects of climate change are already with us. The forecast of the further change that will come if the global warming continues are terrible.

Most people know this. But their knowledge is not translated into action, like the priest and the Levite. Two thirds of those who travel down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho see the problem but do not take action. Climate change has finally returned as a mainstream political issue.

But there is still a gap between recognising the problem and doing something about it.

Last Saturday I spoke at a training day organised by Hope for the Future (www.hftf.org).

Hope for the Future is an ecumenical, nationwide campaign to encourage and equip individuals, churches and groups to lobby their MP on climate change.

Action to prevent climate change has to be global to make a difference. This year, there are a series of key international conferences and meetings. The UK has the potential to play a leading role in all of these, whatever government is in power. Now is the time to speak out.

The different aid agencies and charities have formed the Climate Coalition (http://www.theclimatecoalition.org). Big things are planned for Valentine’s Day in a week’s time. Christian Aid, Tear Fund, Cafod and others are all mobilising their supporters.

The challenge for all these campaigns is to help more and more people see their concern become action.

All kinds of action are needed. Political actions such as writing letters or demonstrations let our politicians know how vital the issue has become and give them a mandate to act.

Acts of compassion provide help for those most affected by disaster.

Changes of behaviour reduce our own carbon footprint or the food miles in our weekly shop.

The priority is to build a critical mass of those who will take some action for climate change, who will no longer pass by on the other side.

The way to do that, surely, is to focus attention on those who will be most affected by climate change both now and in the future and to answer the question from the story which the world is still asking: “And who is my neighbour?”

We need to set their stories within this framing story of the man on the Jericho road.

For the poorest people of the world, climate change is far from a vague threat in a distant future but a present reality.

Our neighbours are suffering today. According to Christian Aid, in the islands of the Pacific and the coastal areas of Bangladesh, rising sea levels are encroaching on people’s lives.

In Malawi and Ethiopia, changing weather patterns are having a huge impact on crop production. In Bolivia, the erosion of glaciers is already causing dangerous water shortages. In the Philippines, a major typhoon, the largest ever recorded storm on land, has already destroyed lives.

The poorest people of the world and those least responsible for global warming are suffering the most.

It is our responsibility in the developed world to see their plight and, moved with compassion, tell their stories, urging our own political leaders no longer to pass by on the other side but to take action.

But there is another group of neighbours we need to be mindful of as we answer Jesus’ question.

My son and daughter-in-law are expecting their first child, my first grandchild, in four weeks time. What kind of a world will he inhabit and inherit? What kind of legacy are we passing on to the Millennium’s children?

Listen again to the story of the Good Samaritan. Please become one of those who takes this issue seriously, whatever your faith.

The words of Jesus apply to climate change as well as to emergency assistance at the roadside: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” He answered: “The one who showed him mercy.” He answered: “Go thou and do likewise.”

•The Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft is the Bishop of Sheffield. He regularly writes articles on his blog at: http://www.sheffield.anglican.org/blog/bishop-of-sheffield.