The Anglican Church in Southern Africa (ACSA) has published material partially produced in this blog for World Environment Day on June 5. Some of this material has been seriously questioned by Fr John Freeman, a priest and scientist in South Africa. I have not been able to reproduce the sections of relevant liturgy, but the challenges need to be taken seriously by all. Needless to say, Fr John has had no response. The cover picture is also shown here.
“Climate change is real, and it is happening now.
In large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this is a reality. The poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh edge of climate change every day of their lives. The melting of the snows on the peak of Kilimanjaro is a warning of the changes taking place in Africa. Across this beautiful but vulnerable continent, people are already feeling the change in the weather. But rain or drought, the result is the same: more hunger and more misery for millions of people living on the margins of global society. In the past 10 years, 2.6 billion people have suffered from natural disasters. That is more than a third of the global population – most of them in the developing world. The human impact is obvious, but what is not so apparent is the extent to which climatic events can undo the developmental gains put in place over so many years.
It is time to stop this cycle of destruction.”
(Archbishop Emeritus Tutu)
A PRAYER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
God of light and life,
we see you in the rising sun,
the wind blowing through the fields of maize,
and the feel of a life-giving shower of rain.
Help us to see your light reflected throughout creation.
God of compassion,
you are there with those people
who are facing the effects of a changing climate,
and are affected by floods, droughts and famine.
Show us how to be there with them too.
God of truth and justice,
you hear those people around the world,
who struggle to make their voices heard.
Open our ears and the ears of those in power
to hear the cries of those living in poverty.
God of hope,
we see you in people who refuse to give up,
who will not lose faith and keep on fighting,
for your earth and for your people.
Lift us, so that we may never lose hope.
Adapted from Michaela McGuigan/CAFOD
What is it?
From Monday 28th November to Friday 9th December 2011 the eyes of the world will be on South Africa – and in particular on Durban. Negotiators and political leaders from around the world will gather at the 17th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Why is it important?
Time is short and firm commitments need to be made by governments to decrease rapidly their carbon emissions, as the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end in 2012. Although ‘developed’ nations are reluctant to make carbon emission cuts, climate change is increasingly evident around the world.
What is the role of the Anglican Church?
The Anglican Church is playing a key role in mobilising other faith communities to join in the work of influencing governments to make these firm commitments in Durban. At a local level, through the networks of Anglican environment groups and activists such as the parish, regional and diocesan environment groups in the Diocese of Natal, under Bishop Rubin Phillip who is based in the host city of Durban, Anglicans are being encouraged and educated to work at both a local level – through initiatives such as greening their parish and fostering small organic vegetable gardens – and at a wider level – through taking part in ecumenical and interfaith actions.
The Anglican Church is also a founder member of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), working with people of many Christian denominations as well as other major faith groupings in the work for an ecologically sustainable world. SAFCEI is well placed to head up the faith communities’ insistence that governments of the world carefully consider the moral and ethical implications of the COP17 negotiations, and not only their own narrow financial and diplomatic interests. The call is for a radically different approach to world politics, if planet earth as we know it is to be saved for humanity.
Durban activities planned by SAFCEI: a large rally of people of faith on Sunday 27th November and a prayer service on Sunday 4th December. The programme has the full support of many faith leaders including Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who will be participating in the rally to call the world’s politicians to follow moral and ethical principles in meeting the threat of climate change. The one way to meet this challenge is to follow biblical principles of justice and equity for all of God’s creation.
Anglicans are invited to come to Durban in numbers to be part of this great initiative of faith communities and civil society across the world. We will be part of civil society’s watching brief to show our governments that the world is eagerly waiting for an outcome from the COP17 deliberations that will bring justice to the world and enable sustainable, ecologically-sound development for all people, especially those most in need and the poorest of the poor. This is our opportunity to witness to our faith, and publicly to put our faith into action, calling for an ethical and moral outcome to the COP17 talks.
“It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools that we need to solve the climate crisis – the only missing ingredient is collective will. The climate crisis is an unparalleled opportunity to address at long last, many persistent causes of suffering and misery that have long been neglected and to transform the prospects for future generations to live healthier more prosperous lives.” (Gore, A. Our Choice – a plan to solve the climate crisis.)
The liturgical material here has been adapted from the Season of Creation (authorized by Archbishop Thabo for use in ACSA)
RESPONSE FROM FR JOHN FREEMAN
Dear Andrew and Peter,
I have just received my copy of the Diocesan Prayers and Liturgy for 5 June. Hear my cry, which is not personally aimed at either of you. I am relying on you to make my voice heard; the Diocesan Office has not responded to my emails on this subject.
I was angry and saddened by it, but that is irrelevant. Now I must speak my mind or stand before God as a coward. This document, for me, shows the Church as both deceived and deceiving. I cannot support it.
Let me explain what I find objectionable. First, the cover picture. I know it’s been around for a while; I know it has been approved by the Provincial Liturgical Committee, but none of that sanctifies it. I do not think it appropriate for the Virgin Mary (yes, that IS a halo) to be conflated with the goddess Gaia, or the planet earth with the infant Jesus. Even without the ‘Russian icon’ artistic conventions, this would be hard to miss! Were I a pagan, I should be very pleased; but I am not one. Have we forgotten who we are? Isn’t this syncretism? It certainly struck me like that. It could so easily be construed as worship of the Creation instead of the Creator.
The picture also contains embarrassingly misleading visual suggestions. the worst is those cooling towers. I see them in the press almost daily, suggesting the very wellspring of carbon dioxide “pollution.” This is totally misleading. The vapour is water vapour; ask any adolescent learner. Next is the suggestion that the plants are threatened by the supposed plumes of the cooling towers. In fact CO2 is essential and beneficial to plant growth. Finally there is the off white swirl at the lower right. Is that a hurricane or a tsunami? To suggest that either is connected in any way to atmospheric CO2 levels is demonstrable falsehood. The New Testament has a lot to say about those who lead others astray. We should be scrupulously avoiding this.
The preamble bothers me, too. No South African could have greater respect than I for our former Archbishop Desmond Tutu; but on this subject he speaks not as the theologian he is, nor as the passionate and Christ-like opponent of apartheid he became, nor even as our literal saviour after Chris Hani’s murder. He speaks here (if indeed it is he) as a private individual and a scientific layman.
The quotation attributed to him contains much that is questionable. The Sahel has been drying out for all of my 71 years, and the process is documented fully. To attribute this admitted climate change, as though it were a fact, to anthropogenic carbon dioxide concentrations (rising significantly only the last decade of the 20th century) is at the most charitable interpretation, incautious (because so easily refuted), inadequately researched and misleading. Misleading – that word again!
The reference to Kilimanjaro is less easy to excuse. Because it is Africa’s best known mountain, there is a corresponding weight of evidence about the Furtwangler glacier at its summit, which has been receding since 1880 (Robinson, Robinson and Soon, 2007). Also, the summit temperature has been continuously monitored by satellite since 1973. At no time has it ever risen above –1,6°C; and the mean is –7°C (Molg et al. 2003). It simply can’t have melted! It is receding due to ablation because the climate has been becoming dryer and colder (Cullen, 2006); the glacier is not being renewed by snowfall as once it was. This claim is pseudo-scientific gossip; yet made in the name of Jesus?
Surely the climate is changing. It was never static! But even the most ardent apostles of anthropogenic climate change have been unable to connect extreme weather events or volcanic activity with man’s activities. They themselves have said so. The preamble definitely does do that. Indeed, by its very generality it includes even seismic events like the recent Japanese tsunami – and then suggests that we are guilty of it all, and can alter it! I am most unhappy to be associated with such unproven and misleading assumptions. There it is again – can this really be accidental?
May I offer some facts to balance this ringing call to action?
The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere as at 2010 was 390 ppm (NOAA, Mauna Loa, see http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/index.html#global
). That’s 0,039%. It has risen approximately linearly from 320 ppm in 1965. The proportion of that which is produced by all human activity worldwide is estimated at 3%. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that figure to be wildly in error and treble it to 9% (it’s impossible to measure accurately). That’s 35,1 ppm or 0,00351%. South Africa’s contribution to that 9% is about 2% . Again, let’s assume that is in error by the same amount and call it 6%. That makes it 2,11 ppm or 0,000211%. We would, however, be more honest to round this up to 2,2 ppm or 0,00022%. So if we stopped all human activity in South Africa we would reduce the world atmospheric CO2 content from 390 ppm to 387,8 ppm.
Does this negligible and unachievable goal warrant the histrionics afforded it? By the admission of the most convinced of the climate change lobby, our best worldwide efforts are unlikely to reduce the amount of man made CO2 by more than 20% in the next ten years. That means we could reduce the total to 382,98 ppm., and South Africa’s contribution to that reduction would be 0,42 ppm. That is what all this is about. And there is still no certainty that atmospheric CO2 levels drive, or even affect climate!
In the earnestness of our conviction, has no one noticed that we sound very like Chicken Little?
The Liturgy contained in the submission is, for the most part, excellent; and it is all the more a pity that it is not harnessed to some ‘winnable’ struggles. I dare not comment on the last page other than to say that I cannot support or advocate its demands.
I realise that what is done, is done. This is not intended as entirely negative criticism. I am very much aware of human rapine of our planet, and the present and pressing issue of SA’s water crisis (both pollution and scarcity), the threatened ‘fracking’ in the ecologically fragile Karoo and the devastation of farmland caused by the mismanagement of the Land Claims Commission – all these need our urgent attention. Could they get it? It would be a better response than a call to grow organic vegetables!
The document under discussion has been carefully thought out by our best Anglican minds. It is that which causes my sadness in laying against it the double charge of syncretism and false witness.
Shalom and blessings
(J.T.R. Freeman, B.Sc(Eng) cum laude, AFTS cum laude)
PS It is estimated that the CO2 released by last year’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland negated all human efforts at CO2 reduction for the last five years. Are we not guilty of hubris? JF