‘Moral climate’ has a new meaning

Thinking Anew

A farmer checks soil compacted by drought on  agricultural land, north of the city of Mosul in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh. Photograph: Zaid Al-Obeidi/AFP via Getty

A farmer checks soil compacted by drought on agricultural land, north of the city of Mosul in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh. Photograph: Zaid Al-Obeidi/AFP via Getty

 

It used to be that when people discussed the moral climate, they were thinking about standards in public life such as integrity, justice and truth, the values that shaped society, for the most part about issues close at hand.

That that has changed was apparent at the recent Cop26 meeting in Glasgow as world leaders and others looked for ways to address the threat to the future of the planet. And there the words moral and climate came together in a new way as nations were forced to confront the reality that the very existence of humanity is under threat because of our greed and neglect of the natural world. The facts are known. The rise in global temperatures, accelerating at an alarming rate, is already having profound effects around the world in acute weather events, vulnerability of food supplies, and rising sea levels. We are told some Pacific Island communities could disappear within a matter of years.

The causes go back to the industrial revolution and the age of steam and coal which led to a transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States in the mid-18th century. It changed the way people lived and worked and over time improved the quality of life for many, but not all. The benefits were felt mainly in the West while poorer parts of the world had to settle for whatever “crumbs fell from the rich man’s table”. Yet today, to our shame, the poorer countries of Africa and Asia are expected to be part of the solution to a problem they bear little responsibility for. Something similar happened centuries ago when slavery was delegitimised. The slave owners, which included churches and religious orders, were compensated while the slaves who were innocent victims, got virtually nothing. The gospel reading for tomorrow, Advent Sunday, reminds us in graphic terms that nothing can be taken for granted, that we don’t have an existence independent of the natural order; we are part of it: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Advent is a penitential season and the word repent means a change of direction, a turning away from the misdeeds of the past a point underlined in the Advent Collect: “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness.” What does that mean when it comes to climate change?

In recent weeks we have been looking to the politicians in Glasgow “to do something” while almost certainly thinking that they should “do nothing” to inconvenience us personally because we live in an age of entitlement, in which we believe we have earned the right to live as we choose, undisturbed by what is going on around us. It is for “others” to deal with whatever challenges there are but who are the others?

The environmentalist, Lorna Gold, gives the answer in her book Climate Generation. She explains: “I will do anything to protect my children. And that is why I decided to write this book. You may well ask what on earth writing this book has to do with protecting my kids. I’m writing this book in the hope that perhaps someone will read it – maybe you, maybe someone else – and understand a little more about what is happening to our world, particularly due to climate change and the real and present danger we are placing our own children in.”

She is telling us that those who will pay the price for our extravagant and wasteful lives will be our own children and grandchildren, those most precious to us, some of whom are begging us to “do something now”. In the words of John Keble we need “grace to listen well”.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.