The Green Room ~ Why are we waiting?


By the Revd Dr John Harrison   

New ScientistWhen my wife and I were younger we used to have student parties in our flat, at which we drank rather too much and played records on a small record player. The same records came out time and time again so they became scratched, worn and occasionally sticky from spilled drink.  

I sometimes feel that our discussions regarding climate change are rather like this. We have the same old parties, we rehearse the same old climate change messages, and then go our separate ways satisfied that we can hold another party soon, in someone else’s flat.

I have a book sitting here on my desk which has the catchy title “Why are we Waiting: The logic urgency, and promise of tackling climate change” (Nicholas Stern, MIT Press) which, while well written and researched, is I fear yet another voice in an already crowded party.

Why so many words and why so little collective action? It was perhaps with some relief that I picked up a recent copy of New Scientist and saw that its front cover (pictured) promised to inform me of “33 reasons we can’t think clearly about climate change”. One particular reason stands out for me; ‘Reason 20 - Conflicting goals, values and aspirations’.

Like many of you, I have enjoyed the gift of grandchildren and it is fascinating to watch them develop. One stage in particular is that of learning to walk. Of my four grandchildren no two have adopted the same strategy. It would seem to me that each child makes up its own mind on how best to get from A to B in order to reach an identified goal, be that a toy, or new object to investigate, or parental comfort. One child managed to achieve remarkable speeds by sliding around Buddha-style on her backside, another on her knees in admirable church style, while another simply stood up and walked across the room one day. The fourth is still thinking about it. One could also think of parallels in our approach to our Christian faith; we learn to walk with Christ in so many different ways. For our grandchildren there is a clearly defined objective, which is to increase mobility. So much more of the world becomes accessible if we learn to walk.

Going back to the New Scientist article, Reason 20 would seem to be central to our abject failure to make progress regarding climate change. We all have our own agenda – we learn to walk the climate walk in different ways. For some, the agenda is one of global justice, for others it is a matter of economics or fear of human conflict, and for many it is a matter of conscience. To the Christian it is a matter of being right before God in our custodianship of the world into which he has placed us.

Inaction is not an option and we need to accept that we come to what The New Scientist refers to as “The Road to Climate Hell” from different directions, but what is our objective?



  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.






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