The Green Room; the developed world has reaped a harvest
The Revd Dr John Harrison writes:
The world in which we live not only provides us with the means to our existence but also poses life-threatening hazards.
Here in Britain we deal with relatively modest hazards which are usually linked to the weather, such as floods, strong winds, and snow and ice, but taking a world-wide perspective, events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods and droughts regularly result in massive losses of life and livelihoods. Here in our own Diocese we are all too aware of the recent effects of, for example, flooding in Morpeth and Newburn, and our prayers are with those whose lives have been changed irrevocably.
History also shows that the number of people affected by a single event can be massive, such as the typhoon that hit the coast of Bangladesh in 1979 resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest people. The question for us all is how we deal with such catastrophic events – whatever the scale.
There are fundamentally two alternatives – do nothing, or try to find a means of mitigating the effects of the hazard. Doing nothing may be an option if we can cope with a recurrence, if the impact is so small that we can accommodate it in our lives without any major changes in lifestyle. Or doing nothing may be forced upon us for the simple reason that we can not afford to do anything. Millions of people live in situations where their lives are constantly at risk, but they do not possess the means to protect themselves.
In order to mitigate the effects of an environmental event we need an accurate forecast of the event, a means of communicating a warning widely, a capacity to respond by moving away from the hazard zone, and the financial resources to invest in long-term defence strategies. If we take, for example, the effects of a tropical storm along the south coast of the United States, detailed forecasts are available, warning are issued and disseminated through a range of media, evacuation strategies are well-rehearsed, and there has been a massive investment in coastal defences. If a similar storm were to affect a poorer country, limited communications, restricted mobility and lack of resources for long-term defence will inevitably mean that the result is more likely to be widespread human distress.
The effects of ongoing climatic change can be most helpfully viewed in terms of a complex array of environmental hazards, which will inevitably demand a response from all of us. The developed world has reaped a harvest from the world’s resources and has, thereby, acquired the capacity to mitigate the effects of much of what climatic change will bring. Those who have not been so fortunate now find themselves at the mercy of environmental events for which they can take little blame.
So where do the words of Christ about the poor fit into the Church’s response? It would seem that so far we have talked a great deal, and we have produced, or contributed to, many worthy reports on how imperfect our stewardship has been, but are these really addressing the reality of the plight of the poor as their crops fail and their animals die, and their houses and land are washed away?
- Dr John Harrison FRMetS is a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Science at Stirling University.
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