Climate Justice: a common treasury

28 May 2021

In the the fourth in a series of blogs, the Revd Simon Topping warns the actions of some are threatening the benefit of our last remaining commons for all.

“The whole earth shall be a common treasury for all, for the earth is the Lord’s”. These words of Gerrard Winstanley provided the inspiration for Winstanley and a few of his supporters to dig up the common ground on St George’s Hill in Surrey on April 1st 1649 in order to plant grain and vegetables for common use by those who needed food locally. It launched the Diggers movement and led to several Digger colonies appearing in other parts of the country in the first few years of Cromwell’s “Commonwealth”.

Winstanley argued that when God created the heavens and the earth they were given for the flourishing of all humanity. The earth was a “common treasury” and no-one had the right to seize part of that common treasury for their own benefit alone. “Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease; or was it made to preserve all her children?” asks Winstanley.

Winstanley identified a profound injustice in the way a few wealthy people usurped the common, God-given natural resources of the physical world and used them for their own benefits while leaving the rest with barely enough on which to survive.

Despite the efforts of Winstanley and others the transformation of the commons into private possession has continued apace since 1649. But, even so, some commons do remain; most notably, the seas, the air, and “our” climate. No-one claims ownership of the air we breathe, the weather, or the climate which shapes the patterns of our weather – yet!

These last commons do survive but are exposed to an injustice similar to the one that Winstanley identified – the actions of some are threatening the benefit of these commons for all. Even worse, it seems that those doing least damage to the commons, the poorest citizens of the world who produce the least pollution (and have the lowest carbon footprint) are those most badly affected by damage done to the commons by others, through the carbon emissions that generate the global warming which, in turn, leads to droughts, heatwaves and devastating storms.

The Bible tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). God declares that “the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (Lev 25:23). We respond to climate injustice by challenging those who degrade the commons for their own benefit and at the expense of all other living things – and this means reflecting upon our own relationship with the commons too. For God has given the earth as a common treasury for all.

The Revd Simon Topping is a presbyter working in the Gloucestershire Circuit.

Read the first blog here, the second here and the third here

Read our latest news on Climate and Environment issues here.

More about  how to get your Church engaged with a Climate Sunday service and commitments here and find out about what a group of young Methodists from around the world are doing to raise awareness here