Climate Justice: the new paradigm

22 April 2021

In the first in a series of blogs on climate justice, the Revd Simon Topping calls for a new way of thinking about climate justice.

The world needs a paradigm shift, a new way of seeing the world – and we know it. One of the great eye-opening revelations of the Covid pandemic is that the old paradigm – greed will save the day – has become something of a joke, even by those who used to stand by this mantra.

The old paradigm was built upon the view that by releasing the acquisitive energy of the individual from the restrictions of taxes and regulations, including regulations that protect the natural environment, all would benefit in the end. If we allow the individual to pursue their own narrow interest the wider interests of all, including the natural world, would be promoted through the magical workings of the market’s “invisible hand”.

This world view doesn’t work in a pandemic - or as a response to the environmental crisis we face. Rather, we have rediscovered that it is only by prioritising the common good (global vaccination in the case of the pandemic) that our individual wellbeing is safeguarded. “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe” was the strapline of a recent letter signed by 60 world leaders which called for a global treaty to prepare effectively for the next pandemic. In pursuit of environmental and climate justice this strapline needs to be expanded to read: “nobody is safe until all living things and the natural world are safe”.

As Christians we have rich biblical resources which help us to promote this new (or rediscovered) paradigm. On many occasions Jesus reminds us that the pursuit of our own individual interests alone leads to the diminishment of life. Those who seek to save their own life, like the rich fool who builds bigger barns, will not find the security and abundance they crave, whereas those whose lives are marked by gratitude, generosity and concern for the wellbeing of others, will find life in all its fullness.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity also offers us a window into this new way of understanding our relationship with others and the world around us. The Trinity is a divine community of diversity and oneness, a community animated by loving mutuality, co-operation, inter-dependence, equality  and the pursuit of the good of each part of the whole. It provides us with a vision of how a new world might operate once the old paradigm of self-interest, excessive consumption and aggressive competition has been cast off. And it points to a new way for humanity to relate to the natural world around us, whereby in seeking the wellbeing of God’s creation we find wellbeing for ourselves.

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

A prayer for Earth Day 2021: