Ethics and Climate Change

Colin Beaven of No Impact Man (who I introduced here back in December) has a fantastic post up titled “What I’d say if I was wrong about climate change.” It’s a very positive piece which celebrates the changes and initiatives that have taken place in response to climate change, pointing out that these things would still be good even if climate change would turn out to be false.

It also reminds me of a comment I left in a post here over a year ago debating the validity of the claims of climate change, where I said the following:

[Apart from the debate over the truth or falsity of climate change,] I would still come to the conclusion that we need to fundamentally change our living arrangements, for reasons of morality and justice. Our part of the world is, by and large, exploiting the rest of the world in order to maintain its opulent standard of living. I believe in a God who in Jesus has called us to lives of radical love for others, which it seems does not include a life marked by conspicuous over-consumption at my neighbor’s expense.

It just so happens that this is the kind of life-style that will bring about a change in global warming, if it is occurring. I am convinced that it is. But more importantly, I am convinced that, as always, following the way of Jesus is the best way within this world.

One of the interesting things about all of this is that it reveals the need to think more deeply in the areas of ethics and justice; to move beyond a merely consequentialist conception of ethics to… well, I’m not quite sure, to tell the truth. We live in a society that is used to thinking in terms of cause and effect, and it’s difficult to think otherwise.

As a Christian who has heard enough smatterings of Hauerwas, I do think that ethics is always already theological, and I think we should be honest about this fact and work out our ethics in coversation with the stories and traditions that tell us who we are. For Christians, this includes our belief that love (agape) will have the last word in history. Out of this story, I can only say that the activities of greed and consumption at the expense of my neighbors in the world are to be deplored, whether or not they are producing climate change.

4 responses to “Ethics and Climate Change”

  1. Separating (somewhat) justice from our calling to be creation-caretakers also seems to help out those with eschatological views which denigrate the created order. Ethics may trump it?

  2. That’s a tricky area, but pragmatically speaking I do think that it can be tremendously helpful for the Rapture-obsessed to bracket out eschatological concerns when discussing ethics. Of course, I’d also prefer to have a solid, more holistic interplay between my ethics and my eschatology, but that might be too much to ask for in some cases.

    So yes, I would say that ethics must trump any eschatology that seeks to absolve us of the necessity of acting responsibly and respectfully in the world and towards the world we live in.

  3. But perhaps their passion for eschatology is exactly where that kind of discussion needs to start. After the initial shock or anger, i imagine a person interested in the coming age would be excited to hear that it has far more interesting implications than they previously assumed.

    Christian ethics without eschatology would, i think, be void of the hope which is our fuel.

    on a side note: matt, your posts have been wonderful lately. Well written and thought out, i am learning from your learning my friend. Does this have anything to do with having some post-thesis brain time?

  4. hey Joel… you are perhaps correct, but I’ve seen an unfortunate correlation between those who hold to “Left Behind”-style eschatological views and an unwillingness to be convinced that their fringe views are quite untenable. In a perfect world, I’d like to have the whole package, but it might be wise to take the approach wherein we get said believers so passionate about caring for God’s creation that they later come to question their eschatological beliefs…

    And cheers for your side note. Yes, it’s nice to allow the mind to wander wherever it will!

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