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Climate Change - A Spiritual Issue

by glynch — last modified 25 Nov, 2015 11:42 AM

Bishop Nicholas gives climate change lecture at the prestigious College des Bernardins in Paris

Climate Change - A Spiritual Issue

Photo credit: Bishop Pierre Whalon

On Tuesday 24 November, Bishop Nicholas gave a lecture at the prestigious College of the Bernardines in the heart of Paris’ Latin Quarter. This was the latest in a series of talks leading up to the UN’s COP21 talks on climate change which will begin in Paris on Monday 30 December.

The previous speaker in the series was the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan and the next speaker will be His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch. Bishop Nicholas is the Church of England’s lead bishop on environmental issues.

The talk, entitled “Nature and Man in the Image of God” discussed climate change as a central issue in Christian theology.

He discussed what Scripture says about what it means to be human; the growing ecumenical convergence on the importance of climate change; the convergence of theology with science, politics, and economics on climate change; and climate change as a moral and spiritual problem.

Some extracts from his talk are below:

“Even people who do not have a religious faith have identified climate change as a spiritual problem but the nature of the spiritual problem seems to me to be variously understood.

“The scale of the environmental challenge sometimes feels too big to face. It feels impossible for us individually to make a significant difference. A mixture of futility and fear causes us to bury our heads in the sand. We despair.

“There is also a very serious problem that we have lost the link between the words we use and what we actually do. St Paul would have recognised the gap between beliefs and actions. In his letter to the Romans he wrote that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7.19).

“I sometimes wonder if what is really being asked for in this yearning for spirituality is a bit like the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous.  We won’t even be able to begin unless we realise our circumstances are so serious that we have reached ‘rock bottom’, when we know that it can’t get any worse for us. Unless we acknowledge the terrible mess we are in and our need for the support and solidarity of others, we will not be able to work our way through a 12 step programme designed to help us in recovery. The prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous is that God will give us the courage to change the things we can change, the grace to accept the things we can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

“The use of energy stored in fossil fuels has given us marvellous developments. We have made rapid progress. Now we live in a new era, when climate change is caused by human activity, particularly the use of fossil fuels. That which has been good for us is now a mixed blessing. It is creating new dangers. We need a spirituality that will nurture and sustain our best minds, courageous hearts and a strong collective will to make an even more rapid transition to a low carbon economy for the health and salvation of the world.”

The full text of the lecture can be read at

Pour les Francophones - watch Bishop Nicholas give the lecture and answer questions at:

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