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"With great power comes great responsibility"

by Michael Ford last modified 18 Feb, 2021 07:20 PM

“The church has - and should - fight against injustices, but I think we are failing on climate change.” That was the message 18 year-old Joe Brindle gave to Synod on Saturday.

"With great power comes great responsibility"

Joe being interviewed by the BBC in Westminster

Who also warned, “The church risks losing its next generation of members if it fails to speak up”.

Joe, from Devizes, had been invited to speak to Synod to give a voice to the younger generation in our Diocese who are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and want the Church to do more to address it.

Quoting Spider-Man in his talk to Synod members attending by Zoom, Joe said:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

“The people who are being most affected by climate change, aren’t those who contribute to it. In fact there is almost an exact inverse correlation - richer countries like the UK cause way more emissions per capita, but suffer way less of the effects of climate change. And this is only getting worse.”

Joe explained that he had grown up a Christian and had been “sparked into action” after he had watched a Tearfund video about a woman in Malawi who, due to droughts that had been worsened by climate change, was surviving on corn husks and orange juice sachets alone.

“I found this video really upsetting because it made me realise that climate change is happening now, and it is causing horrible death and sickness and pain.

“It’s unjust that they are suffering the consequences of our actions, that they are being pushed into death and poverty because of our consumption.”

Joe said that as a result of this he then got involved in the school climate strikes in 2019 and helped co-ordinate the September mobilisation, “which was the largest climate mobilisation in history”.

He told the Synod members gathered on Zoom, “As Christians it’s clear that it’s our mandate to stop Climate change” and that he and other young people are delighted that steps are happening in this Diocese to do this:

“I think it’s great and very important that the church is working to decarbonise. However, what we do to combat the climate crisis - particularly over the next few years - needs to go above and beyond that.”

He said that historically, the church has often been at the forefront in fights for justice. From the evangelist MP William Wilberforce who campaigned to end the slave trade to the great pastor Martin Luther King Jr:

“The fact is humanity has just a few years to try to turn emissions around and the UK, as a rich nation, the first in the world to industrialise, has a particular responsibility to deliver rapid decarbonisation. And as the hosts of COP26 this November, our country’s responsibility and influence has been increased.”

He told the Synod:

“Now it’s our turn as a church, to contribute. The Church of England is well respected, we have a huge platform, with thousands of churches and lots of church-goers and there is a potential for the church to use this platform to campaign for a fairer future.”

Joe said it was good that the Church of England had divested from BP, but he was concerned that we still hold shares in ExxonMobil and Shell:

“I understand the argument that we could use our shares to push for greater action, but it has become clear that these companies are unwilling to make the change required - and will continue to hold profit over planet.”

He also warned Synod against buying into “the greenwashing from these companies”.

He said an example would be Shell’s new “net-zero” plans, which include a 20% increase in fossil fuel production and spending as much on renewables as it does on advertising the fact it is using renewables.

Joe said he thought that at a national level we should be actively opposing "regression" - such as the coal mine planned to be built in Cumbria - and we should be pushing hard for bolder action from our government.

He said there are already some Christian organisations doing great work on this with both Tearfund and CAFOD joining the Climate Coalition and leading a successful campaign for the UK Export Finance to stop funding fossil fuel projects overseas.

“Imagine how much more progress we could make with the Church of England joining in these campaigns.” he said.

“The Church of England has a great power but that means we have a great responsibility to do what is urgently needed. I understand this kind of thing is risky and uncomfortable - but it’s a risk we have to take.”

Joe said that was the “moral, selfless argument”, but there was also a somewhat selfish one:

“The church risks losing its next generation of members if it fails to speak up.”

A recent Tearfund research project called “Burning Down the House” had found that 9/10 young Christians are concerned about climate change but only 1/10 think the church is doing enough about this. 66% of those polled said they had heard a sermon on climate change in their church.

“This research found that there is a very serious risk of young people becoming disillusioned with the church because of perceived climate inaction. And they found 3 pleas for the church from young people.

“We need to change. We need to do something now! We have the opportunity and a God who is powerful behind us, so why haven’t we made a change yet?”

Joe declared that he believed climate activism was fundamental to our faith and that the church should be leading the way:

“The church should absolutely be at the forefront of fighting climate change – because the world is God’s creation and we have a duty of care over it.”

He said he hoped Synod members understood that there “is a problem” and that the church isn’t leading on climate change, “and it needs to as this is a chance for the Church to be a key contributor to a better future."

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