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CEL home > News > CEL Conference 2004 > Bishop John Oliver's Talk

 

Bishop John Oliver's address at Coventry Cathedral

at the Launch of Operation Noah 9th October 2004

"There's plenty of bad news about, horrible news. You can't avoid it: the brutal and futile murder of Ken Bigley and his colleagues, which is uppermost in our minds today; the cruelty and enormous suffering of Darfur; the atrocities committed in Northern Uganda by the so-called “Lords Resistance Army”; the unmitigated evil of suicide bombings and the network of terror that afflicts so many countries; the ongoing bitterness and brutality of both sides in the Holy Land. Bad news is all around us, and none of us wants to dwell on such unpleasant things. Of course we know about them, we care about them, we pray about them. We may sometimes be able to give a bit of practical help, for instance to disaster victims, but most of the time we survive by not thinking too much about the horrors of war and terrorism and brutality. We can't do anything about it, by enlarge so we develop a defence mechanism of putting it out of our minds and getting on with life. We have become quite good at ignoring bad news, just so that we can survive.

The worst news of all is of course what we are doing to the planet – trashing God's good creation through our exploitation.

You may wonder why I am starting like this, but I believe that understanding the psychology of denial about the bad news with which we are surrounded may help to explain why we are so good at ignoring the worst news of all, and doing nothing much about that . The worst news of all is of course what we are doing to the planet – trashing God's good creation through our exploitation and

But this time over this bad news, there is something we can do about it.

misuse of it, above all through climate change, which is happening at a pace and on a scale without precedent, certainly since human beings evolved. We are heading towards a crisis in human history so catastrophic that it is hard even to imagine what it will involve. But this time over this bad news, there is something we can do about it.

We – humanity – have caused it by prodigal use of fossil fuel, for industry, for heat and light, for transport and for our comfort and leisure pursuits, in thousands of different ways, and especially during the past hundred years. We have made the mess, and it's up to us to change the way we live – or perish. Accelerating global warming, of which we are already seeing the unmistakeable signs, will cause rising sea levels, extreme weather – more hurricanes and tornadoes – drought, flood, destruction, famine, millions of ecological refugees, economic misery and chaos and political anarchy. It's a terrifying prospect for our children and grandchildren. Politicians know this, the Prime Minister has said it, but they also know that not enough people care about it at present for it even to appear on the party conference agenda. Yesterday's newspaper survey of the party conferences, and what was said about the ten most important subjects, did not even mention the environment. Neither do Bush and Kerry talk about it. But what about Christians?

But what about Christians?

Wasn't the human race created in God's image, to have dominion over the earth and subdue it? Wasn't it all there for us ? Aren't we the focus of God's love and care – of his plans of salvation? Well, that's partly true, but it's a terrible travesty and a profound misunderstanding of the whole truth. We are simply a part – a unique and special part, but only a part – of a hugely intricate, delicate, fragile network of life-systems on this beautiful, fertile planet. Don't just remember Genesis 1, but

Genesis 9 .... that God's covenant is with every living creature – those words came three times in our short reading.
Genesis 9 too – we've just heard part of it read, and it is unmistakeably clear that God's covenant is with every living creature – those words came three times in our short reading.

We have made some terrible mistakes, and for a long time we didn't know, we really didn't know. But now we do know, and we must change . That's what repentance is – to acknowledge past wrongs with sorrow and shame; to accept forgiveness: “Father forgive: we did not know what we were doing” – that echo of Jesus' own words which we've used several times already in this service. Then we must change, with God's help and guidance be different, live sustainably, respect each other, especially our poorer brothers and sisters, and the whole creation of which we are a part. We have to create a low carbon economy, give the earth and the atmosphere a chance, an outside chance, of recovery.

It is a huge and daunting task, but it could be done. Today we have come together as Pilgrim People, Rainbow People, to express our determination that it will be done. There are some encouraging signs. When people have realised that a species or a habitat or a precious landscape is under threat, action has been taken, campaigns have been waged, and things have been changed.

Here in the UK we have nature reserves, National Parks, AONB's, SSSI's, we have protected lowland heath land, we now have cleaner rivers and safer beaches;

Here in the UK we have nature reserves, National Parks, AONB's, SSSI's, we have protected lowland heath land, we now have cleaner rivers and safer beaches; there's the work of the National Trust and its changed mind-set about the environment. There has been a transformation of the fortunes of some endangered species, especially birds of prey. One day this week my wife and I were travelling back from Brecon to where we live in the hills of Mid Wales, and we saw twelve red kites wheeling over the valley. What a magnificent sight, of birds which were almost extinct twenty or thirty years ago, and have now recovered.

What good news about the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the courageous Kenyan woman Wangari Maathai, for her environmental work,

What good news about the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the courageous Kenyan woman Wangari Maathai, for her environmental work, making peace with the earth which we have despoiled, and thereby making it more likely that we shall maintain peace between people. Environmental work is peace-making work in every sense. So where there has been a particular problem, action has been taken, policies have changed, and we have set off in a new direction.

The great task before us now is to translate the energy and effectiveness of those limited, specific programmes of action into a changed attitude and changed policies, on the part of the entire world population, towards the threat – no, the reality – of climate change. We need a post-Kyoto policy framework which is equitable, comprehensive, scientific and workable, and I have been mightily encouraged to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury speak twice in recent weeks strongly in favour of Contraction and Convergence which is a profoundly moral way of tackling the crisis, and about which those of you who were at this morning's conference will have heard much more.

We need to recognise the forces we are up against – ignorance, prejudice, selfishness, denial. But we follow a saviour who said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” – free from the imprisonment of fear, the paralysis of denial, the short term self interest which

But we follow a saviour who said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” – free from the imprisonment of fear, the paralysis of denial, the short term self interest which refuses to make radical lifestyle changes

refuses to make radical lifestyle changes. We are enormously grateful for the wonderful contribution to this service of the children, whose singing has been absolutely splendid. I have been impressed again and again going round schools to see how enthusiastic young people are about these environmental issues; they care about them in a way that their parents and grandparents do not. So, led by the young, we must change. There is plenty to be frightened of, but “The fear of the Lord , is the beginning of wisdom”; if we can grow wise enough, soon enough, we can do it, with God's help.

 

 

 


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