October 13, 2009
People should use the climate change crisis as an opportunity to become human again, setting aside the addictive and self-destructive behaviour that has damaged their souls, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.
Dr Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, told an audience at Southwark Cathedral that people had allowed themselves to become "addicted to fantasies about prosperity and growth, dreams of wealth without risk and profit without cost".
The consequences of such a lifestyle meant the human soul was "one of the foremost casualties of environmental degradation".
Small changes, such as setting up carbon reduction action groups, would help them reconnect with the world in addition to repairing some of the damage to the planet, because it was too much to expect the state to provide all the solutions.
"Many of the things which have moved us towards ecological disaster have been distortions of who and what we are and their overall effect has been to isolate us from the reality we're part of. Our response to this crisis needs to be, in the most basic sense, a reality check."
Williams added: "We need to keep up pressure on national governments; there are questions only they can answer about the investment of national resources. We need equally to keep up pressure on ourselves and to learn how to work better as civic agents."
In the lecture, sponsored by the Christian environmental group Operation Noah, Williams outlined a Christian response to the climate crisis.
"When we believe in transformation at the local and personal level, we are laying the sure foundations for change at the national and international level.
"If I ask what's the point of my undertaking a modest amount of recycling my rubbish or scaling down my air travel, the answer is not that this will unquestionably save the world within six months, but in the first place it's a step towards liberation from a cycle of behaviour that is keeping me, indeed most of us, in a dangerous state — dangerous, that is, to our human dignity and self-respect."
In a message to heads of state attending the Copenhagen summit, Williams said leaders had to create a "suitably serious plan" for the speedy implementation of protocols on carbon reduction.
"We have had unexpected signs that the east Asian countries are readier than we might have imagined to put pressure on the economies of the US and Europe. The idea that fast-developing economies are totally wedded to environmental indifference because of the urgency of bringing their populations out of poverty no longer seems quite an obvious truth."
Earlier this year Williams said that God was not a "safety net" that would guarantee a happy ending and that human pillaging of the world's resources meant the planet was facing a "whole range of doomsday prospects" that exceeded the results of global warming.
Humanity faced being "choked, drowned or starved" by its own stupidity, he said, and he compared those who challenged the reality of climate change to the courtiers who flattered King Canute, until he proved he could not command the waves by going to the seashore and trying to do so. "Rhetoric, as King Canute demonstrated, does not turn back rising waters," said Williams in a lecture in March.
Tonight's remarks came days after research suggested that Britons had little appetite for shrinking their carbon footprint by reducing the number of flights they took.
The study, from Loughborough University, showed that the vast majority of the public would rather cut energy use at home than go without flying for a year. While 88% of participants in the Propensity to Fly survey said they were willing or very willing to "reduce how much energy I use in my home throughout the year" only 26% said the same when asked if they would "not fly in the next 12 months".