Must we atone for the crime of our very existence?

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and look after it.

Genesis 2: 15 – The Revised English Bible

18 You shall not avenge nor carry any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself

Leviticus 19:18 – The Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible

28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1:28 – The Revised English Bible

10b I came in order that they might have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10b – The Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible

Cartoon courtesy of Bob Moran Cartoons

In my last blog, I wrote about some of the key claims that are made about ‘Climate Change’ and stressed that, in stark contrast to what is often claimed, the position is very far from ‘settled’. Of necessity, I can only scratch the surface of this huge subject in two short posts, so I’ll be returning to this subject in future posts.

In this blog, I want to look at the theological aspects of this subject.

But first, I need to look at the extent to which we, in our world, mostly take energy for granted.

On New Year’s Eve, we had a six-hour power cut where I live, only 60 odd miles from central London. Whenever we endure power cuts (rather more often than we ought to, in modern Britain; we’ve had another one since the start of the year) it makes me particularly aware of the extent to which our lives rely on electricity. I was reminded recently of the great TV series from 1978, called ‘Connections’ by James Burke. The first, introductory, episode ‘The Trigger Effect’ told the story of the massive power cut in 1965 in New York, that was caused not by a failure, but by a component doing what it was designed to do, but without the connections and dependencies between different systems being adequately understood.

If you’re interested, it can still be viewed here:

The featured event cut power to 30 million people for several hours. Burke prompted us to think about how reliant we are on electricity. If anything, this has become much more the case since the programme was made 45 years ago, because of the Internet and the way that the equipment on which we rely (heating, lighting, washing, drying, cooking, refrigeration, entertainment, communication, transport etc etc) are eventually all going to be controlled via the Internet. None of this can function without electricity. I hope by the time the ‘Internet of Things’ happens, our power supply, broadband speed, mobile phone signals etc will be massively better. In the area in which I live, our electricity supply has, if anything, been getting worse over the last few years, as the lack of basic maintenance following privatisation has started to bite.

It’s partly for this reason that I think I may have a better idea than some in the industrialised West, of what life must be like in the half of our world that has no reliable electricity supply and also for the 50% of humanity that has to cook with animal dung.

I recently heard energy described in this particularly apposite way:

Energy equals Work. Work equals Productivity. Productivity equals Money. Money equals  Improved Standard of Living. Improved Standard of Living equals Human Flourishing.

Try to imagine yourself as a resident of a Third World country, say in Africa, then try to answer these questions:

  1. You have a market in Europe for agricultural produce, but you need irrigation. How are you going to achieve that, without a diesel-powered digger and pumps? And if you can fix that problem, how are you going to get your produce to Europe? By air? Obviously not in a world without fossil fuels. But by sea isn’t an option either, not just because of time, but because we’re decades off having a reliable and economic alternative to the massive, slow-revving diesels that power our huge container ships. And if by some miracle we manage to solve that, what are we going to build the hulls from? Obviously not steel or aluminium.
  2. Your community needs to build a hospital. How are you going to equip it, without the use of plastics and steel? What will you use for Flooring? Paints? Furniture? Beds? Bedding? Instruments? Personal equipment? Computers? Telephones? Kitchen? Laundry? The list is almost endless. Every single item cannot be imagined without plastics and fossil-fuel derived chemicals and synthetics. As recently as a hundred years ago, many of the things that are now made of plastic were made of animal horn, or leather (for washers, diaphragms, fan belts etc). As someone whose ancestors were in the leather industry, I’m all in favour of leather. But as it (and horn) are by-products of the meat industry, where is the leather going to come from, if meat-eating is also banned, as some are suggesting?
  3. Your community needs electricity for the school you’ve somehow managed to build. You can make electricity with a wind generator, and you’ve been given a design, but how are you going to produce and install a wind generator, including its massive lightweight blades, without plastics, steel or cast aluminium? And what will you do when the wind doesn’t blow?

I could think of many more examples, but I’m sure you get the picture. It’s not hard to envisage what a massive impact ‘Net Zero’ would have on the Third World. Many of these countries live in poverty precisely because of a lack of power. Are we going to refuse them the right to develop their own fossil fuels to generate their own power? What does that say about our view of them?

I’m not sure that people in the West realise how impossible it is to drag people out of abject poverty without energy. There can be no human flourishing without energy. And there can be no reliable energy, not even ‘renewables’ (which actually are not even close to being ‘renewable’ in the sense that is meant, because of their short working life) without fossil fuels.

Those pushing for ‘Net Zero’ often talk as if all human activity is, of itself, bad. But actually, human activity and ingenuity has had an astonishingly beneficial effect on the world around us. Since 2015, for example, we’ve lifted more people out of abject poverty than in the whole of the rest of human history combined. And since 1980, we’ve gone from 4 in 10 people living on less than $2 a day, to less than 1 in 10, after adjusting for inflation. How have we done this? Consider some of these influencing factors:

  • We’ve been able to provide the world with fertiliser, so that people can grow higher yielding, better quality, more reliable crops. 50% of the world’s fertiliser comes from ammonia and 90% of that ammonia is produced from the so-called fossil fuels (natural gas, mainly). Banning fossil fuels would therefore force half the world’s population, (approximately 4 billion people) into starvation. Which half do you think would starve first?
  • In 1968, the American scientist Paul R Ehrlich wrote that the maximum sustainable population of the world was 2 billion people and that by the 1970s, there would be ‘hundreds of millions’ dying of mass starvation every year. In the year in which he wrote that, the food supply in 34 out of 152 countries was below 2,000 calories per day per person. According to The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation, that figure had dropped to 2 out of 173 countries by 2017. They made the point that famines had all but disappeared, other than in war zones. Amazingly, many people still listen to Ehrlich, and his latest prediction is that ‘a shattering collapse of civilisation is a near-certainty in the next few decades.’ It sounds like a wish, rather than a prediction.
  • India and China between them use more than 7 times the fossil fuels that they did 40 years ago, and have thereby lifted almost all their people out of poverty. Between 1990 and 2018, according to the World Bank, the number of people in the world living in abject poverty had declined from 1.9 billion out of a total of 5.3 billion, to 650 million out of a total of over 8 billion.
  • With industrialisation has come wealth and human flourishing, even in lesser developed countries. Global income per person has grown by an inflation-adjusted 620% since 1900. Even global income inequality has started to fall, since the 1980s, although, worryingly, it has been set back by COVID lockdowns.
  • Global literacy rates have risen from 12% in 1820 to almost 90% in 2020, according to the World Bank. Infant mortality has declined sharply and life expectancy has doubled.

So, as a world, we’ve been doing miles better than at any time in our history, but you wouldn’t know that, from listening to those who would now wish us to abandon the policies that have led to such a huge improvement in human flourishing over such a short period.

If the developed West were somehow able to cut back on its use of fossil fuels, the cost would make those countries considerably poorer (some economists consider it cannot be done without an investment equivalent to many times the GDP of those countries.) Who suffers when the rich world deliberately impoverishes itself? What happens to the Third World agricultural producers, exporting to western markets? What happens to tourist visitors to those countries? What happens to the large volume of consumer goods that are now produced in developing countries and sold to the developed West? What happens to Aid?

The following views are increasingly often heard:

  • “The Third World must never be allowed to get even close to the living standards that apply in the West.” I can’t think of a more genocidal, colonialist ideological mantra than this.
  • “The ‘optimum’ world population is below 2 billion, and we can only hope for the right virus to come along.”  How to ‘remove’ 6 billion lives, at a stroke. This statement takes my breath away for its sheer inhumanity.
  • “The ‘Industrial Revolution’ was entirely negative, and the UK, in particular, should grovel in apology, and may massive retributions for being at the forefront of it.” It improved life for more people more rapidly than ever in human history. Just think of what used to happen before the invention of the tractor, combine harvester and digger.
  • “All human activity is negative and evil. It needs to be viewed as a cancer; we need to return to a world where humans have no impact on nature.” I could scarcely believe my eyes when I recently read that George Monbiot of The Guardian had said this: ‘Farming is the number one threat to the planet’.
  • “We need a complete phase-out of fossil fuels, starting now.” As encouraged by James Burke, have a look around the room you’re in, and ask yourself what items would disappear, if the use of all fossil fuels, plastics and the synthetic derivatives of fossil fuels were all phased out. Then consider what your community would look like. What do you think would happen to the most vulnerable? Would those currently pontificating about these issues in Davos volunteer to give up their private jets, multiple luxury homes and gas-guzzling Superyachts? How on earth did these people manage to claim the moral upper hand on these issues?

Perhaps the oddest thing that I’ve heard from those pushing for Net Zero, and about which I’ve reflected long and hard (as it’s so counter-intuitive) is that any form of cheap, abundant and clean energy would be a complete disaster. If you don’t believe me, listen to what many of them have to say about nuclear energy; about hydro-electric power; about the possibility of nuclear fusion solving all our energy needs, cleanly and cheaply. Then hear that they also hate mining, without which there would be no wind or solar power.

It’s impossible not to reach the conclusion that actually a large number of ‘Net Zero’ campaigners start from a position of believing that all human beings are negative, pernicious, selfish, evil, anti-nature, polluting, self-destructive and hateful, and that the world population needs to be decimated and as many humans removed as possible (again, who would be removed first? The rich elites, or those in the Third World who have no power, no influence and no money?)

Are those pushing for ‘Net Zero’ anti-human? I’m really sorry to say that I think they are, if you listen to their arguments and understand what they’re saying.

So what does Theology have to say about this?

Christ’s teaching is about loving others, caring for those less fortunate, looking after the sick and needy, promulgating justice for the downtrodden, providing enough food for all…….In short, Christ wants human flourishing for all.

I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.

‘Net Zero’ as advocated within a few short decades, is an anti-human, anti-Christian ‘religion’ that is murderous, primitive and nihilistic. It’s a religion that will consign the most needy to oblivion, and will make untold riches for those who control the agenda. Why do I say it’s a religion? Toby Young recently been pointed out that it has child saints (Greta Thunberg), missionaries (George Monbiot), high priests (Sir David Attenborough), annual evangelical meetings (Cop26, Cop 27, WEF Davos, etc.), catechisms (‘There is no planet B’), a Holy See (the IPCC), and so on. For those who support this new religious cult, it provides them with a sense of meaning and purpose – it fills the God-shaped hole left by our consciously abandoning Christianity. But it’s actually the antithesis of Christianity; it’s the doctrine of the anti-Christ, where we all have to hate and fear, rather than love, each other.

Only Christianity has as answer to this!

So what should we do as Christians? Nothing? No, I started these two posts by saying that I accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and may be making some contribution to the modest warming that is taking place. I refuse to accept that I am a ‘Climate Denier’. I accept that the climate is changing. I also accept that we need to start working towards the day when we have used up all fossil fuels. But, firstly we should not embark on what might make life impossible for billions of people without knowing that the ‘Cost/Benefit’ equation demands it (it doesn’t). Secondly, we should not ‘go it alone’ as that would have no effect on global CO2 emissions, but would simply transfer wealth from one area of the globe to another. Also, we should not drive this from above, which would be akin to making the horse and cart illegal in 1890 before we were able to build reliable cars and agricultural machinery in volume. There seems to be a passion for these issues (even if a lot of it is based on false modelling). When electric cars and heat pumps make financial and other sense, people will start to buy them.

So, should we have to atone for the crime of our very existence?

God loves the world, and he loves all human beings. He prays that we’ll co-operate with each other, to make the world a better place for all, not just for those favoured few who live in the West with plenty of energy and human flourishing. He prays that we’ll ‘tend’ our ‘Garden of Eden’ and improve it, rather than let it run wild and become unproductive. He prays that we’ll use our creativity and inventiveness to be fruitful, and thereby help to raise our less fortunate fellow-humans to a better, more abundant, life. He prays that we’ll look upon each other unselfishly, as his much-loved fellow creatures. He prays that we’ll use our ingenuity to help to solve the challenges posed by pollution and by natural fluctuations in the planet’s climate. And above all, he prays that we’ll develop a positive, optimistic outlook about our future, supporting each other in adversity, affirming and encouraging, rather than trying to terrify each other.

For at the end of the day, there is one massive difference between Christianity and the ‘Nihilistic Doctrine of Net Zero’.

Christianity is about us all living in harmony and strengthening each other.

The ‘Nihilistic Doctrine of Net Zero’ is about regarding each other as disposable, greedy polluters and vectors of disease.

I don’t mind whether you believe in Christ or not. Just accept that his teaching is the best we’ve got.

We should not have to atone for the crime of our very existence.

But we should have to atone, if our plan is to consign fellow humans to suffering and oblivion, by pursuing the nihilistic and anti-human policy of ‘Net Zero’ within an artificially-imposed, top-down, unrealistically short timescale.

If you wish to hear two informed, qualified, good-natured and rational debates about these issues, I can recommend the following two podcasts:

Gracious, loving and forgiving Father, help us all to value and support each other through these difficult times. And we pray that you may open the eyes of those who have such beams in their eyes that they can’t see the splinter in the eyes of others, that they may not eventually feel guilt at the damage they have inflicted on the vulnerable. Amen

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