Global heating did not cause the COVID 19 pandemic. Yet to consider the two phenomena together is worthwhile: they are a double helix of intertwined causes and results leading to a mutating new world. Such evolution is of God. We remember that in the Revelation of St John, the Apocalypse is not a Hollywood disaster; it is divine salvation in a wonderful new heaven and a new earth: “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5)
We can easily be misled by the dissimilarities of the pandemic and climate change. The former is fast, dramatic and obvious. The latter is slow, mundane and unclear. Yet both are caused by invisible threats: a virus and a gas. We know what we have to do now about a pandemic; we think business as usual may continue a little longer before we have to deal with climate change. The invisible agent of the pandemic is an enemy that we know about; the super-plus of CO2 is like a saboteur whose work will only later become explosive.
Similarities are legion. Both pandemic and global heating increase exponentially: once set in motion they are inevitable. The causes of both are connected. Dense populations facilitate them. Travel facilitates their action: COVID 19 spread quickly from China to richer countries partly because of air and sea travel. The Chinese government maintained that the pandemic continued partly because of the return of their travellers from abroad. It is instructive that Africa suffered later because the virus had not been brought in by innumerable passengers. The spread of COVID 19 can be seen as a parable. As Jesus has the rich man say in Luke 12:19, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry”, so have we said. Thus have we done. The rich man then suddenly dies. The comment of Jesus in Luke 12:21 strikes home: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God”. If humans say, “We have the money. We can do what we like”, we are making the wrong statement. We must say, “Is this activity going to spread disease or increase the emissions of CO2? If it is, we cannot do it.” We humans cannot just act as we like; we have to do what the divine order of God ordains. As Shakespeare puts it in Hamlet, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
So what do we learn from the COVID19 crisis? Where is God? God is the creator of bacilli as well as babies, of viruses as well as vegetables, of yellow fever as well as yeast. We are delighted when creation benefits us. We are horrified when it does not. God’s creativity has woven the tapestry of life in which we are all interwoven; we are simply a rather bright thread. We have taken too much to heart Churchill’s famous statement: “We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glow-worm.” As we read in Genesis 9, God’s covenant was with the earth, not with humans. As our fellow monotheists, the Muslims, know, Allah in the Qur’an enjoins humans to ‘keep the balance’. Our love is for a God who made an interdependent created order. Humans have upset this: we have killed and caged animals. We take them for granted. We exploit them mercilessly. We have slaughtered millions for sport. Such conduct has consequences. Essentially we have not seen creation as a God-formed unity. Both the COVID19 virus and climate change impel us to see the big picture of one divine inspiration. The frequent rainbows chalked by children on pavements and walls remind us of this; this symbol of the divine promise is often appropriately depicted by the children depicting us – or the NHS – within it.
COVID19 is spreading fast and we are frightened. So we act. Climate change is a far wider, deeper and greater phenomenon which is happening more slowly. So we are not frightened – yet. The constant refrain of the last few weeks that we should have acted sooner is ‘a fortiori’ true of our response to climate change. I hope that we have learnt from the COVID crisis that timely world-wide action is necessary and costly in the face of global threats. When this crisis ends I do not wish us to go back to normal but rise to a higher consciousness of the essential unity of creation. Like the Pope, I wish to see the ‘ecological conversion’ of humankind. We are living through a rehearsal of a few of the actions we will have to take to deal with our profligate emissions of carbon dioxide. When we reach Act One of the great drama of climate change, will our faith and love be sufficient? When Alexander the Great left Macedon to conquer Persia he distributed all his possessions. When asked what he had left for himself he said, “Hope”.
John D Anderson.