Faith and Climate Action: Changing business and society values

Matthew 6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and dust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

As a Christian I am told by my Father to be eternally minded, to be always thinking of His glory and of His Kingdom. When my pastor back home in Adelaide preached on this verse the message shook me and I found myself asking the question “why do I place so much value in things like money, or a good job, or having the best house?”. The answer is simple, because that is what society tells us to do. But we need to remember that these things are simply MATERIAL. They mean very little in the scheme of things, especially when humanity is facing the biggest problem it ever has with a changing climate and the adverse effects of astonishingly high carbon emissions. And then it got me thinking, why do we believe what society is telling us? As a Christian the biggest struggle I face is being in the world but not of the world. And I know that sounds a little cliché but I have a bigger purpose in life than being another number on a company’s customer list or the target market for some fancy new iPhone which nobody needs because the old one is perfectly fine. I like every other Christian on the planet am called to be God’s light to this dark world (Matthew 5:14-16). I don’t have time in this post to fully explain this, but I implore you to speak to a Christian you know, or even just walk into a church and talk to the pastor to find out more about this.

I am here, instead, writing to you all, begging you all to pay attention to what is currently happening in Paris at the UN Conference on Climate Change, COP21, and to take note of what I and 7 other students will be attending next week, the WBCSD Meeting, also held in Paris. As a global community we need to be making sure that decisions are made in the next week which set limits on carbon emission and sees agreements signed that put sustainable development at the forefront of both government and business agendas. Why do we need these things you ask? The answer is very simple. Since the industrial Revolution humanity has emitted so much carbon that it has changed the way the natural environment deals with climate. You may have noticed longer and more numerous heat waves in summer. Or maybe on your last trip to the coast the coral reef was grey and dead instead of colourful and alive. The fact is that the earth is changing, the systems that regulate the planet we call home and make earth liveable for us are being changed too rapidly by humanity for nature to keep up. And if we keep heading down this path with no action taken the result is very clear. Humanity will become extinct and the earth will live on, as it has done through numerous climate changes before, just Google it if you don’t believe me.

So what does a Christian’s view of material possessions and climate change have in common? SOCIETY. This may seem like an unusual answer to give but please bear with me, read on and it will all make sense.

Since the industrial revolution people have been inventing things that make our life easier, from the steam engine to the aeroplane, from the telegraph to smartphones. And with the rise in number of products being developed has also seen a rise in how companies market these items, which involves whole studies on human psychology and social practice nowadays. It is the power of the people making the ads for the new material items that has helped to shape how we as a society view things. From having to have the latest smartphone to the hottest new outfit, we are taught to think short-term. We have effectively been brainwashed to have ingrained in our values all of these things which support a capitalist society with money as the be all and end all value measure. And herein lies why climate change has proven to be such a battle, first to get accepted by the wider society as being true, and now decades later, to coming up with a solution.

I hate to say this so bluntly, but on the whole the society we live in today is selfish and consumer-minded. And this has been created by the capitalist market we live in. I’m not saying it hasn’t achieved good things because we wouldn’t have developed to where we are without it. All I’m saying is why is it so difficult to change from the world we live in today, to a capitalist society that puts the environment as the biggest stakeholder and sustainable development as a priority? Just because we are following a system that has worked for a couple hundred years, doesn’t make it right.

And this is where the WBCSD comes in and is why I am so excited to be attending this meeting in Paris. You see the WBCSD has recognised that things need to change and the system we use needs to change, and through their organisation they can bring about this change. This is because they have provided the platform for hundreds of willing businesses to come together to collaborate on actions that need to occur within their industries to change the system. These businesses are willing to work together to put sustainable development as a priority.

The platform provided by WBCSD I have to say gives me more hope than the UN or governments. I say this because over the last few decades governments have been all talk and very little action when it comes to climate change and moving towards a sustainable future. Politicians are part of society and they fall accustomed to the same flaws we all do, in that they crave material short-term things, like being re-elected, over the long-term future of humanity. I don’t know about the rest of the world but for the past few years all I have seen of the Australian Federal Government is bickering like children from the politicians. I hope deep down politicians really do care about the future generations of humanity, not just the short-term goals of their government, and I pray they will put their bickering aside and come to an international legally binding agreement in Paris over these weeks.

But we cannot rely solely on government to make the changes we need for humanity to have a bright future. And this is again where the WBCSD comes in. I truly believe it is business that can make the changes we need to see, with or without government help. Business and corporations control the path which societies values take, so why not make sustainable development a major value?

We have been given such an amazing and beautiful planet to call home and this planet has unlimited NATURAL resources like solar and wind and ocean tides just lying around for us to harness. Why put our money into finite resources like fossil fuels, when we have an infinite resource in renewable energy sources? We have the technology and the ability to develop renewable energy further, so let’s use it. The power lays with business and whether they are willing to make this change. But the power also lays with each and every one of you. You may feel small and insignificant but we collectively drive the markets and tell the companies what we want. So why not tell them we want renewable energy and sustainable products? Educate yourself on what companies use sustainable practices and buy these products. And if you find a company that isn’t sustainable, then boycott it, don’t buy anything from them. Yes, as individuals we may feel insignificant, but collectively we hold the greatest power to make change in this world. The question is whether you are willing to change your ways and use this power to ensure humanity has a bright future.

#EarthToParis – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNfqJFk_K8I

Victoria Wood

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