The sky was blue with fluffy white clouds on this mild October day in Central Scotland. It was the calm after Storm Callum, which is still causing havoc in other parts of Scotland and the rest of the UK. Floods and landslides have caused death and destruction. Lives and livelihoods lie in ruin. The reported death of 21-year-old Corey Sharpling in Wales personifies the effects of the storm, reminding us that this could be our son. It seems that he was killed on his way to his part time job in McDonalds, when a landslide caused by the torrential rain meant trees fell into the road.
Sadly, this young man’s death is only one of many across the world as a result of storms and hurricanes. As storm Callum arrived in the UK, Hurricane Michael was causing devastation, death and destruction in Florida. Thousands of homes are completely obliterated. Rescue workers still search for those missing. People are traumatised by the horrific experience.
In Nigeria and also in India, deadly floods have killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Environmental disasters can bring out the best and the worst in people. Communities come together in mourning, supporting each other in rebuilding their lives as they grieve for their losses. Simultaneously, arguments rage about the causes of these extreme weather patterns. Denial of our contribution towards climate change means we can recover eventually without ever believing the responsibility lies with all of us in our 21st century lifestyles. Yet we are responsible, through our actions or inactions.
The cost of environmental disaster to humanity is enormous. The reality is that many will never have the opportunity to recover, whether from the death of their loved ones or from the poverty, hunger and disease caused by the after effects of flooding.
The cost to our natural environment is enormous too. Global warming is real and some of it is caused by human activity, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report released on 6th October. Emissions of Carbon Dioxide must fall if we are not to see even more environmental devastation, including the loss of species and plants.
Global warming of more than 1.5°C is also likely to lead to more extreme tropical storms, increased rain in some places and drought in others, more forest fires and invasive species. The future is grim if we continue on our destructive path. We must look to preserve our God-given earth for the future, but surely we must do what we can now, for those living now who are experiencing the effects of floods, storms and hurricanes.
Good environmental sense has always made good financial sense. The financial cost of the recent storms runs into hundreds of millions of dollars, so wouldn’t the prevention of disaster be the financially prudent thing to do? Not when the search for quicker bucks for the few clearly takes priority over the environmental safety of the many.
Money is undoubtedly the reason for the continuation of the use of fossil-fueled energy. We continue to extract oil and gas, because they make a lot of money for some people. Fracking, is banned in many countries, but is perfectly legal elsewhere despite multiple environmental concerns.
Given the IPCC report, we should be insisting that our governments refuse to accept this practice. Of course, many won’t, because they are funded by the very people who profit from this dubious business. But when the disasters happen, these are the same people who can afford to be elsewhere. For the majority and certainly for the poor, that option is often unavailable to them.
We have the responsibility to look after the earth we have been given. Irresponsible stewardship of our environment means irresponsibility towards others. Floods and drought mean the poor suffer disproportionately. So yes, let’s ensure that we help with aid programmes. But at the same time, we must all take responsibility for what’s happening around us.
Of course, this starts with us examining our own excesses of consumption and waste disposal. We need to put our own houses in order and regulate our own use of resources, including power.
At the same time, surely we must find our collective voice to let our politicians know that we’ve had enough and won’t tolerate environmental destruction any longer, wherever we are. The crisis is here, with us. Climate change denial is unacceptable. Neither money nor power should take priority. We are not powerless. We can protest and we can vote. We can all ask our politicians at election time what they are doing to protect our world and God’s people in it.
Rev Maggie Roderick is a Church of Scotland minister, living in Stirling in central Scotland. Although Maggie is no longer working in a parish, she is still involved in Stirling Presbytery and offers pastoral and preaching covers for colleagues when it’s needed. In the 1990s, Maggie was involved in voluntary environmental work and in her professional life in Consumer Protection.
The attached photo was taken by me after a heavy rainfall and is just outside my Manse in Menstrie where I was a minister.
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