Pastoral Perspectives

Earth Needs A Saviour Too

Recently, Straits Times published an article on how climate anxiety is becoming a big mental health issue (16 Oct). While the impact of climate change on our physical health is becoming more apparent, I did not expect that it would also adversely affect individuals psychologically and emotionally. I was rather surprised that there would be Singaporeans whose concerns over worsening climate change would lead to debilitating anxiety and taking a toll on their mental well-being.

It turns out that these Singaporeans are not alone in their distress. In a large-scale research led by Bath University and funded by the online campaign network Avaaz, they reported that of the 10,000 young people surveyed across 10 countries, 45% indicated that “anxiety and distress over the climate crisis was affecting their daily life and ability to function”. Many expressed a sense of hopelessness, believing that governments are failing to respond adequately.

In the same Straits Times’ article, a 26 year-old Mr Mock shared that “for some reason, that geologic event (referring to a massive iceberg breaking off from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica), which seemed very irreversible, really affected me. It was not something we can humanly intervene upon anymore. It was a moment where I understood and struggled to accept the irreversibility of the predicament we are in with climate change.”

He went on to recount his feelings at his lowest point “It’s linked to whether I want to continue living, working and existing on this planet. Am I contributing to its demise?

“I feel very hopeless and things look like they’re just going to get worse. So should I just get off the ride sooner rather than later?”

Likewise, Ms Lee, a 28-year-old public servant shared that she often felt inadequate – like a “bad eco-warrior” – as she was not ready to go completely green in her lifestyle.

“I try to tar pau with my own lunchbox… but it’s exhausting on an individual level because I’m not making a difference in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s this feeling of everything I do doesn’t matter and everything I do is wrong. It’s very stressful for those of us not entirely ready to forgo disposable plastics entirely.”

For her, even researching more sustainable products and lifestyles can be mentally draining. In her opinion, there’s too much greenwashing where brands use misleading sustainability claims as a marketing tool and she began to feel cynical as a consumer.

Lest we think that their heightened sense of doom and gloom is somewhat irrational and unwarranted, I believe we need to be more sympathetic towards them. After all, many of these individuals are genuinely concerned about how climate change is bringing about suffering to others. They are also to be commended for making sincere efforts on their part to avert further devastation of the environment.

However, the challenge is that it is not so simple trying to live more sustainably without incurring any guilt feeling. This is because in reality, it will always involve some form of a trade-off. For example, it is one thing to forgo eating meat because one is convinced that the meat industry is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

But there is no way right now to track the environmental footprint of the plant-based meat industry especially when the upward trend in the demand for their products persists. Growing meat in a factory still emits much carbon dioxide and depending on where the ingredients are sourced from, there could still be deforestation issues. The inconvenient truth is that whenever we are looking at some new technology, it will take some time to have a full measure of its impact on the environment.

The same concerns can also to be raised when it comes to electric vehicles. After all, electricity does not just come out of thin air. Currently there appears to be scant attention paid to what is involved in the mining of precious metals and particular elements as well the processes involved in the porduction of car batteries. Little is also being discussed about how those lithium-ion batteries can be safely disposed of when it reaches self-life.

As one Christian thinker puts it, there is simply no position of “environmental innocence”. And if this is so, it is no wonder that many may feel that we stand guilty as charged for our “transgressions” against the environment, simply by what we eat, wear or use, whether we cycle or drive. After all, no one can claim to be perfectly modelling environmentally friendly habits, not even Greta Thunberg. Moreover, when alternatives marketed as being environmentally sustainable also exacts its pound of flesh, it is only to be expected that some will despair of the future.

Although Christians are to be concerned about damage to the planet, we must not be confused into thinking that any impact upon the environment is always negative. Before Adam and Eve fell into sin, God gave them the twin mandate of exercising both dominion and stewardship over his creation. While God will hold humanity accountable for how we tend the “garden” such that it is not being carelessly desecrated or wilfully poisoned, we also understand that it is not necessarily wrong when one tills the land and turn a piece of wilderness into arable agricultural land, build cities or come up with technologies that leads to human good and increases quality of human life.

Our Christian understanding is that God made the garden and intended it for his glory as well as for human habitation and not merely for it to remain untouched. Unfortunately, some who hold to a secular materialistic worldview would reject such a view and are even inclined to allude that human population growth and interference are the root of the problem.

In such a worldview, Mother Earth is incapable of showing any forgiveness and would only leave us to face the dreadful consequences of our transgressions. What is worse is that more often than not, climate change disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable, those who are already most at risk today while the affluent and powerful get to find solace in their plant-based meat diet and posh electric vehicles.

While climate change certainly represents a very real challenge, Christians may differ over the extent to which there is a human contribution to climate change and what are viable solutions. The Christian doctrine of sin should also temper our expectations of technological innovations and political solutions since there is nothing in a fallen world and nothing human beings touch that does not show some effect of sin.

But thanks be to God, all is not lost. Earth was not birthed from some random cosmic event and now dependent upon humans to fix her. By all means, let us do our part to reduce, reuse and recycle. But let us rest our hopes in God himself who is committed to all of his creation. Like Christians, creation too is waiting patiently in hope for the return of our Saviour when “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Indeed, the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the also the good news that God’s creation needs.

Rev Edwin Wong

November 7, 2021