“For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, Accept our repentance, Lord.” – Book of Alternative Services, p. 285
The above words of confession are from the ‘Litany of Penitence’ in the Ash Wednesday liturgy. The emphasis of my first four columns has really been on the first part of that confession; that is, our waste and pollution of God’s creation through the waste we create, especially single-use plastics, and the greenhouse gases we emit though our transportation choices. Anglicans profess faith in a God who created all that is, and yet we continue to desecrate that which God has created and entrusted to our care. This fragile earth is “the mother of all the living” (Sirach 40:1) and we share her with all living things. Yet, somewhere along the line we lost our reverence for Mother Earth. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann writes that we’ve come to view her “simply as matter, and no longer as holy.” And so, he warns, “[i]t is time for us to respect the holiness of God’s earth once more, before the catastrophes descend on us.”
The catastrophes Moltmann speaks of are still some distance in the future, far enough that many of us who are adults today won’t have to deal with them. That burden we leave to our children and grandchildren. The world’s leading climate scientists say that we have until 2030 to limit global warming to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophic climate change. At present we are on a path to 4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. I’m not aware of any person of science who believes human civilization can survive that. Yet, we continue to feed our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels without any meaningful thought of what that means for the children and youth of today. Where is our concern for those who come after us? Who represents them in our individual and collective decision-making today?
Let’s face it, neither our economic nor our political systems represent the children and youth of today. Indeed, political communist George Monbiot describes our current economic system as “an environmental pyramid scheme, dumping its liabilities on the young and the unborn. Its current growth depends on intergenerational theft.” And philosopher Roman Krznaric rightly points out that our political system fails our children and future generations because today’s “politicians can barely see beyond the next election, and dance to the tune of the latest opinion poll or tweet.” He refers to this myopia as “political presentism” which “pushes the interests of future generations permanently beyond the horizon.” He even goes as far as to say, our “representative democracy systematically ignores the interests of future people”, and so those who come after us “are disenfranchised in the same way that slaves or women were in the past.” They have no voice. Our economic and democratic systems “render them voiceless and airbrush their futures out of the political future.”
So who speaks for those who come after us? Despite the Church’s call to care for creation as an integral aspect of our faith, the need for the second half of that confession in the Litany of Penitence makes it clear we’ve fallen short on a personal level. Indeed, we’ve been largely silent – if not apathetic – about creation care which, for our children and grandchildren, is an existential issue. It’s time for us to give voice to those who come after us. It’s time that our personal and collective actions build and protect the future the children and youth of today are calling for. On that note, I leave you with the prophetic words of sixteen-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who gives voice to my grandchildren’s generation with a clarity sadly lacking among far too many adults today.
“The year 2078 I will celebrate my seventy-fifth birthday. If I have children or grandchildren maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask about you, the people who were around back in 2019. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do or don’t do right now me and my generation can’t undo in the future. You say you love your children above all else and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
Father Mark Nichols is Associate Priest at St. Mark’s Church in St. John’s NL. This article was published in the May 2019 issue of Anglican Life.