COP26 Bruegel Babel
Environment

Environmental apocalypse: the religious drama of COP26

“Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion,” warned Primo Levi in his 1947 work If This Is a Man / The Truce. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said world leaders would be ‘cursed‘ if COP26 fails to agree a plan to halt man-made climate change, the COP26 President Alok Sharma warned: “The science is clear that the window of time we have to keep the goal of 1.5℃ alive , and to avoid the worst effects of climate change, is closing fast. But with political will and commitment, we can, and must, deliver an outcome in Glasgow the world can be proud of.”

And so we enter a religious drama; a strange cultic phenomenon where even BBC journalists exchange calm analysis and political interrogation for fervent apocalyptic preaching:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns we are at one minute to midnight: if the clock strikes 12, great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. He knows the future: all the world’s leaders know the future (except presidents Putin and Xi, who have consulted their crystal balls and Ouija boards and were advised not to attend COP26 because they need the freedom to continue spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to compete economically). If we can keep 1.5℃ alive, we shall have paradise on earth.

Perhaps it is within our grasp. Perhaps if we were all better stewards of Creation, there would be #ClimateJustice for those whose nations and lands are about to be submerged beneath 10m of sea. Or is the scale of suffering and groaning now so great that only God himself can save us with the Second Coming and the millennial reign of Christ?

If we are at one minute to midnight, we must be in the End Times: the Day of the Lord must be imminent, and then there shall be no suffering or pain; no more social injustice, war, poverty, pestilence, disease or famine. Or do we have the capacity to build a new world and forge a new creation right here and now?

Welby Pope Cop26

Do we need to wait for that morning on the Mount of Olives when the Son shall return, or can the pagan liturgies of the Sun reveal the true source of life that revitalises the spirit of all peoples, and reveals the truth of all truths?

Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?

Jesus said there would be distress of nations, perplexity and bewilderment. There would be wars and rumours of wars, with nation rising against nation. And also: ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage..’

And then, just at the moment of apparent security a global salvation: ‘..when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.’

And so the end shall come.

It is one thing to be good stewards of Creation, but quite another to preach the possibility of paradise on earth and a “vision of a world remade”. Christians are called to remember their rightful place within Creation and their responsibility to protect and defend it. Political activity can certainly make life better for us all, but when an environmental global movement (minus Russia and China) and great gathering of world leaders (minus Putin and Xi) consecrate the primacy of a secular collective entity with beliefs, myths, creed and liturgy, we move toward the religion of politics; the fervent and often irrational assertion that the ultimate purpose of social existence is to obey the commandments of the sacralised syncretic power, to which we owe our loyalty, our devotion and even our life. It becomes a kind of collective mania; mesmerising, dictating, subjecting and controlling. Such has been the strategy of totalitarian movements and regimes throughout history.

“There is much to be said for trying to improve some disadvantaged people’s lot,” observed Margaret Thatcher. “There is nothing to be said for trying to create heaven on earth.”