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On Poverty and Environmental Responsibility

Environmental destruction causes poverty.

Poverty does not necessarily cause environmental destruction.

Sin causes both. [1] [2]

This has implications. If we tackle poverty without tackling climate and environmental destruction, we'll only partially solve it. We might solve some of the the visible, short-term issues, but the less-visible, longer-term causes of poverty remain in place. We'll always be running to catch up, running faster and faster all to no avail. Sticking plasters all over the place, but never enough.

To tackle the deeper, longer-term causes of poverty, we need full climate and environmental responsibility. It is this that sets the context in which measures to address poverty succeed rather than keep on failing. How can poverty in rural Africa be overcome when the crops keep failing because of climate change?

But to tackle both fully cannot be accomplished without tackling human sin. By "sin" I don't mean sinful actions but sinful, harmful attitudes, beliefs, presuppositions, aspirations, expectations and lifestyles. I do not mean acts of anti-semitism, homophobia, racism, rape (seen as sin today), acts of drunkenness, adultery, debauchery, theft (seen as sin yesterday), or whatever, but what God described through the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel as "affluence, arrogance, unconcern" [Ezekiel 16:49] - the pervading me-first attitude, greed, the prevailing belief that life consists in technological progress, economic growth, sex whenever-I-want-it, and so on, and that these are promoted as 'good'.

If we give our attention to sin, we'll shape society towards a little less poverty and a little more climate and environmental responsibility. But without attention to these, it'll be only a little. And - as many Christian, Jewish and other religious communities have discovered - it will lead paradoxically to harshness, hypocrisy and smugness, and even deeper sins. Many humans and much of nature will still suffer.

Therefore, we must have all three in our sights: sin, climate and environmental destruction and poverty. Should we focus on one more than others? That depends on the cultural and chronological (historical) context. After the Industrial Revolution brought in conspicuous mass poverty, poverty was the rightful focus for that time, along with the sin that lay behind it.

What is our context today? But I suggest that, now that humanity for the first time in history is destroying the earth wholesale, we need to focus on climate and environmental responsibility and the sin that lies behind them. Yes, there is massive poverty, especially in the less-affluent nations, but much of that comes from environmental destruction. [2]

That is why this website, "Climate Change and Global Economy" exists.


Note 1. For centuries, if not millennia, Christians have been excellent in focusing on poverty. That is right and good. Yet much poverty is because environmental destruction and climate change. So it is good that poverty-focused Christian agencies like TearFund focus on climate and environmental responsibility too. I find it deeply sad that some resist climate responsibility because they perceive (wrongly) that focus on this distracts from poverty. Some climate deniers like the Cornwall Alliance even build up straw-man arguments about poverty.

We focus on climate and environmental responsibility, not just because poverty is generated by its absense, but because of a conviction that it is what God intended and that it would be important even in the absence of human poverty; see A New View in Theology and Practice.

Note 2. Why do I say these? Briefly:

"Environmental destruction causes poverty." - Because the poor, especially rural poor in 'less-developed' nations - get their livelihoods and sustenance directly from the natural environment, and are suffering climate change. And the urban 'poor' in wealthier nations lose out psychologically without exposure to a rich natural environment. And both suffer from pollution.

"Poverty does not necessarily cause environmental destruction." Wealthier lifestyles impose larger environmental and climate footprint, especially when indirect effects are taken into account.

"Sin causes both." It is interesting that the Hebrew prophet Hosea said that God says [Hosea 4:1-2, NIV, my emphasis:

" There is no faithfulness, no love,
    no acknowledgement of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
    stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
    and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

Because of this> the land mourns,
    and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
    and the fish of the sea are dying."

Note 3. Does God, in mercy, send warnings so that we change our ways? The Jewish Prophets record that God did. Does God do so today? In Making Sense of the Covid-19 Coronavirus, I argue that Covid-19 might have been such a warning. Unlike climate change, which landed on the poor while being caused by the affluent, Covid-19 landed first on those whose affluence spread it. I discuss what lessons we might learn.

This page, "", is an expression of part of a project to understand the links between climate change, global economy and other matters including society's beliefs and aspirations. It is designed to stimulate thinking and discourse. Comments, queries welcome.

This page is written on behalf of the CCGE Group by Andrew Basden, but the views expressed herein are his and not necessarily those of the other members of the Group. Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML. Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2008 - present, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Created: 4 August 2020. Last updated: