The Clattering Train: the climate justice March in November, 2006. Published in the Baptist Times.
Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak and the couplings strain;
And the pace is hot, and the points are near,
And sleep has deadened the driver's ear;
And the signals flash through the night in vain,
For Death is in charge of the clattering train.
For Winston Churchill, this bleak and anonymous verse summed up the 1930s apathy towards the mounting crisis that would soon engulf the globe. If these words were apt 70 years ago, they are infinitely more-so today.
The international emergency with which this century greets us is becoming ever more clear and ever more disturbing. But the frequent and gloomy reports and predictions of man-made global warming have the effect of immunizing us from the reality. To rehearse the facts again and again seems to have little effect.
Nevertheless, the suffering and death brought about in the twentieth century by famine and violence pale into insignificance compared with the disasters held in store by the near future if we do not act urgently. Already, 'the axles creak and the couplings strain'. In fact, there is a slim chance we are already too late.
Our only hope is a radical reduction in the emission of greenhouse gasses, the most significant being carbon dioxide (from burning oil, gas and coal) and methane (from rubbish tips, coal mines and farms). These gasses allow heat from the sun to enter our atmosphere, but have the effect of trapping it. The oceans heat up, the ice sheets melt down; the sea level rises and crop productivity falls. The knock-on consequences intensify the horror of the situation beyond both description and imagination.
But surely our governments should be doing something about this – after all, they are 'in charge of the clattering train'. But this is virtually impossible in western democracy. For a government to achieve a cut in carbon emissions they will have to impose all sorts of taxes and restrictions upon the very people they want to re-elect them. It is much safer for them to play 'the long game', to talk about our grandchildren's world, to invest in eco-technology.
Sure, we have just seen the publication of the Stern Review, which demands urgent action to be put into effect. But our own government’s commitment to implementing the suggestions remains to be seen. For instance, it is difficult to imagine how the massive airport expansion designed to multiply cheap flights in the UK can be coupled with a bold commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, 'the pace is hot and the points are near'. There is no time for the long game. According to some leading environmentalists, we need a massive 90 percent reduction in carbon emissions before 2030 – 20 years sooner than the Stern Review suggests. Urgent action is required by every government, especially those in the west. But 'sleep has deadened the driver's ear'. Being acquainted with the truth of our global predicament is not enough to spur governments to action. In the West, every credible scientific body has spelt out the urgency of our plight – but 'the signals flash through the night in vain.' It is not in our governments' interest to take the necessary action.
That is why the Climate Chaos March took place. Democratic governments need to be assured that the voting public take this issue seriously. If we believe in democracy, then we believe it is up to normal everyday people to take action. This is no easy task, because in the privileged West, we sit in the first class compartment of the clattering train. Our lives are so comfortable, do we really want to make the sacrifices necessary to avert disaster?
The word 'sacrifice' reveals that this is a worship issue. The reason that I went to the march was quite simply Jesus' instruction that we must love God. One cannot claim to love God without loving our neighbours.
According to the World Health Organisation, 150 000 of our neighbours are dying every year as a result of Global Warming. And anyone who cares enough about this even to glance at the summaries of scientific projections will realise that this horrific figure is merely the calm before the storm.
Forcing the issue upon our governments is simply the outworking of loving God with every ounce of our being.
This is the greatest global emergency the last two thousand years have seen, and Christians of our generation have a unique and urgent responsibility. If we believe that the whole created order is affected by the resurrection of Christ, then we do not sit passively waiting for God to act. As we worship the cosmic Christ, we ourselves become agents of God’s life-giving action in the world. Until we do, “Death is in charge of the clattering train.”