We still haven’t defeated nature
Whilst York is by no means the most flood-affected city in the UK at this time, the rising and falling of the Ouse has long fascinated me. And with all the city’s flood defences in the ‘raised’ or ‘closed’ positions, now is the time to remember that, no matter what we in the Western World have deluded ourselves into thinking, ultimately, we’ll never truly tame nature.
Its a pretty good metaphor for our entire relationship with nature. Those of us living in cities have come to believe we are completely insulated from natures effects. But living in York, with a river that rises and falls once in a while, ensures that we never really forget this fact. We can throw money at flood defences, and indeed some amount of investment is just common sense, but once in a while, even the best defences will be overcome.
This is, in many ways, the Urban Curse: the world we rely on is held at bay, but only to the extent that it performs exactly how we want it to 90% of the time, during which our insulation from its vagaries and changes increases to the point where, come the big event, we are completely incapable of surviving and adapting. Most of this is because we have convinced ourselves that it is the Earth, and not us, that should have to adapt.
From a Christian point of view, the idea that the Earth was created for us as humans is not wrong. However, the idea that we were to have this one-way relationship of use, abuse and neglect is completely uncalled for in scriptures. We are left at the centre of responsibility. not at the centre of receivership.
Looking further afield, I’m always struck by the common teachings of so many indigenous groups on the Earth and how we should use it. For many Christians encountering these views, it was easy to dismiss them as part of the “traditional religion” – something to be done away with. This was especially true when a gospel of conquest had taken over during the colonisation of Africa and the Americas. What replaced it was an assumption that it didn’t matter what we did to the Earth, as long as it was in God’s name. I’m glad to say that this view seems to be diminishing, despite pockets of resistance.
Now we see a massive process of denial going on. People’s first reaction to the horror of climate change has been, like it is with so many changes, denial, attempting to put off the inevitable. Millions of pounds, euros and dollars are going in to convincing us that we can continue with business as usual. Most of this is being invested because doing anything else would strip away the profits with which this environmental insulation has been built.
Psalm 46 is sometimes invoked in these situations (and it goes nicely to the Dam Busters March, but that’s another story) – “God is our strength and refuge, our very present help in troubles… though the Earth should change”. The thing is, I think Christians read this and think they’ll be isolated from the change by God’s care and protection. But that’s definitely not born out in reality, which seems to say God will be with them/us as change is being experienced, helping them deal with the changes a changing Earth places on their/our lives”. Following Jesus should never have been about denying reality, but instead about facing it.
For a secular world, there is still no escape. Secularism was meant to be about ignoring “unreal things” like religion and focusing on reality. Climate Change means lifestyle change, it means deep social change; life will never be the same again, and we have to accept that. Vast areas of our planet could collapse from their current life-sustaining status, and we will have to deal with it; indeed, we need to deal with it now.
So remember, especially if you’re now looking at a flooding river, that you can manage nature, you can take care of it, but it is ultimately a lot more powerful than you are, and you need to show it respect for this and work in its shadows a little more. Even if floods look cool, they’re pretty nasty and dangerous.