top of page

An Open Letter to the Church: Love in a World of Climate Breakdown

Dear Brothers & Sisters

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

The sobering truth is that our lives are unfolding in the context of climate breakdown.

This climate crisis is a result of the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused by human beings burning fossil fuels - coal, oil, and gas.

We turned to fossil fuels for blessings, and indeed, through their use, our lives have become more comfortable in many ways. We utilize them for food, clothing, transportation, technology, healthcare, and more. Arguably, fossil fuels have lifted huge portions of humanity out of extreme poverty and have contributed to longer life expectancies.

While human beings have inhabited the planet for hundreds of thousands of years, it's only been in the last 60 years or so that human impacts, particularly through fossil fuel consumption, have led to unprecedented changes on the planet.

We turned to them for blessing, but we received a curse.

Scholars have coined a new term for our geological epoch: 'the Anthropocene.' Humans have entered an almost certainly irreversible phase of altering ecosystems and weather patterns. This is evident in rising temperatures, sea levels, desertification, ocean acidification, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.

What's alarming is that global emissions continue to rise.

The planet is accumulating heat at a rate equivalent to four Hiroshima bombs' worth of energy every second, with 90% of that heat going into the oceans. The problem with burning fossil fuels isn't just the heat generated upon their release but how this heat is greatly magnified. In fact, 60,000 times more heat is trapped by the CO2 released than by the initial burning.

In the Book of Revelation (11:8), the Roman Empire is referred to as the 'destroyer of the earth,' but this label could just as well be applied to our generation.

This is the story we find ourselves in.

According to the latest peer-reviewed scientific reports, the coming decades will be extremely difficult as we move into a world 1.5 degrees or more above pre-industrial temperatures. A UN report last October stated that there was "no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place." Current national targets, if met, would result in a 2.4°C rise in temperature by the end of the century.

The world we inhabit and call home, our Father's world, will witness an increase in malnutrition, migration, and conflict. It's a world in which there will be an increased risk of societal collapse. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that humanity faces a direct existential threat. More recently, Guterres stated, "We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator."

Even now, it is affecting the world's most vulnerable. The UN estimates that by 2050, we could see up to 1 billion refugees as significant parts of the globe become uninhabitable due to floods and temperatures incompatible with human life.

Low-lying nations will simply cease to exist. Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley issued a dire warning: "1.5°C is what we need to stay alive – two degrees is a death sentence for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, for the people of the Maldives, for the people of Dominica and Fiji, for the people of Kenya and Mozambique – and yes, for the people of Samoa and Barbados."

We can feel overwhelmed in the face of systems and structures of domination that seem hell-bent on pushing us to the point of no return.

Sadly, there is indeed a point of no return. There are tipping points, positive feedback loops that, if activated, mean that even if we cease using fossil fuels, temperatures will continue to rise. Let me mention three of these: forest fires, sea ice, and melting permafrost.

Forest Fires - In 2020, 20% of Australia's forests were destroyed in wildfires. In 2021, 500,000 hectares of Canadian forests were destroyed in a heatwave. As forests burn they produce Co2 which raises temperatures, this in turn causes more fires.

Sea ice has a high albedo, reflecting back more solar energy than the darker open sea. However, when global temperatures rise and melt more sea ice in the summer than usual, this results in a darker sea surface overall, reflecting less solar energy, raising local temperatures, and leading to more sea ice loss.

Permafrost is a combination of soil, rocks, and sand held together by ice. It stays frozen all year long. Near the surface, permafrost soils also contain large quantities of organic carbon. Due to rising temperatures, permafrost is beginning to melt and thaw, releasing CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, which, in turn, leads to higher temperatures and more melt.

We may be thinking, "This is bad. Things couldn't get any worse." Sadly, this is not the case, for even if we managed to stop carbon emissions overnight, temperatures would continue to increase.

The first reason is Carbon Dimming. The burning of fossil fuels releases particles into the air, containing mainly carbon atoms, particularly in regions with rapid industrialisation, like China and India. These particles, or particulates, absorb some solar energy high in the atmosphere and increase cloud formation, reflecting solar energy. This means particulates have a cooling effect on global temperatures. Events like 9/11 and volcanic eruptions have shown temporary cooling effects. In 1991, the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption led to a 0.5-degree cooling effect.

Together, these factors mean that if we completely cease using fossil fuels, global temperatures will continue to increase. Some gold-standard academic articles state that this could result in a further increase of 0.5 to 2 degrees.

Additionally, there's the concept of Carbon Lagging. Once CO2 is released into the atmosphere, it takes a decade or so before it reaches its maximum temperature response. Our current global temperatures represent the emissions of 2013, meaning it will take decades before we feel the full temperature effect of the emissions produced this year.

Many of us may experience missional paralysis, like rabbits caught in headlights; we don't know what to do, so we end up doing nothing.

Or, to change the metaphor, we may choose to act like ostriches, burying our heads in the sand even though the tide is coming in.

In our world of climate breakdown, like COVID, we often look to leaders (global, national, local) to guide us through the crisis. Yet, when we seek effective leadership, we too often become disheartened, disappointed, and discouraged.

What kind of leaders do we need at this late hour? How should the church respond? What implications does this have for our own lives of mission and discipleship?

Yet, brothers and sisters, although climate breakdown is one of the stories we find ourselves in. We also find ourselves caught up in a bigger story. 

A narrative that we have found to be beautiful, captivating and compelling. 

A narrative that has quite rightly changed our lives and claimed us.

A story in which a Trinity of Love, as an act of love, makes other than himself.

A story in which humanity plagued by sin and evil comes to face to face with the love and mercy of God. 

A story in which God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son. 

A story in which God became enfleshed and enacted the kingdom which stands in opposition to all systems of oppression and domination.

 A story in which we find a leader like no other. Someone  we can follow.

A story in which Jesus the Servant king rules and reigns with self-giving sacrificial love. 

A story in which the crucified one was raised to life, demonstrating that a new world, a new humanity, is possible. 

A story in which God is in the business of the reconciliation of all things. 

A story in which love wins, and justice will flow like a never-failing stream. 

This is our story.  This is our song. 

These two stories, climate breakdown and the hope of cosmic shalom, are both true as we live in the now and not yet of the kingdom.

So, how should we live? I want to suggest that we need to rekindle our commitment to love.

Jesus said this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your neighbour as yourself. There are no greater commandments than these."

Jesus is clear: our lives are to have vertical and horizontal dimensions. We are to love God AND love our neighbours.

A love for neighbours—our near neighbours, those in our cities, parishes, and communities.

A love for neighbours—our global neighbours, including our brothers and sisters who live in distant lands.

And perhaps, although this probably isn't what Jesus is referring to, we should include a love for future generations.

What we do in the next few years will determine the level of suffering faced by future generations.

"We have to move rapidly," said Professor Sir David King, founder and chair of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University and a former advisor to both the Blair and Brown governments. "What we do over the next three to four years, I believe, is going to determine the future of humanity. We are in a very, very desperate situation."

And Jesus practices what he preaches; he loves his Father and embodies and enacts this love time and time again.

Love looks like something; love is a verb. Love is actualised and embodied in action.

Let's dig deeper while keeping an eye on how we should live in a world of climate breakdown.

Love looks like Justice.

Cornell West said, "Justice is what love looks like in public, and tenderness is what love looks like in private."

Justice is the dream of the prophets that stirs imaginations, making a new world possible. It's the hope of Amos, looking forward to a time when "justice will roll on like a river."

Justice is also at the heart of God, as Isaiah says, "For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him."

To be a friend of God is to do justice.

In Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see justice embodied and entwined with extravagant mercy. He welcomes the weak, gathers the oppressed, and challenges the unjust structures and systems of his day.

Justice is setting the world to rights. It stands against oppression, domination, and economic exploitation. Justice stands with the poor and powerless and speaks out for those without a voice.

And so, we see in Jesus' final week that he engages in a symbolic action causing disruption. He breaks the law. He overturns tables. It is non-violent direct action, civil disobedience. In flipping the tables and driving out the money changers, Jesus quotes from the prophetic justice passages. Jesus, the activist, is concerned about justice.

In Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see justice embodied and entwined with extravagant mercy.

In our own time of climate breakdown, standing at the hinge of history, we are called as God's servants to be the justice-shaped people of God.

As Martin Luther King put it, "A church that has lost its voice for justice is a church that has lost its relevance for the world." Or, more positively, we may say justice is in our missional DNA.

Love looks like Tenderness.

Cornell West reminds us that Jesus is tender and kind toward those on the margins, the poor, and the downtrodden, to those suffering.

In a world marked by exclusion, Jesus embraced the leper, the weak, the outcast, and the marginalised. Jesus listened and loved those who did not have a voice. He was moved with compassion and in tender kindness brought hospitality and healing to those pushed to the edges.

As we move further into climate breakdown, let the church be known for its compassion, kindness, and tenderness. For those in our communities with climate grief, let us be kind and loving. As we move further into climate breakdown, the financial stresses on the most vulnerable will intensify. We will see this over the winter - those already struggling to keep afloat will be hit the hardest. Let the church be known for tender compassion. As millions are displaced and more refugees make their way to our nation, let us be tender, kind, and compassionate.

We live in the story of climate breakdown and the the story of Jesus. How should we live? What role can we play? How can the church play its part to avert the worst of what may be, whilst also adapting in cruciform love to what will be?

May God have mercy,

Thanks for reading,

Grace & Peace,

Rev’d Jon Swales,

Leeds 2023

As a follow up please look at the following.

Christian Climate Action are a community of Christians supporting each other to take meaningful action in the face of imminent and catastrophic, anthropogenic climate breakdown. We are inspired by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. Following the example of social justice movements of the past, we carry out acts of public witness, nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to urge those in power to make the changes needed.

Climate Justice: Following Jesus in a World of Climate Breakdown (Free Online Course)

Lament & Hope: 40 Prayers for the Climate & Ecological Emergency

Climate Emergency Toolkit: Step by step, the Climate Emergency Toolkit provides a route map to help all members of your church or Christian organisation respond to the climate emergency with simple but powerful actions that will have an impact far beyond your own walls.

Green Christian are a community of ordinary Christians from all backgrounds and traditions. Inspired by our faith, we work to care for Creation through prayer, living simply, public witness, campaigning and mutual encouragement.

Emergency on Planet Earth: provides an easy-to-understand guide to the science of climate change.


Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page