When Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) tore through the Philippines, it killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands, creating a situation that one eye witness called “worse than Hell.” The devastation has prompted an outpouring of aid that I pray will remain strong. But it should also prompt us to think about what roll we played in creating Typhoon Yolanda. While it’s not easy to link one storm to human-caused climate change, the pattern of increasingly severe weather that is characterized by superstorms like Typhoon Yolanda, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy and the rising sea levels that worsened the devastation in the Philippines are clearly caused by the destruction humanity and capitalism have wrought on the environment.
The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, recently addressed a statement those attending the latest round of United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, calling for “prompt and practical results” to come out of the talks. In it he wrote:
[T]here are no two ways of looking at either the world or God. There is no distinction between concern for human welfare and concern for ecological preservation. The way we relate to nature as creation directly reflects the way we believe in God as Creator of all things. The sensitivity with which we handle the natural environment clearly mirrors the sacredness that we reserve for the divine.
Moreover, scientists estimate that those most hurt by global warming in the years to come, are those who can least afford it. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the questions that will be asked of us all at the final moment of accountability will not be about our religious observance but on whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, comforted the sick, and cared for captives.
Our reckless consumption of the earth’s resources – energy, water, and forests – threatens us with irreversible climate change. Burning more fuel than we need in an overpopulated city, we may contribute to droughts or floods thousands of miles away.
To restore the planet we need a spiritual worldview, which brings frugality and simplicity, humility and respect. We must constantly be aware of the impact of our actions on all of creation. We must direct our focus away from what we want to what the planet needs. We must choose to care for creation; otherwise, we do not really care about anything at all.
It is long past time that the governments of the world take real, immediate steps to curb the the global destruction they have condoned by encouraging large-scale exploitation by corporations more interested in profits than people. It is long past times we as a society and as individuals repent for the part we have taken in fostering the materialistic culture that worships Mammon rather than God. It is long past time we realize that our exploitation of the environment is a symptom of our fallenness, not a gift from God.
We should take seriously our role as stewards of the creation that God called “good.” We should also recognize When we protect our environment, we protect the poor and the oppressed as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who are often forced to live in the most marginal of environments and thus suffer the most during natural disasters. After all, Christ told us He would judge us based on how well we tended to the needs of the poorest and weakest of our brethren (Matthew 25:31-46).
Finally, please consider giving whatever you can to aid those suffering in the Philippines: