A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warning

By Smith, Daniel R. | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warning


Smith, Daniel R., Anglican Theological Review


A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warning. By Michael S. Northcott. Maryknofl, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2007. 285 pp. $20.00 (paper).

Michael Northcott s timely book adds to a growing body of literature on the subject of religion and ecology by addressing the ethics of global warming from a Christian perspective. Filled with data and facts about the science of climate? change, global economic systems, and the dire predictions of ecological collapse by climate scientists, Northcott deltly identifies a defining issue of our day and offers a powerful critique as well as a thoughtful solution to the problem, rooted in the concept of Christian stewardship. Global wanning, he argues, is a message from the planet and clear evidence that our global economic svstem is on a collision course with Earth's biophysical limits.

The author compares our situation to that of ancient Israel, using Jeremiah as a model to show the consequences of the imperial refusal of biopoli tical limits, which led Israel into ecological collapse and exile. The implications for us are clear. Northcott argues further that the historical roots oí this problem are to be found in the Enlightenment drive to emancipate humanity from the authority of the church and the constraints of nature through the sovereign tv of reason over divine revelation and the autonomy of the individual. The result has been the Newtonian view of the cosmos as mechanism and a "moral climate" based on social contracts and exchange values between autonomous "reasoning sovereigns." This has led to another major problem for Northcott: the disconnection of making una mumming and the decoupling of the human economy from the economy of the planet. This has in turn led to a culture oí hype icon su m ? ti on and waste, justified by our "neoliberal, free-market global empire" (to use Northcott s terminology) usually called "globalization" and often justified as economically beneficial. Northcott aptly and insightfully identifies this as a theological problem: what Augustine called concupiscence, or the lust of the unsatisfied heart. To this he adds idolatry, or worship of created artifacts in place of God and the human refusal to be creature, which he rightly sees as a contemporary malady. Idolatry Ls as much of a threat now as it was for ancient Israel.

The solution Northcott proposes is to rediscover the Earth as God's creation, the "theater of Gods glory." This would better predispose us to seeing the moral and spiritual aspects of phenomena like global warming, and would compel us to act more prudently and mindfully in relation to the environment. …

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