Stopping Climate Change Will Take a Change of Heart


You and I know that these could be our last years on earth, and our children’s too. We’ve known since the 1970s that our greenhouse gas production is driving climate change. The nightmare sequels, we now know, may include global famine from cropland desertification and collapse of the marine food chain as CO2 sours the seas. To their credit, many men and women of good will are responding by innovating, protesting, going off-grid and eating more simply. Protest actions against a major coal-fired power plant have led to plans for its closure. But the mitigations put in place have consistently seemed too little, too late, and profiteers, enabled by an “anything goes” culture that cares little about truth-telling, are still generating PR claims that natural gas and plutonium are “green,” and elected officials are buying it. Global demand for an ever-higher standard of living, along with capital’s need to milk that demand for ever-higher levels of corporate profit and power, still trump any sustained and coordinated effort to intervene for the common good. Can a People’s Climate March hope to change this? Can any raising of voices or massing of numbers?

A man-made doomsday

How shall we name the situation? There are too many people on the planet saying Me first, or groups of people saying Us first. We’re choking on human selfishness. What’s looming ahead of us is a man-made doomsday attributable entirely to human greed, lying, willed inattention – let’s call it by its right name: human evil. And it’s not just the evil of bankers, fossil-fuel CEOs, and their hirelings in government that we’re looking at, but a spiritual sickness we all share: for we all try to tilt reality in our own favor, sometimes hiding the truth to protect our own skin, often turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. If we stand on moral ground no higher than the “culprits” of climate change, dare we hope to change their ways?

Another way of seeing the situation

But this scenario is built around fear, and the expectation of scarcity and death.

Scarcity and death are not God’s will for us, as the witness of God in your own heart will tell you if you will listen for it. The scriptural testimonies of humans who have known the heart of our Creator confirm this: in Isaiah 45:18, God declares that God created the world “not in vain, but to be inhabited.” The apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon makes the amazing assertion that God “did not create death, but the ungodly, with their hands and their words, drew death to them” (Wisdom 1:13-16), and the prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies” (Ez. 18:32, 33:11). In the Sermon of the Good Shepherd, Jesus declares, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), contrasting His role with that of the sheep-rustler whose work is only to destroy. Jesus taught that it was God’s will not to judge and condemn, but only to forgive and heal, and Jesus modeled this divine love by laying down His life for souls gone astray, forgiving even His own murderers. How perfectly or imperfectly the Jesus of scripture reflects the actual character of the God who gave you life and consciousness, again, is something you can ask the witness of God in your own heart. Expect an answer.

The climate crisis will not be overcome by forcing or persuading the “sheep-rustlers” to stop destroying the environment. Neither is there any good done by punishing, condemning or scapegoating them, not even in your fantasies, for “with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged” (Matt. 7:2), and Jesus also taught that refusal to forgive our enemies keeps us unable to receive God’s forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15).

Forgive and be forgiven

But there is a larger point to be made about forgiveness: it is the revolutionary principle that can change the world. It is the only revolutionary principle that can change the world. The social, economic and political world that is now cooking itself with greenhouse gases is one that runs on the principle of scapegoating: that is, morally imperfect persons with injured consciences (that’s all of us) seek the healing of their injured consciences by imputing evil to other people and then, to the best of their ability, driving those others out of society. This is the origin of war, slavery, the subjugation of women and countless other evils. Like an addictive drug, scapegoating numbs the pangs of conscience, but does not heal the injury. But extending universal forgiveness does, and the empowerment that comes with being healed and receiving divine forgiveness knows no limits.

Let us try, then, what love can do. Forgiveness is an act of will, not a matter of having the right feelings; anyone can do it. It does not require reconciliation with people who have hurt us, and whom we would rather have nothing more to do with. It asks of us only that we make the effort to wish them the same eternal happiness we would wish for ourselves.


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5 Responses to “Stopping Climate Change Will Take a Change of Heart”

  1. treegestalt Says:

    I was having trouble responding to this in the earlier version; now I see you’re refining the message and making it easier to see where we agree and where we diverge — so far.

    So far as anyone is assigning blame-points, the bigger score clearly goes to those particular people who’ve been given positions of responsibility and power. A change of heart on their part could lead to actual changes in policies and practices that might conceivably reverse the present course.

    Without a more widespread change of heart, of course, such changed-hearted people would then be driven out of power and replaced with the leadership ‘we’ ‘deserve’, people who would either undo whatever gains had been made — or simply produce some new, more subtle evil to replace the ones we have.

    The “Who’s to blame?” question is not useful — whether people condemn our rulers, or instead [as you seem to be recommending] absolve The Them and blame the convenient ‘Us All’.

    The useful issue isn’t “Are we ‘selfish’ and spiritually clueless?” — so much as “How can we overcome the spiritual alienation that makes people atheistic (whether overtly so or by implication, ie ‘believing in God but still trying to fix things by our own efforts.’)?”

    There is “nothing we can do” in a state where we imagine God and ourself to be disjoint. (“Of my own self I can do nothing.”) God can make use of us in any state, of course…

    It seems to be easier to cooperate with that useage — so far as one recognizes that 1) ‘It isn’t about me!’ and 2) I am a beloved manifestation of someBeing incredibly loving, wise, and powerful. ie: We can safely trust the Life in us to lead, teach, transform in whatever manner It finds most appropriate. We don’t need to Figure It All Out in advance — so much as to see whatever God is showing us now, and ask (when that’s not clear) what response looks best from God’s perspective. (When we get that question wrong, perhaps asking “Can I?” instead of “Which choice is in tune with Your intention?” — We simply go through one of those awful things called Learning Experiences. We remain in God’s good hands…)

  2. treegestalt Says:

    Clarification… It isn’t that “We’re selfish,” but ‘why we’re “selfish”.’ The underlying reason is that seemingly-separate ‘self’ that people typically see through our motey eyes. To transform that, to see the need and the possibility of that transformation implies being led and taught by God.

    What blocks that is asking wrong questions, like “Do I want to?” or “Does this feel right?” or “Can I?” We aren’t ‘asking permission’, which of course is readily granted (only we might not enjoy the consequences) nor ‘following orders’ but asking for clarification, especially on the question: “Do You want me to?”

  3. Paul Klinkman Says:


    Friends have discovered that they can’t bring themselves to accept a government’s money to go shoot people in a war. At some point we are people of conscience, not people of personal profit.

    John Woolman discovered that he was uncomfortable with writing a bill of sale for a slave. Then he prayed with many other Friends on the subject, and they also were personally uncomfortable with slavery. Making money for yourself is not worth participating in an immoral institution.

    Some Friends later became abolitionists. No person on earth has the right to enslave another person for personal profit. A number of Friends conspired to steal property, slaves, and they smuggled these slaves to freedom. Stealing property was a felony at the time. Other Friends did their part to organize the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party.

    The Covenant

    There existed a covenant between God and Noah. Noah saved all of the animals from a mass extinction event, equally with saving his own children from extinction, and then God could not destroy the earth like that again.

    There exists a covenant between our generations long dead, we the living and many generations yet unborn. We are to save all of the animals from a mass extinction event, equally with saving our unborn generations from extinction. We’re a people of personal conscience. There are some things that we can’t do and won’t do. Other things we do reluctantly, always looking for an alternative.

    Once we’re clear on our own personal conscience, we organize.

    The Rule of Money

    There existed a covenant between the Jews of wealth who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the Jews indebted to them. The prophet Ezra pointed out that if the poor Jews had to scrounge to pay their debts, then the city walls would go unfinished and the Jews of wealth would just have to take their slim chances with invading soldiers.

    The influence of money on people is hated throughout the Bible. Jesus asked to see a coin, and the Pharisees brought him a coin. A coin of the time probably said “Caesar is God”, and it had Caesar’s image on it. So, the coin was a graven image of a god, a violation of the second commandment, “Thou shall have no graven images,” and of the first commandment, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”

    My rule is to ask, “What would the community want?” When FGC staffers have a task, they always ask themselves and sometimes others, what would their community want. FGC has an unwritten auditing procedure that enforces this rule, that keeps everyone straight.

    Why couldn’t we run businesses on this same principle? Why couldn’t we run our entire world on this principle?

    Our Technological Age

    My father grew up on a farm in the Depression. His world was a technological marvel with automobiles and electricity for some, yet for some reason his fantastically rich country had 30% unemployment amid vast wealth for a few people on Wall Street.

    In the face of the mass extinction of much of God’s creation, I ask individual Friends to consider becoming persons of climate conscience, not exclusively people of personal profit. Please pray together in groups of two or more on the issue. Our newer, even better technological age can surely afford your spending a portion of your life and of your skill set to stop the abomination.

  4. John Edminster Says:

    Thank you both, Forrest and Paul. You’ve both given me quite a bit to think about.

    It was wrong of me, Forrest, to shift blame from “the rulers” to “us all” and then seem to leave it there, like those religious tracts that tell the readers “all have sinned” and then leave them hanging their heads in helpless shame. If responsibility for maintaining a selfish individualistic culture without much compassion or community-mindedness rests on all of us (including the schoolchildren in my neighborhood who, seated on the city bus, stare blankly at the old people that are standing in front of them, leaning on canes), then the concept “blame” seems useless. The term “blame” implies that someone must serve as a scapegoat for the evil, and I’m arguing here that we must outgrow scapegoating. We must suck that scapegoating impulse back into our heart and de-fang the monster as soon as we recognize it for what it is, for the heart that curses disables itself for blessing.

    Did I say “I’m arguing?” I think that the Buddha argued it before me: “‘He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me:’ the hatred of those who harbor such thoughts is not appeased” (Dhammapada, §3). Carl Jung put it a different way; I paraphrase him: “The key challenge of our time is that people learn to own their own shadow.” Jesus put it yet another way: ” Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), and “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). The judging and vengeful spirit, if clung to, deforms us. I believe that the healing of the world needs undeformed souls. This, I think, is the wisdom behind the apostle’s advice, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath,” Ephesians 4:26.

    This doesn’t mean that we should knuckle under to evildoers or pretend that no evil is being done. Rather, we should name it, warn others against collaboration with it, and pray for the strength to have nothing to do with it ourselves, as Gandhi practiced uncompromising non-cooperation with the British Raj. The Holy Spirit can be counted on to guide us in that.

    This is my conviction. I am not perfect in living up to it. I very much want to be made perfect in exemplifying it, though, so that both my words and my example might carry the power to convince others. Your prayers would be welcome.

  5. The 18th Century Garden Quakers Reflections: the sustainability of selfishness - The 18th Century Garden Says:

    […] the blog Among Friends, written by Quakers, John Edminster attributes global warming, or climate change, to selfishness.  And he certainly has a point.. most of us are, at some level, selfish.  “Power-rich or […]

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