Not only do we know the effects of anthropogenic climate change (which are increasingly being felt) – rising sea levels, extreme weather events with destructive consequences, devastating bush and forest fires, the triggering of negative self-reinforcing processes and the loss of biodiversity, even of entire habitats and ecosystems – we also know who’s causing it. Wealthy industrialized nations, many of them members of the NATO “alliance of values”, make a disproportionately large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Yet they are far less affected by the consequences.
To rectify this situation requires a theologically based concept of climate justice. First, it is important to clear up a misapprehension: the human species has no kind of right to treat Creation as it pleases. The key verses of Genesis emphasize man’s responsibility and duty to protect the Earth and all Creation on it. From the intrinsic worth of our fellow creatures and the inviolability of human dignity, three main aspects of climate justice can be distinguished: global, intergenerational, and ecological.
If, against our better judgement, we accept that entire regions and the living beings that populate them may be harmed or lost, then this amounts to a fundamental state of strife – and not only from a theological and ethical perspective. Whether we side with the inhabitants of small Pacific island states, who face being inundated by the oceans, or refer to largely unanimous scientific and policy studies, it is clear that water and food scarcity, the loss of national territory and people’s homes, increased migration and the destabilization of whole regions have an exacerbating effect on conflicts.
Instead of continued spending on military defense, the available resources – especially those of powerful states and actors – should be directed toward prevention. That means climate protection, in keeping with the precept of shared but different responsibilities and capabilities. Time is running out, but it is not too late yet. Civil society pressure must be maintained, and the principle of climate justice must increasingly find expression in judicial decisions. Finally, the equitable pricing of goods and services from an environment and climate point of view could send an unmistakable signal and mark the beginning of a transformation: as Pope Francis calls for in Laudato si’, of our consumption-oriented, short-term-profit focused economy and way of life.