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Young people call on church to tackle climate emergency

Despite attending church her whole life, Shanti Duraikan says she has only heard the environment mentioned a handful of times. She believes Christian leaders need to take the crisis seriously
Shanti doesn't believe her church is doing enough to tackle the climate emergency. Image credit: Supplied

The first time Shanti Duraikan attended a climate rally in her native Cambridge she felt overcome with emotion. 

As the 20-year-old marched with her placard, she realised that after years of not being heard by the people around her, there were others who cared deeply about the climate emergency and the urgent need to bring it to a halt.

And there is one big part of her life in particular she wishes would see sense and take the climate crisis seriously: her church. 

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Shanti, a photography student at the University of Falmouth who has been a Christian all her life, is among young people calling on church leaders to listen and make an active effort to acknowledge global warming

“My church has hardly ever mentioned climate change. I’ve been going to church my whole life and I’ve heard it mentioned like once or twice,” she told The Big Issue. 

“I think just talking to begin with would make such a difference. I don’t know if they’re scared to or if it doesn’t really feel like it’s on the agenda but I think talking about it would be amazing and have a big impact.” 

A new poll of 630 Christian teenagers has found nine out of ten are concerned about the environment, but just one in ten believed their church was doing enough to respond to the climate crisis. 

Christian relief and development agency Tearfund, which conducted the survey, is warning the church could “lose” young people if it continues on a course of climate inaction. 

Dr Ruth Valerio, Tearfund’s director of Global Advocacy and Influencing, said in a statement accompanying the poll: “This survey is clear: young people want the church to listen and act now.

“Churches must use their platforms to listen to their young people and stand up for the most vulnerable in the world who are facing the climate crisis head-on with life-threatening consequences like droughts, famines and more severe weather events.”

Shanti, 20, wants her church to tackle the climate emergency
Photo from Melissa (2)
"Just looking at Jesus, I think he would have really cared about other people, particularly because of the impact the climate emergency is having on minority groups, people in poverty and the vulnerable," said Shanti, 20.

The agency has launched a “climate emergency toolkit” to help churches implement practical steps such as declaring a climate emergency, cutting carbon emissions, divesting from fossil fuels and “mobilising their members” to raise awareness.

Shanti attends a church in Cambridge run by the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), an Anglican Church independent from the Church of England. 

She became increasingly interested in climate activism through social media after watching young school strikers including Greta Thunberg, adding she believed it was a no brainer that the church should get behind climate action and protect the most vulnerable. 

“Just looking at Jesus, I think he would have really cared about other people, particularly because of the impact that climate change is having on minority groups, people in poverty and the vulnerable,” she added. 

“I think it’s something that we really need to be acting on and that’s part of loving your neighbour and living out how Jesus would have lived.” 

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has previously said that climate change is the “greatest challenge” faced by future generations. Speaking at an online conference of global faith leaders this week to mark the upcoming COP26 climate summit, he said climate breakdown needed to be seen as a present threat. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the world to look at how we have been living and operating, when so much of what was considered ‘normal’ was not possible,” Welby said.

“We have been confronted by our behaviour: by our sin; our greed; our human fragility; our exploitation of the environment and encroachment on the natural world.

“For many, this uncertainty is new. But many more around the world have been living with uncertainty for decades as the grim, real, and present consequence of climate change.

“To think it is a problem of the future rather than a scourge of the present is the blind perspective of the privileged.”

Revd Lee McMunn, Bishop’s Assistant at AMiE, told The Big Issue: “Christians are rightly concerned to help this generation and all future generations prepare for the future. We believe that all of us will have to give an account to God for how we have lived in his world.

“The Bible teaches that only Jesus can save us on this day of scrutiny. Our desire is share the good news of the crucified and risen Jesus with as many people as possible. Sometimes this means we have neglected to teach on how God’s creation should be stewarded.

“We must learn how to better help our churches meet the great challenge of the environment without losing clarity on the greatest challenge of all, not where the world will be in 1000 years, but where we as individuals will be.”

Shanti has already started talking to her own church minister and says she feels optimistic about the future, hoping her church will begin to champion a whole host of issues which young people care about, from the refugee crisis to discrimination and Black Lives Matter.

She added: “I’ve gradually seen a change in people around me and people starting to think about these things more and engage more. 

“There’s a long way to go and a lot more work to do but I’m definitely optimistic.”