As a global family of churches, the Anglican Communion has stood alongside other faiths in prayerful solidarity and compassion with victims and survivors of the recent extreme weather in many places around the world.
In Bangladesh and India, over 1,000 people died in an outsize monsoon flood. In the Caribbean and the United States, a succession of devastating hurricanes killed hundreds of people and cost thousands more their homes and businesses. In Hong Kong and southern China, over a dozen people were killed by a powerful typhoon.
Of course, hurricanes, monsoons and other types of extreme weather are a part of life on earth for many. The trouble is that climate change is loading the dice by intensifying storms and making rain patterns less predictable.
Climate change is the human thumb on the scale, pushing us toward disaster. It is not a distant danger — it is already with us. As we continue to burn fossil fuels, its effects will only grow.
Some years ago I worked in Nigeria, helping to find peaceful solutions to conflicts. Its capital city, Lagos — one of the world’s megacities, with a population estimated at 14 million to 21 million — will most likely experience a sea-level rise of around 35 inches in the next few decades if current warming trends continue.
Even in this best-case scenario, which depends on the global community’s sticking to the Paris climate change agreement, many of the shops I visited and homes I passed during my years in the country will be flooded. The rising waters are already changing ways of life and pressuring people to leave their homes. In the coming years, experts predict that millions of people in Lagos will be forced to move.
Providing a welcoming home for these migrants will challenge all of us. Unfortunately, Nigeria is just one example of a highly populated, highly exposed coastal area facing rising sea levels and storm surges. Bangladesh, the Philippines and other South Asian countries join them. New York City, Rio de Janeiro and London are at risk as well.
As people of faith, we don’t just state our beliefs — we live them out. One belief is that we find purpose and joy in loving our neighbors. Another is that we are charged by our creator with taking good care of his creation.
The moral crisis of climate change is an opportunity to find purpose and joy, and to respond to our creator’s charge. Reducing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith. It is a way to love our neighbor and to steward the gift of creation.
Indeed, even amid the hurricane-caused devastation and despair of recent weeks, I have seen seeds of hope. Different expressions of the Christian faith are freshly united around the need to care for our common home. The Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Churches just came together with the World Council of Churches to celebrate a monthlong Season of Creation. During this season, people all around the globe prayed and acted to address climate change and to protect the earth.
The Anglican Communion is responding in many ways. Young Anglicans from across Africa have united with ecumenical neighbors to study local effects of climate change and work on developing local solutions. In Cape Town, a diocesan environmental working group held a Eucharist for creation on Table Mountain. In Canada, the national indigenous Anglican bishop participated in an online prayer service and led an interfaith walk to protect the Great Lakes.
However we choose to respond, a response is necessary.
People of faith have a unique call to address the causes of climate change. As we stand together in our support for the survivors of extreme weather, let us act together in ways that will safeguard our shared gift of creation — and the lives of those who will inherit it from us.
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Church of England, is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.