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Archbishop of Canterbury: Environment is 'an issue of justice'

Wednesday 25th March 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury will today use his Ebor Lecture 'Renewing the Face of the Earth: Human Responsibility and the Environment' in York Minster to spell out why respect for the environment is not an optional extra, particularly for Christians.

Getting our relationship with the rest of the created order into proper perspective is both a responsibility and a necessity.  Failure could have disastrous consequences especially for some of the poorest and most vulnerable. "There is no way of manipulating our environment that is without cost or consequence ... we are inextricably bound up with the destiny of our world."

"Ecological questions", Dr Williams says "are increasingly. ..defined as issues of justice.. both to those who now have no part in decision-making at the global level yet bear the heaviest burdens as a consequence of the irresponsibility of wealthier nations, and to those who will succeed us on this planet – justice to our children and grandchildren"

"The ecological crisis challenges us to be reasonable" says Dr Williams: "If you live in Bangladesh or Tuvalu, scepticism about global warming is precisely the opposite of reasonable: 'negotiating' this environment means recognising the fact of rising sea levels....for us to be reasonable and free and responsible is for us to live in awareness of our limits and dependence."

Dr Williams describes "what unintelligent and ungodly relation with the environment looks like.  It is partial .....It focuses on aspects of the environment that can be comparatively easily manipulated for human advantage and ignores inconvenient questions about what less obvious connections are being violated.  It is indifferent, for example, to the way in which biodiversity is part of the self-balancing system of the world we inhabit.  It is impatient: it seeks returns on labour that are prompt and low-cost, without consideration of long-term effects.  It avoids or denies the basic truth that the environment as a material system is finite and cannot indefinitely regenerate itself in ways that will simply fulfil human needs or wants.  And when such unintelligent and ungodly relation prevails, the risks should be obvious." 

However Dr Williams suggests that "we are capable of changing our situation"; in "Christian terms, this needs a radical change of heart, a conversion." "The 'redemption' of people and material life in general is not a matter of resigning from the business of labour and of transformation – as if we could – but the search for a form of action that will preserve and nourish an interconnected development of humanity and its environment.  In some contexts, this will be the deliberate protection of the environment from harm: in a world where exploitative and aggressive behaviour is commonplace, one of the 'providential' tasks of human beings must be to limit damage and to secure space for the natural order to exist unharmed.  In others, the question is rather how to use the natural order for the sake of human nourishment and security without pillaging its resources and so damaging its inner mechanisms for self-healing or self-correction."

Dr Williams concludes with a quotation from the contemporary Greek theologian, Christos Yannaras who speaks in his Variations on the Song of Songs, "of how love compels you to see things differently – to love 'the landscapes we have looked at together.'" "We love" says Dr Williams "what we see together with God."

Click here for a transcript and audio file of the lecture.

About the Ebor Lecture Series:

Ebor Lectures on Theology & Public Life

The Ebor Lectures are a response to the growing need for theology to interact with public issues in contemporary society.

Public theology is about engaging in dialogue with a range of communities on issues wider than narrowly defined religious

matters. This series of lectures aims to promote public conversation and to contribute to the formation of personal

decisions and collective policy-making in economic, political and social spheres. It is also an ecumenical project that seeks to

exchange insights between academic and religious traditions and to build bridges between church and other religious groups.

The lectures relate faith to public concerns including politics, economics, contemporary culture, religion and spirituality,

society and globalisation, local and global Christianity.


Theme for the 2008-09 lectures: The Challenge of Climate Change: Eco-crisis, Sustainable Living

and the Future of the Planet

The reality of climate change, and the challenges it presents to sustainable living, is perhaps the key issue facing humanity at

present. The developing ecological crisis raises profound questions for theology, religious traditions, politics and economics.

The Ebor Lectures for 2008-09 examine the roots and causes of this global emergency from a variety of perspectives and

look at the implications of the crisis for future sustainable living on the planet.


For further information on the Ebor Lecture Series:



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