‘I went on a visit to Tanzania.’ Anglican priest talks about climate change to celebrate Harvest Festival

Anglican priest Revd Canon John Smith spoke to the congregation about how living selfishly can harm the community, the economy and even the climate. He calls on people to think of the environment, for the good of their children and grandchildren.

I went on a visit to Tanzania in 2007, as part of a twinning between Rochester diocese and the dioceses of Mpwapwa and Kondoa. We visited a village in Kondoa where they only had enough rain for a decent crop every two years out of seven, and the huts were very basic, not surprisingly, with roofs of some sort of straw and earth walls.

But there were three large domed concrete structures, each with a concrete plaque on it, one 1951, one 1952, one 1953, lived in by local bigwigs. I was intrigued. Though we were there for something else, I got the story of the domes from 2 missionaries who had been there for many years, translating the Bible into the local language.

Evidently there was a District Commissioner in the area in the 1950s, who had a great idea. He got the men of the village to build a dam, so when it rained they could retain the water and use it for irrigation. With this they could grow a crop of maize instead of the millet which they usually ate.

What’s more, they could sell the maize as a cash crop, something they had never had before. They were rich: so much so that they had to keep increasing their storage: the three domed structures. The women did all the agricultural work, as usual in the area, while men tended the herds of cattle; but the men were needed every year to dig out the silt that was washed into the reservoir. The District Commissioner paid them for this digging.

But there was no maize to be seen in 2007. The District Commissioner left in 1962, with Tanzanian independence, and when he was not there to pay them to keep the reservoir’s capacity up, the men would not maintain it, even though they well knew that their whole economy would fall apart.

They regarded the digging as beneath their dignity, because digging was women’s work, and they were too proud of their identity to sully it. They reverted to poverty rather than change their ways, even though they knew what had to be done and how to do it.

It’s like that with climate change now.

Pretty well everybody has heard what has to be done to improve things We also know for sure that our way of life now endangers the whole earth. This year there was another increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, to the highest level ever.

We are increasing the number of cars every year, pushing out more and more pollution. We have a constant destruction of forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, to set up cattle ranches, although cattle give out heaps of polluting methane when they belch.

Seventy percent of environmental damage comes from agriculture, I read, and part of that is from the crazy obsession with supplying every whim of shoppers with every produce imaginable no matter what the season.

We pray in church at Harvest Festival just now, thanking God for supplying the fruits of the earth in their seasons; but we ignore seasons in our greed. The supply chain jets freight apples and tomatoes and everything else to the Northern hemisphere from the South just so we can pretend it’s always summer when we eat.

Just like the men in Kondoa, we can understand what the consequences of our actions are, but we would rather not change our ways. We are stuck in our own estimate of how we should live, even though it is destructive of our only world’s life. It is worse than messing up our economy. It’s messing up the future life of our grandchildren for ever.

I’ll be OK. I’m 75 and will soon be dead. The world will last me out.

But unless our society as a whole is changed to reduce carbon emissions massively, like by cutting down flying away for holidays, and holidaying at home, for instance, something I did for many years when I was younger anyway; and replanting vast areas of forest; and sourcing food closer to where we live.

All these and similar things scientists who have any knowledge or expertise about the climate well know we must be doing, and constantly tell us we must urgently get on with. Instead, like the ignorant, complacent people that we all are, in Kondoa in the 1960s and in Europe and North America and Asia now, myself included, we would rather blindly chop away at humanity’s future because we just do not wish to change our ways.

Greed and stubbornness will do for us unless we change our ideas of how to live. The house is on fire, and we should be drenching it with water. Instead we are pouring petrol on the flames.

I fear for my grandsons!

This is the text of sermon was preached on Oct. 13 in the Church of the Resurrection, Bucharest by Revd Canon John Smith, a director education for the diocese of Peterborough and the diocese of Rochester and an ordained priest since 1981.

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