- Published: 08 November 2015 08 November 2015
"The timescale suggested at present for radical [climate change] threatening the viability of humanity on this planet becomes more alarming the more research appears!"
Rowan Williams: Climate change, without doubt, is one of the largest threats to the long term security of the human race and in the shorter term, that means a threat to the security of the poor, the conflict ridden, the under resourced countries of our world. That is why we can’t simply put it off while we settle the fine details of how far we believe it's anthropogenic and how far it isn’t and one thing I think we can be sure of is that our existing practices in terms of carbon emissions and so forth, are not making it any better and if we know that, at least we know some of the things we ought to be doing. The timescales suggested at present for radical change threatening the stability, the viability, of humanity on this planet becomes more alarming the more research appears and that’s why we just need to be aware of all the options that might be available to us.
Nick Breeze: Is there anything we can do as individuals to respond to the threat of climate change?
Rowan Williams: It is one of the most difficult things, talking about climate change. The sheer scale of it, paralyses people. People think, it is much too big, there is nothing I can do, there is nothing even we can do with global coordination on the subject, which of course, we don’t even have at the moment. So, I would say, one of the most important messages to get across is that there are differences that can be made. There are differences in the level of pressure that people can put on their governments, and that governments can put on each other. There are relatively small scale but quite important improvements that can be made in methods of food production and so forth in poorer countries. There are measure we can take about our own carbon emissions just as individuals and as families. However uncertain the effects of this maybe, the urgency is undeniable and doing something is measurably better than doing nothing. There is a moral issue and not just a practical one; we need to behave better with our environment.
Nick Breeze: Why is tackling climate change a moral issue?
Rowan Williams: It is crystal clear to me that we are talking about moral issues here. We are not merely talking about how to make ourselves feel more comfortable. We are talking about what we owe to our fellow human beings. Given the scale of the threat, given the fact that it weighs most heavily on those least able to protect themselves, my inclinations is to say that if this question of whether carbon emissions is not a moral question then I do not know quite what is.
Nick Breeze: Will adapting to a sustainable world require a fundamental change in human nature?
Rowan Williams: When people talk about the need for a fundamental change in our nature, if we are going to change our habits in relation to the environment, my inclination is to say, well maybe we have got our nature wrong. What we need to be thinking about is what the natural role of humanity is in the globe as opposed to what we’ve made of it. I think the natural ting for humanity is to be better in tune with our environment that otherwise. Certainly better in tune that we are at the moment. So, I would say that any changes in behaviour and policy on this are becoming more natural, more human, not somehow feeding this myth that somehow the human race lives in a bubble protected from environmental crisis. So, yes, we need to think what kind of economy is more natural to us as human beings, rather than this supposition that endless exponential material growth is the only thing we have to look forward to. Now on the small scale on the local scale there are changes we can make. There are changes we can make in the way we approach agriculture, there are changes in the way we approach, questions about the use and repletion of soil, questions about appropriate use of natural pesticides, rather than chemical. All these things I’ve seen at work in developing countries on a small scale. They are very impressive and they need more resources and more promotion. How we tackle the problems of the global economy overall and the extraordinary and unreal system we seem to have got into, i find it very hard to imagine. I feel the question has to be asked and go on being asked.
Nick Breeze: National interests have been a big obstacle to international progress on achieving a sustainable future. What are your thoughts on this?
Rowan Williams: It’s understandable in way that many people are deeply wedded to ideals of national sovereignty which make it hard for them to hand over responsibility in some areas to national bodies, and yet, what we are so bad at catching up with in our own age is the number of problems that cannot be solved by national sovereign bodies one by one, or acting alone. And that is true, not just of the climate issues, it’s true of environmental issues more generally, its true of many health issues now. We do need better and more effective and robust international coordination and international monitoring with some teeth on these matters. This is one of the greatest challenges on these issues we have because a piecemeal approach is not quite going to cut it.
Interview with Nick Breeze from Autumn 2013