By Rev. Dr. Christian McIvor
For many, each New Year is approached with a profound sense of hope and renewal. We make resolutions out of a desire to better ourselves and the world around us. But as we move into 2023, it’s no secret that there’s not much to be hopeful about regarding the state of the world. The UN Environment Programme’s “Emissions Gap Report 2022,” released last October, found that there is no credible pathway to limiting global warming to the 1.5° C goal of the Paris Agreement, stating, “Only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster.” Is there truly any hope for this kind of transformation?
“[Jesus] said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” (Matt. 18:3-5, NRSV)
If we could change and see the world through a child’s eyes, what would we see? A world that welcomes us? Unfortunately, it’s a world where children’s very lives are endangered due to the impact of the climate crisis. Increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are leading to continually higher temperatures, more intense storms and more lengthy droughts—all of which can deeply affect children’s health and jeopardize their survival.
In a 2021 article published in Science, a group of researchers found that younger generations are severely threatened by climate change. It is estimated that children born in 2020 will experience a two- to sevenfold increase in extreme events, particularly heat waves, compared with people born in 1960. These extreme events lead to immediate, life-threatening dangers for children, including difficulty breathing, malnutrition, higher risk of infectious diseases and displacement. Instead of creating a welcoming world for our children, we have marginalized them by participating in systems that have created what UNICEF rightly refers to as a child’s rights crisis.
Growing up in this time, it’s not surprising that a 2021 survey of over 10,000 young people (age 16-25 years) in 10 countries around the world found that, “Climate anxiety and dissatisfaction with government responses are widespread in children and young people in countries across the world and impact their daily functioning.” Many respondents said climate change made them feel afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty. Optimism and indifference were the least often reported emotions. Why would any of us want to become like children if this is the world we’ve given them? Where and to whom can we look to find hope for them and for the restoration of our earth?
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Tim. 4:12, NIV)
Thankfully, we don’t have to look far. For many young people around the world, growing up with climate anxiety has led them to act. Realizing the interconnectedness of all creation and the need to care for it responsibly, youth organizations across the world have formed coalitions to accelerate positive climate action and hold international decision-makers accountable. YOUNGO, the Official Children and Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, consists of youth-led organizations and groups working in climate change-related fields around the world. Through this network and similar movements, young people have empowered themselves to demand a seat at the table and have their voices heard.
In 2020, the momentum of the youth climate movement led UN Secretary-General António Guterres to establish a Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. The group brings the voices of young people into high-level decision making and advises the Secretary-General on the implementation of his Climate Change Strategy. Through YOUNGO and other related networks, young people have gained representation in the fight for systemic climate action globally. They are the hope for everyone as we seek to improve upon earth friendly practices in our congregations and advocate for positive climate action in our communities.
In the new year and beyond, may we resolve to becoming like children and seeing the world as they see it. May we become humble enough to listen to and prioritize young people, receiving the wisdom they have to offer and embracing the kind of change that might give us hope for a restored creation.
Rev. Dr. Christian McIvor is the Minister of Worship, Music, and the Arts at Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. He is a member of the CBF Environmental Stewardship Network’s steering committee, the Alliance of Baptists Creation Justice Community’s steering committee, and the Christians Caring for Creation (C3) Board of Directors.