COVID-19 AND CLIMATE CHANGE*
Living with and Learning from a Pandemic
By Fr. John Chryssavgis
That is the title of a new program organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in its long and varied sequence of ecological conferences since the early 1990s. Halki Summit IV is the fourth in a series that focuses on ecological awareness and responsibility. This virtual summit is unusual, not least because of the painful global impact of the Covid-19 on people’s lives and interactions. This is why the Ecumenical Patriarch felt that it would be imprudent to miss the opportunity of engaging in a critical discussion of the relationship between the pandemic and climate change. After all, religious, civil, and political leaders will be judged by their response to these critical phenomena that have shaped and jeopardized our lives.
There are undoubtedly many striking parallels between the ecological crisis and the current pandemic. In many ways, however, the greatest threat to our planet at this time is actually not the novel coronavirus, but the urgency of climate change. If planet-heating emissions are not constrained, then the growing but largely unrecognized death toll from rising global temperatures will ultimately eclipse the current number of deaths from all the infectious diseases combined.
Still, both the pandemic and climate change have reminded us that we cannot play politics with these defining challenges of our time. It is ironic that the strategies frequently adopted to dismiss climate change and Covid-19 follow a similar pattern and are in fact employed by many of the same people. It starts with denying the problem exists; afterward, people try to obstruct action, claiming it’s too hard or too expensive to fix; and finally, people complain that their freedom is under threat. My son recently told me that Covid-19 provided us with a fascinating and invaluable social experiment in relation to climate change: Throughout the pandemic, scientists as well as some civil and religious authorities asked us to do the slightest, most trivial thing for the sake of other people and the world: just wear a mask! And yet still the answer is no; still the answer becomes politicized; still the answer is distorted to a question about “individual rights.” What, then, are the chances that people will respond to having less and hoarding less, or wasting less and sharing more?
Covid-19 has permanently affected our planet and altered our lives. The world has wrestled to survive and learned to live with the coronavirus. But what are the lessons that we have learned? What has been the impact on nature and the environment? What have been the implications for healthcare? And what have we understood about the relevance and importance of science? Halki Summit IV will bring together some of the world’s leading theologians, environmentalists, and scientists. It will focus on the pandemic and its effect on how we perceive climate change, science, and healthcare. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will open the conversation, while His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon will offer the concluding remarks. Other distinguished speakers will include Dr. Sotirios Tsiodras (director of Greece’s coronavirus SARS CoV-2 crisis response team), Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (atmospheric scientist and professor of political science), Bill McKibben (environmentalist, author, and founder of 350.org), and Dr. Nadia Abuelezam (epidemiologist and researcher).
The series of webinars will take place at 8:00–9.30 pm (EST) on the evenings of January 26th, 27th, and 28th, 2021. They will be open and accessible to the public. For further details, please visit http://www.halkisummit.com/hs4. Questions may be sent to [email protected]
— Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, studied in Athens and Oxford, and taught in Sydney and Boston. He serves as theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. His latest book Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on ecology and spirituality was published by Bloomsbury Publishing. He lives in Maine, USA.
* Article initially published in the Newsletter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Permanent Delegation to the World Council of Churches (December 2020)