By Vijay Jayaraj
Christian love compels every follower of Jesus to help the poor and needy. Jesus in Matthew 25:40, referring to help extended by the righteous people to the needy in the world, says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Half of the global population (4 billion) lives on less than $6.85 (U.S.) per person per day (less than $210 per month). Among them, around 650 million live on $2.15 or less per day (or less than $64 per month). Many of these suffer from malnutrition, persistent disease and poor health care.
There is often a lack of hygiene, clean cooking stoves and basic civic services like running water and electricity for their homes. They are also vulnerable to bonded labor, debt and exploitation by traffickers.
In today’s day and age, there are numerous ways in which we can help the poor. It is critical to understand that ending poverty can require more than just providing temporary financial aid, food and clothes. Sound economic policies and good governance bring about a stable and long-term growth in the economy and the livelihoods of people.
However, implementing such policies is proving to be increasingly difficult in our current geopolitical scenario where traditional economic policies are being opposed in the name of climate change. The Bible calls for a principle of stewardship where God’s people are encouraged to utilize the resources of earth for the betterment of people’s livelihood. Though it may seem to be a simple act to utilize fossil fuel energy sources, doing so has become a difficult decision for many.
Regardless of one’s position on the state of climate affairs, the situation in Third World countries – and even in some pockets of the developed West – demands an energy-intensive economic policy, no less than those which were prevalent in the West during the industrial and post-industrial era.
Poverty and development
It is remarkable how human life has changed during the past two centuries. Journeys that would take months can now be completed in a few hours. Homes in developed countries no longer need firewood or oil to light their lamps in the night. Mechanical and electrical instruments have enabled faster manufacturing and processing, improving the everyday living of billions. But all these rapid progression in energy use and life quality required energy sources.
For millions in North America and Europe, the difference between poverty and prosperity came with the use of coal, oil and gas for manufacturing, transport and electricity. Buoyed by the groundbreaking inventions and the advancement of science (especially medical science), the availability of affordable energy sources turned the tide for the entire Western economic landscape.
Once agrarian, these economies became industrial in nature. With industries came economic growth, higher standard of living and an overall increase in life expectancy. Traditional economic policies – that brought the Western countries out of poverty and into a phase of economic prosperity – allowed the unrestricted use of fossil fuels.
These energy sources, unlike wind and solar, produce reliable electricity that is affordable and abundant. This means that the industries and other power-reliant economic activities could scale up rapidly in an ideal economic environment. Higher energy access translated into a rapid progression of socio-economic condition.
However, this growth was not uniform. There are nations that are still in poverty and economically lagging in comparison to the industrialized West. These nations require the same fossil fuel sources that the West used to achieve growth. Yet, we live in a time when fossil fuels have been branded as bad for the environment. Developing countries across the world are being asked to stop using fossil fuels.
Biblical stewardship of creation supports fossil fuel use
Christians are caught in a dilemma of whether to support energy access using fossil fuels or to stand against them. This is because of the global climate-change activism that has clouded people’s minds and have branded fossil fuels as the cause of catastrophic global warming.
It is critical for people to support and rally for the right policies and critically evaluate any theory put forward. For instance, even if the world does not do much about the emission of greenhouse gases, the impact – according to United Nations – of the forecast increase in temperature will be less than 5% of global GDP at the end of this century. But that will be 5% of a GDP several times larger than it is today, which means people then will be much better off than now – just not quite so much. So, does it make any sense to curtail the immediate uplifting of people from poverty (by denying fossil fuels access), for the sake of a 5% impact on future higher GDP?
God’s people have the power to become the catalysts for ending global poverty if they follow and promote biblical principles on stewardship of creation. In today’s world, that means supporting economic policies that will help the least among us to have a decent chance at life.
The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a Christian nonprofit that fights for the alleviation of poverty through the implementation of sensible environmental policies, has hundreds of resources at its website, cornwallalliance.org, that can be accessed by those who seek to understand biblical theology on creation care, energy use and development, and how it relates to the ongoing debate on climate change’s impact on our future.
Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia, and a contributor to Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK, and resides in India.
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