Resources: Campaigning

Some perspectives on economic justice and climate change

Posted in: Campaigning, Climate change and the purposes of God
Resource type: Further reading

Some quotations on climate change and economic justice from economists, theologians and politicians.

Sir Nicholas Stern:

Economic benefits of early action to respond to human-induced climate change considerably outweigh the costs. Stern argued that ‘the scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response.’ His Review estimated that if we don’t act, ‘the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of GDP each year, now and for ever….. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of GDP each year.’

The Stern Review Report to HM Treasury 2006

Professor Michael Northcott:

‘Where did our dependence on fossil fuels come from? It is related to the philosophical and economic thinking which gave rise to the free market. ‘At the heart of the present crisis is… the global market empire fashioned by the United States and Europe in the last fifty years, as governments have deregulated money and trade, and freed up economic actors and financial markets to enable maximal wealth accumulation by banks and corporations without regard to political sovereignty or territorial limits… Global warming is the earth’s judgement on the global market empire and on the heedless consumption it fosters.’

A Moral Climate: the ethics of global warming (Darton Longman and Todd, 2007, p.5,7)

R.H. Tawney (writing in 1920):

‘A society which aimed at making the acquisition of wealth contingent upon the discharge of social obligations, which sought to proportion remuneration to service and denied it to those by whom no service was performed, which inquired first not what men possess but what they can make or create or achieve, might be called a Functional Society, because in such a society the main subject of social emphasis would be the performance of functions…

Modern societies aim at protecting economic rights, while leaving economic functions… to fulfil themselves…Such societies may be called Acquisitive Societies, because their whole tendency and interest and preoccupation is to promote the acquisition of wealth. The appeal of this conception must be powerful, for it has laid the whole modern world under its spell.’

The Acquisitive Society Harcourt Brace and Co, New York 1920, reproduced by Forgotten Books (

World Council of Churches:

‘The era of “unlimited consumption” has reached its limits. The era of unlimited profit and compensation for the few must also come to an end…’

‘The central committee of the WCC recognises the need for a drastic transformation at all levels in life and society in order to end the ecological indebtedness and restoring right relationships between peoples and between people and the earth. This warrants a re-ordering of economic paradigms from consumerist, exploitive models to models that are respectful of localized economies, indigenous cultures and spiritualities, the earth’s reproductive limits, as well as the right of other life forms to blossom. And this begins with the recognition of ecological debt.’

Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt, adopted by WCC Central Committee, September 2009

Pope John Paul II

‘The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often the interests of production prevail over concern for the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution of environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductionist vision which at times leaders to a genuine contempt for man.’

‘The proper ecological balance will not be found without directly addressing the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world.’

Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation. Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990.

Professor Tim Jackson:

‘…question the underlying vision of a prosperity built on continual growth…search for an alternative vision – in which humans can still flourish and yet reduce their material impact on the environment… the requirements of prosperity go way beyond material sustenance. Prosperity has vital social and psychological dimensions. To do well is in part about the ability to give and receive love, to enjoy the respect of your peers, to contribute useful work, and to have a sense of belonging and trust in the community. In short, an important component of prosperity is the ability to participate meaningfully in the life of society.’

Prosperity Without Growth, Sustainable Development Commission, 2009 p. 7

Professor T J Gorringe:

‘Another driver of global warming, apart from the doctrine that we compete or die, is debt… Growth is dictated not just by the desire for a bigger cake for a bigger population, not just because we are committed to competition, not just that we have all been persuaded that we are consumers rather than citizens, but simply to repay the interest on loans for capital projects. The entire world economy at present is a treadmill on which hundreds of thousands of human beings collapse and die and whole nations are brought to the verge of ruin by the need to repay debt…..In this respect we should note that the prohibitions of usury in the ancient world, and not just in Israel, were not due to outdated and primitive understandings of the economy, but arose precisely because it was found that regimes of interest destroy community, destroy life. The experience of the ancient world was exactly our experience…

As Herman Daly has been insisting for thirty years or more, a steady-state economy has been the norm for most of human history – the growth economy is the aberration.’

Climate Change: A Confessional Issue for the Churches? Operation Noah Annual Lecture, 14 November 2011, p.9, 12.

David Miliband

‘Climate change is not just an environmental or economic issue, it is a moral and ethical one. It is not just an issue for politicians or businesses, it is an issue for the world’s faith communities.’

David Miliband when UK Environment Secretary, in a speech to the Vatican, May 2007 (quoted in The Tablet and elsewhere)

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