I have been cogitating on the future of my grandchildren. They are likely to be recipients of the physical environment that we bequeath to them in the latter half of this century and perhaps beyond. The omens are not good for their wellbeing and that of their generation.

What should present day grandparents/aunts/uncles be doing to reduce the chances that their lives and billions like them will be more difficult than ours? I have explored some personal responses with the Christian church congregation that I am part of at Christ Church, Kenilworth in Cape Town over the last couple of years.

I share them here.

September 2021: Sustainable Grandparenting

September is Care for Creation month. It is a time for Christians to give extra attention to the natural world of which we are a part. Grandparents/aunts/uncles, of which there are many in CCK (I am one of them), have been part of the world for the longest. Sadly many grandparents/aunts/uncles, through the way we have lived, have contributed not inconsiderably to the ecological crisis that we face. Decades of driving and flying using fossil fuels, decades of dirty electricity use, decades of chemicals going down drains, decades of plastic wrapping and wood use, decades of consuming delicacies from afar.

It is our grandchildren who will live during the worst of times while we lived, if not in the best of times (to reference Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’), then in a time when, at an ecological level, the consequences of our profligacy were not as clear as they are now (pace Rachel Carson and the L’Abri Fellowship in the 1960s when we were young). The sins of the Grandparents/aunts/uncles will be visited on the grandchildren and their grandchildren.

But they don’t have to be.

We love our grandchildren/nieces/nephews. We would sacrifice almost anything for their welfare. The best gift that we can give them is a planet that has not warmed up irredeemably, has spaces for all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, and is not awash with polluting chemicals, materials and gases.

Grandparents, grand-aunts and grand-uncles of CCK, what are we doing for the little ones so that when they are grandparents, grand-aunts and grand-uncles, they are living, and living happy lives with all in their generations, in balance with the rest of nature on this planet?

We could start by taking the household audit from the City of Cape Town.

I like the idea of a group of CCK grandparents/aunts/uncles working together as eco-warriors alongside the prayer warriors, changing our lifestyles to fit the sustainable model, and working with others to prevent the climate catastrophe. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, we have about nine years in which to do it – time enough for many of us. I’d like to call this group, ‘Greta and the Greys’. Will you join?

October 2021: Convenience, Choice and Carbon

In the September edition of the Eight O’ Clock News, I introduced the idea of sustainable grandparenting. How can we grandparents/aunts/uncles live our lives so that the environments in which our grandchildren/nieces/nephews live and in which their grandchildren/nieces/nephews live is livable for them and everyone else?
Many if not most Eight O’ Clock-ers have lived lives in which convenience and ‘all mod cons’ are largely facts of life. Cars, computers, flick-of-the-switch electricity, water in the taps, water-borne sanitation, accessible recreation. Convenience and choice are normal, everyday, mundane.
The very present emergencies of climate change, habitat loss, and terrestrial and marine pollution challenge humanity’s (including grandparent’s/aunt’s/uncle’s) attitudes to and practice of convenience and choice.
A personal perspective on an inconvenient truth:
To give a perspective on this, I have done some analysis on the environmental effects of a recent trip to visit my granddaughter and her parents in the Eastern Cape. The choice to go was stimulated by our daughter being here from UK. She had never met her niece. What could be more natural? The convenience was to use planes and cars to get there and back as quickly as possible.
How much carbon did I emit? How many full-grown trees would be required to make my journey carbon-neutral? Have a guess.
The car hire company estimated our 588 km of travel have put 86 kg of carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide— we’ll not count the carbon monoxide, sulphur and other atmospheric toxins here). There were three of us in the car—my carbon contribution therefore was about 29 kg. The return aeroplane trip to East London (90 minutes each way) released about 750 kg of carbon per passenger (www.carbonindependent.org). So, in all, my trip emitted an estimated 779 kg of greenhouse pollution i.e. over ¾ tonne. (The aeroplane carbon count includes the manufacture of the plane; the car’s carbon estimate does not count its production and travel to where it was when we hired it.) How close was your estimate? Mine was nowhere near this figure.
The average full-grown tree sequesters about 21 kg of carbon per year. Thus, I need about 37 years of tree life for equilibration. That is more life than I have to come.
Eleven hours of convenient travel turns into 37 carbon years. In effect, that carbon has been simply added to the excess carbon already heating the Earth; bequeathed to that granddaughter.
Planting a penitential tree now would be meaningless in carbon terms. The emotional/planet equation (we had a very special time together) is morally challenging. Taking an inconvenient bus would produce very much less carbon (144 kg versus 779 kg or 7 carbon years versus 37 carbon years). But could my ageing body cope?
CCCCCC—Convenience. Choice. Climate. Children. Carbon. Challenge.
WWJD—What would Jesus do (Luke 4:18)?
WIMN—Who is my neighbour (Luke 10:29)?
HHFFFEE—Help humanity forget fossil fuels and the extractive economy. (Genesis 1:31)

November 2021: COP26

This week is a crucial one for our grandchildren/nieces/nephews and their children. They are going to ‘cop it’ much more than we are if COP26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) taking place in Glasgow, Scotland fails to get agreement and action on

keeping global temperatures at no more than 1,5°C above pre-industrial levels (we are now 1,2°C warmer)

mitigating the effects of climate change around the world

dispensing millions of dollars in aid to poorer countries to help them adapt in order to cope with those devastating effects (think the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Revelation 6:1-8). Poorer countries such as most of those in Africa who are not the major causers of climate change yet represent the bulk of the populations who will be affected by fallout such as catastrophic weather events, drought and rising sea levels

This is also a crucial year of a crucial decade (to 2030) in which the first of these aims must be fulfilled. If we, the global community, fail to achieve this global temperature ceiling (and the omens have not been good in post-lockdown months), a dysregulation of global environmental systems is likely as carbon stored beneath permafrost and ice caps is released to join anthropogenic carbon in the atmosphere. We do not know if some of these tipping points have already been passed.
Even the 1,5°C temperature rise ceiling will be and is associated with changes such as the worst-ever fires in Australia and highest ever summer heatwave in North America specific Northwest, and probably are in Western Cape on-the-brink-of-Day-Zero water crisis experience.
Carbon: Coal, Cars and Cattle
What will be going on in Glasgow? The “Parties” are largely governments of most of the world’s countries, but what are being called “non-state actors” such as civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, and faith-based organisations such as churches will be there. Very importantly among the non-state actors are financial institutions. They are custodians of trillions of dollars that need to be used to guide the world’s economies and individual countries and regions away from coal (read fossil fuels), cars (read transportation systems that move people and goods) and cattle (read “what we eat”) towards sustainable options (clean energy, circular rather than extractive economies, and diets that are healthy for planet, humans and animals).
Governments are vital to the success of COP26 and sustainable futures for most people on earth. They make and monitor industrial policies that will ensure carbon-neutrality before mid-century (putting no more carbon into the atmosphere than we extract from it), and a healthier relationship between people and the earth. They can promote equitable approaches to the needs of societies across the globe, especially those living in vulnerable circumstances.
This is no easy task for governments. They have to balance current demands and economies in their countries with the demands and needs of the future. Witness the attempts of the governments of Australia and India to water down the aspects of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific report dealing with coal (protection of current Australians and Indians from the needs of their grandchildren) and the same by the governments of Argentina and Brazil regarding what the report says about reducing meat-eating. Think of towns in Mpumalanga that are dependent on coal mining and coal-fired power stations for a local example. These are dilemmas that require local and global solutions. COP26 is a place both to hammer these things out and ensure that equitable solutions are found and acted upon.
It is remarkable how much progress has been made in global mobilisation to halt climate change (despite former President Trump and other denialists of its human origins). But we are by no means out of the woods (even though they are still being chopped down mercilessly!). Promises do not guarantee actions. There is still a mountain (glacier-free, if we’re not careful) to climb.
Hence the presence at COP26 of civil society—non-state parties including young people to egg governments, industrialists, fund-holders and policy-makers on. We the church and we Christian grandparents/aunts/uncles with our theology of creation, stewardship, sin and redemption cannot be silent bystanders or, worse, fiddle with our internal concerns (2 Timothy 2:14) while the planet burns and our neighbours (present and future i.e. our grandchildren/nieces/nephews) suffer.
South Africa, a leading carbon producer (mainly through Eskom, but also through cars and cattle), is taking a lead at COP26 in two ways. Our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC—every signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change has one) to climate change mitigation has recently been beefed up (excuse the non-climate change-friendly metaphor) so that it contains real changes that can live up to our responsibility to get to carbon-neutrality here in good time. We are also being a significant voice of low human development index (low HDI = read ‘poorer’) countries demanding that high HDI countries (the main atmospheric polluters of past and present) live up to their 2015 Paris Agreement commitments to release and transfer the necessary billions of dollars to help us and low HDI countries adapt our economies (e.g. a ‘just transition’** from coal, petrol cars and cattle) and buffer our vulnerable populations against the effects of climate change.
Writing this, I hear echoes of the apostle Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2). His repeated use of the phrase ‘…whom you crucified’ leads to the heart-felt response in his hearers: “what are we to do?”

  • Repent of our inaction and ‘fiddling’
  • Increase our knowledge of these matters and talk about them in homes and in churches
  • Together commit ourselves and our families to living sustainable lifestyles (massive reductions in coal, cars and cattle), and motivating others to do so, too.
  • Pray for COP26 every day—for government leaders (and their advisors) to take the hard decisions required of them; for wisdom for conference leaders and facilitators; for the voices of the vulnerable to be heard; for the South African delegation and Minister Barbara Creecy; for churches and Christians to play our ‘salt and light’ roles amid the climate crisis.

** A ‘just transition’ means a transition away from coal, cars and cattle to renewable energy sources, safer transportation systems and carbon-neutral agriculture that takes account of the needs of workers in these sectors and their communities.
Note: ‘carbon trading’, ‘carbon sequestration’ and ‘carbon-offsetting’ are bit players and distractions in getting us out of this mess. They account and will probably only account within the urgent ‘this decade’ timetable for nothing near the gigatonnes
of carbon still being spewed into the atmosphere from coal, cars and cattle.


  • COP26 – https://ukcop26.org/
  • Climate change new website – https://www.climatechangenews.com/
  • UN News on Climate and Environment – https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1104022
  • IPCC report – https://unfccc.int/topics/science/workstreams/cooperation-with-the-ipcc/the-sixth-assessment-report-of-the-ipcc
  • Lancet Commission 2021 report on climate change and health – https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01787-6/fulltext
  • Climate change new website – https://www.climatechangenews.com/
  • UN News on Climate and Environment – https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1104022

December 2021: A Cock and Bull story?

The alliterative allure of ‘Meatless Mondays’ has become common currency in ‘eating for the planet’. ‘Slaughter-free Saturdays’ might have stated the case more strongly but starting each week with a nod in the direction of our feathered, furry and hide-bound fellow creatures is quite good.
Keeping carbon out of the kitchen:
We can’t easily escape from having some ‘carbon, cars and coal’ in our kitchens currently. Eskom se elektrisiteit is filthy; gas is better but is far from C-free; internal combustion engines move much of our food and its ingredients around, especially for those of us who are privileged enough to enjoy variety in our diets. There are things to do (e.g. using wonder boxes for cooking, buying local, growing vegetables), but this disquisition has its focus on ‘meat, madam, meat’ as Charles Dickens’ Mr Bumble perceived to be the main excess in Oliver Twist’s little life.
It is not meat, and right to do so:
This set of culinary caveats in the kitchen relate to carbon as in CO2 (carbon dioxide), the main greenhouse gas. But CO2 is not the only C-ulprit.
Food production, especially animal husbandry, accounts for about a third of human-released greenhouse gasses. These gasses are not released directly by humans (that is a relief!). Beyond CO2 carbon as CH4 (methane) is produced by burping farm animals, especially cattle, plays a significant role in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Humankind’s agricultural practices, especially those related to meat-eating and even more specifically cattle eating (rearing on increasing swathes of land cleared for this purpose, ending in slaughter or production of dairy products) emit CO2 and CH4 in prodigious amounts. The accompanying graphics from a recent edition of The Economist newspaper show the relative contributions of our creaturely relatives (including truth-telling cocks and bulls). It’s enough to cause grandad, the expert family braai-er, to have a heart attack. (A discussion of meat and coronaries is for another time and place.) Meat – and here one can read meats of all types along with other animal-derived foods – is not right to do for the planet’s health, and for the animals, many would argue.
So, grandparents/aunts/uncles, as senior members of our families, have we aligned/can we align ourselves with moves away from meat along with the younger generation who are often more aware and concerned than we have been? Do we talk about these things at the dinner table or next to the braai fire? Have we adjusted our recipe and shopping choices to this new knowledge? Meat and animal products are so tied up with South African identity in most cultures that this is no mean task for us.
Yet, like the need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, this is an imperative if we are to be good stewards of God creation and leave a habitable planet for our grandchildren’s generation later in this century when we are dead and gone. Whether eat less, meatless, vegetarian or vegan, Monday or Saturday or every day, the move away from methane in our eating (“As for me(thane) and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15) is a Christian duty, I believe.
Perhaps to help us on this journey as we ‘work out our salvation’ and that of our grandchildren/nieces/nephews (Philippians 2:12-13), we need to add “sins of emission” (not countenanced by Thomas Cranmer and his successors) to those of commission and omission to our liturgical confessional prayers. But it would be better not to emit in the first place, fellow grandparents/aunts/uncles. It would be mete and right so not to do.

February 2022: The End of the World News

The Earth’s days are numbered. Cosmology and Christianity agree on that. First century Christians expected the end of the world in their lifetimes (Matt 24:34) -the return of Jesus in power and glory to bring a new Heaven and a new Earth. Present-day Christians know and every subsequent generation has known that the day of Christ’s return cannot be known (Matt 24:36, 1 Thess 5:19-20), yet they will be warning signs (Matt 24:32-33). We presume (Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus! 1 Cor 16:22b) that this will be long before, as cosmologists suggest, nuclear fusion on the sun fades and our star expands to swallow up what remains of our planet in many billions of years’ time.
One evening before Christmas 2021, a few of us met for a light meal after singing carols. “So nice to be able to do this again”, we reflected. As it tends to do, conversation turned to climate change and global environmental degradation. “I hope Jesus comes before it all happens”, a grandparent said. That’s one way to view it.
On another evening nearly 40 years ago when I was a student, at a Christian Medical Fellowship dinner the talk was on an environmental theme. (Such awareness amongst Christians in Cape Town is not new.) In response to the talk, a senior professor opined that we did not need to worry, because the Earth was a fallen entity anyway, and there would be a new Earth, as Scripture says (Rev 21:1). That’s another way to view it. On that 1970s evening, the professor’s piety did not have much support from the younger generation. Throwing one’s hands up and shouting “Maranatha!” was not a popular plan! It is the equivalent of letting one’s body go to wrack and ruin because the Bible promises you a new one on the new Earth (1 Cor 15:43-44). If we look after our earthly bodies as a spiritual duty (we do, don’t we? 1 Cor:6 19-20), the same applies to the Earth itself in its fallenness.

For Christians, standing aside while the Earth and living creatures (humans included, especially the poorest) go to wrack and ruin is not an option. Paradoxically (given the title of this series of short essays), it is not the future of our grandchildren/nieces/nephews that should motivate us (important as that is), but the well-being of the Earth itself (and the cosmos – think of space junk) that must be the wellspring of our creation-related behaviours and advocacy.
Reading through the book of Revelation when preparing this article, I was struck by two things relating to the titanic battles that presage Christ’s return. Firstly, the redeemed are judged not simply on their faith and fortitude, but on how that was turned into good works (Rev 14:12-13; cf James 2:17 & 26)). Secondly, the greed of the mercantile, well-off and ruling classes sticks like bile in the craw of God; destruction is their fate (Rev 18:1-23 gives a detailed description). Jesus was clear on this early in his ministry (Luke 6:24-25a).
Here’s an important perspective on lifestyle and climate change: adding two billion people living the lifestyle of the average household in a low-income country to the world’s 7 billion humans would add next to nothing to global warming. Two billion people.
So in consequence, whether Jesus returns tomorrow, when our grandchildren/nieces/nephews are adults, or millennia hence, the climate and environmental crises require of the Christian faithful Earth-restoring actions, repentance, and repudiation of everything that riches, luxury and damaging choices (even inadvertent choices: Num 15:27-29) have done and are doing to the Earth.
So, come, Lord Jesus! But we will be active with the wicks of our lamps visibly trimmed with the Holy Spirit (Matt 5:14; Matt 25:1-13): doing the good that our faith requires, loving our neighbours (present and future), and loving your creation (also present and future) – for as long as is necessary.

March 2022: Reducing our waste lines

Ecosystems do not waste. Everything is re-used. Leaves
fall and rot. Dung beetles recycle dung. There is a
balance between the fruit on the tree and the birds,
animals and bugs that feed on them—a balance that still
allows the tree to reproduce; the fruit bearing its
seed falling to the ground or being dispersed
through the guts of the thriving animals and
birds. Massive change in a system can cause it to
collapse. Sweep away all the fallen leaves and
the forest dies [as do countless little creatures].
The waste that the bulk of humans now produce
is a threat to the ecosystems of which we are
part. Be it carbon, industrial and domestic
chemicals, plastic, or even ‘biodegradable’ products
disposed of carelessly—our waste is poisoning localities
across the planet and the planet itself. Ocean,
watercourses, earth and air. Our waste constitutes a
massive change for the earth’s ecosystems.
In this short reflection, the focus is domestic solid waste.
Urban humans are consumers par excellence and
consequently are generators of waste par excellence. To
faeces and urine, we add almost every byproduct of
consumption known to man. [Most of us manage not to
produce nuclear and industrial waste.] There is a kind of
skew inverted U-shaped curve by income group [see
chart—which reminds me of one of the drawings in Le
Petit Prince who lived on a small vulnerable planet like
us.]. Poorest—not a lot of waste; lower and middle class
waste proportional to income. The top income group
have an ability and means to decrease their/our waste
production or dispose of it in safer ways, creating a
second arm to the skew inverted U.

Jean and I have worked ourselves down to between
100g and 400g of waste for the municipal bin per week.
All plastic is recycled or put into Ecobricks, barring hard
varieties of types 3 and 7. Cardboard, paper, bottles and
tins are reused or recycled. Almost all kitchen waste is
composted using the Bokashi method. Some garden
refuse stays on site to be composted and the rest is
composted through the municipal recycling depot in
Wynberg. Jean empties and recycles all components of
the coffee pods. The used grounds go into the garden.
Batteries and electronic goods are taken to the Wynberg
recycling depot.
It sounds good. But there are at least three flaws. Firstly,
many items in the one large bag of non-garden recycling
per 10 days or so for the two of us [higher at Christmas]
have a limited recycling life. That is to say, they will end up
in landfill or breaking down into small environmentally
damaging bits, especially the plastics. The table shows the
approximate number of times common waste-lines can be
recycled usefully.

Secondly the Ecobricks [see picture—all the bottles were
picked up in the streets], each containing about 800 grams
of non-recyclable plastic, have a very variable market.
Currently ours have nowhere to go despite following up a
few leads.

Thirdly, solid plastics—e.g. toys, containers, chairs—have a
limited life and will eventually join the waste mountain.
Materials with short or absent recycling trajectories [largely
the plastics] are of serious concern. In truth, the numbering
system supported by the plastics industry (which often
support recycling firms) is a bluff that diverts attention away
from the ever-increasing production and use of plastics by
the sector, a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry. Only a
small proportion of plastic is recyclable in a limited way—a
quarter at best.
So our next job in reducing our waste-lines is to reduce the
amount of non-organic material that comes into the home
and goes into the recycling bins. We must concentrate on
the first two Rs—Refuse [to buy these materials] and Reuse
more. Join a Good Food Club to get our food
from small producers with ethical packaging
policies; Take our own containers to the
butcher if we eat meat; Buy unpackaged fruit in
paper or net bags; Avoid toys made of cheap
plastic (our grandchildren are playing with
some toys that we bought for our children);
Club together and buy in bulk; Only use glass
bottles for drinks, not plastic.
Any further ideas from sustainable grandparents/aunts/
uncles of CCK?
Clearly, legislation is clearly needed [such as that designed
by the Department of Trade and Industry to stop suppliers
putting single use plastic labels on to fruit]. Consumers [you
and me] can vote not to shop where every aisle contains
oceans of plastic packaging. Support organizations such as
Greenpeace that campaign for a low-plastic African
When we ‘throw away’, there is no ‘away’.
Disclosure: This article is written on reused paper—but using
a single-use plastic ballpoint pen.
Erratum: last month, I erroneously wrote that the source of
our sun’s energy is nuclear fission. It is nuclear fusion. Sorry
for the con-fusion.

April 2022: 30×30=?

Recently, fellow 8am service congregant John Rogers kindly lent me David Attenborough’s 2020 book “A Life on our Planet”. The famous naturalist tells the story of environmental change over his 94-year lifespan. He has witnessed an accelerating decline in the proportion of Earth occupied by the natural world [“nature”]. This includes the oceans. Concomitantly, the numbers of living organisms [besides humans and the animals that we rear for food] have declined hugely, in many cases to the point of extinction or imminent permanent loss. Whether plants of all sizes and shapes, insects, four-footed creatures, feathered friends or fish, human encroachment and exploitation are decimating populations either by direct culling such as industrial fishing or undermining ecosystems through habitat loss and loss of key elements of those systems. The table shows the trend of loss of natural spaces since 1937.

YearProportion of Earth taken up by nature

Biodiversity is not a nice-to-have. It is essential to our survival on earth. Atmospheric health, water supplies, food, new discoveries of medicines and other beneficial materials – all these and more are threatened by unsustainable human activities that are radically reducing biodiversity.

The United Nations is spearheading an international response to the biodiversity crisis called “30×30” or “30 by 30”. The aim is to limit habitat loss by ensuring that the natural world occupies an average of at least 30% of Earth by the year 2030. Some countries will have more than 30% coverage because they already have greater than 30% of their space given to nature. They should not aim to go down to 30%, of course! (What do you think South Africa’s percentage coverage is?) There are conservation controversies associated with “30 by 30”. There is a danger that indigenous and marginalized human populations could be adversely affected by new national park declarations. Engaging such populations in conservation of the natural spaces around them has been shown to be good for biodiversity. But overall this coordinated aim to limit human destruction of the natural world and greater recognition of what it means for humankind to be part of it must be welcomed.

So what can the average Christian steward of God’s Earth do? Here are a few ideas linked to previous Sustainable Grandparenting [SG] articles in the 8 O’clock News as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDG] programme which, like 30×30, charts a path towards 2030 – a mere 8 years away!

  1. Be aware that we are all part of the natural world (SG1, SDG14 & 15)
  2. Improve everyone’s knowledge of nature, ecology and conservation (SDG4, 14 & 15)
  3. Don’t pollute and damage it with carbon, chemicals, plastic etc. (SG2, SG3, SG6, SDG 12-15)
  4. Minimise or eliminate meat- eating as pasturing and feeding livestock is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity through loss of habitats and methane pollution (SG4, SDG13)
  5. Support local and international initiatives and organisations aimed at protecting biodiversity (SDG 13-16)
  6. Promote gender equality and equity, giving more choice to girls and women (SDG5, SDG10)
  7. Lobby South Africa’s government departments at local, provincial and nationals levels that have influence over environmental policies and activities, especially Departments of the Environment, and Minerals and Energy (SG2, SDG7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15)
  8. Where we have space, grow our own food organically and let nature burgeon (SG6, SDG2 & 15)
  9. Stay up to date with Green Anglicans’ activities (www.greenanglicans.org) and join its local branch (SG1, SG5, SDG13-16).

Thank you, John, for lending me your book. A related documentary can be found on Netflix. Invite everyone to watch it if you have this streaming service (though remember that there is a carbon footprint to digital streaming).

May 2022 The Exposome

The principle of sustainable grandparenting is that we in generation S (S for senior) are informed and active in promoting the present and future well-being of the generations two or three tiers below us. Many of the threats to their well-being in the 21st century have been seeded in the past (often in our lifetimes), or are being sown now (think of Covid–lockdown effects on many children’s psychological and developmental health), and will be sown across their lifetimes if we don’t prevent that from happening.

It should go without saying that we, the Christians of generation S, are concerned not only with our own infant/child/teen blood relatives, but also with their peers, especially those who are poor and marginalised (Matthew 25:31-46 Sheep and goats). Turn the man lying wounded on the side of the road in Jesus’ “who is my neighbour?” story into an undernourished, under-stimulated child and our responsibilities as sustainable grandparents become clear. Passing by on the other side to our own grandchild’s birthday party is insufficient response (Luke 10:30-37).

And what are those threats to the younger generations then how can we counter them? Many of these have been covered in previous essays in this series. The emphasis so far has been on climate change and global environmental matters. But, as we think of prevention and mitigation, a helpful framework that is inclusive of the global but accounts for the personal as well is what has been called the “exposome”. In essence, the exposome is the sum of and balance of combinations of environmental exposures during (and especially at specific “critical windows”) in the life course – pre-conception to old age. Most of these critical windows in which the exposome are most likely to have positive or negative effects on health are during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence. These are times of particular sensitivity of the effects of the exposome.

Exposures that make up the exposome include diet, emotional milieu, air quality (indoor and outdoor), weather patterns, chemicals of many types in households and the environment, water quality, microbes (helpful and pathogenic), radiation including sunlight, and spirituality.

Fetal and childhood exposures are particularly important because of burgeoning cell growth, organ maturation including the brain, rapid neurological, sensory, language and emotional development in the young. Having relatively small bodies and large surface areas, the same “dose” of a problem physical exposure or set of exposures will have a greater effect on a child than they would on an adult. Exposures such as a nurturing emotional environment during infancy and early childhood can have lifelong positive effects. Others such as multiple pollutants in the air, lack of a varied and energy-sufficient diet, or the mix of gut bacteria as a result of a contaminated environment can have cumulative negative effects. Importantly, while such exposures singly or together may produce problems in childhood, accumulation of exposures during childhood may only manifest as disease in adulthood or even old age. Examples include cancers, mental health disorders, osteoporosis and joint conditions, and cardiovascular diseases. So preventive and promotive interventions in the early years of our grandchildren/nieces/nephews and their generational peers will reap wide-ranging lifelong benefits for them, and for society.

The sustainably-minded grandparent/aunt/uncle says, “what can I do to promote the well-being of children and young people near at hand and afar?”. “How can I promote a positive exposome for children near and far?” Continue following this series to find out.

June 2022: The Exposome – the air that they breathe

I am in the United Kingdom as I write – the land of the noxious pea-souper fog and the 1956 Clean Air Act. In Cape Town, we know what happens when the Cape Doctor goes on vacation or temperature inversion makes visible in a brown haze the air that we breathe.

June 2022 brings Pentecost, a celebration of the gift of the Breath of Life, the ‘cleansing wind’ from heaven.

Air is a core component of the ‘exposome’, that composite of exposures that to a significant extent determine the health and wellbeing of young children across their lives. It enters their bodies 20-50 times a minute depending on their age. Noses, throats, windpipes, lungs and eyes as well as skin are bathed in air.

The quality of the air that they breathe as children affects the quality of both their present childhoods and their adult futures. Outdoor air quality is largely determined by our activities as a society; indoor quality by public housing policy and our behaviours as families.

Outside, vehicle exhaust fumes and industry pump nitrogenous, carboniferous (such as carbon monoxide), sulphurous and other gases into the air that they breathe. Inanimate particulate matter from fires, vehicles and industry add to the stew. These gases percolate into indoor spaces (especially in the poorest urban households) where they join with products of indoor cooking and heating, tobacco, house dust, cleaning materials, chemical gases released by furniture (that lovely smell of leather) and living and dead organic substances such as fungal spores and bits of housedust mite. Not a little list and not a complete one.

Just down the road from CCK, in Paarl, the effects of this part of the exposome on children (even before they are born – the air that their pregnant mothers breathe) are being studied in detail. Even in utero and in the earliest childhood years, air quality is determining the frequency and severity of respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Even more concerningly, there is evidence that the very size and shape of the lungs of children with marked exposures are being negatively affected in ways that are likely to set them up for poor respiratory (and therefore general) health in later life. Tobacco is a significant indoor pollutant in this set up.

Outdoors we know that air pollution makes it more likely that allergic conditions such as hayfever and asthma will manifest in childhood. Combine this with tobacco exposure and we are literally taking their breath away.

Answers to this are not easy, especially when it comes to dealing with inadequate housing. We do know what needs to be done; getting it done is where we stumble. Rooting out inequality remains an imperative. Covid lockdown brought huge declines in air pollution, so it is clear that responding vigorously to the carbon-reduction imperative will also benefit children’s long term health through better respiratory health. Our government is being taken to task for sitting on stronger anti-tobacco legislation that has been before parliament for over four years. Likewise, it is not holding Eskom to account for not adhering to emission standards. Each sustainably-minded grandparent/aunt/uncle can take responsibility for ventilation in our homes, keeping aerosols to a minimum, especially when young respiratory tracts are close by, and educating others in these interventions.

Biblically, air in the form of wind represents two poles: life and growth (Ezekiel 39’s dry bones, Acts 2:2 the Pentecost experience) and death and destruction (the east wind in Job 27:21 and Exodus 10:13-14). The air that children breathe has the power to be a blessing or a curse; to enhance their lives in fresh, clean air or to reduce their ability to enjoy life or live a long life through having to breathe tainted air in the critical early years.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, wind of God, this Pentecost, blow away our cobwebs of inertia. Fan into flame our determination to bless society’s youngest with clean air. Be the wintry blast that clears away the greed and ignorance that pumps pollutants into the atmosphere. Breathe new life into all who work to improve the quality of ‘the air that they breathe’. Amen.

July 2022: The Exposome – the bugs that they breed

Prof Robin Green

In June, the South African paediatric world was shocked to hear of the untimely death of Professor Robin Green, the Head of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Pretoria. He was a kind of Renaissance paediatrician, intensely and expertly involved in a wide range of areas in child health. Like the majority of paediatricians, he sought and promoted the well-being of children, not simply to treat their diseases. There was something of the evangelist about Robin; once he had his hands on the “good news”, he spoke of it on as many platforms as he could.

In one memorable lecture that I attended in 2019, he got his teeth into the microbiome (so to speak) and its effect on children’s immune systems and the genesis of allergies. The microbiome is the agglomeration of microorganisms that live in the mammalian (and thus human) gut. A significant part of our body weight is made up of bacteria, viruses and other tiny tinies. They interact with their host organism (us) and each other in ways that we are at the threshold of understanding. (Question: Will our new bodies on the new Earth have a microbiome?)

The baby in the womb is pretty much in a sterile environment. At birth, the infant is colonised by maternal organisms; breastfeeding adds to the process. Robin railed against unnecessary Caesarean sections that robbed children of their microbiological birth right; and health service, social, and commercial practices that limit women’s ability to breastfeed their babies exclusively. Vaginal birth and breastfeeding are crucial to the development of a protective and promotive microbiome in small children. Put the wrong bugs in there and much can go awry with the child’s immune system and intestinal development. Unnecessary antibiotics contribute a third threat to the healthy microbiome in early life. This is not to say the good practices beyond the early months of life cannot mitigate some of this, and that we know everything about the long-term effects of the only microbiome. But we know the direction we ought to be aiming for.

Last month, I wrote about “the air that they breathe”, the atmospheric part of the “exposome”, that conglomeration of exposures that together can determine children’s health across their lives. The microbiome (“the bugs that they breed”) is another part of this. Sustainable grandparents promote healthy exposomes for their and other people’s grandchildren.

Millions of children (thousands of them in this city), through lack of access to clean safe water and by living in contaminated environments owing to poor sanitation and waste disposal have their microbiomes degraded by pathological microorganisms. This sets up a vicious cycle of poor gut health that prevents optimal absorption of nutrients, which in turn leads to undernutrition that itself further damages the gut. Promotion of clean environments for all is part of letting “justice roll on like a river” that the prophet Amos speaks about (Amos5:24, in the present tense).

Yet children also need to muck about in the dirt. A little contamination is a good thing: steering the immune system towards effective protection from bad bugs and away from allergic reactions to things such as food and pollen. Too much cleanliness is a step away from godliness, one might say.

All bugs are not bad. “Bugs are us” might be a human gut, immune and possibly mental health mantra. But expose children to the right bugs at the right time in the right doses if you want to promote good gut, immune and possibly mental health.

Fewer Caesarean sections, more breastfeeding, less use of antibiotics, fewer allergies, and universal access to safe water and effective sanitation (these last two are fundamental parts of the exposome) will all contribute to sustainability by increasing the health of populations and reducing health costs. Healthy sustainable microbiomes in children are the way forward (and Robin would agree with me, I am sure).

This contribution is dedicated to the memory and legacy of Robin Green.

August 2022: The Exposome – the food that they eat

“God also said, I give you all plants that bear seed everywhere on earth, and every tree bearing fruit which yields seed: they shall be yours for food.” (Genesis 1:29)

“Food, glorious food!” (Oliver!)

It is a long distance from Genesis’ conception of the food chain – from plant to mouth – to what the world of food production to consumption is today. The agro-industrial complex has concentrated the means of production, manufacture and distribution of food into relatively few hands, with, in most countries, only a small minority producing their own food (even partially). From the point of view of the average child consumer who needs a balanced diet to grow and thrive, this situation has produced many distortions.

Food is an important component of the ‘exposome’ which children live with. It may seem odd to call food an exposure, like air or pathogens. But conceptually it is useful, forcing us to recognize that access to a safe and balanced diet for growth and well-being does not simply happen. Children are largely dependent on environments constructed by adults, including their grandparents. Go into a wholesaler or a spaza shop in a low-income community and you will battle to find good sources of fiber or complex carbohydrates. Some have coined the term “food desert” to describe this state of affairs. Most vitamins you will find there have been added in factories. Take a trip down Rosmead Ave to a supermarket and you will end your journey in an aisle of sweets, inviting pancreatic and dental decay to child and adult alike (another form of desert – or dessert). White bread is cheaper than whole wheat bread; ditto for refined staples. In both shopping scenarios, the exposomal tables (or should it be plates?) are tilted against the short- and long-term health of children and towards overweight, obesity, vitamin and mineral deficiency and constipation, and their consequences.

The vital importance of breastfeeding came up last month in our discussion of the microbiome. Child health professionals and sustainable grandparents know that formula companies only pay lip service to promoting the best way to feed infants while doing their well-funded best to make it easy to access their products regardless of the consequences during infancy and long-term (cf. the tobacco/nicotine industry). The recent infant formula “crisis” in the USA was an unnecessary one if the American exposome had been constructed in breastfeeding’s favour.

Getting good food to children is not only about quality. For many millions, it is also about quantity. Millions of lives are blighted by inadequate calorie (i.e. energy) availability and intake. This dire situation – which was improving (too) gradually – has now been set back by two P words: pandemic and Putin. Let’s finish where we began – with Oliver Twist’s exposome: indignity, bullying, emotional deprivation “(Where is love?”) and a weedy diet. A toxic mix. How could he (they) possibly thrive?

Sustaining and sustainable grandparents will support their children in ensuring that their grandchildren eat a balanced, healthy diet (can those empty carbs, everyone!), choosing nutritious foods with the lowest environmental footprint. They will contribute to the nutritional well-being of the many impoverished, poorly-nourished children near and far by living thrifty, simple lifestyles, ensuring that there is always something and some time to give away to others (Isaiah 58:6-7). Those who can will advocate for policies and practices that promote better access to good food for children (such as a bigger sugar tax). “A healthy exposome for all!” is the watchword for sustaining and sustainable grandparents.

September 2022 “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

This famous question came to mind when a fellow congragant wrote me an e-mail in response to the Season of Creation discussions at CCK. He recalled wartime life the 1940s during the Second World War:

The most startling difference (from the present) was the almost complete absence of plastics in those days, compared to the almost exclusive use of plastic materials found today in children’s toys, fabrics, containers and wrapping materials. To give you some idea of the situation in wartime England, the only plastic material I was aware of was ‘Bakelite’, the material of my model Spitfire kit. There was some use in writing, telephones and electronic equipment but that would have been minimal. I cannot recall any containers made of anything but glass or ceramics. Milk was provided in returnable glass bottles as were beverages in general. Tins were not a big feature in the larder and in Ireland, we had a small rubbish tip behind the kitchen where non-compostable perishable items could disintegrate and small items (such as tins) rust away over the years. Lighting was initially by a 24V Wind-charger system and when that failed, we ‘made do’ with candles and paraffin lamps. The climate being what it was, we survived happily without a refrigerator.

In Ireland, our drinking water was hand-pumped from a dug well in the yard and the roof rainwater run-off used for our washing and WC flushing. [I still find it astonishing that a water-hungry country such as ours uses potable water for WC flushing. We have two 750 litre water butts and save around one kilolitre of potable water a month by flushing our WCs with rainwater!]

Water heating was by an anthracite-fired kitchen range (when bathing became necessary!). Space-heating was by woodburning the blackthorn trees harvested on the property. There was no municipal sewerage in the area and the sole WC discharged to an open ‘septic tank’ in the field outside the garden area: it never smelled or required maintenance of any kind in the 16 years we lived there.

Such exigencies and simplicities of life were normal for the time and expected in time of war. Life was liveable without “all the mod cons” we expect 60 years later.

It struck me that, in the face of climate change and rampant habitat destruction (including our own habitat), we should be on a war footing. We must give up some of our comforts and “mod cons” for the sake of the greater good. Some elements of the “command economy” of wartime are required, such as subsidies for renewable sources of energy, active promotion and support for sustainable transport solutions, and curbs on plastic production and use. But we must also act to reduce our use of energy, meat and unnecessary “lifestyle” products that use up Earth’s resources, so that the war can be won. Survival requires it. Justice requires it.

In a high inequality world, it starts with us.

November 2022: I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

Unlike the ones I’ve always known.

I’m aware of carbon and plastic harming

The world our children will call home.

I’m going to have a green Christmas,

Greener than it has ever been.

And I trust that all will be keen

To make each and every Christmas green.

Practical tips for a green Christmas

Gifts                          Keep it simple

                                 Make them yourself (or pay someone nearby to make them)

                                 Avoid merchandise that has travelled far (unless Santa brought it on his carbon-neutral sleigh)

                                 Support local industries and service providers/small business (buying items, giving tokens or coupons)

                                 Plants and composting systems

                                 Good second hand (support charities)

                                 Match your Christmas spending to your giving to needy people or environmental causes

Buying toys              Avoid plastic

                                 Choose sustainable wood or paper

                                 Make you own

                                 Ensure that there is minimal and recyclable (really recyclable) packaging

Wrapping                 Use brown paper and decorate it

                                 Use bags made from left over material (make some for your friends as gifts)

                                 Paper gift bags (recyclable)

Green eating            Increase your greens!

                                 Reduce or eliminate meat (especially red meat)

                                 Simplify to reduce cost and waste (waist)

                                 Cut out all crisps and similar items (none of this packaging is recyclable)

Travel                       As little as possible

Crackers                   Yes, I probably am.

I am haunted by the ‘Ghost of Christmas to Come’. This mephitic character from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ predicts Ebenezer Scrooge’s hellish future if he does not change his attitude and behaviour. My Ghost predicts this for my children’s and grandchildren’s generations unless I and all of us change our destructive habits now, this green Christmas.

Discuss this list of green Christmas possibilities with your family and friends. Re-define how a happy Christian Christmas is measured in the light of our planetary environmental crisis. Remember that green is one of the traditional Christmas colours. Use the other traditional colour to remind ourselves of rising planetary temperatures.

PS. I note that Dr Suess’ Grinch is green. But greenness does not have to steal the joy from everyone’s Christmas. Joy should not be dependent on material items of a familiar seasonal kind. Indeed, verdancy can bring the extra festive joy of doing the right thing by our neighbour, the essence of the Christmas spirit.

November 2022: Who is my 8 billionth neighbour?

November 2022 marked the estimated birth of the baby who became the 8 billionth (8000000000) human living on planet Earth. Seven billion happened in 2011; 6 billion in 1999. So this millennium has seen a 33% rise in the human population.

There can be many responses to this milestone.

Here is one.

‘Welcome to the world, little one. God loves you (1 John 4:10). There is a good chance that you were born in South Asia or Africa [though not South Africa, where women are having fewer babies than ever]. There is a good chance that your mother had no choice about whether to become pregnant with you. I hope that she did choose. Unfortunately, in the many names of God across the globe, a lot of people try to prevent her from having that choice. I am sure that your mother loves you. I hope that she has people to support her in raising you.

I need to tell you that there are people who do not welcome your birth, who see you as an additional burden to and drain on the planet and the global economy. Perversely, they would like to prevent your mother from having the choice to bear you. Most such people are and have been consuming an unfair proportion of the world’s resources and doing significant amounts of damage to the environment through their lifestyles. Regretfully, it is a complex and deeply unequal world into which you have been born.

I do fear for your future, little one. Your survival through early childhood is not guaranteed, especially if you were born in central or west Africa. If you do survive, your potential may be compromised through poor nutrition, repeated infections and dangerous social and physical environments. You and your mother are also likely to face considerable difficulties related to climate change even though the two of you have contributed almost nothing to the phenomenon.

I and, I hope, many in my generation will put our energy into achieving a better future for you and your generation.

Again, welcome, little one. God loves you. I love you, too, and want the best for you. Why? Because I am a disciple of Jesus (1 John 2:10), and because you could be my grandchild.’

April 2023: Footprints

Recently our family was privileged to have a holiday in Nature’s Valley. Lagoon, beach, hikes over hills and in forests, space for bikes – it is the perfect place for a family holiday. A Knysna lourie, resplendently green, alighted daily on a tree branch next our first floor wooden deck – a kind of benison from creation for our time together. As we made footprints in the sand along with the many inter-tidal molluscs that fascinated the children, I was reminded that my ecological footprint is a threat to nature and must diminish. Nature’s Valley is a microcosm of creation. Did we leave it as healthy as we found it – or healthier? I must ask myself the same question about my footprints on the Earth.

Our granddaughters loved running on the sand as the waves swept in and out. I saw the water erase their small footprints – a reminder of the transience of life, a strong biblical theme. Life, like each grandchild, is precious. Our current destruction of nature increases the chances of the Hobbesian vision of life (poor, brutish and short) being their future. Where and how I and they step in nature at this critical time makes a difference to the lightness or heaviness of their tread across their God-given lifespans.

The Knysna lourie’s red eye met my eye. There was a question in it: what are you doing to promote the future of my grandchicks?

July 2023: Don’t be a Sisyphus

Many environmentally-conscious people have taken to making eco-bricks – packing mostly unrecyclable plastics into plastic cool drink bottles so tightly that the “brick” can be used in construction. I am one of these people. It takes me about six hours of cutting, packing and compacting the plastic to fill a 2L bottle. I harvest my bottles from the side of the road when running or cycling. (Cool drinks, of course, are not part of our diet – bad for the pancreas, weight and the environment.)

Our grandchildren take an interest in this cottage industry. On a recent visit to his paternal grandparents, young Charlie aged four, took to weighing the completed eco-bricks to check that they passed muster by containing enough compacted plastic – over 750g for a 2L bottle. In all, we have over 6kg of plastic sequestered from the environment in our house.

But still the plastic heaps up. Aware that unless we or society change our buying behaviour a never-ending deluge of plastic is our inevitable lot, I told Charlie the story of Sisyphus in Greek mythology. Sisyphus cheated death twice. Hades’ punishment for this unacceptable snub to divine power was to condemn him to push a large rock up a slope every day only to see it roll back down the slope every evening. Filling eco-bricks has the feel of this soul-destroying task. It is tempting to make a virtue out of it, but really, it is a pointless task (I won’t tell that to Charlie). 6 kg of plastic? How much plastic do you think there is in the average supermarket aisle? I might as well feel virtuous about hoovering up people’s car exhaust fumes when cycling.

Recycling plastic is largely done by the well-off and the destitute. In South Africa, this accounts for a mere 14% of all plastic produced. And as we noted in an earlier article, 2 to 3 rounds of reuse is all that plastics can sustain. Micro-plastics (degraded plastic pollutants invisible to you and me) are inevitable. Reuse of plastics in our homes is limited. How many yoghurt containers can we usefully use, for example? The rich do have alternatives to plastic, but they (we) are a tiny minority of plastic consumers (a term that implies ingestion I use deliberately).

So how do we turn off the plastics tap? Well, this is a worldwide question. Chemistry and microbiology may help sometime in the future, but meanwhile tons of plastic pollute land, rivers, the sea, animals, birds, fish and us. And the pile of plastic continues to swell. What about the plastics industry? I heard a very instructive interview with a lobbyist from the field. The interviewing journalist tried to get him to admit that a reduction in plastic production (an offshoot of the fossil fuel industry as you probably know) would be good. All he would say (on repeat) was that we must look at ways to recycle it more effectively. I wanted to hit him on the head with 6kg of compacted plastic! Plastics SA is similarly unself-critical. They will sponsor beach cleanups but not stop producing the pollutants that littorally litter. We need to counter such determined self-interest and greed.

We need more lobbyists for creation. I hope that Charlie will be one. I don’t want him to grow up being a big Sisyphus like his grandfather.

September 2023: Ezra and the Environment

How then should we live? This question forms the root of Christian morality and behaviour. What does our faith demand of us as we live in the age in which God has placed us? The Sermon on the Mount which we have been focusing on in sermons and small group study over the last few months at CCK forms a significant part of the answer to this question across the ages. Being salt and light, entering by the narrow gate, loving our enemies, seeking first the Kingdom, for example, have called upon followers of Christ to engage with this question in their daily lives over the centuries.

Centuries before Christ the Jewish doctor of the law living in exile in Babylon, Ezra, faced more than one major decision on what represented living a God-shaped life for himself and his people.

When reading his story, I was struck by a parallel between what he found in Jerusalem after going there from Babylon with a cohort of fellow exiled Jews and the challenges facing Christians in a time of global environmental crisis.

It is about sin, that unpopular and unfashionable talisman of true Judaism and Christianity.

Ezra’s horror

With the support of the king of Persia, Ezra was given safe passage under God’s guidance to Jerusalem with a large, hand-picked group of Babylonian exiles. His purpose – the rebuilding of the city and its temple. His motivation – devotion to God and his laws.

So when he found widespread inter-marriage of Jews with a long list of foreign populations (all the -ites, such as Amorites) in Judah, a practice specifically prohibited in God’s law, he was horrified. In his deep mortification, he tore his hair out, rent his clothes, and took his sense of deep shame to God. He acknowledged God’s righteous law, and its key role in determining God’s favour towards his people. He acknowledged the deep offence given. The answer to his “how then should we live?” question was to live lives separated from foreign populations according to the law. The action taken was radical and painful: the dismissal of all of the foreign wives and their children. How many tears must have been shared?

Our horror?

As the enormity of the consequences of our profligate use of fossil fuels, our rape of natural environments for profit or pleasure, and our easy acceptance of the convenience of pre-packaged goods dawns on the Christian consciousness, is it unreasonable to see a major violation of God’s laws? Humankind was to rule over the natural world as God ruled over human beings (Gen 1:28). Humans were to care for the garden (Gen 2:15). To love God therefore is to love and care for his creation and its creatures. And as Jesus made clear, loving God and loving our neighbour are the primary drivers of “how then should we live” for his followers. So, any part of the environmental crisis to which we have contributed represents sin. Our response ought to parallel that of Ezra. Deep shame, humbling ourselves before God, acknowledging our need to bind ourselves to lifestyles and behaviours that are good for the earth: that is to say, in our time, ensuring that we know what it means to seek God’s kingdom and his justice (Matt 6:33).

Where are we individually on Ezra’s journey? Where are we as a church on this journey? Is the horror and sense of environmental sin just dawning – step one? Are we ashamed and acknowledging our individual and corporate sins – step two? Are we exploring what the equivalent painful and radical response to that of Ezra’s might be – step three? What might we need to do that symbolically is equivalent to giving up wives and children? What are we tied to in terms of our consumption and environmental footprints that we must untie ourselves from? Are we acting on our responses, untying ourselves and thus living closer to the “how should we then live?” question’s answer – step four?

Listen to words from contemporary poet Ben Okri‘s “Earth cries” that was read at our recent Creation Celebration concert.

How do you get
The ears of the world to listen
Without fear? And to listen with
Courage? We need a new language
That howls and caresses at the same time,
A new language that frightens and
Gives hope simultaneously, that
Tells the truth and transcends the truth
In the same breath. For the human being
Is a frail vessel that cannot take the light
And yet cannot face the darkness.
Must we become a new species?
Must the human being be remade anew
To face the tough truths of the times?

Okri calls for a new kind of response taken courageously. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians should be up to the challenge to be the new people that our planetary crisis requires. Our love for God is our motivation. Are you up to it? Am I? Is CCK?

September 2023: The Sermon on the Mount and the ecological crisis

hrough August and September, CCK focused on the second and third chapters of Jesus’ body of teaching to his disciples known as the Sermon on the Mount. September was also The Season of Creation. What do these two chapters have to say about the ecological crisis that we, Jesus’ disciples, are part of?

How much is enough?

“Your father knows what your needs are before you ask him”, Jesus says before launching into The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:8). He also knows what we want. But what we need is his focus. Chasing our wants, whether material or experiential, is not a nexus point for Jesus, however much we might pray for them. The prayer he teaches is “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt 6:11), not our daily bread, butter, jam and a large variety of cheeses! ‘Wants’ are dangerously closely allied to greed, and greed is eating the world. Christian disciples must learn to discern the differences between needs and wants (for ourselves and our families) if our ecological balance is to be corrected and preserved.

This is especially the case for those of us who have grown up with enough and to spare. What we do with the “to spare” is a test of Jesus’ teaching about God and money (Matt 6:24). Where we dispose of our ‘disposable income’ is a test of where our hearts are. If we dispose of it in ways that damage the environment or our close or distant neighbours (Matt 7:12), we cannot be loving and serving God. Where are our treasures? (Matt 6:19-20)

Flowers and birds

We saw and heard a host of beautiful flowers and birds in our Creation Celebration concert. “Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings”, the choir sang. Our attitude to material security (Matt 6:25-30) is another litmus test of need versus want, of love of God versus love of money (Matt 6:24 again). And once again the heathen approach (Matt 6: 32a) leads to over-consumption and ecological damage. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matt 6:32b).

No. Rather than focusing on security, we are to focus on God’s Kingdom and his justice (Matt 6:33 – to me, this verse is the pinnacle of the Mount sermon). And, in our times, the focus indubitably must have a significant ecological component. It is the largest justice issue of the moment – justice for the poor and vulnerable as the effects of climate change widen inequality, and justice for the next generations, our neighbours in time.

About tomorrow

Climate anxiety is anxiety about tomorrow. Is this wrong? Predictions are indeed dire. How do Jesus’ words (Matt 6:34) speak to anxiety about the climate and the environment? The ringing message is “don’t be anxious”. But that is not the same as “don’t do anything”. “How much more will your Father give good things (i.e. things that are good for you, not fancy treats) to those who ask him?” (Matt 7:11). Pray! “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Matt 7:12). Let us imagine ourselves living on a low-lying island in the ocean or in an agriculturally marginal region of the world, or coastal Mozambique. What would we like our Southern Suburbs Capetonian neighbour to do that will secure our tomorrow?

And lastly, we are learning painfully that we have built our material lives not on rock but on sand. Building on fossil fuels, material greed and the pursuit of convenience is leading to ecological collapse. The idea of climate collapse was illustrated in MJ Axelson’s sermon on this passage (Matt 7:24-27) as we saw a coastal house collapsing under the force of rising sea levels. We are needing to rebuild our houses on firm ecologically friendly rock. And Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount have a lot to say on how we should do that.

October 2023: COP28

Since I started writing these short pieces, two COPs have passed – 26 and 27. Now, at the end of 2023, we have COP28, in other words the 28th meeting of the conference of parties around climate change. This one is being held in the United Arab Emirates [UAE] – a petrostate in the Gulf of Arabia, which does strike one as a little perverse when the leader of that country also leads his county’s petroleum company. Readers of this publication hardly need reminding that climate change is largely a product of the ‘greenhouse effect’ produced by humankind’s egregious burning of fossil fuels [coal and oil mainly] and the destruction of forests for agriculture, especially animal husbandry for meat-based foods because cattle and sheep in particular produce copious amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The COPs bring together governments, international agencies, commercial interest groups, non-government organisations and civil society [you and me] to discuss progress on the Paris Agreement that was signed in 2016 as a global approach to the mitigation of the climate change crisis. Note: we no longer talk about the prevention of climate change because it is here whether we like it or not, but we do or should talk about mitigation strategies aimed at preventing its exacerbation as well as adaptation to reduce its effects on living organisms including humans on planet Earth.

What have we done between COP26 and COP28? Will our grandchildren, when they are our age, be pleased, disappointed or disgusted with what we did or didn’t do in 2022 and 2023?

Firstly, what have we done individually and as CCK families? Use the following questions to guide your audit. Circle the correct answer. Then pause for reflection and prayer.


In 2022/3, have we decreased our overall energy usage? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we increased the proportion of our energy use that comes from renewable sources? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we reduced our use of private cars, especially for short journeys? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we shared journeys with other people more often? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we intentionally travelled less by plane? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we helped others to reduce their dependence on and use of fossil fuels? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we reduced our consumption of products that come from far away, especially choosing to eat seasonally available foods? Yes / No .


In 2022/3, have we reduced our intake of all animal-based foods, especially red meat? Yes / No .
In 2022/3, have we increased our own production of plant-based foods? Yes / No .

Will we be having a greener Christmas in 2022 than in 2023? Yes / No .

Secondly, what have we done as the Body of Christ at CCK? Here I am guided by the headings from the Eco-church audit developed by the Arocha organization.

               Has the leadership of CCK made a formal commitment to increasing our environmental credentials? Yes / No / Don’t know but I intend to find out .
In 2022/3, was there more teaching and worship that related to Creation Care and environmental issues than in previous years? Yes / No / Don’t know but I intend to find out .
In 2022/3, have we decreased the ‘carbon footprint’ of our church buildings?
Yes / No / Don’t know but I intend to find out .
In 2022/3, has CCK engaged with local leaders and organisations around environmental issues including climate change? Yes / No / Don’t know but I intend to find out .
In 2022/3, there has a group at CCK who encourage the Body of Christ at CCK to follow sustainable practices and care for creation and those affected by climate change? Yes / No / Don’t know but I intend to find out and might join them.

And thirdly, what have we done as a world? Here, because COP28, which will have begun as this edition of the 8 O’clock News goes to press, has a focus on the health effects of climate change, I will point you to The Lancet medical journal’s 2023 Countdown which gives useful summaries as well as details of recent years [https://www.lancetcountdown.org/]. Here are the headlines:

               Heat-related mortality, dengue fever [a mosquito-borne disease] and food security and malnutrition have all increased
City-level climate adaptation risk assessments are taking place but mainly in high human development index (HDI) countries. Cape Town is one of them.
Air-conditioning, while saving lives, consumed huge amounts of electricity [equivalent to total electricity use of Brazil and India combined].
External and internal air pollution due to burning of fossil fuels and biomass [where there is no alternative cheap safe energy source] have increased.
Deaths due in insufficient plant-based food intake and excessive red meat intake have increased.
Economic losses due to extreme weather event that are partly attributable to climate change have increased.
While financial institutions have lent far more money than they used to the development of renewable energy sources, their lending to fossil fuel companies continues to increase which is counter to the Paris Agreement which they signed. Fossil fuel companies are still increasing production and exploration to levels that will exceed the Paris Agreement targets and significantly aggravate global warming.
Research into climate change and its mitigation and adaptation to its effects have significantly increased but largely in high HDI countries which is not where most of the affected populations live.
Many more people and organisations are engaged on the conversations around climate change than before. [Does that include CCK?]

My assessment of what I, we and ‘they’ have done as the COP numbers rise is that the jury has returned to the courtroom with sober faces [some members are crying] with the sombre judgment on each of us, our church and our human systems: “Could and should have done a lot better.”]

Who will step forward? (Isaiah 6:8,9)

October 2023: Are you a matriot?

Recently one of the 8am service prayer leaders, when praying about the environmental crisis the world faces, referred to Mother Earth. A note stating that we should avoid the term since it is not consistent with Christian theology was received. God the Father is the creator. ‘Mother Earth’ contains shades of animism or universalism. Or New Age-ism and Gaianism. ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24:1).

I have recently read a very satisfying book: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. It paints a frightening yet heartening story of humanity’s response to climate change in the coming decades. In it, for a number of authorially imaginative reasons, humanity largely comes together to deal with the carbon crisis. One strand of this is the idea of consciously being a citizen of Earth, or the earth, more so than of one’s country. Patriotism takes on a new meaning. Or is it matriotism? In terms of getting to grips with the environmental crisis, should we be matriots, rather? Citizens of Mother Earth.

This got me thinking [again] on how Christians relate to the earth, this infinitesimal dot in God’s [known] universe on which after many billions of years He has placed humankind whom He loves. It is not difficult to identify with the psalmist in delighting in the variety, glory and sheer splendour of the earth and skies whether using the naked eye or micro- or tele-scopes (e.g. Psalm 104). Likewise with its fecundity at harvest times (e.g. Psalm 65). Perhaps even with its brokenness in the theology of the Fall (Genesis 3:17-19). These can be seen as observational relationships with the Earth. One step removed from the Earth itself. And then there is in our enjoyment of nature [small ‘n’] in national parks, private reserves and green spaces. A recreational relationship.

How close an identification with the earth do these produce, and does it matter? Are we Christians, in a time of environmental crisis, experiencing restoration and joy in creation including thanking God, but then simply getting on with everyday life as something separate from nature? After all, isn’t Christianity’s main focus on humanity and its redemption, the redemption of the Earth being very much secondary (both in terms of theology as in Romans 8:22 and in terms of focus) in most of the church’s activities? I feel that we are reaping the consequences of this imbalance: humankind as something separate from nature, rather than an integral part of a unitary creation.

Humankind’s history including the 2000 years of the Christian era is littered with stories of communities outliving and destroying their natural resources. This now occurs at a global level. On our watch, as it were. Commodification of the Earth and nature have been the response here; the profit motive leading to exploitation (including colonialism and neo-colonialism) and destruction, largely led by the males of our species. I wonder if this is not at least in part owing to an inadequate range of relationships with nature. Are we ill-equipped spiritually to deal with the challenges of stewarding the earth and dealing with the environmental catastrophe we have produced?

What if more of us, while abandoning our surprisingly pervasive contributions to the exploitative and damaging use of nature, were to complement our observational and recreational relationships with creation/earth/nature with a more reverential relationship. Not pagan nature worship, but a deeper sense of the sanctity of it all. Wouldn’t the stewardship of the Earth given to humanity by God (e.g. Gen 2:15) be much the better for a greater degree of awe and profound engagement? Yes, it is all God’s, but the path to worshipping God (capital ‘G’) in nature and thus treating it with reverence requires an intimacy that has its own characteristics, I think. Christian Creation spirituality one might call it. One of these, I believe, will be an appreciation of aspects of nature that might be considered notably maternal, such as nurture (so counter to exploitation). I am sure that you can think of other female/feminine characteristics in nature. This maternal aspect is just one facet of Christian Creation spirituality that can strengthen our Holy Spirit-inspired reverence for the Earth. ‘Closer to God’ takes on extra meaning when it comes to understanding and worshipping God through nature. For example, through rich soil, rotting leaves, seasons and cycles. As citizens of the Earth and of the Kingdom of God, we should explore this more as a church community.

For my part, as a citizen of Earth and the Kingdom of God, as I wake up every day, breathe in nature’s oxygen (laced with extra carbon dioxide, it has to be said), look at a tree, tread on the gravel in the path, greet El Gecko on the wall, I will reverently, matriotically  and patriotically (and perhaps not a little idiotically – à la St Paul in 1 Cor 11) sing out, in the immortal words of Allan Sherman, ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh’.