Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Michael Northcott – A Political Theology of Climate Change [Review]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0802870988″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mrb%2B-s9JL._SL160_.jpg” width=”107″]Page 2: Michael Northcott – A Political Theology of Climate Change

The preponderance of sources in this book is amazing.  One such reference point that helps us anchor the discussion of climate change is found in the comments relating to the work of Sergei Bulgakov.  Northcott writes, “Hedonism for Bulgakov is the characteristic sin of modern political economy, just as asceticism – particularly ascesis for the poor – was the besetting sin of the pre-capitalist era.” (156-7)  Bulgakov repeatedly drew connection points between the ‘spiritual state of a nation’ and its economic life.  Luxury tears apart the wisdom that to repair what is broken is better than to just discard the broken.  Secondly, the lure of luxury does not produce a moral and social posture toward others and nature, but a rather brutish individualism.  Bringing the discussion of climate change into proper perspective while relating to the writings of Giambattista Vico, Northcott writes, “The climate crisis is not a threat apart from culture.  It is a threat to human culture as it is situated in nature.” (109)  Vico was transparent in bringing back the human side of the sciences, which speaks to the moral obligations of human discovery and militates against a power over nature trajectory.
The emotivist/preferential dictates of individuals are indicative of the modern problems with climate change science/discussion.  Drawing on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, Northcott writes, “..the attempt to ground morality in emotions, rationality, or utility neglects the transcendent roots of moralityin human and natural history and, ultimately, in the divine origination and destiny of human life on earth.” (248)  What climate change scientists point to as facts about fossil fuel consumption are both facts about the way things are on the earth and a moral judgment.  But, many see these ‘facts’ as politically motivated tools of oppression or in many ways feelings about the way humans view the earth.  Feeling based assertions tend to squash historical and moral arguments from the past and instead deaden the discussion regarding climate change politics.
Far from providing a blanket answer to the growing problem caused by fossil fuel pollution, Northcott sees a way forward in the burgeoning commitment of people with a shared vision.  By chronicling the Transition movement in England and looking away from the nation-state to provide sufficient answers, the way forward is the combination of local collective efforts and sustained moral commitment on behalf of the members of many associations and communities.  The rich tradition of Christian fellowship and the ethic of loving one’s neighbor points to a wealth of wisdom in moving the climate change discussion along.  No, there is no magic spell that can cast aside the fossil fuel challenges that we face, but the combination of a rigorous rejection of the nature/culture divide and a community based vision will help climate change initiatives to hold sway over an individualist culture.
With wisdom and clarity, Michael Northcott pushes the reader the know the truth about climate change and see the Christian vision of the restoration of all things as leading the way to a better political theology of climate change.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
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  1. This sounds fascinating! Thanks for reviewing. I’ll be buying it. One thing – when I clicked “go to p 2” from the first page, I got a typo in the web address: htttp:www (etc.). That extra “t” threw off my web browser. Check the link?