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Everyday earthkeeping 1/4 | Listen to our planet groan

The views expressed in these blogs belong to the authors, not necessarily LICC. In this series, we’re hosting a conversation in blog form.

‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters.’  (Psalm 24:1–2)

Ever wonder, then, how our Creator feels about the state his planet is in?  

Ballooning temperatures, sea-levels, and fear among younger people. Shrinking biodiversity, forests, and hope that we can make any real difference to our environment. Global weirding is real. In response, we swing between oblivious business-as-usual and frenetic activism, all with a background sense that we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. 

So, how would Jesus – the Lord of all creation – have us keep and cultivate his planet in an age caught between mindless overconsumption and eco-anxiety? 

That’s the question this blog series explores. Over four articles, our contributors – Bethany Kunert, Jo Herbert-James, Paul Kunert, and Laura Young – will have a conversation, responding to each other’s reflections as they ‘triple listen’ to wisdom from the word of God, the world, and one another. The goal? To help us practise hope-full earthkeeping in our everyday lives as whole-life disciples, wherever we are, whoever we are, and whatever we do. 

The series also accompanies our Wisdom Lab: Everyday Earthkeeping event, at which each of the authors will deliver a TED-style talk and bring together evidence-based insights and theological wisdom, making space for honest dialogue to squarely face the duty and delight of ecological responsibility on our beautiful but broken planet. 

In our first blog post, Bethany Kunert – a young geographer and geospatial analyst passionate about protecting and improving biodiversity across the planet – helps us listen to our culture from the margins of the church. In conversation with LICC’s Director of Culture & Discipleship Dr Dave Benson, Bethany offers a window into the heart of younger generations as they wonder what difference following Jesus makes in the midst of the climate crisis.  

In the rest of the series, we’ll imagine what Scripture has to say, learn how to create a healing response, and think about how to communicate the good news of an orthodox and yet authentically green gospel as a whole-life witness. Through this series, we’ll be inspired to live more sustainably right where we are, from a place of hope, honouring the Lord of all creation. Read on as we seek a wise way forward together. 


DB: Can you tell us a little bit about what piqued your interest in environmental issues? What role did your upbringing play in following this calling? What do you love most about nature? 

BK: Great questions! I grew up in a pretty outdoorsy family – think hikes and safaris when we lived in Tanzania, picnics and boat trips in Suffolk, and climbing weekends and holidays in the Lake District where we’d get stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours. I still love doing these activities with my family today – there’s a kind of peace that you experience when you’re out on the water or up a mountain that you don’t get anywhere else.  

All this time in the outdoors taught me to appreciate nature from an early age. And it also sparked my interest in weather systems and changing environments – because we returned to the same part of the Lake District each year, we were able to notice tiny differences in temperature, vegetation, and mainly weather as it’s become more extreme each year – particularly at the top of a mountain! That said, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided that geography was the discipline I wanted to pursue or that I wanted to work in the environmental sector; it just sort of happened.  

After I finished school, I read geography at the University of Exeter. I loved studying a ‘now topic’ rather than spending hours poring over scholarship that had been written decades or centuries ago. Fast forward a few years, and I’ve just started my second graduate job as an analyst in a geospatial start-up.  

DB: Congrats on your new role. For those who don’t know, can you explain what a geospatial analyst does? 

BK: When people start to think about the growth of technology in relation to the climate, they usually think about it quite negatively. But there’s a helpful synergy between the two: technology helps us to map, monitor, and hopefully slow the progress of climate change. In my job, I use high resolution satellite imagery and AI models to remotely analyse the habitats, and by extension the biodiversity, present at each site. Having mapped the area, I then pull a whole bunch of statistics to help customers understand their land, and therefore develop a strategy to protect biodiverse ecosystems. There’s endless data when you drill into it. Using geospatial technology enables us to map and protect a significantly larger area because it’s less labour intensive, easier to scale, and significantly more affordable. 


DB: Almost everyone recognises that something has gone terribly wrong in how humans relate to the environment.[1] What do you think is the root cause of this problem? 

Our culture is founded upon overconsumption. I mean, who doesn’t love a 3-for-2, a buy-one-get-one-free deal, or next-day delivery? I know I do. Whether it’s clothes or other consumables, the ease and convenience of buying new things trumps investing in quality products which last – and this feeds the never-ending cycle of buying new every time. Climate change often gets pushed to the bottom of our lists; when we’re busy or stressed, we just want the easy and cheap option, and that’s very rarely the most environmentally friendly option. And sadly, as the age-old saying goes, there’s enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. 

If we take a step back, I think we see the knowledge of climate change doesn’t always translate into action – people don’t want to make great lifestyle sacrifices. And to be honest, I see this gap between my intellectual knowledge of the ecological crisis and my everyday lifestyle choices, too. 

There was a study done by YouGov which revealed this attitude: 71% of respondents from across Europe said they were alarmed by the climate crisis and were willing to take personal steps and back government policies to help combat it, but when surveyed about individual decisions, the greater the impact of a particular change, the less they supported it. Put simply, when the rubber hits the road, people just don’t want to cut their meat and dairy intake, reduce their travelling, have fewer children, or switch to an electric car for the sake of the environment. And, perhaps counterintuitively, it’s the emerging generations who shout loudest about climate care, but it’s those aged 65+ who are most likely to make sacrificial and sustainable choices.  

I also think a significant problem is that nobody knows what the correct environmental choice is. Do you buy an electric car that uses electricity generated by fossil fuels and generated significant volumes of carbon in production, or do you continue on with a diesel car you’ve owned for 10 years? Do you wash out recycling and use up fresh water, or send all waste to landfill but save water? I think these kinds of questions stop people from wanting to make a decision or lifestyle choice because it feels like there are no entirely positive solutions.


DB: Thanks so much for your honesty – would it be fair to say you feel some personal guilt around the climate crisis? 

Yes, absolutely. For me, I can identify an inner tension between wanting to act in an environmentally conscious way and following through – and I think it’s important that we all take ownership for our contribution to the climate crisis. For me, I particularly notice this guilt when shopping for new clothes or booking travel. 

When I was a teenager, I watched a Stacey Dooley programme called Fashion’s Dirty Secrets. I was shocked that the microfibres in clothes pollute seas and oceans, that the garment industry has contributed to the disappearance of the Aral Sea, and so much more. For some reason, this documentary really hit a nerve – it’s stuck with me and every time I buy new clothes, a sense of guilt kicks in. But then I often find myself rationalising and justifying a bargain t-shirt based upon convenience or some other reason in my mind, and it’s the environment that compromises again. Or, to take another example, recently I was booking flights to Sicily for a summer holiday. When I was booking the flight – even though it’s not long-haul – it made me feel a bit guilty. I investigated alternatives like getting the train, but I have such a small amount of annual leave that the extended travel time just wasn’t feasible.  

And so, when I see global leaders and celebrities jetting off around the world like there’s no tomorrow, I feel disheartened and disappointed.  I think to myself, ‘why can’t I have one short-haul flight to have fun with my friends?’ For example, I recently saw that Taylor Swift’s carbon emissions are 1,100 times higher than the average person’s entire annual emissions! And it’s maybe even worse when it’s ostensibly green-minded people, like the delegates who travelled to COP at the end of last year. I do question whether this needs to be in-person – it would be a huge shift for this to become a virtual conference but imagine the reduction in air miles!  

I don’t have a clear picture of how we’ll adapt and how the world will survive through the climate crisis; what I do know is that the world needs to work together, and we’ve all got our part to play in that. It’s a dichotomy because we need to think globally and then act locally, for example by buying food, clothing, and toiletries from local providers. But if we look at previous crises – whether that’s famines or wars – we haven’t really seen cooperation on a global scale before. And that’s why everything seems so big, and maybe so hopeless. I’m a bit sceptical. Whenever I think about this macro-level change, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. 

[Editor’s note: Bethany is very humble – even self-deprecating – when discussing her eco-conscious lifestyle. But, whilst she didn’t say this explicitly when answering these questions, she does choose to live more simply, minimise her meat eating, holiday locally, buy her clothes second-hand, etc.] 


DB: Interesting, so would you say there’s an element of fatigue and hopelessness amongst 20- and 30-somethings around the climate crisis?[2] 

BK: Definitely – eco-anxiety is a thing! ‘Helplessness’ and ‘hopelessness’ are two words that lots of my friends would use to describe how they feel about this topic. We’ve grown up knowing that the environment is in crisis, but then we don’t see the impact of our small decisions. There are individuals, corporations, and nations trying hard to reduce their carbon footprint – but so often, the impact is minimal. For example, last year, I went to Iceland and saw some amazing technology which remineralises carbon back into the ground. They’ve spent years and years developing it, but in four years have only managed to capture the amount of emissions that equate to one fossil fuel plant for one month.  

What’s more, there’s a sense that whatever we do, both individually and collectively, we can’t make enough of an impact. As one of my university lecturers said,  ‘Climate change is just the next big mass extinction. Life will roll back around. It will survive because it always has in the past, even with other big extinctions. Maybe it’s just inevitable.’ 

And, for some people, that means that they just give up making environmentally conscious choices. It’s a big life change and a massive sacrifice for individuals or institutions to decide to prioritise the climate in their decision-making, and if you don’t see the impact, it’s difficult to stay motivated. I’ve also noticed that where there’s a secondary motivation – for example, buying second-hand to save money – people find these decisions much more palatable!  


DB: Where do you think the church sits in relation to the climate crisis and the necessary global response?  

Going to church was another regular part of my childhood – and I sometimes go with my family now I’m in my 20s, though I’ve never had a deep, personal connection with it. From what I can see, there’s still a lot of debate and controversy around climate change within the church. This confuses me as it’s a scientific fact: climate change is happening, biodiversity is vanishing, and we need to find ways to adapt and protect the planet because we can’t stop it. Perhaps that’s why the church doesn’t want to wade into the topic and risk losing people? In part, I think this is because there’s very little popular wisdom that’s pitched right – it’s either super heavy and difficult to digest or it’s so wishy-washy that people don’t get any helpful wisdom that will make a tangible difference.  

What’s more, now that I work in the environmental sector, I’m struck by how little the environment or climate activism are mentioned in church services – it often seems to be viewed as a hobby or a nice-to-have. This perplexes me because if you believe that God made the world and everything in it, that he died to save the planet, and that heaven isn’t a disembodied experience in the sky but life in a restored creation, earthkeeping should be at the heart of what the church talks about and does.   


DB: You’re not alone in your thoughts – many 20- and 30-somethings have struggled with the church’s use and abuse of nature and its escapist gospel of a brand new world to come, and arguably this is one of the contributing factors to 73% of young people who’ve grown up in Christian families leaving the church by the age of 35. Do you think the church is doing anything right? What wisdom, if any, do you find in the Bible?  

At the moment, I would say that the church is a hindrance by being a bystander – by not speaking up for climate conscious practices, it gives the impression that they do not view it as a serious problem. This creates a hurdle for people when they’re trying to campaign for and implement environmental change.  

I think there’s more wisdom in the Bible than Christians or non-Christians tap into. For example, Jesus teaches that his disciples are to be in but not of the world – in other words, that their values and actions must be distinctive from the culture around them. But in regards to climate change, it seems that the church is assimilating to the prevailing attitude that climate change is just a fact of life – that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. I would love it if church leaders sat down and properly thought about some of these environmental issues with reference to the Bible. If I’m honest, I’d be really surprised but would also really respect the church if they did something – not just talked about it but took action. Seeing them take action would change my view on the church quite a lot.  

Before my dad started writing Jesus Died to Save the Planet in conjunction with LICC, I’d never come across any Christian resources which tackled climate care. It seems that it’s just not a major priority. But I think it should be – and if the church got on board, it could have a huge impact as they’re an influential voice. 

That said, I think one thing Christianity brings to the climate crisis is a strong sense of hope. Because otherwise there is no hope. [3] But if you believe Jesus died to save us and the planet, it provides a good perspective to then be able to figure out what you can do and what your place is in the solution, to bring hope and bring change. 


DB: We’ve talked a lot about the problems and discouragements surrounding climate care and climate change.[4] Do you any see glimmers of hope as you look around you? 

BK: Yes, I think you see the biggest hope in people’s everyday kindness – when they recognise that we live in a global community and that their actions impact people thousands of miles away. As temperatures continue to rise, climate migration will increase. And my hope is that we’ll see people look out for immigrants, recognising the pain and hardship they’ve endured by uprooting their lives and welcoming them into communities rather than leaving them by the wayside.  


DB: Thanks so much for your time, Bethany. I’m excited to see how Jo Herbert-James weaves your experience into a bigger story of God’s good plans for this planet – all in part 2!  


Bethany Kunert 

Bethany is a Geospatial Analyst at Gentian, with a BSc in geography from the University of Exeter. 


Discussion questions 

  1. What do you – and your friends, family members, and colleagues – love about nature? Do you have a favourite place to go where you feel particularly peaceful?
  2. As you learn about the state of the climate, what facts do you find most disturbing?
  3. In what ways have your decisions and actions contributed to the climate crisis? How does this make you feel, and what do you do with these emotions, such as anger and guilt?
  4. What do you dislike about the way the church and our the wider culture have caused and responded to climate change?
  5. How hopeful are you that we can avoid the predicted ecological breakdown? What is your hope based on?
  6. What difference would it make if most Christians saw everyday earthkeeping as core to how we join in God’s mission today?


[1] Humanity’s relationship with climate change. Last year, YouGov conducted a survey which revealed that most people think humanity is ‘entirely or almost entirely’ responsible for climate change. Grete Thunberg, in a 2019 interview for The Guardian, was hopeful that the problem was educational, not formational, saying ‘we aren’t destroying the biosphere because we are selfish. We are doing it simply because we are unaware.’ 

[2] How do the emerging generations feel about climate change? Above, we outlined the eco-anxiety that’s prevalent in this generation, but at the same time the most creative and courageous responses to this crisis come from emerging generations who often lack institutional roles to enact the changes for which they rally, as detailed by Susan Ann Samuel, ‘“Greening” International Law en route to Agenda 2030: The Role of Youth in Enhancing the Soft Power of Climate Justice,’ Yearbook of International Environmental Law, 2023. 

[3] Is there hope? Grete Thunberg has been particularly – and understandably – outspoken on this point. In her 2019 Time Magazine interview, she said: ‘I believe that once we start behaving as if we were in an existential crisis, then we can avoid a climate and ecological breakdown. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We have to start today.’ Similarly, in a 2019 Guardian interview, she asked, ‘Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future?’ Most tellingly, in her 2018 TEDx Stockholm address, she said that hope is placed entirely in our human response: ‘The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.’ This suggests that in the current climate of a lack of human action, we are truly hope-less, for nothing and no-one above or beyond can act to interrupt our plight. 

[4] Are we too late to save the planet? An early protest call at Extinction Rebellion rallies was ‘We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!’ And yet, most now agree that the COP climate targets won’t be hit (‘1.5 to stay alive’), and for all our inter-governmental proposals, there has been more hot air than effective collaborative action to stem the tide. 

Helpful resources 

  1. Jesus died to save the planet by Paul Kunert. This essay will be published in June 2024 in partnership with LICC. It considers the theological basis for the truth that the gospel is good news for all creation, because Jesus’ death and resurrection precipitated a seismic shift, beginning the restoration of all things – including the planet. He then moves on to consider the missional and pastoral applications of this truth, inspiring readers to see how Jesus’ resurrection has ushered in a new reality. How, with him, we can begin to live now as we will when the Earth has been perfected again, choosing to make kingdom-like decisions in our everyday lives that will conserve and care for the natural world and bring peace, love, and justice to our local neighbours and global community.   
  2. Speech to World Leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit’ by Grete Thunberg (2019; video here). This address captures the wisdom, anger, and passion of a generation, through the words of its best-known eco-activist. See, also, this 5-minute video collage of Grete’s efforts, and this Time Magazine feature, being awarded 2019 Person of the Year. 
  3. Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davies (Riverrun, 2020; reviewed here). This book powerfully captures the ideals and disillusionment of many emerging adults with our consumer culture addicted to acquiring experiences and possessions to feel alive, safe, and secure, whatever the planetary cost. Think surfing and simplicity on the Cornwall coast, combined with under-employment and homelessness; it’s the collision of wanting to protect nature’s beauty and yet feeling guilt over being complicit in our modern mess. 
  4. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by Katharine Hayhoe (One Signal Publishers, 2022). In this book, climate scientist and whole-life disciple, Katharine Hayhoe, goes beneath the facts to find common values for collective action through telling better stories at the intersection of science, faith, and human psychology. Listen to Katharine interviewed here on ‘global weirding’. 
  5. A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by Sir David Attenborough (Ebury Press, 2020) Hear from the UK’s best-known natural history filmmaker, his take on our greatest mistake, and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. 
  6. Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth (Greywolf Press, 2017). This story from one of the most dedicated environmental activists tells of his passion, confusion, and then reorientation from a secular and then pagan motivation to Eastern Orthodoxy as a base for sustainable ecology today. You can read his conversion story here, and listen to an interview in conversation with the former Anglican Archbishop, Rowan Williams, here. 
  7. Burning Down the House by Tearfund and Youthscape (2020). This study found that while 9 out of 10 young people are concerned about the climate crisis, only 1 in 10 think the church is doing enough about it, even as 8 in 10 think Christians should respond to climate change.  



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