Is it dead or alive?

Posted by Victoria Mason on September 20, 2023

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Bob Kikuyu challenges us to recognise what is at stake in our relationship with creation – and shares the practices that can help us rise to the challenge of responding to the climate crisis. (Guest blog for the International Day of Peace 2023)

A young man once heard of the wisdom of an old man and decided to test him. He came up with what he considered a bright idea. One morning he walked through a field and trapped a butterfly in the palms of his hands. He proceeded to the old man’s house and told him what he had in his hands and posed the question – “Is it dead or alive”? If the old man said it was dead, he would release the butterfly alive. If the old man said it was alive, he would crush it in his hands. After a few minutes of contemplation, the wise old man looked into the young man’s eyes and softly said, “It depends on you”.

We face an existential threat with the climate crisis, yet several conferences and COPs have yielded little progress. We have the science, and we certainly have the resources but still struggle to achieve the targets we have set out to save our planet. J Gustave Speth, the founder and former president of the World Resources Institute said:

“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystems collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we scientists don´t know how to do that.”

Could this be a reflection of our moral loss and damage? The nations that have contributed the least to the climate crisis are the ones that have suffered the most. They are now demanding compensation for loss and damage. On the other side, the nations that are obligated to meet their share of responsibility seem intent on offering as little as possible to support efforts to fight climate change. This push and pull is unlikely to end. And all the while, lives and livelihoods continue to be affected, and the earth hurtles closer to destruction…unless something different happens.

This can be found in the notion of reconciliation – reconciliation to our common destiny. If something significant does not happen, then we are all on the path to destruction – poor nations and rich nations alike. That should serve as motivation to be reconciled to one another to protect our common home. The affected nations need to be compensated for their loss and damage, an acknowledgement of the injustice they have suffered. If so, this compensation can also help to repair the relationship between the mostly global North polluting nations and the mostly global South affected nations.

We need a reconciled relationship with creation, and for that we also need to reimagine our relationship with creation. That reimagination should dispel the long-held theology of human superiority and domination that established an extractive relationship with creation. We can instead work towards solidarity with the planet, harnessing its gift to us, such as renewable energy, whilst also protecting its ability to regenerate itself, participating in local conservation efforts whilst also pushing for legislation.

We need to question our societal unquenchable thirst for more by auditing our individual consumerist appetite, asking if we can manage with less and hence pollute less. And maybe to inspire our reimagination we can look to the indigenous communities such as those found in the Amazon Forest who harmonise nature and spirituality in their daily living, each caring for the other.

Is it dead or is it alive? It depends on you.

(Photo by David Clode on Unsplash)


Bob Kikuyu is Global Theology Advisor at Christian Aid. His role revolves around supporting the organisation to ensure its policies and processes are derived from theological reflection, as well as supporting the building of faith movements for development. He is based in Nairobi, Kenya with his wife and three children.

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