‘Repent! Repent!’ John the Baptist cried. He was sent, the Scripture says, to make straight the path of the coming Messiah in Jesus Christ. When asked specifically, in practical terms, what one must do, he replied, basically, it was to be content and not exploit the situation by asking for more. This is a counsel we in the modern world can understand, and find as difficult to heed, because our lives are based on improving our lot, even if it means encroaching on another’s well-being, usually out of sight and sound. The traffic must flow, buses and trains transport the public to work and leisure, and jets must criss-cross the skies in their essential flights; and what is more, roads are widened, rail services improved, and new airports planned to cater for increased demand. What causes climate change is in the practical necessity one cannot in effect step back from but serve. There follows the schism in society we see today.
On a personal level, the decision to control oneself is already exercised in what one considers as adequate action. One does not eat or drink to excess, one conforms to the laws of society, one does not litter the streets, one drives carefully along with the majority on increasingly congested roads, one is a model citizen; all these require restraint. The call to repentance is something of negative impact, and in truth, depressing, wiping the smile off faces, and affecting one’s rhythm of life. One prefers the positive approach by charitable donations to those in need, particularly children, through the reputable charities, in events raising millions, demonstrating the good will of the public. One feels one is doing one’s bit, and that life can carry on as normal, even when judged by others as adversely affecting the environment. So what is one to do, or how is one to change – cut back, cut back?
There have always been advances in standards of maintaining the environment that successive governments world-wide have promoted and expedited. Recall the poisonous smog in the ‘60s that lead to replacement of coal by coke in domestic hearths in the UK. Recall the replacement of steam locomotives by diesel and electric. Witness the development of hybrid and electric cars. There is a perennial underlying thrust to improve air and water quality, and to conserve the environment. One is doing one’s level best. However, in the limited land and airspace that is our planet earth, there must come a time when the best efforts of governments and their people is estimated as inadequate. The pundits of this ‘save the planet’ movement aim their searing darts into the hearts of well-meaning citizens, making them out to be, for all their aforestated restraint, polluters of the environment. They are backed by idealistic campaigners with their ‘zero emissions’ ultimatum, and the whole exercise is given credibility by wildlife extinction rates and depletion of the rain-forests, a rising in ocean levels caused by global warming. The years of respective governments laudable efforts at managing the environment are forgotten like the Israelites dancing round the Golden Calf after Moses had parted the Red Sea. Then to crown it all, Sir David Attenborough makes his baleful predictions, implying once again that governments and the general public are to blame. Sir David has always been an observer: ‘wolves’ he utters or ‘Orcas’ when these appear. Now his observation is ‘melting polar caps’, as he gives us a guided tour of observed calamities – but forgetting that observation is just that, and is not the basis for conclusion of what can and must be done about it, as he surmises.
Then along comes the Covid-19 pandemic with the attending lock-down reality. At a stroke, all the maladies of our polluted world bar the malady itself of the virus are addressed. Pollution is cut down by paralysed world transport systems. The Climate Change protest is rendered silent. And the general public is subjected to an imposed repentance regime, the type they had always abhorred, over a virtual period of biblical duration, the type even Christ had to go through to train his human mind on the reality of life, of forty days and forty nights.