The violence which humankind has visited not only on the natural world but also on human populations has resulted in negative environmental change which in turn induces diverse forms of violence in Africa. This has been threatening a sustainable society and human flourishing in Africa. Invited as Christ’s witnesses, Christians need to offer qualitative resources to forestall the violence that threatens human flourishing. What opportunities do these challenges offer Christian theologians and ethicists to provide life-transforming alternatives that enhance a sustainable African society? In this paper, I argue that considering the linkage between climate change and violence, a crucial transforming alternative towards a sustainable society in Africa is the quest for sustainable peace, realisable only within the context of justice (a just society)—specifically, climate and/or environmental justice. I intend to explore the Christian virtue of justice and its promise for a sustainable society, peace, and human flourishing in Africa.
It has been generally acknowledged that global environmental problems, especially negative climate change, are symptomatic of and have the tendency to create a plethora of social and economic problems, not least those of injustice, in human societies. Oftentimes, concerns about rights and justice are characteristic of debates on environmental decisions and policy interventions without the participation of local communities where such interventions take place. These concerns are usually framed as political or social discrimination or injustice against local communities and vulnerable social groups with respect to the benefits and burdens from nature’s resources—i.e., environmental goods and services. This has led to the appeal to ethical discourse, usually politically, in the quest for environmental justice. In the following pages, I draw primarily on sources from what might be called contemporary ecumenical theological ethics, such as kingdom ethics of justice—especially the liberation-oriented eco-justice—and eco-theology, which I attempt to bring into conversation with secular environmental philosophical ethics, especially the “environmental justice” literature. I consider this approach and conversation essential, for it provides an important contribution towards the development of a broader Christian philosophical approach to environmental justice.
2 Environmental Justice
Practiced at both the social and individual levels as one of the cardinal virtues, justice is traditionally defined as “the virtue of acting in such a way as to give persons their due” (Fedler 2006, 22). Generally, justice is both a meritorious feature of character and dimension of social relationships (Wolterstorff 1995, 15). Environmental justice presupposes the reality of environmental injustice. Environmental injustice, broadly defined, is “a situation in which some people either lack a fair share of environmental benefits (that is, benefits stemming from natural resources) or have to bear an unfair share of environmental burdens (that is, burdens stemming from harms to the environment)” (Caney 2006, 465). Conventionally, environmental injustices are said to occur “when a policy elite disrespects traditional environmental practices and excludes the least empowered and most economically vulnerable groups from environmental decision-making” (Figueroa 2006, 360). The search for environmental justice is one of such efforts at ensuring justice for those who suffer from the adverse effects of negative environmental change.
Defined by Willet (2015, 588) as “explor[ing] the nexus between structural inequalities and environmental degradation,” environmental justice is “at once a social activism movement, a policy discourse and a conceptual frame” (Willet 2015, 559). Arguing that “there is little participation from marginalized communities in decisions about the environmental risks and hazards that affect them,” Willet states that environmental justice researchers and activists “focus on disproportionate environmental degradation in marginalized communities, the related unjust impacts, and/or the lack of participation in environmental decisions, and then situate these scenarios within the socio-political context” (ibid.).
Commonly, two basic forms of environmental justice have been identified (Figueroa 2006; Nesmith and Smyth 2015). The one that reflects the most common definition and critical form of the term pertains to distributive justice, which means that “the burden of environmental hazards or degradation is shared equally across all demographic groups or communities” (Nesmith and Smyth 2015, 485). Distributive environmental justice, whether its focus is on distribution or compensation, is basically concerned with the equitable balance or fair distribution of the benefits or burdens accruing from an environmental decision and practice, such as toxic wastes and other forms of pollution, and provides “a critical lens through which to view the enjoyment of such benefits against the suffering of the associated burdens by other social groups” (Figueroa 2006, 360). This is against the background that in any decision and action concerning the environment, there are some social groups who benefit while some others are harmed. It is the harm inflicted on certain social groups while others benefit from the same decisions which remains the focus of the mainstream of environmental justice (Figueroa 2006, 363).
The other form of environmental justice identified by Figueroa, which in practice would be considered broader and a precursor to the first mentioned above, is justice of recognition (or, recognition justice) and has to do with “who gets to make environmental policy decisions and who does not” (Figueroa 2006, 363). Its focus is to ensure that “there is equal inclusion in decision-making processes that result in environmentally related policies and actions” (Nesmith and Smyth 2015, 485). Requiring us to “consider the question of political representation within a given social structure” (Figueroa 2006, 367), recognition justice is premised on the view that because distributive justice alone, in terms of material redistribution, cannot adequately deal with the persistent cultural discrimination embedded in environmental injustice nor adequately address the fundamental questions about who has the power to redistribute, those communities facing environmental injustices and discriminatory environmentalism need to have a political voice in order to overcome the prejudices that undermine political equality and environmental equity (Figueroa 2006). According to Figueroa (2006), recognition justice emphasises the representation of vital groups in environmental decision-making, the role of local environmental knowledge systems in the analysis of environmental problems and the search for solutions, and the representation and respect of environmental identities and heritage of affected local communities. Taking stock of several obstacles and challenges embedded in the quest for environmental justice, such as corruption and the undermining of participatory parity, recognition justice underscores how distributive justice “fails to mandate a role for the otherwise disenfranchised communities in a fair bottom-up process” (Figueroa 2006, 369).
However, in recent decades it has become clear within the environmental justice movement—though not without resentments—that it is not only human persons and groups who suffer from injustice in environmental decisions (i.e., social environmental injustice). Though the natural world remained unrecognised as a subject worth considering in ethical debates, it remains largely abused, overtaxed, and overexploited without recognition of its limits. Thus, the natural world (creation) also suffers. Consequently, the need emerged to extend to the natural world the ethical and political concerns of justice, which initially were human-centred debates on social environmental justice and inequalities, focusing on a “traditional political-economic analysis of disparities regarding environmental goods and services” (Haluza-DeLay 2013, 396; 2012, 174). This extension, which introduces a third form of environmental justice identified by Haluza-DeLay (2013) rather as recognitional justice, aims at further analysing justice issues embedded in “the misrecognition or devaluing of particular social forms and cultural worldviews” (Haluza-DeLay 2013, 396), such as extending justice concerns towards non-human forms of creation as a facet of a holistic and relational worldview as expressed by the Aborigines (Haluza-DeLay 2013). It is from this perspective that there is currently at the heart of climate justice “the understanding that the urgent action needed to prevent climate injustice must be based on community-led solutions and the well-being of local communities, indigenous people and the global poor as well as biodiversity and intact ecosystems” (GJEP 2017). Identifying this form of environmental justice rather as recognitional justice, Haluza-DeLay (2013) defines Figueroa’s earlier two forms of distributive environmental ethics as distributive or substantive justice while defining recognition justice as procedural or participatory justice.
3 Christianity and Environmental Justice
Unlike the liberal-humanist philosophical views of justice discussed earlier, justice in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is a much richer and more complex concept—its meaning cannot be exhausted within the space of this article. The clarity, however, is that the Christian concept of justice is not simply a theoretical and mechanical concept to be applied as it were in a legal system, nor is it “merely an ideal for good individuals in their private life”—rather, it is “a righteous demand that has the power to confront those who have the power” (Stassen and Gushee 2003, 356). The crucial Christian understanding is that justice is aimed at delivering or rescuing the poor and oppressed from their domination—i.e., delivering justice (ibid., 350). This is grounded in the Christian understanding of God, of his reign and kingdom (God’s presence, salvation, peace, and justice) which were proclaimed by Jesus (Stassen 2006).
The Judaeo-Christian tradition underscores that God loves justice (Isa. 61:8; Ps. 37:28), and this love for justice is an active love which compels God to seek justice for and do justice to victims of injustice (Pss. 103:6, 140:12, 146:7–9; Wolterstoff 1995, 17). Similarly, this love leads God to enjoin Christians to do justice (Wolterstoff 1995, 17) based on the understanding that “the good that we serve is the reign of God, and the reign of God is oriented toward community with God (God’s presence and salvation) and community with our fellow human beings (peace and justice)” (Stassen and Gushee 2003, 53). The goal of Christian justice, therefore, is a just community of harmonious human relationships between human beings characterised by love—that is, community-restoring justice (Stassen and Gushee 2003, 355). The psalmist’s emphasis of this is instructive when he says, “Your kingdom is founded on righteousness and justice; love and faithfulness are shown in all you do” (Ps. 89:14).
Clearly, Christian justice is modelled on the mercifulness and love of God out of which the justice of God flows (Stassen and Gushee 2003). Consequently, justice from a Christian perspective is not possible without love (justice-seeking love), without seeking the well-being of the person or thing that is loved (Moe-Lobeda 2002, 11). This is because justice flows out of love as its spiritual ethical foundation with the understanding that one cannot love the other without being just towards that person, and vice versa. Undeniably, a key distinction of the Christian understanding of justice from the liberal humanist conception is that Christian justice is grounded on and tinged with love, which serves as the spiritual source and soul of the action referred to as justice. In a Christian understanding, therefore, justice cannot be mechanical; rather, the second principle of the Christian faith, “loving neighbour as self” (Moe-Lobeda 2002, 137), serves as the cornerstone of justice seeking. The biblical treatment of justice can only be understood within the thrust of the biblical vision toward the recovery of the human capacity to love, most importantly neighbour-love (Moe-Lobeda 2002, 12).
Regarding Christian environmental justice, the theological concept of eco-justice, which “extends justice to nonhuman portions of creation” (Haluza-DeLay 2012, 174) and examines the link between creation and justice, has been thought of as working out the needed kingdom-affirming justice and life-transforming initiatives towards justice for the earth and for disenfranchised victims of climate change. Defined as “constructive human responses that concentrate on the link between ecological health and economic justice” (Hessel 1992, 9), eco-justice “envisions and values ecology and justice together, since there will be very little environmental health without socio-economic justice, and vice versa” (Hessel 2007). As espoused by Pope Francis, in the face of global inequality today, “we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Francis 2015, 35). The understanding here is that justice for the earth is crucial for maintaining and sustaining the gains of social justice and equality; thus ecological justice has to go hand in hand with social justice (Boff 1997). Similar to what Haluza-DeLay (2013) calls recognitional environmental justice, and endorsing its holistic nature, eco-justice perspectives see a direct correlation between the violation of the earth (creation) and the violation of the rights of persons, as reflected in the violation of Naboth and his vineyard (Hessel 1992; Golo 2004). Eco-justice initiatives therefore aim at engaging the world crisis of ecology and justice towards the restoration of earth community (Hessel 1992). Eco-justice occurs “wherever human beings receive sufficient sustenance and build enough community to live harmoniously with God, each other and all of nature, while they appreciate the rest of creation for its own sake and not simply as useful to humanity” (ibid., 9). This thrives on what Moe-Lobeda (2002, 12) calls “sustainable and re-generative earth-human relations,” which extend the norms of neighbour-love to the other-than-human world.
Stassen, reflecting on Walzer’s theory of justice, notes that under the debilitating powers and principalities in our contemporary society, an ethics with a modest, mutually respectful, and transcultural intent must offer people the right to community; the right to liberty, including the right to participate in community; and the right to life, including the right to develop one’s calling, with education, housing, food, work, health care, and so on (Stassen 2006). A Christian ethic of justice that seeks out these rights would work towards the realisation of a sustainable society because all that human flourishing entails is basically the affirmation of these rights. Human flourishing is defined by Peters, from a Christian social-ethical perspective, as that which adequately accounts for the well-being of all of God’s creation, including the social well-being of people (Peters 2004, 28–29). Consequently, “the social well-being of people, then, must be a central norm for what constitutes human flourishing” (ibid.). Boff (1997) suggests that human flourishing also has spiritual dimensions that are quite distinct from the liberal humanist potentialities that serve human interests and profits. Thus, beyond humans meeting their basic needs and even fulfilling the desires that make them happy, which may culminate in materialism and unsustainable consumption (consumerism), human flourishing from a Christian perspective further emphasises “that spiritual dimension proper to Homo sapiens (demens), ever tied to the global interactions of human beings with the cosmos of the Earth in its immense diversity and in its dynamic equilibrium” (Boff 1997, 67). Human flourishing, then, largely depends on the sustainability of the natural environment coupled with conflict-free relationships in human communities (sustainable societies). Defined from the perspective of the good life, human flourishing manifests in “sustainability; self-limitation both in terms of population and lifestyle, so that others may eat; and inclusion of all, especially the weak and vulnerable” (McFague 2000, 36).
Tinker notes that just as Christians have come to know that sustainable peace is only realisable through the establishment of justice and that peace is a consequence of justice, “then we must begin to learn that justice and peace flow naturally out of a deep respect for all of creation” (Tinker 1992, 146). Consequently, what matters first and foremost is respect for the integrity of creation, and ensuring justice and care for creation as a subject, not as an object. The natural world, and not human populations alone, deserves justice, care, and non-violent relationships. The apostle Paul emphasises in Romans 8:19–23 the direct—if not ontological—relationship between injustice towards creation and injustice towards humanity, resulting in the lack of peaceful and flourishing life in human societies. He notes that the groaning of creation is not due to its own will but “related to the ‘subjection’ to which the creation became victim in the aftermath of human sin” (Kehm 1992, 102). Thus, the earth has become an unwilling (enslaved) victim of injustice, just as millions of people in Africa and elsewhere have become environmental victims to human estrangement from the creation of God and “the unsustainable character of the way modern human beings have related to the rest of creation” (Gibson 1992, 114). The result is the endangering of human life now and that of future generations, and conflict-ridden relationships in human societies.
The environmental justice emphasised in this paper undoubtedly has to do with the socio-political form espoused by environmental justice movements and which represents the justice sought for and by environmental victims and disenfranchised groups with regards to environmental decisions, benefits, and burdens. Indeed, it is the concerns, contestation, and the quest for environmental justice within this group which, when not met or resisted, are more likely to generate tensions and conflicts that undermine a sustainable society. However, my approach extends justice to the non-human aspects of creation as well (eco-justice) because “that is the context and basis of human life” (Cobb 1992, 28). The eco-justice dimension of environmental justice, which Haluza-DeLay (2013) calls “eco-/environmental justice,” reflects my use and understanding of environmental justice because it ties in with the generic African indigenous and anthropological conception of justice from the eco-communal perspective.1
Justice within the African community therefore means that the decisions and choices that individuals and groups make should not result in the dislocation, disaggregation, and imbalance of other groups of people, the wider community (including the spiritual community), and the natural world. They should also be in tandem with the spiritual world. Among indigenous Africans a sustainable society is defined from the perspective of just and harmonious relationships between human beings, the natural world, and the supernatural world—what the African calls community. While the quest for human well-being is an obvious priority, African anthropology does not define human well-being in isolation from social, environmental, and spiritual well-being: the three well-beings make up the well-being of the community. Thus, while there may be other African conceptions of justice, the bottom line is that a just and sustainable community or society is that in which human well-being and sustainability of the entire creation is guaranteed in terms of the just, healthy, and harmonious interrelationships between human individuals and groups and the natural environment and between human persons and the spiritual world. A sustainable society from an African perspective is a just, peaceful, and flourishing society grounded on interrelationships defined by Bujo as “sacred, cosmic and interhuman” (Bujo 1998, 212); that is, relationships which are not mutually exclusive or substitutive.
Criticisms regarding the compatibility of the biblical vision of justice and the African notion may be raised, in that the biblical vision enforces individual autonomy and responsibility of the person as a moral agent before God; and justice requires the inviolability of the human person as against a communitarian African ethic. In other words, concerns may be raised as to whether the African communal ethic lends itself to the recognition of the individual as a moral agent (Maina 2008, 196), and whether this ethic does not end up in a hideous hegemonic interpretation and claims to a tribal or ethnic identity where individual human rights, autonomy, and responsibility are ceded to a central ethical system. The dangers are that these may motivate persons getting away with individual responsibility, including environmentally reckless decisions and inability to cope with environmental frameworks, in the name of communal ethics.
While these concerns and criticisms seem genuine, it is worth noting that individualism has no grounding within the biblical vision and Christian view of individual responsibility and autonomy, for individualism is not morally acceptable in Christian ethical thought. The biblical vision rather grounds the individuality of the individual as a moral agent capable of making decisions and acting out of love within a community. Consequently, this is compatible with an African communitarian ethic, because African communal ethics does not violate but rather encourages individuality (including individual innovation, industry, and achievement) that works towards the common good. However, because “the common good takes precedence over the individual good” (Kunhiyop 2008, 24), the extent to which individuals exercise their autonomy and rights is controlled within the community for the common good. This is because in African anthropology “there is no individuality without community” (Maina 2008, 195); and justice is about the practical expression of relationships of love within community. Unfortunately, these values towards a sustainable society have become difficult to work out under conditions of global socio-economic inequality, poverty, discrimination, and injustice, as well as the globalisation of Western individualism.
4 A Changing Environment and Injustice in Africa
According to Barry (2007), research confirms a strong correlation between global economic linkages among the world’s economies and the pollution of the physical environments of the world’s poor, minorities, and indigenous people, where poorer economies have become the sites of noxious substances, polluting extractive industries, and destructive land use activities by mostly foreign companies. For instance, the dumping of hazardous materials such as toxic wastes generated from industrialised countries in developing economies is not uncommon. An average of about 300 million tonnes of toxic wastes was dumped annually in the 1980s in West Africa, with its governments raking in about $12 billion annually (Barry 2007). The situation seems to suggest that environmental degradation is a price to pay for poverty and global economic inequality. In recent years, the dumping of electronic waste containing hazardous materials—e.g., lead and zinc—in developing economies, such as Ghana, in the name of economic trade or aid has become widespread (Oteng-Ababio 2012; Golo 2014; Lundgren 2012). Such practices clearly represent environmental injustice, economic injustice, and discrimination towards the environmental identity of West Africans at the same time. Furthermore, what is particularly unjust is that those communities and social groups in Africa who suffer most from the effects of negative climate change are the ones who emit only a small amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere.
countries pay developing countries to take hazardous substances, often at great risk to the citizens of those developing countries; countries have waged war against others by destroying valuable natural resources (such as oil) and polluting the natural environment; municipal councils have systematically located pollution in neighborhoods which contain high numbers of members of racial minorities; industrial plants have released pollution (such as acid rain or nuclear radiation) which has then crossed borders.
Figueroa underscores that the “fact that vulnerable groups are so often victims of the unfair distribution of environmental burdens reflects discrimination against the groups’ environmental identity” (Figueroa 2006, 372). The Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) has labelled climate change as “at once a social and environmental justice issue, an ecological issue, and an issue of economic and political domination” (GJEP 2017, 1). The enduring nature of negative climate change and most environmental challenges entails far-reaching consequences of negative environmental change and the perpetuation of social injustice into the future. Future generations who have not contributed to the current emission of GHGs into the atmosphere will be heirs to the adverse effects of climate change, which leads to an intergenerational injustice. The health consequences of climate change and environmental challenges are some of the most worrisome injustices. Donohue (2003) indicates how the greatest effects on the health of people worldwide are due to environmental degradation and social injustice.
Boorse (2011) stresses the high vulnerability of the poor and less privileged to negative changes in the environment and how difficult it is for them to deal with such changes. She summarises the impacts of climate change on poor and vulnerable groups and people, such as those in Africa, in four main ways: they are vulnerable to and more likely to be affected by disasters; the cost of prevention and survival (mitigation and adaptation) are higher relative to their income and likely to be at the cost of other necessary items such as food, education, or health care; they are more likely to be displaced when environmental disasters strike; and they are more likely to be affected by ensuing conflicts (Boorse 2011, 30).
Shore notes that for those living in poverty, such as the African farmer who barely makes a living out of insufficient seeds, tools, and equipment, “climate change is not a fictitious or a far-off threat. It’s a very real intensifier of poverty today. For those already struggling under the weight of poverty, climate change increases vulnerability to environmental shocks that are outside their control, and it decreases the resources that would help them cope” (Shore 2011, 35).
Negative climate change and other attendant environmental changes, then, are undoubtedly a threat to the sustainability of societies and human flourishing on earth. They tend to deprive the poor in developing countries, such as Ghana, of their right to jobs and livelihoods; the right to access to food, clean water, and clean air; the right to good health; and the right to live in conflict-free and sustainable communities where human lives flourish. To cast this in theological language, it becomes evident that the environmental problem of our time “threatens the health, security and well-being of millions of people who are made in God’s image” (Boorse 2011, 6). All in all, when one considers the effects of climate change on the earth’s inhabitants, especially the poor, it truly represents “one of the greatest challenges of our time” (AACC 2011, 5) and possibly “humanity’s biggest project” (GJEP 2017).
It must, however, be underscored that negative environmental change is largely induced through two interrelated anthropogenic processes, implying that further negative change or its reduction are largely human choices. These decisions involve, first, contemporary societies’ preference for a particular model of socio-economic development—oriented to a process of maximising economic growth—and, second, their reliance on environmentally decimating technologies in that process. In Ghana, for example, these processes have been identified as leading to the environmental challenges that the country currently faces. The forest sector, for instance, declined largely when transnational companies—about 500 by the 1990s, including Danish and Dutch firms (Glastra 1999, 60)—logged off Ghana’s forests, utilising heavy machinery and equipment, which led to overlogging and massive deforestation.
The current illegal artisanal small-scale gold mining which has turned into large illegal commercial gold mining problems in Ghana—also involving multinationals and international agencies from Italy, Russia, and Germany, as well as approximately 50,000 Chinese in mining communities (Alhassan 2014, 48)—further evidences this coupling. This economic activity has become environmentally decimating because heavy equipment and sophisticated machines are used that decimate farmlands and forests and pollute rivers and water bodies, unlike the rudimentary tools and methods formerly used by local people.2
This indicates not only the environmental problems that go with the use of heavy machinery or the mechanisation of economic development, but also the perpetuation of social and environmental injustices towards local populations, mostly by powerful elites and middle-class citizens or global multinational agencies. The use of unsustainable technology usually plunders the natural world in an unbridled manner, thereby leaving the natural world “polluted and destroyed through wasteful, profligate and predatory practices of modern profit-oriented scientific-technological culture, be it industrial, agricultural or communicational” (Rayan 1994, 145). Thus, the dominant trend of economic growth preferences in socio-economic development is apparently not compatible with creation’s ecological balance, because it is based on the exploitation of both natural resources and human beings (Boff 1997). This trend has been strongly criticised by Christian ethicists since these economic arrangements are in sharp contrast to the Christian economic paradigm, which holds that the whole earth is God’s household and that its management should respect the integrity of nature, seeing the equitable sharing of resources as a basic norm required for the management of this household (McFague 2000, 36). Boff (1997, 67) therefore criticises any claims to sustainable development against the background of these economic arrangements as masking “the modern paradigm operative in both capitalism and socialism, even of the green sort, always with its all-devouring logic.” The result is the growth of unsustainable human societies incapable of supporting human flourishing.
5 Climate Change, Conflicts, and Sustainable Societies
A sustainable society will be defined as a society that guarantees human flourishing in terms of just and peaceful interrelationships among human beings and between human beings and the natural environment; i.e., a society where present and future peoples’ access to basic needs is guaranteed and where their human dignity and personhood are respected and safeguarded. Thus, it is a society that is life supporting and life enhancing. Obviously, a healthy, non-degraded, and non-polluted community, just personal relationships, and sustainable peace are considered basic needs.
Clearly, global environmental degradation perpetuates injustice towards social groups that also aspire to the good life and benefits of the common good but are denied access to them. Consequently, contestation for rights between those who benefit from environmental decisions and those who are harmed by them are not uncommon in environmental justice claims. Obviously, these contestations, driven by vested interests, have a propensity for generating conflicts and undermining the sustainability of societies and communities. Within the context of this discussion, there are basically two interrelated but complex ways by which the correlation between negative climate change and conflicts can be explored. Firstly, this is apparent in how climate change−induced social injustice tends to generate conflicts; and, secondly, how negative climate change and environmental degradation in themselves generate or induce conflicts.
Firstly, contestations on and reactions to climate change−induced social injustices and inequalities sometimes induce negative environmental change. There have been cases where such contestations result in violent conflicts, threatening the order and stability of the natural environment and human communities. The environmental consequences of oil production in the Niger Delta of Nigeria represent such a scenario. The destruction of the natural environment by oil-producing companies has led to violent conflicts resulting from contestations over environmental injustices emanating from the overexploitation of crude, which destroyed the bio-physical environment of local populations and communities without addressing the needs of the local communities (Barry 2007). Similarly, the earlier-mentioned problem of illegal artisanal small-scale mining in Ghana further epitomises this correlation: people claim they engage in this practice because they do not get their fair share of the resources of the country—e.g., employment or government assistance to engage in agriculture in order to sustain them (Solomon 2015).3 The complexity of the situation is that people whose farms and livelihoods have been destroyed by illegal mining activities abandon their farms in order to engage in the same illegal mining which destroyed their livelihood because it is more lucrative (Alhassan 2014, 48). The result is the wanton destruction of the natural environment, pollution of water bodies, and the escalation of tension and conflict in local communities and beyond. There have been episodes of local people resorting to engaging illegal miners in violent confrontations over the destruction of their farmlands and water bodies (MyJoyOnline 2012). News website Modern Ghana has also reported how some armed illegal miners went berserk in reaction to government attempts to close down their mining pits (Modern Ghana 2013). Here, the correlation between (environmental) injustice and conflicts becomes clear.
Secondly, there are occasions where environmental problems, such as climate change, land degradation and destruction, removal of forest cover, and pollution of all kinds, directly generate problems of (in)security and conflicts—i.e., resource conflicts. These are either due to concerns over apparent environmental injustice or conspicuous environmental harms, such as diminishing of natural resources and health hazards. Boorse (2011) avers that because climate change causes resources to become limited, scrambles for them are likely to stir up conflicts. There have been increased cases of conflicts in Africa that were directly or indirectly linked to climate change—for example, conflicts over natural resources, such as water resources and grazing land in nomadic communities (AACC 2011). Conflicts over water are already common in many parts of Africa; in Nigeria, for instance, where nomadic herders, fishermen, and farmers have clashed over such resources as land and water (Boorse 2011). There have also been clashes with deadly outcomes as the result of climate change−induced migrations and movements of nomadic populations and their cattle (AACC 2011): e.g., recent clashes between nomadic Fulani herders and various local populations in Ghana (Kaledzi 2016) and Nigeria (Cultural Survival 2017).
It is evident from the foregoing discussions that there exists some correlation between negative climate change and tensions or conflicts among human communities and populations. Consequently, climate change and its impacts do not entail a just society in the future as they impinge on the right of—mostly—vulnerable and disenfranchised communities and people to a peaceful life and the right to live in a non-degraded environment. Furthermore, contestations of these injustices may jeopardise the future of our societies because they are conflict-laden. Indeed, climate change effects have already caused myriad conflicts in various societies, thereby threatening a sustainable society and human flourishing in Africa. Thus, the search for justice becomes crucial if the sustainability of society is to be our concern. What is required, therefore, is the commitment to social and environmental justice in the present—it forms a large part of the present responsibilities with regard to the future (Attfield 2006).
It is in this light that I explore the correlation between eco-/environmental justice and sustainable peace in attaining environmental justice for the poor and disenfranchised. The aim is to work towards sustainable peace and, ultimately, a sustainable society in Africa.
6 Towards a Sustainable Society in Africa: Christianity, Justice, and Sustainable Peace in a Changing Climate
The World Council of Churches (WCC) and its member churches have been instrumental in the response to contemporary environmental challenges and climate justice since the late 1980s. Notable is their Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) initiative, which explored the relationships between justice, peace, and the integrity of creation—eco-justice—and what these mean to the church as a moral community by calling the churches “to commitment and coordinated action in response to injustices and threats to survival in the world” (West and Granberg-Michaelson 1993, i). Beyond the JPIC process, the WCC has emphasised the relevance of justice as the starting point for ensuring climate justice, maintaining that “justice must be the basic criterion of applied ethics in all decisions concerning the measures to cope with climate change” (Rautenbach, Kerber, and Stückelberger 2014, 21). The question, however, is how this works out. In the following paragraphs, I explore the Christian invitation to justice and its relevance for sustainable peace and, consequently, for a sustainable society in Africa.
The invitation to believers, in this case the African church, to partner with God is an invitation to seek justice through life-enhancing initiatives towards the flourishing of life—that is, transforming justice (Stassen and Gushee 2003). Responding to the invitation of Christ to deliver justice therefore entails the preparedness to work towards transforming justice (Golo 2014) which “becomes so much of a reality in the world of mission because it is so much a part of what God desires for us and of what Jesus lived out in his time and modelled for us to live out in our times” (Steuernagel 2008, 68). Practically, this requires a number of commitments and responsibilities of the church which I discuss in the following paragraphs.
This is considered a mission of reconciliation which is “reconciliation with the earth from which humans have been estranged and…which the human being has subjected to groaning through his estrangement from God” (Golo 2014, 212).
the imagery of the divine rule is essentially creation imagery, that the ideal world symbolically represented in the image builds on the divine origin of the cosmos as an ideal past and an ideal future. It is relational first of all because it implies a relationship between the created order of things and its Creator, and secondly because it implies a relationship between all of the things created by the Creator. As the Creator of all, God is perforce the rightful ruler of all. And the ideal world to which Jesus points in the Gospels is precisely the realisation of that proper relationship between the Creator and the created.
When the church and Christians care for this world, the church will be averting negative environmental legacies, a dangerous climate, and a conflict-laden, violent society. This will be love-driven justice towards present and future human generations as well as the non-human creation (Matt. 22:39). Ackerman notes, “We are called as children of God to seek justice and care for the earth that God has given us. Degrading the environment, polluting air and water, and misusing valuable resources are obvious ways in which we Christians fall far short of God’s commands” (Ackerman 2011, 28). Interestingly, Matthew 22:39 is weighed together with Matthew 22:37–38 where the love of God is emphasised as being the first and greatest commandment, with the clarity that injustice towards the neighbour is injustice towards God, and vice versa.
Second, Peters (2004) notes that Christians are called to live in this world as if they were already in the kingdom, instead of spiritualising the hardships of this world, such as poverty and disease, and dismissing them as if this world were merely a stepping stone to the next. Consequently, values that engender the social well-being of people must be central to what constitutes sustainable community. This would require solidarity with the less privileged, providing access to their basic needs, and working to safeguard the respect and affirmation of their human dignity (Peters 2004), as well as addressing “the structural barriers that prevent all of God’s people from having access to such essentials as affordable safe shelter, nutritious and reasonably priced food and decent clothing” (Peters 2004, 29). These essentials will also include access to education and work as well as the possibility to live in community relationships and have meaningful interactions with others—and here, we must add “the possibility to live in the natural world.” The church must be committed to seeking to undo injustice in all forms and dimensions. Christians must, therefore, work out a spirituality that fills and energises believers with the strength and fortitude needed to fight for positive change and justice in our contemporary world.
Third, the 2011 statement of African faith leaders (the majority of whom were Christian faith leaders) at the COP 17 forcefully underscores the correlations between environmental justice and sustainable peace in Africa. This is rather instructive for a continent that has experienced many socio-economic injustices and resource-related conflicts in recent decades. Within the context of a changing climate, Christian communities in Africa face two main basic challenges: (1) working towards justice for the earth by restoring non-violent and just relations with it, and (2) working towards justice for disenfranchised victims of climate change and environmental degradation in Africa. This is because the “moral health of our world depends on the existence of communities of moral formation and accountability” (Peters 2004, 30). Peters further defines these communities as “places of integrity and respect where we are able to struggle with dilemmas, build relationships and foster understanding” (ibid.).
This also means that the church, as God’s agent in delivering justice, should respect and affirm the image of God in people through honouring their legitimate claims (Wolterstoff 1995, 18). If the saying “What is good for the goose is good for the gander” would be considered a basic primer for justice in human societies, then justice for the socially marginalised and environmental victims of the earth would mean actively working to extend the joy and peace of redemption that Christians have received, and to extend the benefits that others have from the common good to the vulnerable. Consequently, African Christians need to work towards the forestalment of violence and injustice towards humans and the natural world and the safeguarding of a sustainable and flourishing future in Africa—that is, they need “to become involved, with the Creator who is also the Deliverer, in protecting the creation from further impairment and abuse” (Gibson 1992, 114). The responsibility facing the African church in today’s changing climate is that of working out a contextualised, theologically fuelled, ethical response.
Fourth, because Christians affirm that it is hardly possible to achieve sustainable peace without practising justice (unlike the liberal-humanist philosophical and political practice of justice), what will be required of the African church and Christians is that they extend love-laden justice to the poor and environmentally marginalised people of Africa. The church will need to stand in solidarity with vulnerable people and communities already affected by climate change, attempt to avert further negative environmental change, and help them to adapt where necessary. The church can do this by negotiating with or even putting concerted pressure on governments and institutions to work towards reducing negative climate effects, developing adaptation mechanisms for the socio-economically and environmentally marginalised in Africa and establishing good agreements for them.
Fifth, Christians can help avert further environmental problems by making lifestyle changes; e.g., by living much simpler lives and reducing unsustainable consumption at centres of worship and in individual homes.4 The church in Africa will also need to develop sound climate change policies for churches, green liturgies, and in-depth climate change and ecotheology courses in the training of church leaders and ministers in order to empower them to become agents of change. Furthermore, the church should form environmental groups and clubs as well as NGOs. Most importantly, it is suggested here that African churches themselves should probe aspects of their beliefs, doctrines, traditions, and practices that are vulnerable to environmental abuse and which are used to support environmentally reckless behaviour. Here, I particularly have in mind the various forms of anthropocentric dominion and prosperity theologies that morally destabilise community through the enforcement of individuated materialism and consumerism, which in themselves are not socially and environmentally sustainable (Golo 2013). The church needs to come to terms with the reality that “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures” (Francis 2015, 50).
Sixth, and finally, climate and/or environmental justice is action-oriented and based on the core principles of respecting and protecting human rights; supporting the right to development; sharing benefits and burdens equally; ensuring that decisions on climate change are participatory, transparent, and accountable; highlighting gender equality and equity; harnessing the transformative power of education for climate stewardship; and using effective partnerships to secure climate justice (Mary Robinson Foundation 2015). The church and the Christian community, then, can and must lobby politicians to create the opportunities for pursuing affirmative action, granting socially marginalised people and communities the resolve to act and seek a just, peaceful, and sustainable society.
To a large extent, sustainable society is attainable where there is justice and, subsequently, sustainable peace—this is because where justice exists, peace flourishes, and vice versa. Consequently, within the debate on negative environmental change, it makes sense to suggest that sustainable society is a consequence of climate and/or environmental justice. Therefore, the active engagement of the Christian community is required towards mitigating the causes of negative climate change which induces environmental injustice towards groups of people, especially less privileged communities. Through this, Christians may be working towards justice and peace. With the burgeoning visibility of the church in most of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as its enduring public role, the church is in a prominent position to engender transformative changes through its theologies and practical engagements, especially through its structures and organisations. In its responses to the invitation into relationship and partnership with God, the church in Africa is required to be actively engaged in the search for human flourishing through love-seeking justice by striving for eco-/environmental justice and ultimately a sustainable society. This is not a luxury option, and it requires a sound theology that grounds and ensures eco-/environmental justice with a commitment to practically working towards sustainable peace and, consequently, a sustainable society in Africa.
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Stassen and Gushee (2003) also acknowledge the closeness of African anthropology to the biblical vision when they note that the orientation of African spirituality toward community is closer to the biblical understanding than American disconnected individualism.
At the time of my final work on this paper, tensions were rising in many parts of Ghana where artisanal illegal mining has been predominant due to the government’s decision to take a tough stand on the illegal business.
It is important to note that not all forms of artisanal small-scale mining are due to such contestation, though there are local people who genuinely raise such concerns.
This is one of the commitments that African church leaders have set out for themselves in their statement for discussion at the COP 17 in South Africa.