Here is a very simple, very quick, discourse analysis on the Labour and Conservative manifestos, with regards to their position on the environment and climate change. It is not in depth, because contrary to appearance, I do have a life and I don’t have time to do more!
Basically I searched for the word ‘environment’ and the phrase ‘climate change’ in each manifesto. This is a pretty crude measure and inevitably misses stuff. But you do get a flavour of the importance of this issue to each party relative to the other. It tells you more about principles and priorities than policy detail. But that in itself is insightful.
One more proviso. When you search for ‘environment’ you get other stuff like ‘the business environment’ or ‘the school environment’ so I discounted those. But that’s also way I haven’t done a word count on ‘environment’.
The first thing that appears in the Conservative manifesto when you search ‘environment’ is support for fracking, or shale gas extraction, as they call it. Then there is some discussion about the landscape and environment in the UK countryside, looking at agri-business and environment, hedges and dry stone walls. The Conservatives give their support for SDGs (sustainable development goals) with regard to sustainability and and preventing environmental degradation.
The phrase ‘climate change’ comes up 5 times. The Conservatives are leading the way in international action, though there’s no detail about how. There is discussion about what they have done in the past – the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement but no detail plans for the future.
The first thing that appears in the Labour manifesto when you search ‘environment’ is its own chapter heading. It is a key point that the Labour manifesto has a whole section devoted to the environment, signifying its importance. Then the manifesto moves onto plans to incorporate environmental protections in business, introducing a duty to environment not just share holders. It talks about clean energy, securing environmental protection when we leave EU, investment in a low-carbon economy, getting people out of their cars, sustainable farming and fishing, a policy based on science, and support for the SDGs.
The phrase ‘climate change’ comes up 11 times. The first mention is to introduce a ban on fracking. The manifesto talks about how there needs to be a transition, to move to clean fuel and renewable fuel. There is still, however, a commitment to off shore oil/gas.
Finally a search on the phrase ‘low-carbon’ reveals 5 uses in the Labour manifesto and 0 in the Conservatives’. Likewise a search for ‘renewable’ has the same result. You can try your own searches on the issues important to you.
I believe this is my 100th blog post! And to mark this momentous occasion, I’m hosting guest blogger, Hannah Seekings. She’s been volunteering in the Christian Aid office I work in, and was inspired by our campaigns training session on climate change.
On the first Wednesday in February we met together to hear about “The Big Shift Campaign” from Luke Harman who is part of Christian Aid campaigns team.
The evening started by discussing all the success that we have achieved together so far. Christian Aid is part of a movement which has been advocating for change to be made to help stop global warming getting worse and slow the effects of climate change. Together we have made an impact. The UK government announced that by 2025 it would phase out the use of coal-fired power stations. We also witnessed the historic signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 where countries from across the world came together and agreed to limit the global temperature rise to only 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, Luke mentioned how the UK and its actions have been mentioned in the Washington Post, showing that the UK is a real influencer and leading the way for a change in how we approach the response to climate change. There is such a great momentum for this issue and therefore we should be encouraged and keep pursuing change.
The next section of the evening we talked about the effects of climate change and how we can prevent the financing of the fossil fuel industries. We watched an insightful short video, which I’d encourage you to watch.
As many of you know, the climate is changing and this is greatly influenced by the burning of fossil fuels in industrialised countries. We believe that we must act in order to protect our planet. There should be a shift from industires such as coal, oil and gas to renewable energy sources such as wind farms and solar panels and move towards a zero-carbon world. However, to achieve this we need a Big Shift in the way our economy works. Money is a key factor in influencing whether we lock ourselves into more fossil fuel dependence or build a better world that we know is possible. The UK is a global financial hub. Shifting finance in the UK can create a huge momentum for global change.
“We all want to save for a rainy day but what happens if we are fuelling the storm”
The money that we keep in our banks in the UK collectively is trillions of pounds and is invested into a wide range of things. This includes investing in coal plants and subsiding fossil fuels. Christian Aid has written a detailed report about this titled which you can read here. It summarises why Christian Aid feels that asking banks to take responsibility is a good idea. It looks at individual banks, their policies on the environment and their strategies to help phase out the funding of fossil fuels.
High Street banks and pension fund managers rely on our customers to make a profit. We need to make sure that they use our money in a way that which helps create and sustain a low carbon economy. We need to do this as soon as possible.
Many banks, corporations and companies signed up to the “Paris Pledge for Action”. This is an outward sign that they support the objectives of the Paris Agreement and will actively help to achieve this.
Christian Aid wants to know what steps the banks are taking to achieve their Paris Pledge. Many banks are still financing the building of coal power stations which lock countries into a high carbon infrastructure. Furthermore, they are still financing oil and gas companies much more than they are renewable sources. To add to all this, many banks are reluctant to set up measurable targets to phase out support for fossil fuels. Christian Aid has focused on 4 major banks; Barclays, HSBS, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, who we have researched and don’t think are doing enough to commit to helping reduce global temperatures.
So. What next? What can we do about this?
Luke laid out 3 easy steps that we can do to campaign as a response to this knowledge:
Step 1: Spread the word – strike up a conversation with your friends, neighbours, colleagues, people in your church about what they think about climate change. Give them a campaigns pack and invite them to explore this issue some more. Explain to them why this issue it matters and why you want to do something about it.
Step 2: Ask people to take action – invite them to come to your next campaigns evening, ask them to join you in writing a letter to your MP, be bold and encourage them to get on board with you!
Step 3: Take it to the banks – go down into your local branch and ask to speak to the manager and ask questions about their environmental policies and how they plan to phase out investments in fossil fuels, alternatively go in with a letter in hand addressed to the manager with this information. Even better, ask a few people to come with you.
We have lots of resources to help you contact our banks and keep them accountable. Be that writing a letter, or going into your local branch. What these banks do with private finances is the public’s business. Are they helping to preserve God’s creation?! Are they doing enough to reduce climate change?
Find out more here. If you are inspired to campaign to help clean up our cash and help reduce climate change then email firstname.lastname@example.org and they can send over relevant resources and information to help you help the world.
On this day of all days, when the unthinkable is about to happen, it is easy to be overwhelmed. The complexities of leaving the EU, the absurdity of the notion ‘President Trump’ coming true, the enormity of global climate change with a climate change denier about to take office. How does an individual have influence in the world in this environment? Is there anything that I can do to make any sort of difference?
Small effort, big gain
Well, it occurs to me that there is one thing you can do which will have repercussions every day for the rest of your life. (Unless you move house, but you’ll be able to do it again with the same effect.) I can’t believe it took me so long to do it. And it was so easy!
What what what!? Stop teasing! What is this magical thing? (I suspect the picture gave it away!)
Change your energy provider. Change to a renewable energy provider. You could choose a green tariff, or better still, an energy company that produces its own green energy. Electricity from wind, solar or hydro and even (in some cases) green gas.
Once you’ve done it, every time you switch your lights on you know that you are spending money on a company that is investing in our future, not polluting it. You are no longer giving money to people who want to drill in the arctic and who will carry on burning fossil fuel until Bangladesh is under the sea.
And it really is easy. You can just choose a green energy company and go with them. You might want to do some price comparisons. You could investigate and compare tariffs on the internet by yourself, though that is a bit more hard work. Or, as I write, you can sign up as an individual to the Big Church Shift. A procurement company working on behalf of a group of charities including Tearfund and Christian Aid will find the best tariff for you, and facilitate the switch for you. And yesterday someone showed me another company, Big Clean Switch, who work with Ecotricity, Good Energy and Bulb and will do the comparison for you.
I went with the Big Shift. It was painless. I can’t understand why I didn’t do it before! Now Bulb is our energy provider and we’re paying less than before, although we are still in the early stages of settling down what our actual usage is.
Taking it further
And if you are attracted by the idea of taking your money away from fossil fuels and spending it on renewable technology, you can take the idea much further. It’s called divestment, and it can be applied to any company which invests money in other companies. Quite often it’s your money they are investing.
Ever thought about your pension? That money that you are saving up to provide for your future? Not much point in giving it to people who are damaging the earth and spoiling the future. So ask your pension provider whether they are investing in fossil fuels or clean energy. And if you can, ask them to invest for the future, not the dirty energy that belongs to the past.
Or your bank. High street banks are still investing in and giving loans to fossil fuel businesses in far greater measure than to green energy. Ask them to stop. There’s a really handy email campaign up and active here. Ask them to plan for the future and build a better world. We will all be glad they did when the fossil fuel business realises it cannot extract and burn all the oil it has in reserve and the market collapses. Much like it has already done in many countries for coal.
You could even move your money yourself. This one requires a bit more thought and effort. But you save in an ethical fund or with an ethical bank. Maybe the words ethical and bank could never go together, but you could start by looking at Triodos and see what you think.
So, on a day such as today, when it seems that the world is becoming a scarier place, it’s a good day to do a small thing which will go on making a difference every day, long after Trump has left the White House.
The roots of the devastation that is climate change lie in the same roots as the industrial revolution – in the discovery and burning of coal. Leading to steam engines, capitalism, colonialism and the British Empire. Without coal, none of this would have been possible. And we have merely been postponing the consequences.
It has been clear to me for a while that in order to stop rampant global warming, we will need to consume much less. There may be some technological fixes, and it will help if we switch to renewables. But at the end of the day, the earth’s resources are finite, and we need to stop using them up at the current rate.
But this using up of resources is what our economy is based on. We depend on perpetual growth to make the world go round. If people stop buying so much stuff, then we won’t need to make as much stuff, so there won’t be as much work to go round. There will be less money being spent and less profit being made. I can see some easy solutions – shorter working hours, but with a decent minimum wage so everyone can manage, and capping of wages at the top. But all of this is a great departure from our current system of how we measure progress and success.
So far, this is challenging, but not too difficult to conceptualise and imagine how we might get there. What I’m struggling with today is not what the future might look like, but how we interpret our past. The coal that built the world we live in is the cause of its destruction. The rapacious appetites of capitalism and empire have created gross inequalities between people and countries north and south, and stored up in the atmosphere enough carbon to finish us off.
But coal built the world we live in. As I walk to work through Leeds city centre, I admire the beautiful buildings that coal built. And I live in Sheffield, a city built on steel. To regret the industrial revolution feels like betrayal. The wealth created by capitalism transformed our lives – warmth, comfort, health, leisure. There’s no way I want to go back to subsistence farming, or even working in a Lancashire cotton mill. I like the life that I lead, but how do I process it?
Does it even matter? Do we need to develop a new narrative to come to terms with our past in order to move on with our future? Is the reason that we seem to be failing to face up to climate change anything to do with the fact that it means owning up to our responsibility? That the life we lead has caused climate change. Not just our current lifestyles, but 300 years of history on which our country is based.
We are already facing up to the realisation that progress is no longer inevitable, that our children’s lives will not necessarily be better than our parents’. But now I think we have to face up to the idea that what we call progress is not all it seems, certainly not all progress is for the better. There is much about our past that we have cause to regret – slavery is but one example that springs to mind, and having lived in Liverpool I have admired the beautiful buildings there built on the back of slaves. But until now, I have never stared down the whole edifice of capitalism and wondered if it should ever have happened at all.
What story do we need to tell ourselves about who we are, what we have done, and where we are going? We need to acknowledge the good things that capitalism has brought. There is progress that we can celebrate. But we must also acknowledge the cost, not just the fact of it, but the enormity of the price. Was there a better way? Could we have transformed our lives to this extent without the same rape and pillage of the earth? We can never know, and we cannot change what we have done.
But we can learn from our mistakes. When we tell our stories, we must tell them with humility. We enjoy so much about what progress has brought, but this progress has come at great cost, and that cost is not being borne equally. Our history is not a history of learning to tame the earth, but thinking that we have learnt to tame the earth and now finding out that we haven’t. And now these lessons need to inform our future, and a new understanding of what progress looks like.
I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s ‘This changes everything’ and this train of thought was set off by chapter 5, which I’m currently half way through!
As Diocesan Environmental Office for Sheffield Diocese, I went to my first DEO day yesterday, feeling very green. Green in the sense of feeling inexperienced, rather than in the environmental sense! I’ve had the role for a few months, but with only a day a week to devote to it and school summer holidays taken over by family illness (all better now) I feel I’ve hardly got started. It certainly showed up what I don’t know – do we even have a diocesan environmental policy? Any eco-congregations? Any churches or parsonages with solar panel? Lots to discover.
But most of all, the day seemed to keep coming back to one word – ‘embed’. How do we embed our creation care into our everyday church life – our liturgy, our spirituality, our mission, our social justice, our discipleship? How do we make sure it is the warp and weft of who we are, what we do?
We finished with the Rt Rev Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston, and so I will too. Creation care and tackling climate change flow directly from the Gospel. Right now, creation is groaning (Romans 8:22), but through Christ, all things have been reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20). We have been given creation as a gift (Genesis 1:28-29), but it is not ours to exploit (Leviticus 19:9-10) much less to destroy. It is entrusted to us for future generations until creation is restored and renewed. As we live out our calling to be the body of Christ and to be Good News for the world, our commitment to the care of the world is central to our identity in Christ.
With 5 days to go to the EU referendum, this may be a perhaps a little late. But it no longer seems tenable to host a blog about politics without commenting on the biggest political issue of the day. Indeed, the biggest political decision most of us will make in our lifetimes.
Despite knowing for months how I was going to vote, I’ve put off writing a blog because I felt I didn’t have all the answers or the expert knowledge. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped most people who have got involved in the debate. And the nearer the vote comes, the more I realise how important the issues are. So the time has come to stop hiding behind excuses. It’s time to say I’ll be voting to Remain in the EU and to untangle the arguments to show you why.
I’ve never really understood why the call to leave the EU should come so strongly from the Conservative party. Our modern neo-liberal capitalist society is epitomised in the EU. A free market unfettered by trade barriers and tariffs. A place where the price of goods and services are set by the market, just as wages are. Where jobs are created by the supply and demand of the market, and people are free to move to where the jobs are. The capitalist free market works only where you have free movement of goods, capital and people and the EU is a massive free market zone. If that’s what you believe in, why on earth would you want to leave it?
Actually, I suspect most of those on the Leave side don’t really want out of this neo-liberal paradise. They have other reasons for leaving, and are busy trying to make sure that we will still be able to be a part of this unfettered market by negotiating our own individual trade deal when we leave. However, if we really want to continue with a tariff-free trading arrangement for our goods and services into the EU, we are going to have to agree to stick with the free movement of capital and people too. That’s how it works. That’s how it works for Norway, and for Switzerland. We’re not going to get a better trade deal with the EU by refusing to sign up to all the rules of the club.
Running close alongside this argument, is the idea that leaving the EU will free us up from the EU’s bureaucracy and red tape. Now, this is something I have dealt with in a blog. In short, if we want our goods and services to be acceptable to an EU market, they will have to comply with EU regulations. And most of this red tape is more like gift ribbon, protecting workers’ rights, quality assurance, our health and safety and our environment.
I’m really not a fan of neo-liberal capitalism, but we’ll still be stuck with it even if we leave the EU. So that’s not the argument for me.
Somewhat paradoxically, the EU is also the source of much that has a left-wing feel about it. I guess that’s what happens when you’re working with the French. Things like the Social Chapter, protecting pregnant and part-time workers, and the European Working Time directive, protecting over-time pay. Not every flavour of government in this country would work to bring about these kinds of protections, so I’m glad of the EU in this case.
During the debate, there has been a lot of talk about the amount of money it costs us to be
part of the EU. The figures have been hotly disputed and like has not been compared with like. But it is clear that the amount of money that leaves the UK and goes to Brussels is a very small percentage of government spending (less than 2%). And a lot of it comes back. A lot of it comes back to things that I don’t believe the current government would spend it on, and things I know for sure that previous governments of the same type wouldn’t have spent it on. Having lived there for 14 years, I saw transformation in Liverpool through EU money, as Capital of Culture and other projects. And we also found out that one Mrs T’s preferred option for Liverpool was one of ‘managed decline’.
Now I’m in Yorkshire, where the local news compared money leaving the region for Europe to money coming in. Pound for pound (or euro for euro!) more money goes to the EU per head for Yorkshire and Humberside than comes back in inward investment. But financial benefits of the resulting jobs from that investment is harder to quantify. Would the same money have been spent in the region by the UK government if it hadn’t got to Europe? It seems unlikely, as the region received 3% less government spending than the national average. It seems the EU is more likely to deliver than any so-called Northern Powerhouse.
Leave campaigners can suggest all kinds of things they would like to spend money on which is saved by leaving the EU. But only whoever is in power if we leave will actually decide where that money goes. Economists predict our national income will shrink if we leave. If so, any savings will be swallowed up in a smaller economy. But even if there is some left to spend, George Osborne doesn’t have a strong track record of generosity to the needy, and in this arena, I trust Boris Johnson and Michael Gove even less.
Do I really mind giving money to the EU? Actually, no. I’m sure there are inefficiencies and wastage. (Is it really a good idea to decamp to Strasbourg every few weeks?) But just as our money comes back to us in funding for research, and investment in deprived places etc, so our money is spent on even more of these projects in other EU countries where the need is even greater than ours.
There are complaints that the EU is undemocratic. Only one of the bodies involved in legislating is unelected – the European Commission which proposes and drafts EU legislation. It functions rather like our civil service. EU heads of government (the European Council) set EU priorities, and the EU parliament and council of ministers debate and vote on legislation.
I’m afraid I can’t get too worked up by this argument, when we live daily with our own ‘democratic deficit’ in the UK. A system which returns governments elected by only around a third of those who voted and less than a quarter of all those eligible to vote has a democratic deficit of its own. Both need reform, but that’s never going to happen from the outside.
Perhaps there is an EU democratic deficit, but mainly on our part. How many people know who their MEPs are? Have you ever written to them, asked them to intervene on your behalf? I’ve had a great response from my MEP, Linda McAvan, when I’ve contacted her. She’s been involved in bringing about legislation to regulate the mining industry (top culprits in sucking resources out of poor countries) and making sure minerals used in electronic technology are traceable and haven’t been used to fund wars (so-called conflict minerals).
I’ll admit this is a bit niche, but it is the kind of the thing the EU can do, which countries on their own can’t. Which finally, after two pages of this stuff, brings me to the real reason why I’m in. Maybe we could do this on our own, but we can do it much better together.
Immigration has coloured and clouded this debate from the start – as it has UK politics for a while. We haven’t debated this issue wisely or well. There is a lack of clarity but plenty of shouting.
I’ve done quite a bit of shouting myself, mostly at the telly, mostly about words. But words matter, and lots of words in this debate are used interchangeably, when they shouldn’t be. So I’m actually going to start with the word ‘refugee’. The crisis facing Europe at the moment is a refugee crisis, not a migrant crisis. The streams of people desperate to enter Europe are fleeing violence, war, persecution and starvation. Mostly they come from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Afghanistan. Their homes have been destroyed, they are not safe because of their religion or their politics, or because their government is attacking them or is unable to prevent others from attacking them. Their children cannot go to school, they cannot access medicines or food. By any measure, these people need our help, they need refuge, the country they call home is no longer safe, and they have a right to ask for safety elsewhere.
There is not one country which could help all of these people, though it looks like Germany has tried. But the EU could and should act together and provide refuge and safety. I want to stand in solidarity with my European neighbours to act in support of those who are fleeing. But actually it feels like we have already left Europe on this issue, refusing to agree to welcome our share of needy people, opting out of agreements to help. The EU has not handled this situation well. But I believe in the UK we have handled it even less well, and it is this lack of solidarity and sense of humanity which has made it worse.
All of this is quite different to people moving to the UK to look for work or opportunity. Most of this is pretty well regulated, certainly when it comes to people from outside the EU. And I think I’ve already dealt with EU migration in the discussion above. I don’t believe for a minute that the EU will give us any kind of trade deal without including the free movement of people. So if we want to trade with the EU – in or out – it won’t make any difference.
There are other global issues where we need to continue to stand together to make a difference. The biggest crisis facing the world right now is climate change. We will make much more progress in cutting carbon emissions and halting global warming if we work with the EU than if we work alone. We’ve already benefitted from the EU’s work on the environment now that we have clean beaches to enjoy. So we know we can make a difference. I guess the EU could carry on this work without us, but we have a crucial role to play within the EU. We can be leaders on this issue in terms of technology and our grassroots movements of activists. If we stand alone, we are both poorer for it.
Who are we?
I think we have forgotten that we are in the EU not just for what we can get out of it, but also for what we contribute to it. And here, I’m not talking about money. What does it say about us if we decide to stand alone? I think we already know a bit how it feels because we have been so ambivalent about the EU for so long already. We already know we are unloved because no-one votes for us in the Eurovision Song Contest! To leave is to shut the door on friendship, partnership and working together. Sure, we can still work with our European partners, but what is the message we are giving off?
To leave is to say that we don’t belong, that Europeans are different, foreigners, other, and we don’t want any of that over here, thank you. Where is our famed British tolerance when we turn our backs on our neighbours? To remain is to say that we want to be part of a European future together. We do belong, we have shared history, shared ambitions for peace and stability in the future of our continent. We need to choose to stay, and we need to choose to embrace Europe. To give of our passions, of our wisdom and yes, of our wealth. To support parts of Europe where poverty stubbornly digs its heels in. To stand firm with our neighbours against the rise of hate-filled, racist far-right ideologies. To remember that we are a country of compassion and take care of frightened people looking for a safe place to call home. To get our hands dirty and get involved and be prepared to say we are European.
If we leave, both the UK and the EU will be diminished, as the poem below expresses so well. I hope and pray that after next Thursday the bell will not be tolling for us.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
How long has changing to a green energy supplier at home been on my to-do list? Too long! So having someone do all the hard work and find a good deal for me was too good an opportunity to miss. So at last I’ve made the switch.
But the trouble when you want to change the world is that it is all too much for one person. I can’t tackle global climate change on my own. So I was determined to do what I could to persuade our church to join in with Christian Aid’s campaign and make the Big Church Switch to clean energy.
As a family, we’ve only been going to our church for a couple of years and it still feels fairly new to us. It is a big, busy church, with lots of services, home groups and a myriad other weekly activities. Many, many things compete for attention, and Christian Aid is only one of them. I wouldn’t like to guess where climate change fits in!
I bided my time – I needed to find the right moment, when climate change would be recognised as a priority. And here was my chance. We held a series of lectures through Lent with theological reflections on contemporary issues, including one on the topic of climate change! It was a thought-provoking evening exploring how contemporary materialistic measures of success and what makes for a good life drive consumption and the exploitation of the Earth – our shared home.
How much impact could the church have if we truly valued a good life based on relationships and community? Our values are revealed in where we spend our time and money, so it’s time I thought to put our money where our prayers and hopes are; with our neighbours suffering the devastating impacts of climate change, both around the world and in recent times closer to home too.
Perfect! Immediately after the lecture I approached our vicar. Would the church review where it bought its energy from and consider switching to a renewable tariff? Thereby taking our money away from dirty fossil fuels driving climate change and towards something that builds a brighter future, something that can help all God’s people to flourish.
Apparently this would be a matter for the church’s Executive committee, which happened to be meeting the following Monday! “Write me a briefing paper,” the vicar said. I knew I wouldn’t need to do that, because the perfect thing was already in Christian Aid’s Church Contact Pack! I could put it in his hand on Sunday morning. I told him it was a joint initiative between Christian Aid and Tearfund (that helped as the church supports Tearfund too). At this stage, all we would need to do would be to register our interest, and when the quote came back it would be up to us to accept or decline. It might even be cheaper than our current bill, though our vicar was confident that the committee would be happy to pay a little more if it felt it was doing the right thing.
On the Sunday, I gave the briefing papers to the vicar and the treasurer. On the Monday, the matter was discussed by the Exec committee. By Tuesday I got an email asking me to register the church’s interest, copied to the Finance manager who deals with the bill. We’re nothing if not efficient once we’ve made up our mind! Unfortunately we’ve come to a bit of a standstill for now. I’ve registered our interest as a church, but I can’t complete all our details just yet as the Finance manager isn’t well.
Despite this minor delay, I’ve had a really positive response from everyone in the church who has been involved so far, summed up by the sentiment ‘thank you for taking this forward’. We believe that looking after the creation is a part of our faith and ministry, but it’s not always easy to express that as a church. And it’s not always easy for a church full of busy people to find someone who wants to make this a priority. It was great to be able to take a very practical step as an immediate response to our Lenten challenge. I hope we can hold up our corporate action as a church as an example for everyone to follow as we find ways to work out in practice our ministry to care for our creation.
The story brings together two issues I’ve dealt with regularly on this blog, and seemed to illustrate the failure of government to make any attempt to address either.
I first wrote about the need to move money out of fossil fuels nearly two years ago. We invest in pensions to provide for a healthy and happy future. It is, therefore, pointless for pension funds to put money into businesses which are leading to detrimental and devastating climate change. Since then, investment in fossil fuels has come to be seen as more and more risky, as we have recognised that in order to secure our future, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Not a strong foundation for ongoing long-term business success.
The collapse of the oil industry in Aberdeen has come sooner than any collapse due divestment and the risks of climate change. In this case, the falling price of oil simply makes North Sea Oil too expensive, although doubts about the wisdom of burning all this oil have had a small part to play in all this. But, whatever the reason, now is surely the time for Aberdeen to diversify and invest in technology and industry which is better for the future, in particular the renewable energy sector. Recent moves by the government, however, have all been about reducing support for the renewable industry, binding ourselves to the Chinese for nuclear power and putting faith in fracking.
Meanwhile, people are losing their jobs, or having their pay cut, or having to work longer hours to make up the money. And we have created a society where those who suddenly find themselves out of work or out of pocket no longer have the security of a social safety net. State provided social security has dwindled to the extent that people are having to rely on food banks. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, I don’t recall the social consensus shifting so far that we have consented to abandon anyone who falls on hard times or who cannot support themselves or their families for whatever reason.
The state is no longer providing for the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. Nor, it seems, is it providing for “hard-working families” who are suddenly unable to work. And at the same time as it continues to make cuts to payments to those in need, the government fails to acknowledge that it is no longer meeting basic needs.
How did we let this happen? Why did we let this happen? Are we ready to abandon the post-war consensus that all should contribute according to their means to support all according to their need? That’s what our taxes are for. For the most part, we are all trying to contribute according to our means, while the support for those in need is steadily cut back. At the same time, those with the biggest means to contribute are also most able to find the best way to reduce their contribution – both individuals and corporations. Why aren’t we angrier?
One final thought. 13 people are facing jail for demonstrating against a third runway at Heathrow. Their defence was that their actions were necessary in order to prevent deaths caused by pollution and climate change. But their defence was rejected and it looks like their civil disobedience will see them get custodial sentences. Their actions should be a wake-up call to us all. For as the New Internationalist blog pages observe, It’s not civil disobedience we need to worry about though, but our civil obedience. I’ll leave you with more of that quote from Howard Zinn, which I found here.
Civil disobedience…that is not our problem…. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.
I must protest about the BBC’s portrayal of the impending famine in Ethiopia on the 10 o’clock news on Monday night as being down to ‘God’ and ‘Mother Nature’. Not that I feel I need to defend God. But laying the blame on a rather abstract third party neatly avoids the issue of climate change. The failed rains in Ethiopia are part of a pattern of increasing frequency and severity of droughts in the regions, driven by increasing global temperatures and more severe and unpredictable weather.
You see, if God is to blame, we don’t have to worry about climate change yet. We can ignore the fact it is actually happening now, not in the future, and that its severest impacts are felt by the most vulnerable in the world.
Better still, we can ignore our own responsibility. We are absolved of blame. We don’t have to consider that our carbon output, caused by our rich, comfortable lifestyle, is leading to starvation and death in other places. We don’t need to regret the woeful progress that has been made by our leaders in agreeing ways to limit carbon emissions and help those already suffering the effects. We don’t have to change the way we live, or challenge climate change deniers, or press leaders for proper actions. Plans to change to a green energy supplier can be put off for now, and we will give up flying, but after we’ve been to visit family in California.
In fact, if we give a bit of money, then we’ve done more than could possibly be expected of us. After all, hasn’t Ethiopia been here before? Surely their government has learnt how to manage famine by now? Has nothing changed since ‘Live Aid’?
Well, let me tell you, nothing has really changed. Global markets are still skewed towards the richer nations of the world. More money still flows out of Africa in profits and lost taxes and debt repayments than has ever gone the other way in terms of aid. We’re still talking about global warming but doing nothing about it. We still allow multi-national corporations to avoid tax and hide profits because it suits us not to upset them. And when countries do sit down to talk, as they will in Paris at the end of this month, corporate interests will still influence proceedings and the global South will struggle to get their voice heard amidst the hundreds of professional lobbyists the rich will bring.
So let’s have no more talk about Mother Nature causing famine in Ethiopia and take
responsibility for the climate, for our sisters and brothers who are suffering, and our elected representatives who need to act. The News even had an item later on the programme about climate change but failed to join the dots. Don’t make the same mistake. Start by joining events to call for climate justice as the talks in Paris begin. Here’s the one in Sheffield, there’s one in London, one in Edinburgh, or find one near you!
This is an edited version of my talk at St Andrews Psalter Lane church this morning, an joint Anglican/Methodist congregation in Sheffield. They are an eco-congregation, so it was great to be able to talk with them about climate change.
At Christian Aid, we believe that tackling climate change and caring for the environment is as integral to our faith as worship and prayer, not merely an interesting add-on, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. But sometimes it’s good to think about why being green is an act of faith, and what it has to do with Christian Aid, an overseas development charity.
Christian Aid has a unique perspective on climate change because it works through its partners with those who are experiencing climate change now. It is really important that we listen to the voices of our sisters and brothers in the Global South, the theologians who live with climate change every day. Christian Aid describes them as modern-day prophets. For more detail , take a look at this report, ‘Song of the Prophets’. As it says (p9) , “climate change is real, [it is happening now,] and its impact is experienced by those who are least responsible and most vulnerable.”
Christians are called to act on climate change not just because we have been tasked with looking after the world, but because it is an issue of justice. “Those who will bear the brunt of predicted changes are the poorest people in the world”(p7). Nazmul Chowdhury, a Christian Aid partner in Bangladesh, put it like this, ‘Forget about making poverty history. Climate change will make poverty permanent.’ (p7) Our reading from Deuteronomy 24:14-22 shows some of the ways God, a God of justice, asked his people to take care of the vulnerable members of society – the alien (or foreigner), the orphan and the widow. Guillermo Kerber, from Uruguay, says that today, ‘victims of climate change are another face of the vulnerable ones’ (p12). If you like, we have a duty of care. To act on climate change is to act to bring justice for the vulnerable. To not act or to fob off the global poor means we are perpetuating injustice.
The reading from Deuteronomy also reveals that our relationship with the land is not one which exploits every last drop from every corner. Owning or farming the land doesn’t give us the right to extract everything – everything the land produces is much more like a generous gift. Dr Sathianathan Clarke, from the Episcopal Church of South India suggests that the poorest communities in the world seem to understand this inter-dependent relationship much better than we do, not surprisingly as the poor “mostly live in close proximity to the ebb and flow of the natural world” (p14). Have we become ‘environmentally illiterate’? Do we ‘understand the importance of nature as God’s gift for all living beings’? (p14) Even more challenging, the report suggests that “One reason why the powerful do not hear is that the very economic systems that keep some in the world rich while others are poor are implicated in causing climate change” (p15).
But all is not lost, because our faith is one of hope. We have a vision of a future where God’s justice prevails. Climate change is a spiritual crisis, bound up with our consumerism, our failure to act for justice, and we need to repent. But as we heard in our second reading (John 1:1-14), it is significant that the word of God became flesh and lived among us. “We are not being lifted out into a spiritual realm to escape the earthiness of creation, but being remade for a renewed earth.” (p20)
Climate change is a justice issue
The global poor who are experiencing climate change also have perspective on our relationship to the earth that we should learn from
We are not without hope as the incarnate God will renew the earth
Work with partners
So, in the spirit of learning let me tell you about one of Christian Aid’s partners.
Christian Aid’s work to deal with the impact of climate change has many facets – disaster relief in the face of extreme weather, adapting to changing weather patterns and building resilience and self-sufficiency for poor communities, and helping communities speak out for their rights and support to their own governments.
I want to tell you about a project in Mali. Christian Aid partner Mali Folkecenter is helping the community to develop their own solar power. This part of Mali is not connected to any national grid, and to do so would be prohibitively expensive. But they have plenty energy freely available from the sun, they just need to be able to harness it. Mali Folkecenter helps the community to install solar panels and a local grid, and trains the community to be able to maintain it. Electricity means that children are able to do their homework in the evening once it is dark, which means they can keep up with their school work and stay at school, leading to long-term benefits for the individuals, families and the whole community. It also means local businesses can be more productive, and enables new business, benefitting not just from light but from refrigeration too. (you can watch this video which the people in church couldn’t see!)
This is one way that Christian Aid is helping a community to develop without adding to carbon emissions. This solar project means they can leapfrog fossil fuels altogether, just like mobile phone technology has enable communities to get connected but bypassing expensive cable laying for landline telephones.
I really like this project because it encapsulates another key facet of Christian Aid. Christian Aid works through partnerships for change. It doesn’t send so-called experts from the UK to do development to poor people. It works with grass-roots organisations already at work in the local area, who build and deliver projects which best serve the needs of the local community. And partnerships are not a one-way relationship. Dependence, learning and support should go both ways. So we have lessons to learn from the community in Mali. Think about our own energy provision and consumption in this country. In theory we have a free market, with competition to make prices cheaper and give better service to the consumer. But we all recognise that this isn’t really the case, and the big six energy companies have an effective monopoly (or oligopoly, technically). What If our energy was decentralised and produced closer to where it is needed through solar panels on homes and other local projects? Power would genuinely be in the hands of the people, the inefficiencies and lost energy when power goes through the grid would be diminished, the grip of the energy companies would be broken, and we could move on from dirty fossil fuels pumping carbon into the atmosphere. So let’s learn from this community which is breaking free from fossil fuels!
And breaking free from fossil fuels is the final thing I want to talk to you about this morning. I’ve talked about why we care about climate change, and some of the things Christian Aid is doing. So I’m going to finish by sharing something you can do about climate change, in partnership with Christian Aid.
As well as working with poor communities round the world, Christian Aid also campaigns with its supporters in the UK to challenge and change the structures that keep people poor. These are very often the economic structures we live within here in the UK, as I mentioned before. If we are serious about cutting carbon emissions and stopping global temperatures rise by more than 20C then we need to break free from fossil fuels – to make the Big Shift to renewables. I think I’m preaching to the converted here, but I hope that this campaign will give you the tools to talk to other people who are not so sure.
Does anyone here still use floppy discs, or video tapes, or dial-up internet? I still say I’m taping something off the telly, even though there’s no tape involved and it’s all digital. These things are still hanging around, but they are old-fashioned, out of date, and it would be ridiculous1 to invest in them. This is how we should feel about fossil fuels. In fact, this is how business is beginning to think about fossil fuels, and so Christian Aid wants to take this further and build up a momentum for taking finance out of fossil fuels. We are starting with coal, because this is the dirtiest, most polluting fossil fuel. We need coal to go the way of floppy discs. We believe that here in the UK we should stop burning coal to make electricity by 2023. We should stop funding businesses to look for and mine coal in other countries. And we should take our money out of coal and shift it to investment in renewable energy (including in helping those whose work currently depends on coal to be trained to find alternative employment).
There are lots of ways you can get involved in this campaign through social media, by talking to your friends about it, by writing to your MP. Please ask me about it afterwards. But today, I’m just going to ask you to sign the petition I’ve brought, with those three asks – 1. a concrete plan to stop burning coal, 2. stop supporting coal extraction abroad, and 3. shift the money out of coal and into renewables, green jobs and a low-carbon economy.
Now is the time, especially as world leaders are meeting in Paris at the end of November to talk about climate change. Don’t let the enormity of the problem put you off. Climate change is a justice issue, at the heart of our faith. But our God is a God of justice who is committed to renewing the earth and his people. His people are at work in places like Mali, making a difference to the lives of the vulnerable – the alien, the orphan and the widow. His people are at work in the UK, campaigning for the environment. St Andrews is making a difference here with its plans to install solar panels. So please keep on making a difference. Come and sign the Christian Aid petition after the service, and join in the event in Sheffield to mark the Paris talks on Saturday afternoon, November 28th.