Thursday, 3 September 2009

Anyone for an iPilgrimage? - continued

My post of 10 days ago on this theme, which I repeated on the Christian Ecology Link forum, has created quite a few responses there, some of which seem worth republishing here, to urge on the debate.

Mike Monaghan: "An excellent idea. I find it sad (scandalous!) that in religious publications one can read on one page an article about the need for Christians to take the issue of climate change seriously, accompanied by several adverts for pilgrimages all involving long journeys usually by air."

Tony Emerson: "Totally agreed - we should not even think of pilgrimage as involving air flights, given that one air flight to Knock or Lourdes would use up your total sustainable carbon ration for a year. Let alone to the Holy Land or further afield. Another alternative: in my childhood in the West of Ireland we used to have 'the stations' every Lent in one house in each street, with different households taking turns each year. In the process, I think we built a better sense of community. I don't know how long the practice lasted - but could it not be revived?"

Pam Cram responds "as someone who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land last November! This is was the first time I have flown anywhere in maybe 10 years. While I agree there can be a problem of hypocrisy, there are also complex issues here. Peace and justice in Palestine are possibly as central an issue to all our futures as is climate change. The Palestinian community is begging us to go to see for ourselves and stand alongside them - which was why I went, though it was also a pilgrimage to the holy sites. I would very much like to go again in the future to be involved in some practical peace-making project, and, yes, go on pilgrimage again. Although it is possible to get there without flying, the reality is that because of timing I would probably have to fly at least one way. Similarly, last year my husband went out to Kenya on a mountain trekking holiday in which he also met the local people and has made personal friendships he wants to follow up. He too is looking for ways to return to make a difference in people's lives there. Of course, he will have to fly. These are all complex juggling acts with which I struggle!"

Tony Emerson replies: "Let's start with the data: from the Choose Climate website. I've got the following CO2 equivalent estimates: England to Holy Land return - 2.6 tonnes; and England to East Africa return - 4.7 tonnes. Now, given that the safe, sustainable per person ration is about 1.5 tonnes a year, that creates a problem. I do not deny that good may come from your and your husband's trip. But is the good worth the increment in climate damage that may be attributable to your trip? Given that people in places like the Middle East and East Africa are much more vulnerable than we are to the effects of climate damage, in the shorter term; and that in the longer term of course we all may pay the ultimate price. There are also shorter term cultural consequences of richer European people visiting poorer communities. Now I'm not saying that particular trips are not justified. But I do think we need particular ethical criteria for assessing this particular activity, air travel, which is largely a modern luxury engaged in by more well-off people (very much contrary to what our government claims) and which has a very high carbon footprint. Any views on what these criteria should be?"

From Fr. Peter Doodes: "Last year I flew for the first time in 20 years (and perhaps for the last time) to Belfast, for religious purposes. I had only two days,
start to finish, in order to carry these out and so flew short-haul from nearby Gatwick to Belfast City Airport, a few minutes away from my destination. Aircraft are like any other form of transport, some are economical, and some are the SUVs/stretch Hummers of the air, and so I chose Flybe, whose Bombardier and Embraer aircraft are among the most economical and quiet aircraft available today. I did look at the website mentioned above and wondered what aircraft they based their figures on. I agree that flying is wrong as a mass movement industry and that carbon offsetting is Enron Accounting, but if there is no other option, and at times of emergency there may not be, then choose carriers the same way as you would choose a car. PS If you want to see the Flybe figures then click here."

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