Saturday, 29 September 2012

Mark Letcher's Cheltenham visit

We had a reasonable turnout for our Christian Ecology Link meeting last evening. The 30 or so who came were rewarded by a thought-provoking talk: it was followed by a good discussion.

Mark Letcher has been promoting sustainable energy for nearly two decades: his Bristol consultancy, Climate Works, helps organisations reduce their carbon footprint - but he didn't come to plug that. Instead, he spoke about his involvement with Operation Noah, an independent charity founded by Christian Ecology Link 11 years ago - the first Christian campaign to focus upon the need to address climate change.

We will all remember 2012, Mark said, for its Summer of sport - but it has also been (to use Churchill's phrase) "a period of consequences". Illustrative of many disconcerting, but largely under-reported, events is the steep reduction in Arctic Summer sea ice.

How can we, Mark asked, accept these climate events, and merely prepare to adapt to them? It's not just the prospect of six degrees of warming, but the effect of rapid acidification of the oceans, a world population of maybe 10 billion in 70 years, and an eagerness (not to say a demand) on behalf of most of the have-littles to consume as much as we - or worse, the Americans - now do, and that in the near future. "This just doesn't stack up!"

Successive Governments have adopted policies that are letting the environment run down: what an outcry there would be were a political party to set out in its manifesto, "We intend to let the Health Service run down"!

Mark went on to say that what we face is not only a rape of the resources of the natural world, but "an unmitigated assault upon the poor." Is it reasonable, he asked, that the poorest should carry the biggest burden when they have contributed least to the problem? This is surely the real challenge for Christians.

Why is it so difficult to talk to others about climate change? If it doesn't frighten, then it can shame them - and inducing neither reaction is effective to alter a person's frame of mind.

In the past, we were prepared to make sacrifices for future generations: our parents and grandparents suffered the deprivations of wartime; and went on to accept the concept of "greenbelt" to safeguard our countryside. However, now we seem to be saying that we have the right to live as we are living, even though we know it's at the expense of future generations. Is the future we are being offered the one we want for our grandchildren? If not, then there's an urgent need to talk, to coordinate and to challenge politically.

We face a profound crisis affecting our values and our faith, as well as our relationship with the natural world. But the other side of the coin is that it's also an opportunity for an alternative vision. Something like that set out in David Atkinson's "Renewing the face of the earth." Something too like that Ellen MacArthur, for instance, has recognised in setting up her foundation. "What's missing at present is all of our voices: our eyes are closed, and we have fingers in our ears."

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