As I sat round a dinner table with a bunch of wonderful close friends the other night, and conversation meandered comfortably as it always does in these situations, the question of the environment was raised: Did we think that the issues of global warming and environmental sustainability were important for Christians?
I’m paraphrasing, and it’s a conversation that is beginning/ongoing for us, as it is for many, but I bring it up as it’s an issue that has been on my mind for some time…
Today the BBC News website has two articles on the issue, which are really worth the read. The first is a comment piece on the opening up of the North-West Passage; the second a summary of the recent UN report on Global Environment Outlook. Both of these articles highlight the issue in stark terms: humankind is having profound affects on our environment; we are changing our planet in detrimental, and possibly permanent, ways.
In some ways the question is redundant. If the issues are as big as the UN seem to be suggesting, then this is something that affects us all, regardless of creed. But it does have merit. This is something that must be addressed by us both as individuals and as a faith.
In the last 40 years, as humankind’s impact on the environment has become more and more apparent, there has been call after call to do things differently. This UN report is the 4th of its kind, arriving 20 years after the first banner the national governments rallied around, yet shouting loudly that intergovernmental efforts have failed. The very human failings of greed and apathy have meant that all but the most impassioned individuals have carried on regardless, and national and international efforts have been far, far too little to bring change.
I have hesitated to comment or make pronouncements on this issue so far because I am acutely aware of the reality of those vices in me. Even as I have become more and more convinced of the reality of environmental change due to human endeavour, and of our need to actively reduce our detrimental impact, my lifestyle has not radically changed. I recycle (to the extent that Southwark council enable me to), but do little else.
Perhaps it is because of this reticence on my own part that I have come to think that we need to act co-operatively. Groups of individuals acting together can encourage each other and unite around particular projects or solutions. Economies of scale can mean that activities unfeasible for the individual can become realistic when done as collectives. I like the idea of growing your own food, and if I had a garden this is something I would try; but a community growing food together in allotments… suddenly ideas that seem at first impractical can become much more realistic.
In reality though, it seems to me that the lead needs to come from Government. Individuals can turn off their plugs, clad their houses, buy energy saving light bulbs and compost their waste, but only governments can change the building code or require manufacturers to produce electronic goods without standby buttons (for example).
It seems to me that we need really radical solutions to curb our greedy, resource intensive lifestyles. We need solutions that permeate the whole of our society, not ones that can only realistically be implemented by middle-class home owners. In reality if left to us, or if left to ‘the market’, normal human failings will mean we fall far short of the goals we need to hit. The Government needs to make some really tough decisions; it needs to ignore the moaning of business and take a strong lead. Without that we are in trouble.
I’m thinking of using this post as the start of a new category; to try and write on this subject regularly. I’m conscious of, a) being too preachy, and b) the whole ‘best intensions’ thing… Well, we’ll see. I have a few ideas that have been rattling round my head, and if I can’t write about them here, where can I?
It’s easy to read things like the UN report and to become very pessimistic. Is it possible for us to change our behaviour when we have had so little success so far? I think it is, but what the world needs is an example to follow. The West needs to know that it is possible to dramatically alter a nation’s consumption without impoverishing its citizens and the rest of the world need to be shown ways of building wealth that don’t involve the raping of natural resources. The world needs an example.
I think Britain could provide that example. We are a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs. We are used to adapting and even thriving under new forms of regulation. We have an agriculture industry to revive… It will take some hard choices, and a lot of initial sacrifice, but I think we can become an example of how to build a sustainable future. We need some tough leadership. Anyone think the current lot of have it in them?