The Living Hope Conference in Great Missenden in early March saw 130 people turn out to explore environment and climate change issues around the themes of churches and schools. There were a host of speakers and organisations represented. The opening panel included Paula Clifford (Christian Aid), Chris Sunderland (Earth Abbey) and Dave Bookless (A Rocha) exploring ‘Reasons for Hope’, and was followed by workshops from greening school buildings to liturgy, the practicalities of ground and air-source heating, to the latest climate science. The day finished with a session with David Lidington, the local MP.
The opening panel discussion is now available online. You can listen to the opening panel discussion using the player below – or you can download the mp3 file directly:
Paula Clifford argued that Living Hope begins with being thoroughly informed in the face of increasing climate change denial, living a low carbon lifestyle is not enough because we must also be prophetic. ‘Climate change kills’ – committing ourselves to act is to give hope to people in the global south. In the run up to the general election she reminded us ‘politicians are a renewable resource’. She suggested three ways to live hope:
1. Re-establishing the importance of community. Church, as the body of Christ described by Paul, is the community par excellence but it is also an elusive ideal. Locally, nationally and internationally we need to re-establish community.
2. Recognising interdependence, which enables us to relate to those outside our community.
3. Seeking new ways of doing mission: what does mission look like in a carbon neutral world?
Chris Sunderland argued that climate change is a symptom of a wider malaise that cannot be cured with technical fixes. With half of the easily available oil having been used in his lifetime and the world population having grown from 2.5 billion to 6.7 billion in that time, we need to re-imagine human culture in a radical way, a way that is inevitably spiritual. He pointed out that the Biblical narratives come out of an agrarian community and that only 200 years ago most of our ancestors were agricultural labourers, whereas now 80% of the UK population live in towns and cities, as do 50% of the world’s population. Without romanticizing the harshness of rural life in past centuries, we need to recognize that something about humanity resonates with the land. Professor Edward Wilson has used the term biophilia to describe the human propensity to love the natural world. Chris pointed out that there exists a radical lifestyle movement today in which people are opting to work fewer days in order to be active in their community but that much of this is outside church community. Earth Abbey sees itself as part of this radical lifestyle movement. Working together is hugely important because it rejects the enlightenment idealization of the individual.
Dave Bookless began by saying that the context of hope has never looked worse, in the light of the failure at Copenhagen, concern about climate change slipping down the political agenda and the huge missed opportunity of the financial crisis when the world community could have radically rethought the system. He too sees climate change as a symptom of the real crisis: a crisis of consumption and population ‘we are the virus species on planet earth . . . the environment has a human problem’. He referred to Lord May’s suggestion that we need to call on the fear of a divine punisher to make people act on climate change – a suggestion he recoils from. Rather Dave argued that, like St Francis, we need to undergo a triple conversion, to
1. God: In conversion to God we recognize our fallenness in our idolatrous attitude to possessions (and remember that Jesus said more about money than anything else). The first great commission in scripture was to look after the earth and its creatures.
2. Earth: We need a Copernican revolution in understanding that the earth does not revolve around us – the earth was made for and by Christ. We need to reconnect with the earth, take up Rowan Williams’ challenge to go for a walk, get wet, dig the earth.
3. Other: As climate change causes millions of would-be migrants to our shores we need to put ourselves in their shoes and work out how to respond.
This summary of the panel first appeared on Joanna Laynesmith’s Blog – www.greeningstjohns.blogspot.com