How has global change affected our communities and ourselves?
The failure of communism has unleashed an untrammelled and aggressive capitalism as there is a belief that there is now no rival system. As a consequence we are seeing increasing inequalities in income and wealth in our country and through much of the world.
The untrammelled hegomony of capitalism has produced a backlash of Islamic fundamentalism.
WTO and IMF pressure on developing countries has held down commodity prices when it is to the advantage of rich nations, and speculators have increased them when it is to their advantage.
The west has exported much of its manufacturing to China and other developing nations.
The year on year price of new technology has been coming down (one of the better fruits of capitalism)
The last three factors have resulted in low inflation in developed countries for the past 20 years. (Credit for this is taken by monetarist finance ministers and officials)
The decline of manufacturing and of farming in the north-west over about 30 years means the public sector is an important employer. Those jobs are now threatened by public expenditure cuts.
The welfare state in Britain is in retreat at a time when the population of elderly people continues to grow rapidly.
Even in our rural area we see the consequences of migration, most often of EU members coming here for work. The nearest city, however, has a significant Asian population and populations of asylum seekers and foreign students.
Food imports, unsustainable farming and poor animal welfare have resulted in local culture of celebrating locally produced food. It is a hallmark of many of the restaurants in the area.
The move to the use of wood as sustainable fuel for heating has provided some stimulation to local forestry: it is now possible to cover costs when carrying out necessary felling operations.
Throughout the country there are year on year increases in internet shopping. This is a particularly useful service in a rural area.
Internet services like e-bay allow for a user to be found for many discarded items which would previously have been thrown away.
What actions have we taken in response to global change as experienced in our area, to express our responsibilities towards all creation? In what ways have my own activities or those of my community contributed to positive or adverse local and global change?
Friends listed the following activities which they are engaged in order to enhance the quality of the natural environment:
Creating a wildflower meadow
Planting and tending trees and woodlands
Creating and tending ponds for wild life
Installing and using water butts
Creating a log-piles as insect habitats
Composting (including not using commercial peat-based compost)
Growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and lavender (Hope to photo or video Joy and laundry baskets of lavender)
Keeping free-range, organically fed bantam hens in woodland setting.
Having a home delivery of organic vegetables from a local supplier.
A wholly vegetarian diet or eating meat discriminatingly on the basis of local sourcing, animal welfare, organic feeding, and optimal resource use for feeding the world population. (See Meat – a benign extravagance)
Recycling of paper, cardboard, cans, bottles, plastic, clothing.
Support campaigns for sustainable farming, animal welfare, and the embargo on GM crops.
Buy locally produced and organic dairy products.
Friends listed the following activities which they are engaged in order to reduce climate change by reducing their carbon footprint:
Cycling for some local journeys
Replacement of a car once it has reached about 10 years old with a fuel efficient model, able to do 55 to 70 miles to the gallon.
Sharing car journeys
Driving style to minimise fuel use.
A policy of not flying for tourism
Using trains where feasible
Installing a solar panel for water heating, resulting, even in Lancashire, in almost zero use of other fuel for water heating over the summer. (Hope to video Tricia and her solar panel)
Loft and wall insulation
Installing modern fuel-efficient central heating and water heating boilers.
Rarely using the central heating
Installing log burning stoves
Coppicing trees as a source of wood fuel.
Switching off lights and using low energy light bulbs.
Planning installation of PVC panels to generate electricity.
Joining community organisations on the doorstep in order to reduce car travel for social purposes, and enhance local community life.
Friends listed the following activities which they are engaged in order to respond to the unacceptable aspects of global economic and social change:
Lobbying on income inequality, international development aid, ethical behaviour by multinational companies
Joining and voting for political parties who have policies to address these issues.
Charitable giving to NGO’s which give aid for development and lobby for social and economic justice.
Support the Fairtrade movement (Garstang is the world’s first fairtrade town)
Lobby in support of non-violent resolution of conflict and reducing expenditure on arms, in particular nuclear weapons.
We acknowledged that we all continued to consume more than our right share of the earth’s resources, judged by a comparison with an average consumption by every global citizen. We think that we need to address this by continuing incremental changes in our life-styles to converge with a global average, but we find it hard at present to conceive of what that would mean for how we would live. We recognise that social pressures to consume and to be endlessly busy are issues we need to face and deal with, and we recognise how much harder this is for our children’s generation, because the social and economic pressures on them are greater, as a result of the increasingly ruthless style of capitalism, and erosion of the welfare state which we are experiencing.
In terms of our local community, we live in a partly flat, partly hilly farming area with market towns, and a small city 15 miles to the north, and another 8 miles to the south. Downward pressure on food prices by supermarkets and the importing of such staples as milk has meant that many local farmers have gone out of business or experience uncertain incomes. The universities to the north and south are major employers. The largest manufacturer, and a large employer, is BAe Systems, an arms manufacturer. Local Quakers quite often, therefore, encounter people enagaged in arms manufacture and have to determine what they choose to say or not say on each occasion. Unfortunately the UK is a successful arms exporter. There is also a local nuclear fuel manufacturing facility.
In terms of action as a community, our local Quaker Meeting held a Green Festival 2 years ago to increase awareness of climate change and to celebrate the positive features of the changes in life-style which this requires. Some local children and young people were involved with an art competition and a ‘Cycle In’.
We discussed some of the more controversial issues in global change:
How do we respond to population migration? We feel that we should welcome the stranger in our midst but recognise the destabilising impact of large scale migration.
What is our position on the keeping of pets given their consumption of food, and production of methane gases? We recognise the emotional and therapeutic role played by some pets, and think that this must be weighed in the balance with any other consequences.
What is our view on world population growth? We see this as worrying but do not think any coercion to reduce the birth-rate is acceptable: rather education and the provision of contraception, together with the urgent enhancement of living standards among the poorer people of every nation is the best way forward, as the birth-rate falls with increasing affluence.
How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my responses to changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community? In what ways do I and my Friends church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?
How do changes around us affect our relationship with God?
This prompted a discussion of the language in the question, and each of us had a different take on this, but each of us valued the other perspectives.
In the context of an acknowledgement that the consequences of global change were being suffered more acutely in other parts of the world than in the UK, one Friend commented that through suffering we draw closer to Jesus; he understands it.
Another Friend commented that for her bringing God into it made a jarring note as she takes it for granted that we see the world through the eyes of the Divine, and the Divine sees the world through our eyes. Our interconnectedness is a given which cannot be teased out.
A third Friend observed that her awareness of the human destructiveness we see in some global change led her to endeavour to have a deeper understanding of what it is to be human, to the acceptance that we are just one species on the planet, and in world history, and that the highest aspiration can be that a single human life, the work of that life, may reflect some love, truth, beauty- those qualities by which we know God.
How does my relationship with God affect my responses to changes around us?
Personal reflection and being part of a worshipping group can help in giving a perspective to what we are experiencing.
- The following quotations express something of our feelings:
- ‘Ultimately, deep ecological awareness is spiritual or religious awareness. When the concept of the human spirit is understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual feels a sense of belonging, of connectedness, to the cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence.’ (Fritjof Capra, 2000)
- . And again: ‘Collective human consciousness and life on our planet are intrinsically connected. “A new heaven” is the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness, and “a new earth” is its reflection in the physical realm. Since human life and human
consciousness are intrinsically one with the life of the planet, as the old consciousness dissolves, there are bound to be synchronistic geographic and climatic upheavals in many parts of the planet, some of which we are already witnessing now.’ Eckhart Tolle in ‘A new
What role does faith have in my life and in the life of my community?
We all accept the faiths of others and experience much of our struggle to live sustainably on our planet as done together with those of other faiths and none.
Faith can be the thread of connection within our lives, embodying what gives the self a sense of meaning.
A sense of connectedness with one another, and with life on the planet is important to us.
Truth, so far, in my book; the truth which draws
Through all things upwards- that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos. Natural things
And spiritual,- who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points. We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips:
The perfect round which fitted Venus’s hand
has perished as utterly as if we ate
Both halves. Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural’s impossible- no form,
No motion: without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable,- no beauty or power:
Extract from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In what ways do I and my Friends church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?
In our local Garstang Quaker Meeting we have been active in the peace movement, particularly through the Westmorland Regional meeting concern, Preparing for Peace, in campaigning against the arms trade through lobbying MEP’s, in the Fairtrade movement particularly in relation to Garstang becoming the world’s first fairtrade town, in starting our witness to sustainability with a green festival, involving children and young people in the community as well as adults.. Individually we each witness in different ways as well.
What stories and experiences from past times of catastrophic happenings such as major droughts – perhaps from Scripture, perhaps the record of regional or local events – might inspire us to respond to the changes the world is facing today?
Catastrophes in the modern era are recorded in a variety of media, with images on TV having the strongest impact. We see the Boxing Day tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, the Cumbrian floods as they happen, and then we see the physical and human consequences. Unless we are directly affected, however, we can forget these images quite quickly.
The examples noted above are natural disasters but in each case human agency has exacerbated the impact, by felling mangrove forest, by constructing buildings not fit for purpose, by failing to have early warning systems, by building on flood plains, and by inadequate defences against flooding. Popular opinion, and the regulations of insurance companies are two sources of pressure for addressing these factors.
We recalled the Aberfan disaster in 1966 when a coal tip in South Wales slid down a hill-side onto a school killing 116 children and 28 adults. The National Coal Board was aware of the risk and did nothing to prevent it. In a similar way today we know there are significant risks associated with the disposal of nuclear fuels but we have so far failed to resolve them satisfactorily in this country, but still plan to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.
We noted the way in which communities rally round and help one another when a disaster strikes. Similarly during the world wars many people felt a sense of common cause and worked hard, risked danger for the common good. This spirit carried over in to peace time after WW2 with the legislation which founded the welfare state.
A less positive response to disaster is the tendency in us all to scapegoat. A recent example was the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico when all blame was laid at the feet of BP, with little acknowledgement that the persistent and universal demand for oil lays down the conditions for extracting it in challenging and vulnerable locations.
In the book Collapse by Jared Diamond, he analyses why various civilisations collapsed, and applies these ideas to how we are responding to the threats our civilisation is facing. His first example is that of Easter Island, where the islanders persisted in building enormous statues as a reflection of status long after it was sustainable: once they had cut down the last tree on the island they had exhausted a vital resource and they were doomed. It is a common theme that collapse can occur not many years after a civilisation seems to have reached its zenith in terms of wealth and power. He mentions ‘the tragedy of the commons’, where a common resource, subject to unregulated exploitation, begins to deplete, and how the ‘rational’ behaviour by the individual is to exploit it as hard as she or he can, as if she or he does not someone else will. To deal with this there has to be agreement on regulation. Our air is perhaps the most fundamental ‘commons ‘ of all, and we are changing it irrevocably with destructive consequences.
There is recent research which has shown that we do not change our minds about an opinion we hold as a consequence of rational argument: if anything a rational case which contradicts our view makes us adhere more strongly to it! We are more likely to change an opinion as a result of social influence: we may take on the opinion of someone we admire, or members of our peer group. The message here seems to be that bearing witness in our lives to our views, and expressing them in a way which conveys that holding these views is a source of good feelings and pleasure, is more likely to be influential than gloom and doom.
A Friend pointed out that George Fox had summed it up in 1656:
Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.
We are influenced by good speakers and memorable speeches eg the words of John Kennedy are memorable and have an application to our world today rather than just our country:
Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.
One Friend talked about the Garstang Speakers Club, of which she is a member; they meet twice a month and give 5 minute speeches on an agreed topic, in order to develop their speaking skills and for the enjoyment of it. We wondered whether we didn’t all have a duty to improve our ability to express ourselves effectively when talking about issues such as global change.
Another Friend commented that she could be inspired by singing for example, and that feeling would motivate her to feel confident about doing other things unconnected with singing.
We talked of the nature of a movement: many different people are simultaneously moved in a similar way by a set of issues eg, the reforestation that has taken place in the UK over the past 20 years, or the Women’s Movement that started in the 1960’s.
We should remember that when change comes it can come very quickly and unexpectedly: few anticipated the sudden and almost peaceful fall of the Soviet Union, or of apartheid in South Africa. This process is described by Catastrophe Theory. We talk about ‘tipping points’. It means that we never know when our campaigning efforts may bear fruit.
How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world about ways in which justice, compassion, and peace may address significant disruption, stress, and tension?
How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us?
Before our worship we had been talking about birds and immediately identified birds as a manifestation of glorious abundance. We had talked of a Friend’s birthday and the delicious chocolate cake she celebrated it with, and which we had sampled that morning, so we added food as another example of abundance, and the celebration of anniversaries and festivals. To these we added our joy in the natural world, walking, cycling, sports, arts, culture, the differences to be found between individual people and different ethnic groups, the National Health Service, technology and mobility. By mobility we meant the joys and insights associated with travelling, while acknowledging that this is not necessarily now a sustainable activity.
How do we testify?
Generally we act under concern as Friends, lobby our MP’s, join campaigns, enter into dialogue with decision-makers, inform ourselves about specific topics, challenge false statements, invest in sustainable energy schemes, and give to charities to act on our behalf.
In addition we testify in how we earn our livings: in the room were a retired librarian, teacher, journalist and social worker. We try to make a transition to sustainable living in a visible way. By our choice of leisure activities we testify to what we value.
We talked about the difficulty of determining our priorities for action in terms of campaigning and lobbying. Currently public expenditure cuts threaten to make Britain an even less equal society, urgent action is needed to develop sources of sustainable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, and there is a window of opportunity between now and 2016 to lobby government to cancel the Trident nuclear missile system. We acknowledged how protest can polarise the views of listeners. We suggested it could be important to lead with statements of what you value, in other words we could say we are seeking to make a world in which each person can share in the good things of life, can be assured of a peaceful existence free of war-fare, and can expect the world to be a hospitable and secure place for succeeding generations. We, therefore, support policies which reduce income inequality, reduce expenditure on weapons, particularly nuclear weapons, and those which strengthen legislative requirements to conserve energy and reduce green house gas emissions, and invest in sustainable energy generation. The question of focus is, however, a dilemma.
How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God’s Creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?
We started with a short period of worship, which concluded with the following reading from Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion:
The last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naivete which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busyness for the Kingdom of God- yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. It lives in the fellowship of the Transfigured Face. Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonise and fret and strain, but in serene unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity. Knowing fully the complexity of men’s problems it cuts through to the love of God and ever cleaves to Him…..
I have in mind something deeper than the simplification of our external programmes, our absurdly crowded calendars of appointments through which so many pantingly and frantically gasp……
This amazing simplification comes when we “centre down”, when life is lived with singleness of eye, from a holy Centre where the breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us and we are wholly yielded to Him.
This passage spoke to us. We recognise the importance of meditation and cultivating our spiritual lives. These cluster group meetings have helped us in deepening our spiritual response to global change.
We see the importance of localised economic activity. The following extract from The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins expresses how hard it is, yet possible, to make profound changes in your life.
How might one best manage the feelings of over-whelm, devastation and defeat that can accompany your ‘End of Suburbia moment’, the point when you really ‘get’ peak oil and its implications? The first point is to realise that feeling like this is natural, indeed it is far more natural than feeling nothing or blanking it out. It is a healthy response.
Our discussion prompted some practical exchanges: the above quoted books, and Whoops: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay by John Lanchester, a simple and readable account of how the financial crash happened, which exposes the folly of the bankers who lost contact with financial realities. We shared information about a public meeting at Stockport Town Hall on Thursday 16 December at 6.30pm to launch Stockport Hydro Scheme. http://www.h2ope.org.uk/ The share offer gives individuals, local businesses and social investors the opportunity to become members of a ground breaking renewable electricity project. The hydroelectric scheme has already secured funds of £350,000 and needs to raise another £100K so that construction starts on site in spring 2011. The plant, at Otterspool Weir on the River Goyt, will be Greater Manchester’s first community-owned scheme. As an added bonus, any surplus monies from the sale of hydro electricity will fund local environmental and community projects.
We agreed that we wanted to become active in introducing the transition town initiative into our local communities. As a first step we decided to seek a meeting with Garstang Friends to report on our Cluster Group and to explore whether there is support in the Meeting for the transition town initiative. If there is then we could convene a meeting with other local people who might be interested in such an initiative.