Many thanks to Liz Cruse for her guest post…
Tackling Climate Change: A Call to Conscience
Inter-Faith luncheon with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – Tuesday, 31 January 2017
The fact of climate change caused by human activity is incontrovertible. Three facts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
~We are currently on track for a global mean surface temperature rise of up to 4.8°C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels, a rise unprecedented in the human habitation of the planet.(1)
~Since 1951 human activities (burning fossil fuels, deforestation, to name but two) have been responsible for the majority of this warming.(2)
~The levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide concentrations in the atmosphere are unprecedented in the last 800,000 years.(3)
Sadly, there are people – often with vested interests in the fossil fuel industry – who still seek to minimise and cast doubt on the facts of climate change. Worryingly, these include the current president of the United States. But scientists and all thoughtful people are now convinced of the truth of the peril in which we stand in the face of accelerating climate chaos due to warming.
Doing something about it however, remains a challenge. Policy makers world wide remain committed to the goal of economic growth which they largely see as being predicated upon continuing use of fossil fuels to at least some extent. The majority of States commit more resources to warfare than to tackling climate change.(4) Small changes are occurring but many people in the Western world still show reluctance and inability to change their lifestyles, while our government in Britain has decreased support for renewable sources of energy – for example, by reducing the feed-in tariff for electricity fed into the grid from solar power.
If facts are insufficient to motivate change, could an appeal to ethical values meet with more success?
On 31st January 2017 I attended an Interfaith Luncheon organised by the Climate Change Representative from Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in London. Quakers have a long and honourable history of working for peace and social justice. QUNO works behind the scenes with (among others) climate negotiators, enabling them to meet and talk off the record so that greater understanding may be achieved and feed into formal negotiations. This informal lunch was held employing similar principles.
The underlying assumption of the event was that faith communities have an important part to play in putting ethical concerns relating to climate change firmly on the agenda at local and governmental level. Discussions at the lunch were off the record . This way all participants could feel free to talk and listen to each other in an atmosphere of trust.
I was representing OBOD and was the only Pagan present. Other spiritual paths represented in addition to varieties of Christianity, were Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
Also present, there to give condensed and highly informative presentations on current climate science were Professor Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II on Mitigation of Climate Change and Professor Joanna Haigh, Co-director of the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College, London. Proessor Haigh’s speciality is atmospheric physics.
After the presentations we had one hour, between nearly 30 participants, to address the questions “How is anthropogenic climate change a faith concern in our communities, and how can our experiences, concerns and needs be reflected in IPCC research engagement?”
“It’s complex.” Even if the scientists had not said this (frequently), it would have been obvious from the swiftest glance at the densely packed graphs and tables in the IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report. The briefest consideration of world realpolitik adds to the mix. Simple answers came there none.
No one denied the validity of social justice aspects of climate change. Many people spoke for the individual contributions their particular community was making. Some stressed the need to listen to the stories of the poor.
In dialogue with the scientists, two particular issues emerged.
Firstly, work was needed on ways to support governments and people in the transformations in lifestyle that were needed. This is being tackled by IPCC whose Nadine Andrews is looking at the human dimensions of climate change , but more work needs to be done since fear of change seems to be such a barrier.
Secondly, the scientists needed help in framing pragmatic advice to policy makers in simple ethical arguments centring on equality, social justice and peace, that will be convincing. IPCC has a role in monitoring progress and presenting policy options but may not advocate specific solutions. Their difficulty is that policy makers want to be able to base short term economic decisions on the information they receive. Attempts to reference to ethics and philosophy have not been viewed positively.
My own feelings are that IPCC should create relationships with the media. (Any news stand or online source is, with some exceptions, bereft of reference to climate change.) In addition, given that many white British people have no defined or active spiritual path (5) and therefore no easily identifiable faith community, it is important that spiritual leaders reach towards other groups without stressing their own faith allegiances or seeking to convert.
Useless? A mere talking shop?
Not at all. I had never before been privileged to sit in a circle with representatives of so many faiths. The news is full of people of ill intention but here were thirty people representing groups who are working positively, individually and collectively, towards solving this problem: lighting the way with renewable energy rather than cursing the CO2 in the atmosphere. It was a lived experience of the difficulty of achieving concensus even among people of good intent. It was witnessing the peculiar strength required to be a scientist, quietly researching and recording the facts even as useful schemes are shelved by governments keen to save money, and climate science is denied.
Above all I felt admiration for the quiet and welcoming demeanor of the Quakers who had taken this positive initiative, and were working behind the scenes, in hope, in many ways. The organiser’s final request that we all take hands around the circle, in mutual gratitude, struck a sweet note in my Druid heart.
~ Liz Cruse
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report, Working Group III Summary for Policy Makers, p.8 http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers.pdf
- Jeremy Shakun, et all, Global Warming Preceded by Increasing Carbon Dioxide Concentrations During the Last Deglaciation, Nature, 5 April 2012, Volume 484, p. 49-55, and Shaun Marcott et all, A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years, Science Mag, 8 March 2013, Volume 339, p. 1198-120
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report, Working Group I, ‘The Physical Science Basis’, Summary for Policy Makers, page 11, https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf
- Briefing paper What Climate Science tells us (briefly) from QUNO for Interfaith Luncheon 31/1/17
- According to 2011 census approximately 35per cent of white British had no religion or declined to say https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_British#Religion This is leaving aside how many of the declared Christians are active