Wildlife and Biodiversity, Syria, Drought, Elections, Fairtrade, Migration – 28 February 2016

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Short Notes: Syria, Southern Africa’s drought, Elections, Fairtrade Fortnight, Europe and migration
  • Loving God’s world: wildlife and biodiversity (World Wildlife Day, 3 March)

Why do bad things happen? It’s a frequent question – and in an attempt to rationalise, people all too frequently blame the victims. If something has gone wrong for them, it must be their fault! But in this week’s  Revised Common Lectionary Gospel, Jesus disputes that analysis. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” he asks – clearly implying that they were not. At the same time, he calls all people to repentance and warns of sin’s destructive consequences.

A complex message! Where today do we see people being blamed for suffering that is not of their making – and how can we help to `comfort and defend them? And where do we see sin which may cause destruction – and how can we help to turn ourselves and others away from it?


Short Notes: Syria, Southern Africa’s drought, Elections, Fairtrade Fortnight, Europe and migration

  • As we write this, the Syrian truce has begun and seems to be holding, despite some violations. Please pray that it may provide a respite for civilians who have been caught in the middle of the fighting. Pray too that it may lead towards moves to establish a stable, just peace.
  • A long-running Southern African drought has been exacerbated by El Niño and is hitting many countries hard: the Guardian ran an article on Mozambique recently, and Al Jazeera did a strong story as well.  Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town also discussed the impact of the drought at an earlier stage in a beautiful and powerful video he did last year for the Mass Lobby of Parliament.A meeting of the Southern African Develoment Community (the Southern African nation states) on Friday estimated that 28 million people were vulnerable and in need of relief. Please pray for an end to the drought. Pray also for those affected by its impacts and those working to mitigate the effects of the impacts.  If you would like to donate to relief efforts, please contact us for options.
  • There were a number of elections at the end of last week – most notably in Iran, which was voting for its parliament and Assembly of Experts, clerics who have the responsibility of choosing the next Supreme Leader should a vacancy arise during the Assembly’s eight-year term. The election was seen as something of a referendum on the reformist President Hassan Rouhani and his recent nuclear deal with the Western powers. Early indications are that, despite the fact that only 200 reformist candidates were allowed to stand, reformist and independent candidates have done well in the parliamentary elections, and no single faction will dominate. Please pray for wisdom for all elected, and that the results help to lead to greater openness, justice and respect for human rights – including freedom of religion – in Iran. (Coverage: Al Jazeera, Daily Star (Lebanon)Financial Times, Guardian, Le Monde)This Tuesday, a number of US states will hold primary elections, voting for delegates to the party conventions that nominate presidential candidates. In a race distinguished thus far by unusually negative campaigning, pray for wisdom and discernment for voters and candidates.
  • Fairtrade Fortnight starts on Monday, with the theme ‘Sit down for breakfast, stand up for farmers’. We’ll be focusing on Fairtrade next week – but please start praying now that the Fairtrade will continue to create positive change for all involved with it, whether as producers, suppliers, retailers or consumers.  Our Fairtrade prayers and resources can be found here.
  • The UK is much concerned with our EU Referendum, but in an editorial on Friday, French newspaper Le Monde warned that the EU’s lack of a collective and coherent policy on migration threatens Europe more generally: “Shocked by the impact of the wave of migration, Europe is fragmenting, breaking up, taking itself apart … [unless there is a major change] historians will without doubt date the beginning of the disintegration of Europe to this matter, and to these years.”The immediate cause of the article was a summit convened by Austria, in which the countries of the ‘Balkan route’ – both EU members and non-EU members – met to work out ways to ‘isolate’ Greece and contain migration within its borders. Greece, Germany, and the European Commission were not informed – and Greece has recalled its ambassador from Austria in protest.  But as Natalie Nougayrède points out, the lack of EU policy coherence results from decisions by – and affects – all countries. And the need for cooperation – for the sake of both refugees’ safety and countries’ stability – is immense.As European ministers prepare to make decisions on border controls and migration policies, please pray for wisdom and discernment on all sides. Pray too for the safety of all who have fled conflict and oppression, whether to Europe or to other parts of the world. And pray for an end to the conflicts and injustices that force people to flee from beloved places and people.

Loving God’s World: Wildlife and biodiversity

World Wildlife Day is 3 March, so for this week, we are focusing on expressing love through care for wildlife and biodiversity.

The Lord said to Job,
Where were you when I laid out the Earth’s foundation… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Do you know when the mountain goat gives birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Who has let the wild ass go free?
Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
Do you give the horse its might?
Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up?
Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you. He eats grass like an ox. His limbs are as bars of iron. Under the lotus plant it lies, in the cover of the reeds and in the marsh.
Who has first given to me that I should repay?
Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.
From Job 38 – 41

The final chapters of the book of Job read as a litany of celebration: God exults in the complexity of his creation and the wonders of his work. The sense of God’s pride, care and intimate knowledge is reflected elsewhere in scripture, for example in the Psalms: “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD” (Psalm 84:3) – and in Jesus’ words: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus asks. “Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

In his paper on the Bible and Biodiversity, Sir Ghillean Prance says, “The Bible is biodiverse from Genesis to Revelation”. He cites God’s post-flood covenant in Genesis 9 as “the real biblical basis for the preservation of biodiversity”, with its repeated emphasis that God’s covenant is not simply with Noah and his descendants but with “every living creature.” He goes on to explore biodiversity and its preservation in the books of the law, the psalms and proverbs, the major and minor prophets and the New Testament, finding deep wells to draw from. Martin and Margot Hodson echo this view, writing, “the pages of the Bible are buzzing with insects, alive to the song of birds, majestic in their description of trees and awesome in appreciation of the strength of large animals. The Bible contains the names of countless species of trees and animals. There are thirteen different Hebrew words for owls alone and nine for locusts.” (Cherishing the Earth, p. 35)

In his critique of Genesis 1, and in particular the vexed question of what “dominion” over the earth by humankind means, Professor Richard Bauckham writeswhen we get to the creation of humans on the sixth day and we read God’s command to us to have dominion over the creatures, we already know that what God is entrusting to our care is something of priceless value… [O]ne of the things God delights in [is] the sheer, abundant variety of the creatures… We hear of fruit trees of every kind, seed-bearing plants of every kind, sea creatures of every kind, birds of every kind, wild animals of every kind, domestic animals of every kind, creeping things (i.e. reptiles and insects) of every kind. In all, that phrase occurs ten times. This is an account of creation that celebrates biodiversity”. Dominion is therefore taking care of God’s cherished creation and “responsible rule that does not exploit its charges.”

Similarly, in his exploration of the Bible and Biodiversity Reverend Dave Bookless concludes, “This world and all its creatures (human and non-human) belong to God and exist to bring glory to God… Every species matters, irrespective of its usefulness to humanity. Avoidable extinctions damage the integrity of God’s world, erase something of God’s self-revelation in creation, and silence elements of creation’s worship of God. Humanity has a divine vocation in reflecting God’s character towards the animal kingdom through encouraging the flourishing of biodiversity and resisting its depletion. This is both a missional task to be fostered as a special vocation for some, and part of the wider calling of all Christ’s disciples”.

Thus the sheer variety of life on Earth matters for its own sake.

But it is also vital for our own (humanity’s) survival. “Ultimately we rely totally on the ecological connectivity and biodiversity of this beautiful blue pearl in space, the Earth, whose future is in our hands. So we dismiss the needs of other species at our peril”, writes Dr Andrew Gosler, Research Lecturer in Ornithology and Conservation at Oxford University.

That God’s creatures and biodiversity are under threat because of mankind is not in doubt. Whilst the extinction of species is a natural phenomenon, current rates of extinction are vastly in excess of background rates (around a thousand times higher). Such dramatic loss has been described as “defaunation” with scientists arguing that we have entered a new geological epoch, the “anthropocene”.

As do other commentators, the World Wildlife Fund regard habitat loss as the leading cause of biodiversity loss. All types of habitat, from forests to lakes to swamps, have been cleared for industrial development, housing and roads, and exploited for human consumption. Destruction of rainforests and coral reefs has been the greatest source of biodiversity loss; rainforests have been eliminated from 50% of the area on which they formerly existed. The FAO points to the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity over the millennia, with ever-increasing food production driving the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural production. Human population growth is therefore one of the factors impacting biodiversity; pollution (including from synthetic nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer use) is another.

Climate change is particularly inimical to biodiversity. A 2014 IPCC report highlights the widespread impacts of climate change on many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species in terms of their altered geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions. Whilst it says that, as yet, only a few recent species extinctions can be attributed with high confidence to climate change, it is known that there were significant species extinctions in previous epochs, when natural global climate change was at a slower rate than we are currently experiencing. If global temperatures rise 4oC above pre-industrial levels scientists have projectedthat around 57% of plants and 34% of animals are likely to lose more than half of their present climatic habitat range by the 2080s.

Given this somewhat gloomy assessment, is there anything being done to address biodiversity loss… is there anything more hopeful?

We are currently midway through the UN’s Decade on Biodiversity to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. This includes the Aichi Biodiversity Targets which address areas such as tackling the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, reducing pressure on biodiversity and promoting sustainability, and safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity. In addition, Goals 14 and 15 of the new Sustainable Development Goals set out a number of specific targets which would protect biodiversity (for example, reducing marine pollution, establishing marine and coastal conservation areas, halting deforestation, reducing the degradation of natural habitats) – with the overall ambition of halting biodiversity loss.

In his recent paper, “We have 15 years to halt biodiversity loss, can it be done?” Dr Richard Pearson, Reader of Biodiversity at UCL, cites several reasons for hope. These include: protected-area coverage is increasing globally, sustainable practices in industries such as fishing and forestry are becoming established, responsible investment is becoming more mainstream, 184 countries have established National Biodiversity strategies and Action Plans, and there are specific conservation success stories. He concludes, “It will take time to slow and turn around the juggernaut that is biodiversity loss, and everyone must pull in the same direction in order to shift course. The period over which the new SDGs will run, from now until 2030, will be absolutely crucial for making this happen. There are indications that things are beginning to turn around. Hints that we can do this. It would be a big mistake to dismiss the biodiversity target as a fairy tale”.

So what are some of the practical actions we can take, so that we don’t unwittingly contribute to the problem? How can we show our love for God’s wonderful world and respect for his creatures? As for last week, a definitive list is beyond the capacity of this short piece; instead, we offer here some “top tips” – several of which were kindly provided by colleagues with a passion in this area.

Reduce your ecological footprint:

  • You can calculate your ecological footprint and get a personalised action plan here: the One Plant Living Challenge.
  • In his paper, 10 things you can do to help biodiversity, Dr David Hooper emphasises the prime importance of reducing consumption. Making the connection between demand for new resources, habitat conversion, energy usage and extra waste going to landfill might be obvious, but I (Elizabeth) always need reminding…

Plastics:

  • Reduce use of plastic. There are lots of ideas here: my plastic-free life and here: Two years of living plastic-free, how I did it – both from people who’ve been trying to go plastic-free. For a specifically UK perspective, see here: Plastic Free UK.
  • Stop using products with plastic microbeads in them. These tiny non-biodegradable particles are added to a host of personal care products (including toothpaste) and end up in the “Plastic Soup” in the world’s oceans – where they pass along the marine food chain. For Smartphone users an App is available which you can use to scan barcodes to find out whether the product contains microbeads. Greenpeace has recently launched a petition urging the UK Government to follow the lead of the USA and Canada in banning their use.
  • Never throw away plastic bags, too many finish up injuring wildlife injuring wildlife

Home and garden:

Palm oil:

Palm oil is the world’s most popular vegetable oil, currently accounting for over 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally. It is currently found in around half of all packaged supermarket foods and is also used in detergents, cosmetics and biofuels. And its use is increasing. Millions of hectares of tropical rainforests have been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, with a devastating impact on biodiversity.

What can we do?

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature argues that boycotting palm oil is not the answer but that sustainable palm oil is. CSPO stands for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil and means the oil was grown on a plantation that “was established on land that did not contain significant biodiversity, wildlife habitat or other environmental values, and meets the highest environmental, social and economic standards as set out by the RSPO” (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Ethical Consumer do encourage a boycott of products from companies that aren’t currently using 100% responsibly sourced palm oil and provide a helpful list of palm-oil free and sustainable palm-oil products here: Ethical Consumer guidance.

RSPO certification is not without its critics. Greenpeace argues that RSPO standards do not prohibit deforestation and peatland destruction. These criticisms appear to have been addressed in the recently announced “RSPO NEXT” voluntary add-on criteria for RSPO members.

Traidcraft have introduced FairPalminto some of their products – a fair trade, sustainable palm oil grown by smallholder farmers in West Africa alongside other crops.

Finally… campaign on climate change, get involved in A Rocha (the world’s biggest Christian biodiversity NGO), and get your church signed up to Eco Church.

With thanks to Martin Hodson, David Morgan and Mike Perry for their suggestions.

Votes, TC Winston, Hope in a Changing Climate, Lent – 21 February 2016

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Short Notes: Votes, Tropical Cyclone Winston, ‘Hope in a Changing Climate’
  • Loving our neigbour in a globalised world
  • How then shall we live?

“Abraham believed the Lord, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – a text from this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts that has been very important to many Christians! Can we follow Abraham’s faith, trusting to God to bring to pass even those good things that seem impossible?
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Short Notes: Votes, Hurricane Winston, ‘Hope in a Changing Climate’

  • The date of the UK referendum on EU membership has been announced. This is a vote with implications not only for the UK but for the future of the European Union, already facing a period of strain. Please pray for wisdom and discernment for those campaigning on the issue within the UK and for UK voters. Pray also for wisdom and discernment for the politicians and media of other EU countries, as they respond to the uncertainties facing their countries and the union. There’s an interesting roundup of EU press reactions here.Uganda’s elections have resulted in a fifth term for President Yoweri Museveni – but have been widely criticised, with EU Chief Observer Eduard Kukan noting that the governing party’s “domination of the political landscape distorted the fairness of the campaign.” The chief opponent in the election (who has rejected the election results) is under house arrest, and the government is alleged to have used threatsto discourage voters from choosing for the opposition. These are tense times: please pray for wisdom and discernment for all people with influence in the country, and for a movement towards stability with justice.
  • Another category 5 tropical cyclone has hit the Pacific; pray for the people of Fiji, some of whose islands are receiving a direct strike from Tropical Cyclone Winston, the first category 5 storm known to have hit the islands. The main airport is in the hurricane’s path – pray that any hurricane damage does not prevent humanitarian relief from arriving quickly and being used effectively.
  • On the 15th and 16th of April, a group of agencies and churches, including A Rocha UK, All We Can, CAFOD, Christian Aid, CCOW, the Church of England, Commitment for Life, Global Justice Now, Operation Noah, Progressio, and Tearfund are putting on a conference called Hope in a Changing Climate.  It will offer a chance to get updates on what happened in Paris, reflect on Christian responses, share ideas and experiences, and learn about ways in which we can act to make a difference – whether through advocacy, investments, practical action or prayer.Speakers include leading climate scientist Professor Myles Allen; theologians such as Michael Northcott, Martin Poulsom, Rosalind Selby and Ruth Valerio;  climate communicator George Marshall; church leaders such as the Rt Revd William Kenney, Rachel Lampard, and Jo Herbert; specialists in advocacy and activism Paul Cook and Mark Letcher and many others.Pray for the speakers as they prepare. Pray that the event may be a blessing to Christians in the UK and elsewhere as they seek to care for creation.

Loving our neighbour in a globalised world

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

It’s easy to understand the lawyer’s question. We all have finite resources – emotional, material, of time, of space. If we are to love our neighbour as ourself, extending the definition of neighbour too far can feel overwhelming. The temptation is to circumscribe the number of people to whom we have obligations so that life feels manageable, and we can say confidently: “I have done this.”

But Jesus’ response allows neither the lawyer nor us to take that route.

Instead of getting an answer that enables him to classify others into the category of neighbour or not neighbour, the lawyer is instructed to act as a neighbour to those whom he encounters, whatever their circumstances.

That’s a challenge. And  in a globalised world, it raises numerous questions. What does it mean to ‘encounter’ someone? Does it apply only to those whom we meet in our daily lives? Or also to others whom we may or may not meet face to face? Pondering this, the theologian Dewi Hughes has suggested that we ‘encounter’ anyone on whom our actions have an impact – and that with respect to such people, we are responsible for applying the principle of love in all our actions that affect them.

So, for example, the person who sold me the tea I drank on my travels yesterday is my neighbour, and I have a responsibility to treat her with loving respect and to care about whether the cafe where she works pays her adequately. But the producers of the tea and the milk I have drunk are also my neighbours. I benefit from their labour – and I have a responsibility to care that they were paid fairly for it … and that they were not compelled to work in conditions that imperilled their health or wellbeing.

But are they the only people affected by my actions? Boiling the kettle required electricity – and hence the production of energy. The paper cup in which it was served required the felling of trees and the moulding of plastic. Were these actions undertaken responsibly? Or were they contributors – albeit minuscule contributors – to the climate change and degradation of earth’s natural resources that are causing difficulties for people around the world?

We live in a world that prioritises consumption – that constantly encourages us to focus on fulfilling our own desires and touches only briefly, if at all, on their impact on others and on the earth. But the command to love your neighbour requires us to take into account our daily choices’ impacts on our global neighbours and our common home, whose finite resources are so sadly overstretched.

At times seeking to live in a way that is mindful of our impacts may feel overwhelming. And certainly it can require an investment of time or energy, especially if we’re just starting to look at a particular area of our life. But we don’t need to be discouraged – there are plenty of fellow Christians (and others) walking alongside us who can help us along the way; issues can become clearer; and we can, by God’s grace, grow in courage and confidence. … and ask for forgiveness when we don’t get it right.

And this is not a joyless thing. To the contrary, trying to live in a way that is mindful of others and of the earth we share can bring tremendous enjoyment and a restorative awareness of connection with our fellow humans, the creation and God. Pray that God will guide us – and all people – along this way of life, for the good of our neighbours and ourselves.

How then shall we live?

There are so many ways in which we can act lovingly towards our global neighbours and creation – in a short piece one can just begin to scratch the surface. But for this week, we’ve chosen three areas where meaningful action can be easily taken in our everyday lives (the way we invest in these areas is also important, and will be the subject of a future reflection) – and we reflect on how a changed mindset may be helpful.  And, as these action points and suggestions may well be statements of the obvious for many readers, we end by providing some suggestions of books that explore the subject in more detail.

Energy

The Paris climate commitment to “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C” cannot be achieved without a switch away from fossil fuel sources of energy. Christian Aid and Tearfund have teamed up in a practical initiative, which launched on Ash Wednesday, to help churches and individuals make the switch to 100% renewable forms of energy. The ‘Big Church Switch’ will use the buying power of all who register their interest to secure the best deal from the cleanest suppliers in the UK. A quote will be provided to the registered churches and individuals who then decide if they want to sign up.  ‘The Big Church Video Switch’ notes: “This small action is one of the biggest things your church can do to reduce its carbon footprint… By using clean, renewable energy the Church can demonstrate its commitment to care for our neighbours and for the earth – our common home”

Food

What we eat is potentially the most significant way we interact (albeit unwittingly) with our global neighbours and our common home. The science journal Nature reports that “The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions”. Agriculture on farms is responsible for about 13% of total global emissions, with animals releasing methane and the use of nitrogen fertilizers the most significant contributors. However, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – a massive squandering of Earth’s finite resources. UNEP say, “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”. What about figures for the UK? Here, UNEP report that around a third of all the food purchased each year is not eaten.

How might we act more caringly towards our global neighbours and God’s creation?

  • Eating more thoughtfully. A study of the carbon footprints of the real diets of more than 50,000 people in the UK found that the benefits of altering one’s diet “could be huge”: “if someone eating more than 100 grams of meat a day simply cut down to less than 50 grams a day, their food-related emissions would fall by a third. That would save almost a tonne of CO2 each year, about as much as an economy return flight between London and New York”. Similarly a study in the USA found that “Although food was not the biggest source of emissions, it was where people could make the biggest and most cost-effective savings, by wasting less food and eating less meat.”
  • The Love Food, Hate Waste website has some great ideas for cutting down food waste and recipes for leftovers.
  • Increasingly choose foods that fulfills at least one of the LOAF criteria – Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly Traded – an initiative of Green Christian (formerly Christian Ecology Link).
  • Look for labels: whilst the variety of labels signifying ethical sourcing can be confusing, some to look out for are the blue Marine Stewardship Council label (which signifies the seafood has been responsibly caught by a certified sustainable fishery), the Fairtrade mark, the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Marque (an environmental assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products) and the Carbon Trust footprint label (which indicates the producer’s commitment to measuring and reducing the resource footprints of the product).
  • Try growing more of your own food.

Paper

Ruth Valerio writes, “Our demand for paper is one of the key factors behind deforestation, which, in turn, is the second highest contributor to climate change, only behind burning fossil fuels” (L is for Lifestyle, p 114).

Great Britain is the world’s sixth highest consumer of paper and paperboard (2013 statistic) and, according to the Confederation of Paper Industries, “in the UK, we produce less than half of the paper we consume. In fact, the UK imports proportionately more paper than any other country in the world”.

So what actions might we take?

  • First, is to reduce our paper usage, reuse what we can and buy recycled paper.
  • Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on paper, timber and other forest products. The logo guarantees you are not contributing to global forest destruction. There is also an FSC Recycled label, which means the product has been made from at least 85% post-consumer reclaimed materials.
  • Cut down on the junk mail you receive by going to the Mail Preference Service where you can get your name taken off mailing lists.


A changed mindset

In their paper, “Overconsumption? Our use of the world’s resources”, Friends of the Earth write,

“In order to create a more sustainable and equitable world, regions with high levels of per-capita resource use, such as Europe, will need to sharply decrease their resource use in absolute terms.

More fundamental questions about economics, development and resources need to be addressed in the medium term. Most significantly, ‘How can new models of development be created in Europe and other industrialised countries that focus on well-being instead of increased production and consumption?’ This will require rethinking the role of economic growth and the links between resource use, quality of life and happiness”.

The need for “rethinking” and emphasis on quality of life is reminiscent of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

It is very easy to get caught up in our current culture, which assumes constant consumption and acquisition are both good and necessary (how else can the economy grow?) – and hard to break away. But simply being abstemious – whilst clearly necessary given the parlous state of the planet – doesn’t seem sufficient response, because it is a negative “thou shalt not” type of response that can readily lead to debilitating guilt, feelings of failure and accusations of hypocrisy when well-intentioned resolutions are broken. Perhaps, instead, we can try thinking differently about how we live and what we consume. Rather than being consumers of “things” might we increasingly become “consumers” of culture, nature and friendship – not in a utilitarian way but in terms of where we take delight, find our identity and spend our spare time? Can we take to heart the injunction of Hebrews 15:5, “Be content with what you have” – perhaps literally looking at our possessions afresh and taking joy and pleasure in the good and lovely things we already have?

Suggested Reading

A very brief list – which undoubtedly leaves out many books that our prayer email readers have found useful! Do email us with suggestions, as we’re putting together an annotated list.

  • A Moral Climate: The ethics of global warming (Michael Northcott, Christian Aid/ Darton, Longman and Todd)
  • And God Saw That It Was Good (Carlo Carretto, Orbis)
  • Angels with Trumpets: The church in a time of global warming (Paula Clifford, Christian Aid/Darton, Longman and Todd)
  • Bible and Ecology: Redisovering the community of creation (Richard Bauckham, Darton, Longman and Todd)
  • Cherishing the Earth. How to care for God’s creation (Martin J Hodson and Margot R Hodson, Monarch Books)
  • Deep Economy: Economics as if the world mattered (Bill McKibben, Oneworld Publications)
  • How to Live a Low-Carbon Life: The Individual’s Guide to Tackling Climate Change, 2010 ed (Chris Goodall, Routledge)
  • Laudato Si: On care for our common home (Pope Francis, Catholic Truth Society or available online)

    Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future – See more at: http://catholicclimatemovement.global/books/#sthash.DT9PKVjX.dpuf
  • L is for Lifestyle. Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth  (Ruth Valerio, Inter-Varsity Press)
  • Planetwise. Dare to care for God’s world  (Dave Bookless, Inter-Varsity Press)
  • Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a finite planet (Tim Jackson, Routledge)
    Sustainability Toolkit (Quaker Peace and Social Witness)
  • When Enough Is Enough: A Christian framework for sustainability (ed. Sam Berry, Apollos)

 

Paris Agreement, International Migrants Day – 18 December 2015

This week:

  • The Paris Agreement
  • International Migrants Day – Welcome the Stranger

As we prepare for the coming of Christ, we encounter, in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, the Virgin Mary’s magnificent hymn of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. Rejoicing in God’s faithfulness and abundant gifts, the song anticipates the overturning of the ways of the world. Can we take time this week to read it daily, rejoicing in the promises it offers and praying for the coming of the Kingdom?
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The Paris Agreement

“This is a small gavel, but I think it can do great things” said Laurent Fabius, the president of the Paris climate talks, as the conference formally adopted the Paris Agreement.

Was he right? Throughout this year, people have been asking us: “Is this climate conference going to be different from all the failures?” “Can we stay below 2 degrees?”  “And is there hope?”

Here are our thoughts, for reflection and prayer, on how the Paris Agreement relates to those questions. Read the top line to get the basics, the paragraphs underneath to get more detail, and the box at the end for prayer points.

Even without an agreement, Paris would have been different from previous climate talks.Two things stood out before the conference even started. Firstly, the climate action plans (INDCs) that countries had submitted, while not enough to hold temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (best estimates are 2.7 to 3.7 degrees), are enough to bring us out of the disastrous “business as usual” trajectory down which we’ve been heading.  And secondly, Christiana Figueres and the Peruvian (COP 20) and French (COP 21) teams did an amazing job of bringing a wide range of groups into the UNFCCC process – not just the nation states that are ‘parties’ to it, but also businesses, civil society groups, financiers, faith groups, cities and regional governments. Many of these are moving faster towards a low-carbon world than nation states are. Their inclusion both reinforced the importance of these groups’ own efforts – the renewables initiatives launched were particularly notable – and also created an environment where action seemed possible.

And now we have the Paris Agreement – the first universal climate treaty, including some 195 countries. That really is a difference … and has wider significance. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, “every country in the world,” not just the developed countries, “has pledged to curb their emissions, strengthen resilience and act internationally and domestically to address climate change.” And while the document itself is far from perfect it has been agreed by all the parties in an unprecedented display of cooperation. Again, good process helped:  the French and the UNFCCC Secretariat did a brilliant job in their diplomacy. But to get an agreement, there had to be a general will for shared, multilateral action – a sense that blocs that have long held very different positions could work together and that at least some level of solidarity was possible. In an often fragmented world, the fact that countries had that sense and were prepared to act on it offers hope … and not just for the fight against climate change.

The Paris Agreement leaves the door open for us to stay well below 2 degrees – and indeed possibly at the 1.5 degree limit.  Since Copenhagen, countries have been saying that the goal is to hold warming below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Some scientists, however, feel that the pace of dangerous impacts increases well before we reach 2 degrees (cf this article) – and vulnerable states, such as the Pacific islands, have argued that for them a 1.5 degree goal is a matter of survival. The agreement sets a clear goal of keeping the global average temperature rise well below – not just below – 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and “pursu[ing] efforts  to limit the  temperature  increase to 1.5 °C above  pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

The agreement signals a clear shift towards a low-carbon world. The temperature target is ambitious and can’t be met unless there’s a significant and relatively rapid shift in how we produce and use energy. While some are waiting to see what actions countries take, there’s a sense in many quarters that the agreement – combined with the announcements on funding for renewables made earlier during the talks – sends a clear signal that the future lies with clean energy, and that coal in particular has no future. That changes the narrative about what is ‘realistic’ and should trigger investment flows into low-carbon, rather than high-carbon technologies.

But  the agreement needs to be hugely strengthened over time to keep us well below 2 – let alone at 1.5 – degrees … and time is short. The concrete detail on how we achieve the temperature goals doesn’t match the goals’ ambition. The agreement mentions achieving global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” without giving a specific target. It talks about achieving a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in the second half of the century. And it talks about getting countries to up the ambition of their emissions targets on a regular basis, starting with a dialogue in 2018 and with regular stocktakes every five years from 2023 onwards. These all represent progress – but they’re not yet strong enough: Professor Myles Allen, for example, argues that to stabilise at 1.5 degrees, we would need emissions to peak now, and commitments to increase radically very soon.  That said, getting  the upward review mechanism was a triumph, and one that had looked unlikely not all that long ago. And its existence allows for stronger, faster action.

There’s more work to be done on climate finance, too. The agreement reaffirms the pledge from developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to enable developing countries to adapt to climate impacts and to undertake clean development. It extends the commitment to provide $100 billion/yr until 2025 and sets that figure as a floor for climate finance to be undertaken by “the parties” (ie potentially not just developed countries) from 2025 onwards. It also invites those developing countries that are in a position to do so to contribute earlier to climate finance for those who are poorer.

That’s better than it might have been – but the language is pretty woolly, and it’s unclear how it will be implemented. Two big questions are (a) what counts as “climate finance,” which is very contentious, and (b) the impact of climate finance on other areas of aid. The key here feels as if it will be both convincing developed countries that climate finance is actually an area of opportunity – the more resilient the world becomes, the more everyone benefits – and ensuring that we don’t see climate finance pledges met by the kind of diversion of aid funds that leaves other priorities wanting. And yes, while those figures sound huge, they’re not really adequate to the task – can countries be convinced to mobilise more?

And while it was great to see ‘loss and damage’ enter the agreement, there needs to be some money behind it. The developing countries most vulnerable to climate impacts were glad to see a separate article for ‘loss and damage’ – which recognises that some vulnerable countries will suffer climate-related losses (irreparable impacts) and damages (reparable impacts) that go beyond anything to which they can adapt. It’s an important recognition of the reality of their situations. The agreement also invites cooperation to help them cope – but there’s not much concrete in the way of funding.

Overall, we’d call the agreement a framework for hope. As climate activist Bill McKibben said, “This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.” A universal agreement means that climate change is no longer some people’s issue – it’s everyone’s issue. There’s a clear acknowledgement that the time for discussing climate change as if it were hypothetical or uncertain to exist is over. And there’s a framework for action – the various goals give us something with which to hold governments, businesses and ourselves to account.

If countries implement what they’ve agreed to and take stronger, rapid action on emissions cuts and financial pledges; if the agreement inspires action for climate justice at every level – from the most local to the global …  then we can look to a very hopeful future.

We all are a vital part of helping to fulfil that hope. What we do now – in terms of our own lifestyle choices, our advocacy with government, our prayer and our continuing to work with other Christians and others around the globe – really matters. It will not only make a huge difference locally, but will also help our countries to take the steps they need to take. And each country’s steps make it easier for other countries to take their own steps. We can be part of building a virtuous cycle.

For those of us in the UK, that’s a particularly important role right now. One of the few sadnesses of the COP was realising the extent to which the UK was seen as having gone from being a leader on climate change to being a country that was backtracking on commitments. If that’s going to change, we need to be among those who are changing it. We have our calling to care for creation and for our neighbours; we have the Paris Agreement; we have each other; and we have hope in God, who created and loves the world. Change is possible.

Christian leadership mattered at Paris. Our prayer and action as Christians mattered at Paris. And both will continue to matter.

Both before and at the climate talks, Christian leadership helped to reframe the negotiations – to move them away from being simply about economic options, historic and future responsibilities and power dynamics towards a vision of a future in which care for creation and care for our neighbour is at the heart of our common action. The best-known contribution was the Pope’s Laudato Si’, the impact of which is well documented. But contributions from the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Lausanne Movement, the Anglican Communion bishops, the Lutheran World Federation, the reformed churches, Methodists, Baptists, and the churches of France working ecumenically (just for a start) were also vital.

But it wasn’t just about leaders.

“To those who walked, to those who prayed … ” this is the opening of Christiana Figueres’ “Open Letter of Gratitude to All” who helped work for the Paris Agreement. Figueres was moved to tears when faith leaders, including church leaders, met with her after celebrating the climate pilgrimages to Paris and handed over faith group petitions, signed by almost 2 million people. The knowledge that people were praying clearly mattered to her – and to the talks.

As Christians, our prayer was a response to God’s loving outreach to humanity and encompassed both petition and an act of witness: by it we laid our concerns before our all-powerful and all-loving God, attested to our faith in God, spoke about God’s role in creation, and recognised God’s call to the churches to care for creation.

We were praying for an agreement that, as Pray4COP21 put it would “help the whole global community to put aside selfishness and to walk together in ways that bring peace, show love for neighbours near and far, and reconcile us all with the beautiful creation that God has given us to cherish.” The Paris Agreement is far from perfect, but it has the potential to offer that help. Now we pray that its potential may be realised.

Our prayers are taken from the final prayers of Pray4COP21. Please:

  • Give thanks for the precious gift of Creation and our neighbours with whom we share it:
  • Pray that this agreement will truly help us to care for our common home and for each other.
  • Give thanks for the skill and commitment of the UN and French teams who guided the COP21 conference, and for the sense of cooperation that made countries willing to work together
  • Pray for the next steps along the journey that goverrnments and others must take. Ask that God will guide them in fulfilling their commitments justly and in raising their ambition to meet the needs of the world.
  • Pray for the next steps along the journey that each of us must take, asking God to give us the grace to speak and live in ways that reflect God’s love and justice,
  • Pray that we can work together for God’s glory, the good of the earth and the good of all our neighbours.

From “A Christian prayer in union with creation”

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.

The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
Of justice, peace, love and beauty.

Praise be to you!

Amen.

Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, contributed to Pray4COP21 by the Global Catholic Climate Movement



International Migrants Day: Welcoming the Stranger

This past Friday, 18th December, was International Migrants Day. With so much attention being paid to migrant routes through the EU we may feel well acquainted with the issues. But refugees in Europe are only a small part of the global picture (and even the local one).

The majority of migrants are not refugees (those who have fled their home countries because of conflict or persecution) nor are they forced migrants (a broader category including both refugees and those forced to move due to extreme poverty, climate change or natural disasters). At the close of 2013 UN figures estimated that there were 235 million migrants globally. Most were economic migrants seeking employment. Many are simply pursuing work in countries with similar economies and opportunities to their own. But just over one third were moving from South to North, from regions with an average wage of $3,300 to nations where wages average just over ten times that figure. As inequality increases these numbers are increasing. Often their increased earnings go to fund family in their home countries. Figures from 2006 show that migrants sent home $300 billion (often in small amounts of $100 or so), almost three times the amount developed countries gave to developing nations in aid that year.

Forced migration is also increasing rapidly. It is well know that the violence in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa has swelled the number of refugees to around 60 million, the highest figure on record. But the problem is not only the significant numbers of displaced people, but that people are remaining in poor temporary accommodation (including refugee camps) for long periods of time and their chances of returning home are becoming less likely. In Al Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan 80,000 Syrian refugees are living in temporary accommodation, some for up to 3 1/2 years. But it is Africa which has the greatest number of refugees and some of the longest displacements. Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya hosts 400,000 refugees (mostly Somali) and is 24 years old. Many residents of these camps are unable to move home or to move on to a more permanent living situation. Last year 126,800 refugees (globally) returned to their home country and 103,000 were permanently settled by the UN but 6.4 million were known to be living in long term (5 years or more) exile without a permanent solution.

It is clear that those who are currently displaced by conflict, persecution or climate change (a factor which is expected to force between 50 and 200 million from their homes by 2050) will continue to face challenges for many years as they are forced to find ways to live in host communities for long periods of time often without a permanent legal status, with inadequate accommodation, a lack of language skills, little money and poor employment prospects.

The significant and increasing numbers of migrants together with the relationship between migration and issues of trade, climate, conflict and human rights means migration will be a key global issue in the decades ahead. The Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe argues that migration should also be a central issue for the Church:
‘Thinking about migration is not a marginal theological undertaking but touches central points of every theological reflection: What is humankind? What does it mean to be obliged to this God of the Old and New Testament? How can our confused human history be reconciled with a divine plan? How are theology and ethics related? And what, after all, is the task of the church?’
In other words, a coherent and faithful Christian response to migrants begins with understanding our relationship to migrants in light of God’s creation and relationship to us. Any practical response we can offer should come out of this understanding.

Welcoming the Stranger

One strand of theological reflection around migration involves the idea of ‘welcoming the stranger.’

This is an ethical imperative we see throughout the Bible. In Leviticus 19:34, for example, we read that ‘the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’

The central part of this verse (together with others, see Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19)reminds us that the migrants ‘strangeness’ is actually a point of similarity for the Israelites who were also once migrants. In the New Testament we also see a sense of God’s people as a migrant community. Christians are to know themselves to be strangers in the world, a people who live in the world but are not of it, whose citizenship is in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). This understanding of ourselves as displaced people might encourage us to empathise with, and find common ground with, migrants. But it might also encourage us to hold our goods and land more lightly, knowing ourselves to be temporary guardians rather than owners.

Leviticus also reminds us that we are not to treat aliens or migrants according to their label, instead we are to treat them as citizens, as one of us. As numbers of migrants increase there is a tendency to forget that the headline figures are made up of millions of individuals with rich and varied identities with often tragic stories of loss and hardship. As countries struggle to deal with forced migrants they may also rely on labels (‘illegal immigrants’) which dehumanise and seek to place a distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’. For Christians our theology might encourage us to forgo unhelpful labels and seek to treat migrants as citizens, one of our own, with a shared identity based  in our foundational belief that all are made in the image of God.

This verse in Leviticus also contains an implicit reminder that it was the Lord God who reached out to Israel and brought the people out of Egypt. In Christ we too know God’s movement towards us and our call to mirror that movement in seeking to be those who spread the good news, who reach out to others. As we seek to respond to migrants, it is right that we should step out in welcome and move towards those who are displaced, not wait for them to bring their needs to us.

This stepping out in welcome will not only be for the good of those we seek to serve. Responses to migration from the UN, development agencies and researchers have recently been seeking to emphasise the positive contributions forced migrant communities can make to their host countries (often with an economic focus). Pope Francis has also noted that migration is ‘a significant “sign of the times”, a challenge to be discovered and utilised in our work to renew humanity and proclaim the gospel of peace.’ As we seek to welcome the stranger we can also expect to reap rewards as we see God at work in restoring humanity.

Even if we accept the call to welcome the stranger, we might still ask what form this welcome should take. Whether a Christian response to migrants must entail open borders which allow free access for all. We hope to address these difficult issues soon, in the meantime you may wish to access the Bible Societies resource which looks at a number of ethical approaches to borders.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and well-being of who have migrated, for whatever reason.
  • that the church may witness to the dignity of all people by its welcome for all people
  • that we may recognise our identity as pilgrims and migrants in this world, holding all things lightly except our faith


Some theological reflections on migration include:

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Asylum Theology
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Mission Migrants and Refugees
Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, Theological Reflections on Migration: A CCME Reader
Jubilee Centre, The Famine, the Foreigner and the Threshing Floor [A reading of the book of Ruth in terms of immigration]
Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Love of Christ Towards Migrants

Development Finance, Burundi, Short Notes – 12 July 2015

  • Financing for Development Conference,
  • Burundi,
  • Short Notes: South Sudan, Greece, Nuclear Talks with Iran.

The story of John the Baptist, found in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, brutally illustrates the risks of prophetically challenging those in power. And yet, around the world, Christians continue to run those risks, sustained by the grace of God and conscious that Christ, the lord of all, offers a redemption and a hope more powerful than that of any earthly ruler. How might we be called to speak prophetically, sustained by this same grace and hope?

Financing for Development Conference

This coming week, the Financing for Development (FfD) conference will take place from 13-16 July, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference is being held now in preparation for the  September adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goals without funding don’t mean much, and the Addis conference is meant to determine how the SDGs will be financed. The draft outcome document is ambitious on this front: “Our goal is to eradicate poverty and hunger in this generation, and to achieve sustainable development… where no country or person is left behind… [The UN’s] ambitious and transformative post-2015 development agenda… must be underpinned by equally ambitious and credible means of implementation. We have come together to establish a holistic and forward-looking framework and to agree on concrete actions to deliver on the promise of this agenda.”

The conference is very wide-ranging, looking at an enormous number of topics, including aid targets, remittances, the role of the private sector in development, carbon markets, debt restructuring, international tax frameworks and measures to prevent illicit financial flows (the issues around money flowing out of developing countries are as crucial as those around money coming in).

We’ve attached a background briefing to this email with more information and quotes on the process from the Archbishop of Canterbury (whose piece is well worth reading in its entirety), the General Secretary of the United Nations, the head of Oxfam International and others. (Please note that the links in the piece can be seen if you hover, but have not always come out in their customary format).

There is much at stake at this conference, both for development and the climate. Please pray:

  • For all who will take part in the Addis Ababa conference – that a spirit of co-operation will prevail and that they will be inspired to take bold and decisive action.
  • That the governments of the world will keep their eye on the common goal of “eradicat[ing] poverty and hunger in this generation,” recognise the importance of this moment, and deliver on the opportunity it provides
  • For those whose lives will be impacted by the decisions made (or not made) – that their worth, needs and voices will influence all that is discussed and decided
  • That other world crises will not be allowed to distract attention from the importance of the conference
  • In thankfulness for all the work and vision that has gone into the process so far
Action Point:
Could you sign the ONE Campaign’s petition on aid to Least Developed Countries?

Burundi

As of our writing, the election in Burundi has been postponed for six days, from this coming Wednesday to the 21st of July, in order to give the Ugandan president time to do mediation with the various parties

Burundi has been in crisis since 25 April, when the ruling party announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza would again run for office. The opposition and civil society had already argued that this would constitute seeking a third term, which is prohibited by both the Arusha Peace Agreement and the country’s constitution.  The ruling party argued that as the President was elected to his first term by indirect suffrage, it should not count.

Demonstrations were held the following day and were met with force by the police; some protesters were killed or wounded and many were arrested and jailed. Subsequently the situation has deteriorated even further; on the 13th of May there was an attempted coup, and private media outlets have been shut down. Many have fled the country; the UNHCR estimates that there are almost 150,000 refugees in surrounding nations, as well as many internally displaced persons.

The opposition boycotted local and parliamentary elections on 29 June, which were widely dismissed as lacking transparency, inclusiveness and credibility. Prospects for the presidential election have not been good. Please pray that the mediation will be successful in bringing a just and peaceful conclusion to the crisis. Pray for the restoration of peace throughout the country; for free, fair and peaceful elections; for safety and security for all who have been displaced; and that all who are seeking to bring humanitarian aid to them may do so effectively and lovingly. Pray also for the witness of the church in troubled times – may it be a beacon of Christ’s love.

Short Notes: South Sudan, Greece, Nuclear Talks

    • South Sudan‘s fourth birthday passed this week amidst a general expression of sorrow that the high hopes surrounding the country’s birth have not been fulfilled. Ongoing conflict has resulted in thousands of deaths and the displacement of about two million people. The majority of people from South Sudan long for peace and hope for change. You can read some comments from people refugees in the Nyumanzi camp  here – and CMS, Tearfund andSalisbury Diocese have helpful prayers and news material for prayer points.Please pray for a just peace for the country, for national unity, for an end to a politics that focuses on leaders instead of on development for the people, and for the safety and security of the people who have been adversely affected by the conflict. Pray too that the church, which has been a powerful voice for peace, may continue to stand firm in its witness to God’s love, peace and righteousness, and may be effective in encouraging leaders towards peace.
    • Please continue to pray for a just and sustainable resolution to the Greek crisis: pray for wisdom and discernment for those at the meeting of Eurozone leaders this Sunday, and for peace and neighbourly care within Greece at a time of anxiety.
    • Nuclear talks between the Western powers and Iran have been extended through Monday. Please pray for wisdom and discernment for all who are taking part, and for a result that contributes to long-term peace and stability in the region.