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Church Ecumenical Conference: “A Future for All” – keynote speech by Paul Parker

This conference, organised by Birmingham Anglican Climate Action & Central England Quakers Low Carbon Commitment Forum, was held in July 2018 and was extremely well attended, emphasising perhaps the concern that many Christians have about the effects of climate change in our world today.  It was an opportunity to hear about what other people and organisations are doing to try to counteract the effects of climate change, both on an individual basis and as an organisation or faith community.  There were two keynote speeches, one of which, by Paul Parker, Quakers in Britain Recording Clerk, is reproduced below.

“Have you ever been back to visit your old school? There’s a walk I go on from home which
takes me past my old school. . It looks smaller now, despite having new classrooms and a
lick of paint, but children play outside it as they always did. Last week I met a man who’d
been to visit his father’s old school. They found it, but it was not only in ruins, but under a
metre of salt water. It was claimed by the rising Pacific Ocean; children will never play
outside it again. While we in the UK enjoy a bit of sunshine and grumble about the heat, for
many the reality of climate change bites hard.

We’ve all heard these stories. It’s easy to switch off because of despair, fear, guilt or
annoyance at others telling us how to live our lives. And because of that, there’s been a lot
of thinking about how we talk about it, whether it’s as an opportunity to build healthier
cities; or that there is joy in living simpler, low-carbon lives; or that we’re all in it together.
These points of view are very valid, but perhaps the full truth is more complicated.
It’s also about justice. Historically, as a relatively rich and privileged nation, we’ve benefited from fossil fuels and lots of other commodities at the expense of others. But if we’re serious in our belief that every human is a child of God, then as the UK negotiates what part we play in confronting our global climate crises, it’s important that historically privileged nations, and communities within them, confront their historic responsibility to do more than others to cut carbon and resource collective action. We need to be able to look people from the global South in the eye and say not only that we did what we could, but that we did everything we could.

Our awareness about the scale of the crisis of climate change is fairly recent. But there are
deep truths that we’ve always known.

For example, generations before us may not have been aware of the greenhouse effect. But
it’s always been evident that extracting fossil fuels creates, and indeed feeds on, injustice.
We’re all complicit in this problem of extraction and ‘extractive economies’. But we need to
face up to the fact that extraction is damaging, and it tends to impact not only ecosystems,
but poorer and less powerful social groups, often determined by class and race, around the
world. What do we do about this community living where we want to mine coal? How do
we get away with paying people poorly to extract it? How do we silence people objecting to
having their water sources contaminated by drilling? Often, extraction has relied upon
people who are in the way of so called progress having little power. Naomi Klein has said
that ‘it was the relative ranking of humans that allowed the digging up of all that carbon in
the first place’.

I was talking last week to a sister from Cameroon, caught up in a civil war I hadn’t even
heard about, and who was trying to run a hospital. She said, ‘of course, it’s all about the oil.
And the money doesn’t even stay in the country when they’ve finished.’

I say all this not so that we spiral in to despair, anger or even guilt. But so that we see
purpose in the UK taking radical action now. Perhaps we as people of faith are able to
confront these truths whilst having faith that we can achieve change.

And after all, the truth is, that both collective action for social change, and the low-carbon
society that can result from it, can be joyful, and good for us.

Pope Francis, in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Sì – a radical call for transformation – the
overturning of the economic system as we know it, but also personal transformation – what Francis calls ‘ecological conversion’, and perhaps we Quakers would call ‘ecological
convincement’. I was at a conference at the Vatican to mark the 3rd anniversary of Laudato
Sì last week. 

Quakers sometimes get hung up on the question – what should we do first? Should we
change the system or change ourselves? We are so complicit in this problem. Do we need
to give up our cars before we demand political action on climate change. Or should it be the
other way round?

Well, let’s do both. And let’s embrace the fact that social change is messy, imperfect and full
of contradictions.

To speak out for economic and social change, we require the integrity of making changes to
our lives. But we also live in a system, largely fuelled by fossil fuels, which is more-or-less
impossible to simply opt out of. If we demanded that political activists rid themselves of any carbon footprint, the climate change movement would be in a very bad way. If we don’t
change our own lives at all, how can we show politicians what’s possible, and give them a
sense of what changes people at the grassroots are willing to make in their lives?

As Quakers, we do know that the scale and nature of the changes we require, demands bold
action from government. And that for governments to take action for the planet, civil
society must demand it. When I met the minister responsible for climate change last year,
in the aptly titled Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, we talked a lot
about where the leadership for change should come from. Should it come from the
grassroots? Or should it come from government? There is certainly a role for civil society in showing a lead here, including faith communities which are experienced in helping
individuals to think about how they can live their lives. But there is also a clear role for
government in raising ambition, regulating and legislating for change.

Currently, the UK government subsidies the fossil fuel industry by approximately (fossil fuels subsidies are notoriously non-transparent and hard to calculate) £1.3 bn per year. We don’t need to give up our cars and switch our fridges off before we can say that this money should be redirected to the low-carbon economy.

The UK continues to back highly carbon intensive projects like airport expansion and
fracking. We needn’t be green gods and goddesses to recognise that the time has passed
when governments, seemingly completely disregard the climate impacts of these projects.

We’re hearing more ambition from government of late – but it’s not going to deliver
anything without a surge of grassroots activism. So here we are today, with work to do.

Due to immense grassroots pressure – we’re now in a better place than we have ever been in to hold government to account on climate change. In 2008 the UK government
committed to law the target of cutting emissions in line with limiting global warming to 2
degrees above pre-industrial levels. This included committing to national carbon budgets – so we could see how well the UK is doing (although the government has not always
published these on time).

Fast forward to 2015, and the UK upped its game again. It signed up to the Paris Agreement, which went further than the 2 degree target- it committed nations to limit warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees and to ‘further pursue efforts towards 1.5 degrees. The 1.5 degree target is what some of world’s nations and communities most vulnerable to climate chaos are calling for, so for it to be at least partially committed-to is progress.

Then in April this year, the government announced that it is intending to update our climate laws to fully commit to this 1.5 degree target. The announcement was a quiet one, but it was really quite significant. We certainly weren’t expecting it. Yet as we know, its action, and the details that are important – and these paint a bit of a different picture.

Last year the government published its Clean Growth Strategy. It claimed to outline how the UK will achieve our international climate commitments.

It included some positive commitments. Significant investment in energy efficiency – the big
no-brainer. Ambition for low-emissions vehicles. Some more support for renewables.
BUT it admitted that these commitments as they stood would not achieve the cuts required
by a 2 degree target. Let alone a 1.5 degree target. Overall, despite all the promises nations
have made through the UN climate process, we are still heading for well over 2C. At the
moment, it’s going to be bye-bye Tuvalu, bye-bye Bangladesh, and even bye-bye large parts
of East Anglia.

At the same time as announcing its taking climate change seriously, it increased subsidies for north sea oil and gas, announced a cap on renewables subsidies, committed to a third
runway at Heathrow, and put in place new planning laws to make it easier for companies to start fracking.

All this shows that whilst we can support the ambition- and we must- we can’t leave it
there. It’s down to normal people to demand more serious commitment, to demand
detailed climate policy, and bold action.

We’re working with other Churches to show government that we as people of faith care
about the outcome, and we care about the detail. It’s not enough to make high level commitments. We see our job to hold them to account. 

This is all the more important with the UK’s departure from the EU.

The government are being very woolly on the detail of how EU directives will be replaced
with robust UK policy and investments. When I spoke to one of the Brexit ministers last
year, and asked her how the government intended to allow itself to be held to account once
the EU institutions which have often enforced change are no longer able to do it; the reply
was that she expected this role to be taken by civil society. So that means we need to be
vigilant, to scrutinise the government response, and to equip ourselves with the scientific
knowledge truly to hold them to account.

It’s easy to feel powerless. To sit back in despair and pray for deliverance. But for Quakers,
prayer means action. And whilst we may feel powerless, through the eyes of someone from
the global South we look powerful beyond measure. We have the voice, the money, the
freedom of speech, the democratic structures and the access to government to make
ourselves heard. And we must do so.

Here are some examples of what Quakers have been doing:

Firstly, on fracking. Given that to achieve 1.5C we have to leave almost all remaining fossil
fuels in the ground, so it makes no sense to be looking for new ways to extract them, at the
three centres of fracking resistance – Preston New Road in Lancashire, Kirby Misperton in
North Yorkshire and Broadford Bridge –Quakers are getting really involved in local action.
Some are locking on at the gates; some are going to meet the council; some are giving
meeting space to local anti-fracking groups; some are going to make food for protesters. It’s really inspiring to see so many people thinking about how they can do something, in
whatever way, to support a struggle. And everyone can be part of such a movement, at
whatever level, and whatever gifts you bring.

Divestment from fossil fuels. Quakers nationally have divested, and many local groups are
doing so (if they even had money in fossil fuels in the first place). The only way fossil fuels
will be left in the ground is if the companies which invest in them become worthless. Much
as engagement with fossil fuel companies may be important, I think it’s naïve to believe that they will withdraw from extraction altogether, which is what they have to do for 1.5C. And how could we possibly continue to profit morally from companies which are responsible for the degradation of our environment?

There are global opportunities for engagement coming up: the global climate conference in
San Francisco this September; the International Monetary Fund & World Bank meetings in
Bali in October; and of course the COP24 talks to be held in Katowice, Poland, this
December, which is when the common rulebook for implementing the Paris agreement will
be agreed. It’s absolutely crucial that our government goes into these meetings prepared to
raise aspiration and to show the type of lead a country as historically privileged as ours
needs to give. So we need to embolden them to do so.

One of the speakers at the Laudato Sì conference summed up the problem in 3 A’s –
Avarice, Arrogance & Apathy – to which Aggression was added. We have to remember that war has significant effects on the environment, and that between them war and climate change account for almost all of the current global migration crisis, with more displaced people than at any time in history. Avarice, Arrogance, Apathy and Aggression are all things that we can do something about, as people of faith. They can all be challenged, in our own behaviour and others’.

There’s a story Quakers like to tell about one of the early Quakers, William Penn, who went
on to found Pennsylvania. He was a statesman and diplomat, and habitually wore a sword.
When he wore it to Quaker meeting, not long after Quakers had renounced war, another
Quaker George Fox, told him ‘wear it as long as thou canst’. The next time they saw each
other, he had stopped wearing it, having worn it as long as he could.

Friends, our lifestyle and our collective inaction is an act of violence to our planet, its
peoples, and its delicate ecosystem on which all life and communities depend. Continue
with it as long as thou canst!”

Paul Parker, 2018.  This speech can be downloaded from the Quaker website at:

http://centralenglandquakers.org.uk/2018/07/19/future-for-all/


The other keynote speech at the conference, by Bishop David Atkinson, explained how in the burning of fossil fuels we have lost the biblical ‘triangle of relationship’ between God, the earth and humanity.  His speech can be downloaded from the same web page, where other activities at the conference are also described.  The conference included workshops on the Eco Church movement, a project of A Rocha UK – a charity committed to mobilising Christians to care for nature.  (See: https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/how-eco-church-works/); fossil-fuel divestment; interfaith experiences etc.

future-for-all (2)

Keynote Speakers at the conference: Bishop David Atkinson and Paul Parker


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Media Lens new article states the reality of the problem

…… Click here to view it online
30 January 2017

Deranged And Deluded: The Media’s Complicity In The Climate Crisis

 

In an important recent book, the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh refers to the present era of corporate-driven climate crisis as ‘The Great Derangement’. For almost 12,000 years, since the last Ice Age, humanity has lived through a period of relative climate stability known as the Holocene. When Homo sapiens shifted, for the most part, from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence to an agriculture-based life, towns and cities grew, humans went into space and the global population shot up to over seven billion people.

Today, many scientists believe that we have effectively entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene during which human activities have ‘started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems’. Indeed, we are now faced with severe, human-induced climate instability and catastrophic loss of species: the sixth mass extinction in four-and-a-half billion years of geological history, but the only one to have been caused by us.

Last Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their symbolic Doomsday Clock forward thirty seconds, towards apocalypse. It is now two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest since 1953. Historically, the Doomsday Clock represented the threat of nuclear annihilation. But global climate change is now also recognised as an ‘extreme danger’.

Future generations, warns Ghosh, may well look back on this time and wonder whether humanity was deranged to continue on a course of business-as-usual. In fact, many people alive today already think so. It has become abundantly clear that governments largely pay only lip service to the urgent need to address global warming (or dismiss it altogether), while they pursue policies that deepen climate chaos. As climate writer and activist Bill McKibben points out, President Trump has granted senior energy and environment positions in his administration to men who:

‘know nothing about science, but they love coal and oil and gas – they come from big carbon states like Oklahoma and Texas, and their careers have been lubed and greased with oil money.’

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s US Secretary of State, is the former chairman and CEO of oil giant, ExxonMobil. He once told his shareholders that cutting oil production is ‘not acceptable for humanity’, adding: ‘What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?’

As for Obama’s ‘legacy’ on climate, renowned climate scientist James Hansen only gives him a ‘D’ grade. Obama had had a ‘golden opportunity’. But while he had said ‘the right words’, he had avoided ‘the fundamental approach that’s needed’. Contrast this with the Guardian view on Obama’s legacy that he had ‘allowed America to be a world leader on climate change’. Writer Ian Sinclair noted the stark discrepancy between Obama’s actual record on climate and fawning media comment, notably by the BBC and the Guardian:

‘Despite the liberal media’s veneration of the former US president, Obama did very little indeed to protect the environment.’

And so while political ‘leaders’ refuse to change course to avoid disaster, bankers and financial speculators continue to risk humanity’s future for the sake of making money; fossil fuel industries go on burning the planet; Big Business consumes and pollutes ecosystems; wars, ‘interventions’ and arms deals push the strategic aims of geopolitical power, all wrapped in newspeak about ‘peace’, ‘security’ and ‘democracy’; and corporate media promote and enable it all, deeply embedded and complicit as they are. The ‘Great Derangement’ indeed.

Consider, for example, the notorious US-based Koch Brothers who, as The Real News Network notes, ‘have used their vast wealth to ensure the American political system takes no action on climate change.’ Climate scientist Michael Mann is outspoken:

‘They have polluted our public discourse. They have skewed media coverage of the science of climate change. They have paid off politicians.’

He continues:

‘The number of lives that will be lost because of the damaging impacts of climate change – in the hundreds of millions. […] To me, it’s not just a crime against humanity, it’s a crime against the planet.’

But the Koch Brothers are just the tip of a state-corporate system that is on course to drive Homo sapiens towards a terminal catastrophe.

Earlier this month, the world’s major climate agencies confirmed 2016 as the hottest since modern records began. The global temperature is now 1C higher than preindustrial times, and the last three years have seen the record broken successively – the first time this has happened.

Towards the end of 2016, scientists reported ‘extraordinarily hot’ Arctic conditions. Danish and US researchers were ‘surprised and alarmed by air temperatures peaking at what they say is an unheard-of 20C higher than normal for the time of year.’ One of the scientists said:

‘These temperatures are literally off the charts for where they should be at this time of year. It is pretty shocking.’

Another researcher emphasised:

‘This is faster than the models. It is alarming because it has consequences.’

These ‘consequences’ will be terrible. Scientists have warned that increasingly rapid Arctic ice melt ‘could trigger uncontrollable climate change at global level’.

It gets worse. A new study suggests that global warming is on course to raise global sea level by between six and nine metres, wiping out coastal cities and settlements around the world. Mann describes the finding, with classic scientific understatement, as ‘sobering’ and adds that:

‘we may very well already be committed to several more metres of sea level rise when the climate system catches up with the carbon dioxide we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere’.

It gets worse still.

The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 repeated the international commitment to keep global warming below 2C. Even this limited rise would threaten life as we know it. When around a dozen climate scientists were asked for their honest opinion as to whether this target could be met, not one of them thought it likely. Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, was most adamant:

‘there is not a cat in hell’s chance [of keeping below 2C].’

But wait, because there’s even worse news. Global warming could well be happening so fast that it’s ‘game over’. The Earth’s climate could be so sensitive to greenhouse gases that we may be headed for a temperature rise of more than 7C within a lifetime. Mark Lynas, author of the award-winning book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, was ‘shocked’ by the researchers’ study, describing it as ‘the apocalyptic side of bad’.

 

 

Burying The Climate Issue

Given all of the above, what does it say about the British government that it should bury an alarming report about the likely impacts of climate change on the UK? These impacts include:

‘the doubling of the deaths during heatwaves, a “significant risk” to supplies of food and the prospect of infrastructure damage from flooding.’

At a time of manufactured fear by ‘mainstream’ media about ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ politics, how divorced from reality is the government when it would rather ignore such an important report, far less address seriously the urgent truth of climate chaos?

An exclusive article in the Independent noted that the climate report made virtually no impact when it was published on the government website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on 18 January:

‘despite its undoubted importance, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom made no speech and did not issue her own statement, and even the Defra Twitter account was silent. No mainstream media organisation covered the report.’

The government said in the ignored report that climate change meant that ‘urgent priorities’ needed to be addressed, including a dramatic rise in heat-related deaths, coastal flooding and ‘significant risks to the availability and supply of food in the UK’. So, lip service at least. But Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said he was ‘astonished’ that the government had done so little to publicise the report:

‘It’s almost as if they were trying to sneak it out without people realising.’

Leading politicians, intelligence chiefs and their media allies are forever warning the British public of ‘security threats’ which are so often blowback from Western foreign policy; or the warnings are overhyped claims to justify their own fearmongering agendas. But when it comes to the greatest threat of all – climate change – they are remarkably silent. This exposes as a lie the rhetoric from government and security services that they are motivated by genuine concern for the well-being of the population. The truth is that powerful forces are always driven primarily by the desire to preserve and boost their own interests, their own profits, their own dominance.

Amitav Ghosh rightly notes that the most powerful states derive their privileged position in large part by sitting atop a world-threatening carbon economy:

‘The fact is that we live in a world that has been profoundly shaped by empire and its disparities. Differentials of power between and within nations are probably greater today than they have ever been. These differentials are, in turn, closely related to carbon emissions. The distribution of power in the world therefore lies at the core of the climate crisis.’ (Ghosh, ‘The Great Derangement’, University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 146; our emphasis)

Tackling climate change thus means tackling global inequity. This requires a deep-rooted commitment to not just ‘a redistribution of wealth but also to a recalibration of global power’. He makes the crucial point that:

‘from the point of view of a security establishment that is oriented towards the maintenance of global dominance, this is precisely the scenario that is most greatly to be feared; from this perspective the continuance of the status quo is the most desirable of outcomes.’ (Ibid., p. 143; our emphasis)

 

The Myth Of ‘Fearless and Free Journalism’

The ‘mainstream’ media is not somehow separate from this state-corporate status quo, selflessly and valiantly providing a neutral window into what powerful sectors in society are doing. Instead, the major news media are an intrinsic component of this system run for the benefit of elites. The media are, in effect, the public relations wing of a planetary-wide network of exploitation, abuse and destruction. The climate crisis is the gravest symptom of this dysfunctional global apparatus.

News reporting on the economy, for instance, is typically divorced from reporting on the climate crisis. Judging by the lack of attention given to climate in last year’s Autumn Statement, whether by Chancellor Philip Hammond himself or the media dutifully reporting on it, the global warming emergency had miraculously gone away. It is as if there are two separate planets: one where ‘the economy’ happens; and another one, the real world, which is beset by catastrophic climate change.

Some readers will say: ‘But surely the best media – the likes of the BBC, the Guardian and Channel 4 News – report climate science honestly and accurately?’ Yes, to a large extent, they do a good job in reporting the science (though the BBC has often been guilty of ‘false balance’ on climate). But they rarely touch the serious, radical measures needed to address the climate crisis, or the nature and extent of the climate denial ‘Beast’. This is taboo; not least because it would raise awkward questions about rampant neoliberalism addressed, for example, by Naomi Klein in her books The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything.

As Ghosh also observes, capitalism and imperialism are intertwined as primary drivers of the climate crisis. But when did a BBC environment, economics or business correspondent ever report this truth? Their silence is shameful; all the more so for their avowed responsibility to the public who funds them. Even the very fact ‘that we live in a world that has been profoundly shaped by empire and its disparities… remains largely unacknowledged.’ (Ibid., p. 146). It is certainly not acknowledged by the BBC and the rest of the major news media for which the public is supposed to be grateful. The BBC still reflects its origins in empire and the establishment while proclaiming falsely its ‘independence’ and ‘impartiality’. Consider, for example, that Sir David Clementi, former deputy governor of Bank of England, has just been confirmed as the new BBC chair. This, in a nutshell, is how the state-corporate media system operates. A former banker will become the new chair of the ‘independent’ BBC, appointed by the government. This is all part of the fiction of ‘media plurality’, ‘impartiality’ and ‘freedom’ from ‘political interference’.

Even when the Guardian recently ran a live page on climate change on the day that President Trump took office, with a follow-up titled, ‘So you want to be a climate campaigner? Here’s how’, the paper’s compromised worldview was all too apparent. The top of the Guardian‘s website proudly proclaimed:

‘With climate sceptics moving into the White House, the Guardian will spend the next 24 hours focusing on the climate change happening right now, and what we can do to help protect the planet.’

But you would have searched in vain for any in-depth analysis of how Big Business, together with co-opted governments, have hurled massive resources at stifling any real progress towards tackling climate change, and ‘what we can do’ about that. In particular, there was no Guardian commitment to drop any – never mind all – fossil-fuel advertising revenue. The proposal to reject ads from ‘environmental villains’ had been put to the paper by its own columnist George Monbiot in 2009, following a challenge from Media Lens. It got nowhere. Significantly, the Guardian‘s ‘focused’ climate coverage once again steered clear of its own questionable behaviour and its structural ties to elite money and power. Meanwhile, the paper continues to be riddled with ads promoting carbon emissions – notably short-haul flights and cars – ironically appearing right beside articles about dangerous global warming.

Even as such glaring contradictions, omissions and silences become ever more apparent to Guardian readers, the paper is ramping up its appeals for readers to dip into their pockets. When Trump triumphed in the US election last November, Lee Glendinning, the editor of Guardian US, pleaded:

‘Never has the world needed independent journalism more. […] Now is the time to support journalism that is both fearless and free.’

She deployed standard, self-serving Guardian rhetoric:

‘Because the Guardian is not beholden to profit-seeking shareholders or a billionaire owner, we can pursue stories without fear of where they might take us, free from commercial and political influence.’

In repeatedly churning out the myth about the Guardian being ‘free from commercial and political influence’, any public doubts about its pure nature are supposed to be dispelled. But there comes a point where the readers know their intelligence is being insulted. And we are now well past that point.

The Guardian‘s complicit role as a liberal gatekeeper of truth will not – cannot – be honestly addressed by the Guardian itself; nor by the well-rewarded journalists and commentators who appear regularly in its pages.

The current era of ‘great derangement’ will last as long as the public allows news and debate to be manipulated by a state-corporate media system that is complicit in killing the planet. We urgently need to consider alternatives for the sake of humanity.

DC

This Alert is Archived here:

Deranged And Deluded: The Media’s Complicity In The Climate Crisis

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