I am a member of the BYM Sustainability Group, appointed recently as a result of a decision at BYMG to take forward the work on our corporate commitment to become a low carbon community.
Having had our first meeting on Friday last week, it’s set me thinking about what we mean by sustainability and by low carbon.
First port of call: Quaker Faith and Practice – what is is that we say about any of this? And of course, QF&P was approved in 1994 so some of the most recent thinking isn’t reflected in it. The relevant bit is chapter 25 called Unity of Creation.
The earliest section in this chapter is from 1669 and it is William Penn writing:
That the sweat and tedious labour of the farmer, early and late, cold and hot, wet and dry, should be converted into the pleasure of a small number of men – that continued severity should be laid on nineteen parts of the land to feed the inordinate lusts and delicate appetites of the twentieth, is so far from the will of the great Governor of the world, … [it] is wretched and blasphemous.
Well, I couldn’t have put it better myself. The first thing to say about sustainability is that it is totally linked to equality. Unequal societies are not sustainable.
A more recent section from 1992 is this:
This is a marvellous world, full of beauty and splendour; it is also an unrelenting and savage world, and we are not the only living things prone to dominate if given the chance. In our fumbling, chaotic way, we do also make gardens, irrigate the desert, fly to the moon and compose symphonies. Some of us are trying to save species other than ourselves…
We have no reason to be either arrogant or complacent: one look at the stars or through a microscope is sufficient to quell such notions. But we have to accept our position in the world with as much grace, responsibility and fortitude as we can muster, and try to grow up to our mission of love in this tangle of prospects and torments.
Pamela Umbima, 1992
By the very nature of human society and endeavour, we have ended up in situation where we have the knowledge and technology to either be good stewards or very bad ones; we have the ability to destroy not only our own habitat but that of a lot of other species. But we also have the knowledge to live in a way that understands that there is only one planet we can inhabit and that we share it with other species and with generations to come.
One of the really important issues is the fact that our economy – our whole way of thinking about makes the world go round, as it were – is based on the notion of growth. This is the wrong notion; you cannot have a finite planet with finite resources and continue to grow the economy. And more specifically, you cannot continue to make and consume more and more of the finite resources without running out of them. It’s actually not that difficult a concept. We’ve all seen the pictures of earth from space. Just look at that picture again and think about it.
But we also need to recognise that people need meaningful work and need a way of making ends meet; they need to sustain themselves, they need to have food, water, shelter, warmth, clothes and so on and so forth; they need to have access to education, health care, care, and culture in its widest sense.
So the challenge is: meeting the needs of people – globally – at a level that is based on our understanding that growth per se, measured in GDP, is over. It has to be over.
This needs a new type of community, where sharing is more important than competition;
This needs a commitment to changing our lifestyles where we see that the seeds of war have nourishment in our lives
This calls upon us to be quite critically aware of the cost to the planet of the things we do – as Friends and in our work (voluntary and paid) and make hard choices where necessary
And this calls upon us to act for a new politics; for strategic and systemic change; our lifestyle changes – important though they are for our sense of community and for our commitment to being witnesses – are very limited in terms of the overall effect they can have; the system we live in is rooted in the wrong kind of economy and we need to be willing to challenge and change that.
I hope Friends across the YM – and beyond – will be willing to support the work which our small group is doing across the YM; the change we are seeking, the change implicit in the commitment we made in Canterbury in 2011, will cost us. It will cost us in effort, in embracing things we may find hard – and we will all falter and need to start over – and forgive ourselves and others. It will cost us actual money because we should be willing to support fair prices for producers and fair conditions for the earth and other species in the production of our food. We need to embrace renewable energy sources – and not only when it makes ‘financial sense’. And we may need to divest ourselves of property of all kinds, including well loved but under-used and costly Meeting Houses.