Exceptionalism

Britain Yearly Meeting, the annual gathering of British Quakers a couple of weeks ago, had ‘Privilege’ as its central theme, with focuses on diversity, inclusion and climate justice.  I was asked to organise two short sessions on ‘Exceptionalism’ in the context of climate justice. We asked:

  • Do we find excuses or justify our ‘normal’ actions and choices, knowing that they harm people, communities, ecosystems and the future of life on earth?
  • Are some harms truly justified as healthy self-care, or necessities in our work for much-needed social change?
  • What is our experience of applying individual and corporate spiritual discernment to such questions? And have we found ways forward that feel rightly led?

People spoke of dilemmas about flying as part of their work to address the climate crisis; of choices about car use in enabling their children to engage in educational and social activities; and of some of the ways exceptionalism comes into campaigning and activism, for instance in claiming some kind of rational or ethical high ground.

Exceptionalism is a way of thinking that allows ‘us’ to behave badly because we see ourselves as somehow superior or special compared with ‘them’. Perhaps ‘we’ have a unique purpose in the world, or a particular connection with God.

When governments justify their use of torture or invasions of other countries, the exceptionalism may be apparent. The conversation is much more nuanced in the context of climate-related harm and injustice; there is little consensus about what constitutes bad behaviour. Where that consensus exists, it relates to large scale actions such as opening a new coal mine. At the level of the individual, it can be exceptional to refuse to engage in high emission behaviours.

Yet behaviour that seems normal in middle-class Britain is exceptional. There is a sense of entitlement to flying, driving, high levels of meat and dairy consumption and centrally heated homes – behaviours that contribute to the climate crisis and are not available to most of the world’s population. They were not available to our ancestors and probably will not be available to our descendants. We live at an exceptional moment in history.

Exceptionalism is mixed up with privilege and with what has been called implicative climate denial. We may recognise the climate emergency, the biodiversity crash, the extremes of economic inequality, but it is a huge step to acknowledge the implication that we should stop doing the things that contribute to these tragedies.

I am part of the problem. I have money in so-called ethical investments which contribute to supporting our toxic economic system. I live alone in a house while people sleep on the streets a couple of miles away.

Holding that awareness is deeply uncomfortable. It is hard to stay with the shame. I look for ways to justify my choices.

Sharing our dilemmas with others can be helpful. One of our speakers had held a family council to understand everyone’s needs and consider how best to meet them with minimum use of a car. Others have asked for clearness committees – in this Quaker practice a small group gathers with the ‘focus person’ who is seeking clearness, and asks questions to support them in probing deeply and discerning their way forward.

Quakers and other people of faith often speak of finding inner peace through spiritual practice. But participants in our Exceptionalism session had not found a place that feels ‘OK’. Perhaps it is right to be uncomfortable. We are part of a planetary disaster.

And perhaps there is a kind of peace to be found. But it is not in pretending that we are OK – rather it is in developing our capacity to stay with the discomfort.

Zero Carbon Quakers?

Are you ready join with Friends sharing our journey towards zero carbon living in a zero carbon society? About 100 have already signed up for this project, including 11 volunteers for the steering group.

In October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. It brought a stark message: warming of 1.5-2°C would pose a much greater risk to life on Earth than we had previously imagined. It would include Arctic and Antarctic melting with sea level rise of 6-9m, accelerating loss of biodiversity, and a sharp increase in human  suffering and mortality through heatwaves, disruption of food and water supplies, increased prevalence of diseases, and the mass migration resulting from all of these.

We are already close to the ‘budget’ – the total of CO2 emissions over the last 150 years or so – that would result in warming of 1.5°C. The IPCC communicates in terms of risk, and essentially it says that if we carry on with current global emissions until 2030 (i.e. 12 years since the report was released) we will have a 50% chance of passing the threshold that would commit us to 1.5°C of warming.  They offer scenarios that offer a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C through a 45% cut in global emissions by 2030, reaching net zero by 2040-2060. Reductions of this level would require a multi-systems transformation covering law, markets, technology, governance, social structure, culture and much more.

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was established by the 2008 Climate Act to advise the Government on climate targets and strategy. It published a report in early May 2019 responding to the updated science. It says that the UK should aim for net zero emissions of CO­2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2050 – but the CCC portrays this as a way for the UK to maintain its leadership in a global effort to limit warming to ‘well below 2°C’ rather than below 1.5°C. Britain would be going faster than other countries, because of our greater responsibility for historical emissions and capacity for emission reduction.

Extinction Rebellion calls for net zero in the UK by 2025. If this were part of a global effort to reach net zero by 2030, it would give us a better chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. It is physically possible, but only if we approach climate change as a real emergency that changes everything. It could be an inspiring, exhilarating journey. It would also require a willingness to tolerate inconvenience and discomfort, and a capacity to cope with some people losing a lot while others benefit. Many kinds of jobs would be lost, while new areas of work would be created. It would probable result in a much healthier and fitter population through adopting a largely plant-based diet and abandoning cars. Some people would probably die earlier, while others would live longer.

Friends of the Earth and the Liberal Democrats call for net zero by 2045; and the Green Party has long held a target of 2030, which is also the timeframe used by the Centre for Alternative Technology in developing its ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ scenarios.

Whether the timescale is five or thirty years, we will have to more or less eliminate fossil fuels from our energy system and make deep reductions in industrial emissions – especially from the metals, cement and chemicals industries. We will have to radically change land use from pasture to woodland and make deep reductions in populations of ruminant animals (cattle, sheep and goats). A later target would give time for the development and deployment of more renewable resources, for a shift to electric cars and for insulation of much of the UK housing stock. It would even be possible to maintain some aviation using biomass fuels or possibly batteries. Achieving net zero by 2030 or earlier would mean largely abandoning cars, flying, meat and dairy. We would also have to live in much colder homes. There would probably be a transformation in the world of work too, moving to a much shorter working week and lower earnings, combined with a reduction in material production and consumption.

Where are Quakers in this picture? How are we led to engage in system change and self-change? In 2011 Quakers in Britain committed to becoming a ‘low carbon, sustainable community’.  Quakers have been at the heart of many of the major efforts including Extinction Rebellion, the Transition movement, local government declarations of climate emergency, anti-fracking actions and more. Many Friends have made deep changes in the way they live. But we have also been aware of the need to make this a joyous, empowering journey, and to be careful of blame and guilt. In our Yearly Meeting 2011 Minute 36 we reminded ourselves that Friends should ‘keep in their hearts that this action must flow from nowhere but love.’

There is no one right way of working for change. Some progress will come through top-down actions by government, some through innovation in technology in behaviour, some through communities and networks of people taking and sharing responsibility.

The ‘Zero Carbon Quakers?’ project aims to develop a community of Friends supporting each other on our journey through listening, conversation and worship together. We will be formed of local face-to-face groups and national/international online groups and will probably experiment with well-tried models such as Carbon Conversations and the Transition Leicester Footpaths process. We will provide spaces for holding feelings, and sharing information, dilemmas and progress in action – in our own lives, our Meetings and the wider community.

Sign up to the Living Witness e-mail list for news about the project and how to be involved.

Faith Initiative on Sustainable Living

In Paris in 2015, world leaders agreed to keep global warming to “well below 2°C”, and “pursue efforts” for a 1.5°C limit. However, on current trends the world is heading for at least 3°C of warming. To meet the 1.5°C limit we would need a rapid drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions, of the order of a halving in each of the next two decades and reaching zero by 2050. The 1.5°C scenarios reviewed so far by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rely heavily on unproven and costly “negative emission technologies”, in particular biomass as an energy source combined with CO2 capture and storage, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

There is one reliable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: deep cuts in energy consumption so that we can stop using fossil fuels. However, scientists and policymakers find it hard to imagine that people will be prepared to make the changes implied in our ways of living.

At the Climate Conference in Bonn on 6-17 November 2017, about 80 leaders from a wide range of faith communities world-wide gathered in a joyous and moving event to launch a new initiative for sustainable living. The following text is an extract from the statement of commitment from the faith leaders, delivered to negotiators at COP23 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“As religious and spiritual leaders, we are committing to make changes in our own lives, and to support the members of our communities in doing the same.  Together, we come to you with an invitation to embark on a journey towards compassionate simplicity for the sake of the climate, the human family, and the community of life.  For many of us, changes in three areas make the greatest impact: dramatically reducing emissions from our home energy use, adopting a plant-based diet and reducing food waste, and minimizing automobile and air travel. Because of the gravity of our situation, substantial and long-term changes in these areas are indispensable if we are to reach a 1.5⁰C future, particularly for those of us in communities whose carbon footprints exceed sustainable levels.  We pledge our commitment to such change.

“Through this collective effort, we look forward to creating a global community of conscience and practice in which we learn to put belief into action in relation to our own lifestyles.  Our spiritual and faith communities will give us hope and companions for this journey.  We will share ideas, materials, and stories of struggle and success.  Our practices of mindfulness, spiritual discipline and prayer will enable us to grow.  These ancient teachings and practices, and our renewed commitments and willingness to strive, will help us build pathways towards a sustainable future.

“We wish to be clear that we understand that systemic change is required to solve this crisis.  We will continue to advocate for the policies that are so urgently needed.  However, we also believe that individual commitments and behaviors are as important in addressing climate change as they are in addressing poverty, racism, and other grave social ills.  And we know that our spiritualities and traditions offer wisdom about finding happiness in a purposeful life, family and friendships, not in an overabundance of things.  The world needs such wisdom; it is our privilege both to share and to seek to embody it.”

The full text is available at http://www.interfaithclimatestatement.org/, as well as the video recording of the faith leaders event which was held on 9th November. The video will be edited to allow direct viewing of individual presentations and the full list of statement signatories will be made available as soon as possible.

The initiative is in early stages of implementation. Core funding was agreed in September 2017 by KR Foundation in Copenhagen for the period to the end of 2018. The initiative is being managed by GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental organisation based in New Jersey. Recruitment is underway for a programme director and an appointment is expected later in November 2017. While an international, interfaith steering group is in place, much has still to be worked out in the programme structure and governance. Our current ideas and aspirations are

  • for an ongoing process to secure pledges from leaders at all levels in an extensive range of faith communities,
  • to provide training, mostly online, for sustainable living facilitators/leaders within the communities
  • to provide a directory of existing resources for sustainable living, and support to faith communities in developing their own resources
  • to establish ways to monitor, evaluate and report on progress in the initiative
  • to hold a period of celebration, probably a weekend in September 2018, involving events in local and national congregations, potentially including collaborations among faith groups and with secular groups
  • to deliver a further statement of record, celebration and commitment to COP24, to be held in Katowice in December 2018
  • to seek funding for an ongoing programme of work beyond 2018.

The interfaith statement has been signed by Paul Parker for Britain Yearly Meeting, by clerks of other yearly meetings from Alaska to Australia, by Gretchen Castle for Friends World Committee for Consultation. Individual Friends. Local and area Quaker meetings are also encouraged to sign and many have already done so. We have yet to establish how Quakers in Britain might engage in implementing the commitment.

Laurie

17th November 2017

Composting the Covenant: talking about Quaker faith and sustainability

At a gathering at Woodbrooke over three days in June 2016, sixteen Friends explored how our faith relates to ecology and sustainability. Prepared contributions included discussion papers, poetry, film clips, slideshows and experiential and creative activities. We reflected at length in worship-sharing and discussion. The various contributions, other resources, flipcharts and notes – can be accessed here.

We distilled three main themes – each of these is a dimension of our eco-spirituality:

  1. Communion and community – our experience of and commitment to connection with people, other living beings, and the whole universe.
  2. Telling our stories – including our history and vision, the ways we’ve engaged with challenges, the way we articulate our values, our experience of our own darkness and of transformation.
  3. Action/change agency – including our commitment to self-change, our practices and processes for discernment and support in our witness, and our principles for action as a faith community.

People find different ways into ecospirituality. Some start with connection, some with vision or narrative, some with action. But these are inseparable and mutually entwined paths. There are distinctive Quaker approaches to each (see figure below).

Quaker approaches to sustainability

We draw on our corporate roots in Christianity and the witness of early Friends, as well as our personal backgrounds in a variety of religious and secular traditions. We find resonance between the writings of George Fox and others in the Quaker tradition, and our own experiences of God’s presence in all creation, in the web of life and in the cosmos. We also find many sources of new light, from the values and cultures of indigenous peoples to the insights and practices of movements such as the Work that Reconnects.

Friends have a well-developed witness in our approach to the spiritual life, to transformation (standing still in the Light, letting it show us our darkness and bring us to new life) to human relationship (answering that of God in everyone) and to community (setting aside personal positions in seeking unity). We are led to extend the resulting principles of peace, love, equality and community to our relationship with all beings and the natural world – seeking to answer that of God in all creation.

Our faith, lives and action are inseparable. We have a passion to make manifest the vision of Gospel Order through our practices and structures, and through our work in the world for transformation and for reconciliation. In our final go-round, participants called for a clearer articulation of our Quaker eco-theology and vision, and for acceptance of spiritual practices that connect us with the Earth. Quaker discernment processes and approaches to relationship are particular gifts which, if we could breathe more life into them, have much to offer the healing of our world.

We parted with new energy for our own journeys, projects and challenges, in our lives, meetings and beyond – and also with a sense of companionship, which many of us would like to sustain and develop.

 

Living Witness Gathering 7-9 October

Our gathering at Bamford Quaker Community on 7-9 October is an opportunity to spend a creative weekend working out new ways forward for Living Witness. It would be great to have you with us, especially if you have some time and energy to put into our work.

In February this year Living Witness Trustees met and considered future directions. There was energy for strengthening some of the things we’ve done in the past, like visits to local Quaker meetings to support a deepening of the spiritual basis of our sustainability commitment, organising national Living Witness gatherings, and running experiential retreats. There are opportunities to get involved in all of these areas.

We also talked about new areas where we feel work is needed. In particular moving out more beyond Quakers, and supporting Friends who are doing so. One example is developing a support network for Friends involved in politics, especially those in elected positions, partly to offer them a sense of solidarity with a Quaker community, and also to help develop a stronger sense of Quaker values in and approaches to politics.

One of the emerging areas that most interests me is finding different ways of addressing the fragmentation evident in Britain following the EU Referendum. In particular we might support local meetings to host local conversations across some of the divides – for example, inviting activists from all the local political parties to talk about food or energy. This could involve running some pilot conversations in a few local meetings and developing guidance notes and briefings that others can use.

Other areas include supporting creative nonviolent action, researching and writing about Quaker approaches to sustainability. Some of us would like to develop a repertoire of resources and facilitation or trainings that we can offer to non-Quaker groups – for instance for working with conflict and building community around sustainability.

We really hope that you will get involved in anything that speaks to you, or introduce other areas of work – and there is space for additional trustees! Or perhaps you already have a project that you’d like others to get involved in?

Please contact me soon if you’d like to come as space is limited. The cost of accommodation and food for the weekend is £100/person.

Listening spaces: framing a concern

The British vote to leave the EU was a lightning flash, illuminating the social landscape. Commentators were quick with their analyses. Some blamed the result on inequality or austerity, seeing it as a protest vote. Others saw it as a sign of divisions – in age, education, or cultural values. Follow-up surveys and focus groups have revealed more detail. The referendum asked a simple question but it got mixed up with a variety of issues. We cannot say “the UK public wants x”: people want different things. The particularly striking revelation is the depth of difference in people’s visions for our society.

Humanity currently faces a constellation of crises in many interconnected complex systems (see figure). Dominant themes in the last few decades include a shift in global economic and political power, collapse of the cold war polarity, rapid globalisation and market liberalisation, the ‘war on terror’, growing impacts of climate change and resource depletion, and mass migration.

constellation of crises

Public dialogue in Britain is ill-equipped for dealing with this complexity, or for making the rapid, conscious, collective choices that are needed to address some of the crises. Our debates are usually simplistic, confrontational and destructive. We do not give time and space for real explorations of facts, feelings, values and visions. Our first-past-the-post electoral system leaves many, if not the majority of people, feeling unrepresented or even betrayed.

The nationalist turn in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world is a natural response, but may make it harder to address the issues. We need healing, mutual understanding, compassion, trust, and community-building. These are vital if we are to be at peace with ourselves and each other, and if we are to make any progress on things that really matter for the long term viability of our society and our civilisation.

There has been a lot of talk of building bridges and more collaborative politics. The Green Party proposes a ‘Progressive Alliance’. But this would be a one-off for the next general election, to bring together left-wing parties, “kick out the Tories” and bring in PR. It is not clear that there is a real willingness anywhere to listen, or to move beyond the culture of political tribalism, adversarial dialogue and personal attacks.

Where do Quakers come into this? Many Friends will be attracted to the Progressive Alliance. But I believe something deeper, broader, and longer-term is needed. A Quaker approach to politics and public discourse would:

  • Start from our own willingness to change. It would make openings for the Light – for people to see what is really happening, including our own stake in the status quo and our potential to be part of the way forward
  • Support people to listen, to answer that of God in each other, seeking to give everyone a voice, to build understanding, compassion and trust
  • Build unity – around a way forward together that all can acknowledge to be right even if it doesn’t fit exactly with their personal preferences
  • Recognise that our approach has to be consistent with our goals. If we want to promote peace and understanding we have to start with ourselves, our own tendencies to believe we are right, and our approach to those that disagree with us

There is perhaps a particular challenge in bringing together facts, analysis and deliberation with a sharing of feelings and needs, in the search for unity in a way forward. There are several ways in which we could work to create listening spaces – using processes based on Quaker experience to make it safe for people to talk and listen. These could include:

  • Local community gatherings, perhaps hosted by Quakers in their meeting houses, on themes that matter to everyone. An immediate focus could be on energy options – nuclear power, fracking and renewables. Meetings would need to be carefully held and could be supported through a range of resources including issue briefings and experienced facilitators.
  • Bringing together Quakers in politics, including the MPs and MEPs, to explore and develop shared approaches and principles.
  • Working with elected representatives and others in national or local politics in themed conversations, aiming to bring together people who don’t usually talk to each other and to have the kinds of conversation they don’t usually have – perhaps focusing on personal values, feelings, hopes and fears.
  • Developing a wider network of people in politics committing to/working from shared principles, perhaps with training in nonviolent communication and other skills. They could be asked to commit to a set of standards for positive politics – e.g. listening to those with different perspectives and responding constructively, focusing on agreement rather than disagreement, and refraining from personal attacks.
  • Similar initiatives working with the media

Please do get in touch with me if you have ideas about taking any of this forward or would like to be involved in a project group. This will be a focus at the Living Witness gathering at Bamford Quaker Community on 7-9 October.

Losing liberty?

The Jewish festival of Passover – the feast of freedom – begins this week. I’d like to share this article with you – it was published in The Friend on 12th February 2016.

Laurie

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8.32

A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Advices and Queries 41

My lifestyle choices – especially cycling and being vegan – are partly an assertion of my freedom, self-sufficiency and individuality. It helps that they are also cheap and low-carbon. But for many people sustainable living suggests constraint. It challenges precious freedoms – to drive, fly, eat meat, run the central heating at full blast. It cuts against the spirit of our age, which values individual freedom ‘in the pursuit of happiness’. In the culture of consumerism, happiness is mostly pursued through buying stuff, and through personal comfort and travel.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has written about the inevitable tension in community between freedom and security. We give up freedoms in order to belong, and to meet the requirements of fairness and social harmony.  Even in the most libertarian societies, personal freedom may be constrained where it harms others, although that is a difficult negotiation, and the rich and powerful come off best. In the French Republican slogan, liberté and egalité are only reconciled by fraternité – by caring about each other and about society.

It is increasingly obvious that climate change is causing harm. It will wreck billions of human lives as well as destroying species and ecosystems. At some point our freedom to burn fossil fuels must be constrained. If the Paris climate agreement is to have any meaning, that moment must come soon. Could it be a joyous moment?

Quakerism can appear to be a libertarian religion. Many people find a home with us because of the freedom of belief, and of our interior practice in Meeting for Worship. In our local meetings we want to be inclusive, rather than emphasise the discipline that underpins Quaker faith and practice. Phrases like ‘Gospel Order’ are hard to explain, especially when few seasoned Friends are really sure what they mean. At the first encounter, ‘Right Ordering’ can seem slow and stifling. Familiarity comes gradually, through deeper involvement in business meetings, in Yearly Meeting and national committees.

In western society, freedom comes to be identified with unlimited choice. Nobody tells us what not to do. We can put anything we want in our shopping trolley. But research shows that, even when shoppers think they are making free choices, what they actually put in their shopping trolley conforms closely to the norms of their social group.

There is another kind of freedom that comes from the acceptance of limitations, celebration of our world, loving the age we live in, even as we are led to work for change. It is when we are attuned to our context – to our community, to God – that we have the strongest sense of agency, of being part of a larger agency, and so of freedom. It may be the freedom of going with the flow, or the freedom of opposing the Domination System, supported by our faith.

This kind of freedom – choosing a structure, a discipline to live in – can still look to others like a loss of liberty. But constraint is only a loss of freedom when we do not choose it.

Through consistent spiritual practice, listening and watching, inwardly and outwardly, we may awaken to our own Shadow which may have been controlling us; we may awaken to the Leadings of God, whether revealed in our own hearts, in the ministry of others, or in the world around us. And we may awaken our capacity to follow those leadings. This is true freedom.

BYM Sustainability Gathering

The BYM Sustainability Gathering (18-20 March at Swanwick) is shaping up. It is the main opportunity this year for building our Quaker community around the commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community.

The programme is here: BYM Sustainability Gathering 2016 Programme

We have inspiring speakers on practical, creative and community dimensions of our sustainability commitment. There are workshops on climate justice, storytelling, the UN negotiations, greening your meeting and lots more. There will be space for sharing your experience of what’s happening and what’s needed in developing our Quaker sustainability witness. And there are opportunities for you to offer activities, start conversations, or run your own workshop.

Please do make sure your meeting is sending at least one Friend. Although the official deadline has passed, we will go on accepting bookings while there are spaces. Register here!

 

The Paris Climate Conference: What love will do

First published in The Friend, 18th December 2015

Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel. (William Penn, 1693; Qfp 24.03)

It’s that time of year again. Negotiators are heading home from the twenty first annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN climate convention, after two weeks of working through the night. This was their fifth gathering this year, and they have been working towards this particular agreement for four years. The closing plenary was moving to watch, with delegates in tears, with hugs, kisses and extended standing ovations.

The outcome has been widely greeted as a turning point. In aspiration it goes far beyond expectations. At the beginning of 2015, we seemed on track for a 4°C global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of dire implications for life on Earth.

The new agreement states that its aim is to strengthen the global response to climate change by holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C.

It has something for nearly everyone. It pays attention to concerns for human rights and equity, to the need for sustainable lifestyles. There are processes to increase financial support from developed to developing nations and address the issue of ‘loss and damage’ due to climate change. But – as many delegates observed – the agreement is weak on specific commitments. It relies on ‘nationally determined contributions’ – essentially voluntary commitments to emission cuts, targets, policies, financial contributions and actions. One country, Nicaragua, said it would not sign the agreement because it is inadequate and will not achieve its stated aim.

Some scientists have expressed deep disappointment about the disconnect between the 1.5°C aspiration and the emission reduction pathway signalled by the agreement. It commits countries ‘to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century’.

The COP decision asks the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce a new report by 2018 looking specifically at 1.5°C pathways. The IPCC Fifth Assessment, published last year, paid minimal attention to such pathways. Probably nobody thought they were seriously possible. The focus was on assessing whether a 2°C limit was feasible and what it might entail. However we can have some idea of what the new report might say. To have a good chance of limiting warming to 2°C we should phase out fossil fuels globally by 2050. To stay below 1.5°C we need deep cuts immediately, phasing out fossil fuels by perhaps 2030.

Achieving the aim of the Paris Agreement would take nothing less than a global transformation – in technology, finance, power relations, industries and lifestyles. For most people this is unimaginable. Yet it may not be so difficult. British carbon emissions per capita fell thirty percent in the last ten years. While our government currently seems to be doing its best to stop the transformation, it has begun here and most people have hardly noticed.

What really matters is not the wording of this agreement but the process by which it was achieved. The French presidency of the COP showed phenomenal leadership in transforming relationships among negotiators from the bitterness and distrust expressed a year ago to the loving fellowship displayed in Paris. It was a feat of community-building that involved a huge amount of careful listening and facilitating dialogue in small groups. And there were willing participants – perhaps most significantly in the efforts of China and the United States to co-operate and to set out their own national plans of action.

The global climate regime is voluntary. The new agreement provides for any party to withdraw from it at will. There is no provision for sanctions or force against parties that do not meet their commitments. So change will only happen when enough people – including key players in government and business – want it. The amazing thing is that transformations of relationships, of the human will, of behaviour, happen very quickly.

The COP decision explicitly states that the provisions on loss and damage do not constitute a basis for legal liability or compensation. This was necessary for some developed countries to agree. But as Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said at a press conference, litigation is already happening. He cited a Philippines case against fifteen fossil fuel companies. ‘The struggle continues tomorrow’ and civil society ‘will be finding creative ways of resistance’.

The real challenge with a community is to maintain it, to cope with the tensions and struggles that emerge, especially when the going gets tough. Old wounds and resentments are still there beneath the surface. I do not believe there is much difference in this between the United Nations and a local Quaker meeting. My own experience is that sustaining community takes a lot of work. It helps a lot to have experienced people on hand, supporting participants to see things from each other’s point of view. It can be really hard to speak the truth, but when we don’t, relationships harden or unravel. Community depends on a willingness to listen, to love, to forgive. And above all, it requires a willingness to change ourselves.

What has happened in Paris is a microcosm of the community building that needs to happen everywhere, in organisations, neighbourhoods, cities, countries. The action needs to come from all of us. That means changing our lifestyles, our patterns of work and of relationships. It means fossil fuel companies undergoing their own transformation to leave carbon in the ground and find new business models.  It means elites finding a new power base – perhaps deriving kudos from generosity and pursuing the well-being of humanity, rather than their own bank balances.

Midwinter may be a good time to stop, reflect and listen for the Leadings of the Spirit. What are we called to do? What am I called to do? What gifts am I going to offer the world at this special time?

Your gifts may be practical. Could you move towards a vegan diet, reorganise your life to cut down on car and air travel, or install a wood stove and use less gas?

Perhaps you are a communicator. Can you befriend your MP and share your sense of urgency about climate change? Or maybe it’s time to write that short story, song or poem, or paint that picture.

You might be called to take direct action, to challenge, to expose the truth. Can you do so and sustain love and forgiveness, rejoicing in that of God even in those you are challenging?

Or perhaps your gift is to help build community and heal relationships, in your Quaker meeting, your family, your neighbourhood or workplace.

In the closing plenary of the COP, the United States delegate spoke about entrepreneurial innovation. The South African delegate quoted Nelson Mandela and the Indian delegate mentioned Gandhi. Each of us has something special to bring. Many of the delegates mentioned faith groups as part of the effort and support that made the agreement possible.

Paris represents a huge step forward in community building, globally, to be able to address climate change. We can only greet it as a moment of joy.

The Holy Mountain

(This article was published in The Friend, 1st May 2015)

Thirteen years ago I spent three days at Young Friends’ Summer Gathering at Pardshaw in the Lake District. They wanted to explore their witness to “that of God in all creation.” In the mornings they generously shared with me – a less-young Friend – their values, visions, and ideas for action for a sustainable world. In the afternoons we walked, swam, and kept talking.

Their visions were wide ranging: “we would be in contact with the earth”, “practising arts and crafts”, “we would dance all night”, “no cars”, “no nations or boundaries”, “security, trust, safe in our own homes”, “everything organic, fairly traded, respecting people and earth”, “complement rather than contradict.” I cannot convey the emotional depth and reverence that infused our worship-sharing in the sun. Or the effort to wrestle with the complexity of it all, the frustrations, the tensions between our desires and our dreams, our ideals and the Spirit of the Age.

I have experienced many visioning workshops since, with Quaker and other groups. The themes are broadly similar. There is a longing for a restored relationship with nature, with ourselves and with other people.
This longing is old and widely shared, at least in faith traditions. In God’s holy mountain none shall hurt or destroy and even the lions are vegan (Isaiah 11:6-9). But people disagree deeply on how to get there. They have tried many paths without success.

There is a path up the holy mountain. It might be called “deep nonviolence”, or “living out our faith in the world”. For me it is grounded in Quaker testimony and modelled by Gandhi and many others. It has strong Buddhist and Taoist resonances. There are three fundamentals:

First, being patterns and examples. If we hope the world will change, we start with a readiness to change ourselves, to learn from the experience and share it with others. If we see darkness around us, the first step is to let the Light show us our own darkness and bring us to new life.

Second, answering that of God in everyone. We listen, reaching deep for the truth others’ words may hold for us, prepared to be challenged, to find we have been mistaken. We embrace difference as well as similarity, recognising others’ gifts and seeing how they complement our own. Listening is the first step if we hope others will listen to us, and perhaps become companions on the path.

Third, seeking unity in a way forward together. We ask how we are led forward together and submit to God’s will – which is revealed when we heed the promptings of love and truth in our hearts and answer that of God in each other.

Sometimes the path appears to go nowhere, but if we stay with it the mountain comes into being around us. This path can bring us to new and surprising perspectives on familiar issues: climate change, oppression, community, violent conflict, housing, the use of money. Deep nonviolence applies in politics, in the family, in international negotiations. When we practise it in one sphere, we develop our capacity to practise it in others and we learn how everything is connected.

We may find ourselves walking against the crowd but we do not negate other paths. We may feel alone. This path can feel too slow. We may not arrive in our lifetimes. Even so it is the fastest path and it is what love requires. Occasionally we may find companions to walk a while with us. That is a profound joy.