New Quaker Network on Human Dimensions of Climate Change

Climate change is mostly addressed as a problem to be solved through government policy, technology and practical action. However, progress in implementing solutions is too slow. Irreversible and catastrophic change is increasingly likely unless humanity (individuals, communities, systems and societies) can address the psychological, social and spiritual challenges in developing an effective response. These include:

  1. acknowledging the truth of our situation and living with the feelings it arouses
  2. developing insight into the processes and forces that shape human behaviour – our own and that of other people, groups and institutions
  3. acknowledging and living with our responsibility and complicity
  4. understanding what can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that are happening
  5. discerning how we can contribute
  6. developing and sustaining the motivation to act
  7. observing the outcomes of our actions and learning to improve them.

Each of these challenges applies to individuals, groups, communities and institutions including companies, faith groups, NGOs and governments.

If we, our civilisation and our planet are to flourish, we need to get beyond denial, guilt, blame and debate, to change ourselves and be part of a wider movement for nonviolent change. We need insight, forgiveness, reconciliation, vision, hope, discernment, motivation and energy. And we need the skills to develop collaborative relationships addressing climate change and creating a sustainable way of life.

Quaker faith and practice, along with other disciplines and traditions, has a great deal to offer and needs to be brought to bear in responding to climate change.

Aims

The network seeks to support its members in developing

1) insight into the processes of personal, social and organisational change that are shaping our world, and that are needed to respond to climate change

2) spiritual and emotional resources, including compassion and acceptance for ourselves and others and skills in discernment to recognise Leadings and choose how to act

3) empowerment to take practical steps in our lives, communities and organisations.

Approach

The network exists as a forum for sharing and discussing experience, insights, approaches, resources and questions, primarily by e-mail. It will meet for day workshops and residential gatherings, and may also make use of online conferencing.


Areas of work

The network focuses particularly on three areas:

  1. working constructively with the social, psychological and spiritual causes of climate change in ourselves and others, and in communities, systems and societies

A first step here is the recognition that our darkness can be the passage to new life. We may need to address themes such as denial, blame, guilt and shame; or the Buddhist idea of the three kleshas or poisons of ignorance, desire and aversion.

Shedding light on our areas of personal and collective unconsciousness may help to free us from the forces that lock us into an unsustainable way of life. This means addressing individual habits and social norms, as well as the social, economic and political structures that reinforce them. It means confronting harmful and unconscious patterns like addiction, compulsion, coercion, exploitation and violence.  Acknowledging our own involvement may be a step towards compassion for others whom we have seen as part of the problem.

  1. embracing difference and reconciling the value systems, worldviews and priorities of different people and groups

Even when people agree on values, goals and visions, practical action often gets mired in tensions and conflict. The roots of conflict may lie in differences in personality, culture, circumstance, resources and needs.  The Quaker commitment to answer that of God in the other can be the foundation for working constructively with difference, by developing a) mutual understanding – insight into our various approaches and contributions, b) mutual compassion – caring for each other and being sensitive to each other’s needs, c) mutual empowerment – a willingness to support others in spiritual and ethical paths that may differ from ours.

The network may function by sharing our different experiences, our insights into differences and commonalities, and our experiences of approaches to reconciliation, inclusion and collaboration.

  1. developing moral community

Developing communities, and a wider society, with shared values and ethics and a collective will for collaborative action, is vital in responding to climate change. This is partly because everyone is needed for an effective response, but also because individuals’ values, ethics, lifestyles and choices are shaped by their social context (including family, friends, schools, workplaces, faith groups, the media and politics).

In a fast-changing world, collective understandings, ethics, choices and policies need to respond and adapt. This implies a kind of collective alertness and intelligence, and an ability to re-direct the collective will.

Quaker corporate discernment offers a particular approach that may be of wider value. The network may be able to articulate our experience of using Quaker process, and find ways in which it could be made relevant to wider society.

We will draw on the theory and practice of organisational learning, leadership and transformation, make the connections between these on the one hand with spiritual disciplines and experience, and on the other hand with change processes in politics and community. We will explore the relevance of different spiritual approaches and the ways they are supported in different religions. We will consider the role of psychotherapy, group therapy, individual and collective mindfulness practices, and approaches to conflict, co-operation and collective decision-making.

We will also draw on what other spiritual traditions have taught about nonviolence, explore connections with sustainability and ask what nonviolence means in practice.