Thursday, 15 October 2009

Changing my climate

Blog Action Day unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day – 2009 is Climate Change

Climate change – been there, done that, boring, let’s get excited about something new. My former employers, the World Council of Churches (WCC), began raising the issue of climate change in the late 1980s, partly because part of their constituency in the Pacific region was disappearing under the sea. Not many people were interested, even environmental groups. But in the end it became fashionable and lots of people were agitating about it. Now I wonder if climate change fatigue is creeping in.

We’ve said all there is to say. International organisations, governments, pressure groups, even industry and commerce have made fine sounding statements. Case proved, for all except for a few contrarians. Thank goodness for them - in their attempt to stamp out what they see as a pernicious falsehood they keep the issue alive.

The problem is we have hardly begun to do what we need to do. I’ll begin with a soft target. If you search the WCC’s website you find around 4,500 references to climate change, most of them raising the issue and calling for change. Yet you will find it hard to discover the WCC’s own environmental policy. I know that the organisation has thought about environmental risk assessments in planning meetings that bring people together from all over the world, an annual environmental audit to accompany the financial audit and measures to incentivise staff use of public transport, to give some examples. Yet, understandably if not forgivably, it finds it hard to grasp the total change in organisational culture and style of working that such actions would imply.

The 10:10 campaign, supported by the Guardian newspaper - - challenges us to commit ourselves to reduce carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010. A UK survey quoted suggests that ‘81% of adults were very or fairly concerned about climate change and three quarters said they were willing to change their behaviour to help combat it’. Well, I’m part of that three quarters. But am I part of what they describe as ‘a small, saintly portion of the population’ who do anything significant?

If the WCC was a soft target, I must take aim at the hardest target of all. That is me. I have to change. It’s not just up to other people, organisations and governments, it’s up to me. I have to change the climate of my own way of life. And I suspect that just spending an extra 10% of time in bed doesn’t count.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Challenging the orthodoxy

What have Elinor Ostrom and Metropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos in common? Who, you may ask. If you weren’t aware of the award of the Nobel Prize for economics or the meeting of the WCC Faith & Order Commission (mutual understanding of what the churches believe and organise their life) this week, you may be forgiven. These two people, eminent in their own spheres, but not well known outside have each put forward views that challenge commonly accepted wisdom. In describing their views briefly from my reading, I probably do an injustice to them.

Ostrom, a political scientist from Indiana University, USA, has researched how people maintain fish stocks in India, Kenya and Nepal as well as researching other resources such as pastures, woodlands and lakes. Current orthodoxy in such issues suggests that this is best done either by the state or, more commonly these days, by privatised enterprises. Ostrom’s research indicates that when individuals join together and form collectives resources are better maintained and protected. She is interested in how people co-operate rather than compete - and the beneficial results that stem from that.

Metropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos of the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church in India gave a critique of a document that had been prepared by the Faith and Order Commission on the Nature and Mission of the Church. The methodology of such exercises he described as being from above – the experts and the specialists. He pointed to the absence of any involvement from below. This meant that the world of the poor and dispossessed, particularly the Dalits in India, found no resonance in the document.

What these two have in common, to answer my own question, is not just that they have challenged the orthodox positions in their own areas. It is that they do so on the basis of the participation of people, not just those who are powerful or experts. In the one case, people are not so irredeemably selfish that they cannot act collectively for the common good. In the other, it is people (especially including the poor and excluded) who ask the real questions about the nature of the church.

Answers to issues that confront the whole life of the world may not just be found in what the Metropolitan describes as ‘esoteric and intellectual’ discussions but closer to home.