Churches Together in Milton Keynes

We are a network of Christian communities in Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas. We are working together to show God’s love to the Borough and City of Milton Keynes.

Our current priority is to build a strong network of committed member congregations.

We have a particular concern with Poverty, Climate Justice, Refugees, Racial Justice and Mental Health.

Climate Unity

Climate Unity 

Climate... Unity...   Each word denotes a challenge. Moving from ‘climate crisis’ to ‘climate stewardship’ is the great work of our time. It is work beset with divisions.  The obvious division is between those who accept the science and want to tackle the climate emergency, and those who prefer to look the other way or to drag their feet. Divisions among the climate aware seem to me to be at least as important.  These divisions are among the reasons why the UK’s progress keeps falling behind what scientists agree is required.   

Unity is one of those lessons I need to keep re-learning.  Achieving unity with those who are like us or think like us is the easy bit.  Unity with those who hold very different perspectives and concerns, is where it gets difficult. Yet the Biblical injunction is clear: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ...’.  

This unity does not mean or require uniformity. As Pope Francis says in his lovely book ‘A Time to Dream’, we are a people. Diversity in beliefs and ways of life are an enrichment. It is a matter of ‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.’ The Eastern Orthodox Church has a saying “One can be damned alone, but saved only with others.” 

I have been wondering what the common ground in our various Christian traditions suggests for how we might achieve Climate Unity.  I’ve wondered too what the Climate challenge might be teaching us, as Christians. 

Let me share some reflections. First our faith is for our comfort and discomfort, it is both a solace and a wake-up call. We do not do despair. ‘Fear not’ is the phrase attributed to Jesus more often than any other. Yes, there is an ocean of darkness out there often mirrored by what we feel within us; but it is surrounded by an ocean of light as we Quakers say.   We are all called to make changes in our lives – starting with ourselves, but not ending with ourselves.   

Bad news is everywhere. In our Citizens Listening campaign we heard people saying “Its overwhelming” – the threats are so complicated and alarming.  Climate anxiety is rife, not least  in schools.  So we need to remind ourselves that many hopeful developments are afoot - in our churches, in business, in sustainable technology. The people we listened to ‘get it’ – they are willing to make lifestyle changes, and are doing so increasingly. Such changes are hugely important for all kinds of reasons. Yet those we listened to were also very aware that individual actions were not enough.   More was needed – often they wished they knew what that might be.  

I am not willing just to blame politicians for the limited progress to date.  In my view, their job is to be weather vanes.  Our job, as citizens and as Christians in civil society, is to be the wind; indeed to  become a storm that will swing even the rustier weather vanes round.  Public concern runs broad and deep.  It does us no credit that much of that concern remains unvoiced, unfocussed, disparate.  

Perhaps the most important tenet from our shared traditions is First things first (and keep it simple).  From ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul’, through ‘Have no other gods before me’, to Jesus memorably offering two commandments and saying  “on these hang all the law and the prophets.”  Again and again, Old and New Testaments urge us not to become distracted – to keep our eyes on the prize.  

And for good reason.  We humans so easily lose the plot, complicate things, become argumentative; we get muddled, we make ends out of our means, we worship false gods. The idols used to be made of wood and stone. Now they are fashioned from our chosen beliefs and our systems.  

These difficulties are apparent among climate campaigners. As I shall now illustrate – at the risk of affronting some and making myself seem silly.  You may recall that the principal outcome of Novembers COP-27 meeting was agreement to make payments for loss and damage to countries most at risk from rising sea levels.  Campaigners for climate justice took satisfaction from this advance. They were not the only ones satisfied by the results of COP 27.  So were the fossil fuel lobbyists – because so little progress was made on agreements to reduce emissions. 

The situation brought to  mind a graphic image from Tolstoy; he wrote:  “I sit on a man's back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible… except by getting off his back.” 

Friends, the truth is the rich nations could agree to give ten times the amount committed at COP 27 and it would still be inadequate – unless we drive down the use of fossil fuels.  Carbon is the crux. Of course, much else needs to be done regarding bio-diversity; but every other climate and environmental action is harder if we are not reducing CO₂ emissions.  So let us not take false comfort.  

At this point I become cantankerous. I start banging on. Yes, I welcome a whole range of governmental initiatives to tackle environmental concerns; support for threatened communities is a humanitarian no-brainer.  But only in addition to, not instead of, resolute action to cut out carbon.  Think icing and cake, alligators and swamps, for heaven’s sake! 

That is just one example; other differences over climate policy reflect divisions in society.   Yet never has unity been more important. A greener party winning an election or two will not be enough.  Always, competing crises demand political attention.  Rival ideologies make any political agreements hard to sustain.  

I wonder how many here tonight remember the Jubilee 2000 campaign? Its call was simple: ‘Cancel the debt!’? Churches were absolutely central to that campaign – it succeeded, and had a huge impact even if it did not do everything.  So we have united to swing the weather vanes before.  Could we have a comparable, very simple, unifying focus for climate work?   It is harder this time – it is not enough to agree a policy with others sympathetic to our climate concerns. We need a consistent commitment for a decades-long transition. 

We need to make common ground with those who are sceptical, confused, uninterested, misinformed or who simply do not have the space in their lives to be concerned beyond day-to-day survival.  They too are our fellow citizens.  

I believe the approach known as Climate Income could provide a simple unifying focus.  This approach uses a rising levy on fossil fuels simply to price them out of the market.  The proceeds of the levy are returned to adult citizens at a flat rate.  This doesn’t just protect the poor, it makes them better off.  At the same time,  it stimulates investment in sustainable energy systems and infrastructure and reduces the need for government programmes and investment. It has been adopted in other countries.  It has supporters in all the main political parties in the UK. And in Churches – with Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, embracing it. 

For several years I have been drawn to support Climate Income. I found that putting it aside was not an option for me.  I know that much else in the world demands attention.  Your promptings may be for very different work.  St Francis’ dying words come to mind: I have done what was mine to do; go and do what is yours to do.   

My plea is that you consider whether part of the work that is yours to do, individually and as churches, is to spread the good news, the unifying news, of Climate Income. 

RP  21st January 2023

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