Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A future for work?

This week – just before most of us will be taking holiday over Christmas and New Year - I want to think a bit about the nature of work, and its future.

In The Guardian of 5 December, Ian Jack titled his column – with some deliberate provocation to Guardian readers – ‘Would you want your son to be a plumber?’. For any non-UK readers, I should explain the particular provocativeness of this: The Guardian is read very largely by educated middle-class readers who would probably expect their children to go to university. Furthermore, Guardian readers are pretty politically right-on and might well exclaim: ‘Why just my son? What about my daughter?’

Jack goes on to discuss our obsession with university education, and Britain’s lack of skilled manual labour. He writes:
‘At some point in the short history of out “post-industrial” complacency I now looks as though we got the future of work wrong . . . Many of the so-called “quality” jobs could easily migrate abroad . . . and could be sent down the wire . . . not every task can be virtualised . . . We still need plumbers, carpenters, electricians and motor mechanics. You can’t hammer a nail over the internet.’
Jack goes on to discuss a new book by Matthew Crawford (already out in the USA under the title Shop Class to Soulcraft – which doesn’t convey much to a European audience that doesn’t use the term ‘shop class’); due out in the UK in May 2010, published by Penguin, under the title The Case for Working with Your Hands: or why office work is bad for us and fixing things feels goodAn article by Matthew Crawford, The Case for Working with Your Hands’, is available on the New York Times website.

Manual trades have suffered a continuing loss of respect, and Britain is notorious in this respect. Engineers in Germany, for instance, have high status compared with their colleagues in Britain. Sociologists have researched and written about the effect this has on the men (and it still is largely men) who work in manual trades. I saw an example of this when I was having my solar hot water panels fitted (see blog post dated 2 December): the very skilled, knowledgeable and proficient plumber/heating engineer, who was leading the installation team, remarked (while we were talking about something to do with education): “Fat lot of good it’s done me – I’m still just a plumber.” The word ‘just’ here is telling.

Perhaps the most famous study of ‘ordinary people’ working was undertaken in the USA by Studs Terkel in his now-classic book Working (1974) (full title: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do). Repeatedly we read of people who don’t necessarily resent or dislike the actual work that they do, but they do resent the way they are treated, by the bosses and sometimes by the public – as units of labour, not as human beings. More recently, Richard Sennett has written movingly about The Hidden Injuries of Class - and of course perceptions of social class are inextricably bound up with the ways people earn their living. Most recently, Sennett has written about the importance, and the joy, of manual crafts in his book The Craftsman.

I think, in this context, of the local man that I employ from time to time as a ‘handyman’ or ‘odd job man’ – neither of these titles does the tiniest fraction of justice to his versatility, skill, inventiveness, knowledge and experience. Significantly, there is no available title to cover adequately what he does. He’s an educated man, who worked for years in ‘white collar’ jobs but, after several successive redundancies, decided to become self-employed. He’s one of those people who is ‘good with his hands’, and has always been able to make things and mend things, and has acquired a lifetime of useful experience and skill. Just a few examples: he erected the fence along the side of my garden, made the gate, and helped me plant the fruit trees;

he made the frame on the top of my shed to hold the troughs, which now have onions and garlic growing in them – in a tiny garden like mine, growing space can’t be wasted!

He made this multi-occupancy insect-overwintering palace for me - after I saw one at Pensthorpe Nature Reserveand came home with a photo, saying : ‘I want one of these’ !

He’s cleaned out gutters and fixed up water butts. Inside my house, he’s made shelves, insulated the loft, enlarged the loft-hatch and installed a drop-down ladder for access, fixed plumbing leaks, replaced taps . . . and a string of other bits and pieces that I can no longer recall. Why isn’t there a respectful job title for what he does?

In contrast, my brother is a silversmith/goldsmith – a respected title because he works with ‘precious metals’, and what he does is 'art' rather than 'utility'. But if you work with steel, you’re just a metal-basher. It happens that my brother can also make or fix anything, but he doesn’t earn his living doing that.

In her 1974 novel The Memoirs of a Survivor (made into a film in 1981), Doris Lessing writes of a future
a few years hence, when barbarism is what is normal, and each of us has to fight for survival - men, women, and even little children who are so brutalised by necessity they are more frightening than the ferocious adults. From her windows the narrator watches things fall apart, sees the migrating hordes seethe past in search of safety, the shelter, the good life that is always somewhere else - far from the anarchy of this emptying city where people huddle together in tribes for self-defense, where plants and animals are taking over deserted streets and houses.
One aspect of the story, almost incidental, is the way that the young people have learned how to fix things that are broken, to scavenge old equipment and build new things from the parts. But, looking at the story now, this isn’t incidental – as so often with Lessing, she articulates crucial issues before most of the rest of us have woken up to them.

So, back to my title – what of the future of work? We must stop telling young people that a university education will necessarily fit them either to live or to earn their living. Sure, go to university if you’re passionate about something, and enjoy discovering more about it. But also, learn a useful trade. Some university courses teach useful skills – engineering in all its forms, human and veterinary medicine, agriculture and horticulture, soil and environmental sciences, for instance. But in a world where the combination of climate change and peak oil threaten the infrastructure we have come to rely on totally, there are practical skills which will serve our young people far better as they move into adulthood and middle age:
  • building, carpentry and woodworking, pottery, metalworking;
  • spinning and weaving, knitting and sewing;
  • animal husbandry;
  • growing food and cooking from scratch with raw ingredients, without a conventional oven;
  • handling heavy horses;
  • fixing things that are broken.
And there are ‘soft skills’ – conflict transformation, leadership, community-building; singing, dancing and playing a musical instrument, and being able to lead others in these recreations; care of elderly, sick and disabled people, and of very young children. The list could go on – the various BBC TV series on The Victorian Kitchen Garden, and The Victorian Kitchen, start to give an idea of the range of skills and change of attitudes that we need to start taking seriously.

Just for the joy of it, take a look at an article about, and website of, Robin Wood the only person in Britain (it is thought) still earning a living from turning wooden bowls on a traditional pole lathe.

I’m taking a 2-week break now, back on Wednesday or Thursday, 6 or 7 January.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

'Sustainable holidays' - European long-distance train travel

When I was a young child in primary school, the first thing we always had to do, on the first day back at school after a holiday, was write an account of 'what I did in the holidays'. Even then, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I used to think that it was just a way for the teacher to keep us quiet and occupied while she got on with something else!

But now, here I am, not on the first day of term, and writing about my holiday. For some of you reading this, travelling across Europe by rail will be old hat - but for anyone still hooked on budget airlines and cheap short-haul flights, this is an encouragement to try something different.

To start with some facts and figures, you might want to look at QCEA's (Quaker Council on European Affairs) 'Ethical fact Sheet' on train vs plane. In summary, they point out that:
Flying is considerably worse for the environment not only in terms of CO2 emissions but also because of the effects they have due to the altitude they are released at. This is combined with the other greenhouse gases (GHG) that aviation release. Train travel is normally a greener option than flying. This is different however from saying it is green. For as long as train travel is dependent upon fossil fuels it will continue to contribute to climate change.
Further analysis of rail travel shows how its 'greenness' depends on the energy mix used to power it. I was travelling through France to Spain. Eurostar, for example, is estimated to emit 17.7g of CO2 per km, while British National Rail comes in at 60.2g CO2 per km. Electrified rail lines are as 'green' as their electricity supply. In France and Spain, the mix looks like this, compared to the UK:

Country   Nuclear    Renewables   Solid Fuels    Gas    Oil    Other
France      79%          11%                  4%                 4%      1%     1%
Spain        20%          17%                22%               30%      8%     3%
UK            19%            5%                38%               36%      1%     1%

The QCEA website uses Paris-Madrid return as an example for comparison - as that was one leg of my journey, this is very useful! Their flying estimates for CO2 emissions vary from 177kg through to 936kg, depending on carrier, class of travel, etc; with time taken, around 2 hours, plus travel to the airport and 2 hours check in time. The rail travel estimate is equates to approximately 15.6kg of CO2 - significantly less; though the time taken is, of course, significantly more. We took the sleeper train leaving Paris Austerlitz at 7.45 in the evening and arriving in Madrid Chamartin at 9.10 the next morning.

I haven't been on a long-haul flight since I returned from Harare in January 1986, after working in Zimbabwe for a year. And I haven't been on a short-haul flight since sometime in 1987 or 1988, when my then employer required me to fly from Birmingham to Edinburgh, and back, for a meeting. For about 25 years I have taken holidays almost exclusively in the UK, the only exceptions being a couple of trips across the North Sea, by boat, to visit friends in Denmark. So this holiday to Spain was a major change.

For some years I had thought, vaguely, that it would be nice to see the Alhambra sometime (if you'd like a more accessible introduction to the Alhambra, without wading through the official website's booking information etc, there's a good entry for the Alhambra on Wikipedia). Then I read Philippa Gregory’s novel The Constant Princess, about Katherine of Aragon, including a substantial first section about Katherine’s childhood in Spain, living in army camps as she accompanied her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, during the Christian reconquest. And of course the novel includes the taking of the Alhambra, the triumphant ride in, and then a long description of life lived in the palace. At this point I decided that I really wanted to see this place!

As I don't fly, I started investigating rail travel, my first port of call being, of course, the ever-useful 'Man in Seat Sixty-one'. It became rapidly clear that the most economic (and lowest carbon) option was to occupy a seat/bed in a 4-berth compartment on the Paris-Madrid sleeper. However, I was clear that I didn't want to share such a confined space with strangers, so I set about finding three friends who wanted to go too! We met up in London, took the Eurostar to Paris, the sleeper train to Madrid, had the inside of a day in Madrid (where we took a bus tour of the city and had a nice meal), then took the local train to Granada. Part way through the holiday, two of us went on to visit Cordoba, while two remained in Granada. We met up again on the train coming home.

As the journey wasn't entirely straightforward, and none of us had experienced web-booking of European trains before, we decided to use a travel agent specialising in rail travel. Recommended to us by green-travelling Friends in Wales, we booked through Ffestiniog Travel, who offered us an excellent service, obtained the seniors' discounts for the three of us who qualified, and gave us peace of mind. We booked the hotels ourselves.
Our whole intinerary looked like this:

23rd November:  dep London St Pancras 1404, arr Paris Nord 1726, dep Paris Austerlitz 1945
24th November:  arr Madrid Chamartin 0910, dep Madrid Atocha 1705, arr Granada 2141
29th November:  2 passengers only dep Granada 0945, arr Cordoba 1212
2nd December:   2 passengers only dep Granada 0945, 2 passengers join train Cordoba 1213, arr Madrid Atocha 1429, dep Madrid Chamartin 1900
3rd December:   arr Paris Austerlitz 0827, dep Paris Nord 1013, arr London St Pancras 1128

Spain itself was interesting in terms of sustainability issues. Granada has on average about 320 days of sunshine per year, so - very sensibly - there is lots of solar technology in evidence, both solar hot water and photo-voltaics on roofs and flat areas of ground. Spain overall is a leader in the application of solar technology, including electricity plants that work by concentrating solar power by mirrors, to generate steam to drive turbines. The most sophisticated of these plants also store solar heat by melting a vast bulk of salt - this can then release its heat at night, when there is no sun, to make the electricty generation continuous.

At a more personal level, we saw lots of low-energy lightbulbs, including (with visual incongruity) stick-type compact fluorescent bulbs in old-fashioned lanterns converted from oil-lamps to electricity, in many of the old Moorish courtyards in Cordoba:

We also took a bus trip up into the Sierra Nevada, to the 'white villages'. Among beautiful mountain scenery we saw many wind-turbines under construction - in locations that would, in the UK, provoke howls of protest about 'spoiling the view'. Personally, I don't consider the view 'spoiled' and I think Spain has a better attitude in this respect than we find in the UK.

Sorry this is a rather blurry image - shot taken through the window of a moving bus!
One last matter to add: if you have special dietary needs, whether through physiological need or ethical choice, Spain isn't the easiest of places to get fed. If you're any combination of vegetarian, vegan, wheat-intolerant, or coeliac, and are planning to travel to Andalusia, please feel free to contact me (email on profile page) and I can offer some pre-travel advice.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Solar hot water panels - one person's experience

A more personal topic this week – I’m going to tell you about having my solar hot water system installed (it all happened in the 2nd week of November). And there’s a reason for telling you about it: there’s lots of good research showing that we are far more likely to do something that seems challenging if someone we know (or know about via a trusted route) has done that same thing. Personal contact has more influence than impersonal information in printed form (for more on this, see below).

This is really good news, of course – it means that the ‘green’ things we do, and are seen to do, have influence on others because it makes something unfamiliar or daunting seem possible and accessible. In fact, the firm I employed to do the work came by just such a route: recommended to me by a F/friend who is a few months ahead of me with all this; and as soon as this work is finished, I’m going round to see her next project – solar electricity (also my next project) – and talk to her about the firm she used for that.

For some readers, all this will be nothing new – but I hope it’s encouraging for others who haven’t ventured this far yet. And just to be topical – on November 11th (the 3rd day of the work being done) The Guardian had a front-page story headed, ‘Green home makeover will cost up to £15,000, says climate watchdog chief’!

It’s important to say that the venture into solar panels comes after having done all the cheaper and easier things: double glazing, cavity-wall and loft insulation, changing all the light bulbs; and replacing my end-of-its-useful-life central heating unit with a more modern and efficient one.

My house is a central terrace house facing almost exactly east-west (the back of the house actually faces west-to-west-south-west), so I don’t have a south facing roof. So I have a ‘split’ system, with two panels facing west and one panel on the front eastwards facing roof. If a house like mine had a south facing roof, I would only have two panels, so the third panel compensates for the less-than-perfect orientation.

The heating in my house is gas-fired ducted warm air, so there’s no gas input to any hot water – up until now my hot water has come entirely from an electric immersion heater. This has been my single biggest use of electricity, and makes the financial return from solar hot water panels quite significant, in addition to their ‘green’ credentials. This also means that my installation was slightly simpler than one which would have to be plumbed into a boiler that heated both the house and the hot water.

The new system still has an immersion heater, which I can use for ‘top up’ if and when necessary – but even then it will be heating water that is already warmed to some degree, so will be much more energy efficient. My old copper tank has been replaced by a stainless steel pressurised tank that comes with much more efficient insulation than before; and because it’s pressurised, I’ll be able to run a shower directly off the solar-heated water in the tank, instead of needing either a pump or an electrically heated shower.

The whole process took 5 days, Monday to Friday.
Monday: scaffolding erected, preparatory electrical work done, and new tank in place, though not plumbed in – so I was one night without hot water. The only reason for this was that the equipment suppliers were very late with their delivery (mid-afternoon instead of early morning). The plumbers were frustrated at not being able to get on. If the delivery had come in time, I would have been without hot water for only a few hours during the first day of the work – so the whole process isn’t hugely disruptive. When the guys went home at the end of the first day, the panels were left propped against the wall in my front hall and my cats were deeply curious!
Tuesday: new tank now plumbed and wired in and checked over; expansion tank installed in the loft out of the way (this is a safety feature because the hot water is now in a pressurised tank), and immersion-heated water is on tap again. I realise that I have to get used to the hot water now issuing from the taps at a similar pressure to the mains cold water – after 30-odd years of being accustomed to the hot water flowing at much less pressure. Various brackets and batons are fitted on the outside and inside of the roof ready for the panels.
Wednesday: more preparatory work on the roof, inside the loft, and in the house – piping, structural supports and wiring.
Thursday: clear morning, heavy rain forecast for the afternoon, so time to get the panels on the roof – all the hi-tech comes down to men with ropes! Extra workers arrive to provide more muscle (two men at the top with the ropes, two men on the ladder supporting the panel) – one panel goes up at the front and two at the back, and they’re bolted onto the brackets. Then there’s more piping to be done, and connecting up the different elements of the system. At the end of the day the system is tested under air pressure (hard work with a hand-pump) to ensure that there are no leaks, and that the safety valve releases at the required pressure.
Friday: Filling the panels and pipes with the heat-retaining fluid (similar to antifreeze that goes in a car radiator) connecting everything up, testing it, finishing off.

The scaffolding was supposed to be taken down on Friday afternoon, but it poured with rain and they didn't come - it was all removed early the following week.

The system works like this: the pipes feed down from the roof and into the bottom of the tank, where they form a coil (there’s no contact between the heated fluid and the hot water you actually use) – it’s a heat-exchanger. The sun heats the fluid in the panels, a sensor determines the temperature difference between the panel and the tank and sets a pump in motion; because I have east and west facing panels, they operate independently (because they will be at different temperatures from each other, depending on the time of day). With a south-facing roof there would be one sensor and one pump. An information and control unit tells me what is happening, if I want to know – but it’s perfectly possible to ignore it, and just use the hot water. On a bright but chilly day in mid November, the day after the installation was completed, the panels were reaching 30 deg C – not the full heat of normal domestic hot water, but a good way towards it, reducing the electricity needed.

If you have a gas-fired hot water radiator heating system, that also heats your hot water, then the solar-heated hot water would be plumbed into that system, meaning that, in winter, your boiler would have to work much less hard because it would be working on pre-warmed water. In summer, you’d get your hot water from the solar panels, with whatever you already have as back-up/top-up if needed. There have been some firms jumping on the bandwagon of solar heating and fitting cheap systems that disconnect your hot water from your central heating – this is because to do the gas work they would have to be Corgi registered, and they aren’t. The company that fitted my system has found itself doing lots of remedial work in the wake of ‘cowboy’ installers. So, please be encouraged by my experience, and think about this for your home. But find a reputable firm – if you don’t know anyone who’s had this work done, and who could recommend an installer, always ask a company if you can speak to someone they’ve worked for – if they’re good, they’ll have access to satisfied customers more than happy to speak to you. So if they won’t offer this, go elsewhere.

Final question – what did it all cost? Well, my east-west system cost more than a south-facing system would have done. I don’t know how my hot-water-only-system compares with panels integrated into the central heating. I paid about £6,500. I didn’t go for the government grants because I wanted to do this on my timescale, without any bureaucratic delays. Also, be aware that the system of registering contractors who can apply these government grant discounts keeps on changing. Every time they change the system, the firms have to register from scratch all over again – and every time this happens, they have to pay another fee to the government, in order to be listed, and it isn’t a small amount. So this has a disproportionate effect on smaller, local, family-run firms, such as the company who did my installation. It happened that they were in the ‘gap’ between one registration and the next when I approached them – but they came highly recommended, I had a specific time-window when the work could be done, so I went ahead with them, and no grant. I was fortunate to be in a position to be able to afford this – my mother’s death earlier this year meant that I had some capital sitting in the bank. At the moment, interest rates are so low, that the return on my capital has been increased significantly by putting it on the roof! What I will save in electricity to my immersion heater outweighs the paltry interest I would have earned. So it’s financially sound as well as green.

Below is a photo sequence showing my installation from start to finish. The company has more photos of other installations they’ve done on their website. For an account of someone starting from scratch on a green makeover, in an older and more difficult house than mine, here’s Madeleine Bunting writing in the The Guardian in September 2009.

The single panel to go on the front (east facing) side of the house, on the ground being prepared for hauling.

Half way up . . .

made it!

and fixed to the waiting brackets

a similar process at the back of the house, but this time there are two panels to go up

the whole team with both panels in place

the front view with the scaffolding gone

and the back similarly

The new tank - the lagged black tubes on the left are the insulated pipes carrying the glycol from the roof panels to the coil in the bottom of the tank. On the wall to the right is the control/information unit.

Here it is in close-up telling me that on a cold, dull November afternoon, the panels at the back of the house are at 19.4 deg C; and (below) the heat at the coil has reached 21.1 deg C

The last picture - here (up in the loft, and out of the way) are the pumps, pressure valves, expansion tanks, and other safety features:

I said, at the start of this article, I’d write a bit more about how we influence others by what we do. Coincidentally, in the same week I was having the work done, New Scientist carried an article about this very phenomenon. The reference for the paper edition is:
David Rand and Martin Nowak, ‘Name and shame’, New Scientist, 14 November 2009 (issue no.2734), pp.28-29.

The online version is: ‘How reputation could save the Earth’, 15 November 2009. Unless you are a subscriber, the link will only enable you to see the opening section of the article.

Early on, the authors write:
‘Environmental problems are difficult to solve because Earth is a "public good". Even though we would all be better off if everyone reduced their environmental impact, it is not in anyone's individual interest to do so. This leads to the famous "tragedy of the commons", in which public resources are overexploited and everyone suffers.’
And later:
‘Experiments have shown [. . .] that the benefit of earning a good name outweighs the costs of doing your part for the greater good, and even selfish people can be motivated to care. It is worth contributing in order to protect your standing in the community.
Out in the real world, these experiments suggest a way to help make people reduce their impact on the environment. If information about each of our environmental footprints was made public, concern for maintaining a good reputation could impact behaviour. Would you want your neighbours, friends, or colleagues to think of you as a free rider, harming the environment while benefiting from the restraint of others?
[This serves] a dual purpose. First, [it allows] those who contribute to reap benefits through reputation, helping to compensate them for the costs they incur. Secondly, when people display their commitment to conservation, it reinforces the norm of participation and increases the pressure on free riders. If you know that all of your neighbours are paying extra for green energy or volunteering on a conservation project, that makes you all the more inclined to do so yourself.
[. . .] In a world where each of us was accountable to everybody else for the environmental damage we cause, there would be strong incentives to reduce the energy we use, the carbon dioxide we emit and the pollution we create. In such a world, we might be able to avert a global tragedy of the commons.’
For another 'take' on this whole theme, on a wider canvas, you might like to look at a speech given by Archbishop Rowan Williams, 'Human Well-Being and Economic Decision-Making', on 16 November, to a conference organised by the TUC and The Guardian. He ends with a new version of 'the 3 Rs': revive, reflect, resist.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Reflections on 'Many Heavens, One Earth' - written by Helen Rowlands

Helen Rowlands reflects on the recent ‘Many Heavens, One Earth’ conference at Windsor. For her report on the event, please see last week’s post.

Helen writes:

What messages did I bring away from the event, for myself and for Quakers?

First, I was personally challenged by the very nomination to serve by representing Friends. At the event itself, I was awed and somewhat burdened by the way in which introducing myself as a Quaker so often prompted an admiring response – ‘you guys have been doing such good work and leading the way for so long.’ Whilst many individual Friends have been and are pioneers in their thought and action (and more than one of the NGOs present testified to the contribution of Friends to their foundation), corporately we have struggled to express consistent witness. When I look at the work of other churches and faiths, I don’t see us as being particularly ‘ahead of the curve’ in environmental witness – up there with others, for sure, but not ahead. As Pam Lunn has observed, we tend more to mirror what is going on in our own local, geographic communities. Our concerns are those of an affluent, gas-guzzling society, even when we aspire to simplicity. It’s not good enough for me to feel proud (which I do!) that I belong to a faith group which tries to put its beliefs to work in the world. My own living also has to be entirely congruent with my expressed faith, and somehow to connect with people in parts of the world most affected by the consequences of our over-consumption – and I know that I fall short on both counts.

This brings me to my second area of reflection, which is about leadership. Quakers always struggle when we are asked to be represented by a ‘faith leader’. Who are our leaders? Sometimes an appointed office-holder or an employee is indeed a leader, and we should not shy away from viewing them as such – why would we want to disempower someone we have appointed, because of their skills or knowledge or wisdom, to carry out a task for us? At other times, we choose to send someone with no designated authority in the particular area, as was the case for me at this conference.

At the presentation of certificates in Windsor Castle, as we made our way forward to greet Prince Philip and Ban Ki-Moon, the audience was being given information about the faiths. We heard people being described as the ‘leader of half a million Polish Orthodox Christians’, or speaking ‘on behalf of five million Catholics in England and Wales’, or that there are ‘100 million Buddhists in China’. We learned that a single Muslim Seven Year Plan has been developed, and a single plan for Judaism through their environmental campaigning organisation, Hazon. During the conference, it was possible for the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem to announce the creation of a new partnership between major pilgrimage cities around the world – the idea had arisen during the 48 hours, and the people were there who could simply decide that it should happen.

Yet we few Quakers find it hard to get our act together in that way. Would we even want to? Maybe there is a significant contribution that arises from our understanding of dispersed, situational leadership arising from a sense of spiritual leading. We don’t have to wait for figureheads to guide us in our behaviour – we know the nudgings and sometimes the not-to-be-ignored-demands of an Inner Guide. We don’t have to wait for ‘top-down’ plans – we build movements which integrate ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ in circles of mutual encouragement, stimulus and consciousness-raising.

As we consider, for example, the impact of natural disasters or climate-induced migration on communities the world round, what could we offer towards preparing people for new forms of local leadership which are not dependent on hierarchy and therefore on communication systems that could be disrupted? Or, whilst many of us are active in geographically-based initiatives such as Transition Towns, what might it mean for Quakers to become a dispersed transition community? Could we use our differing forms of leadership to make this happen, and thus demonstrate to other faith groups how they too could do it?

And as each of us seeks to follow our leadings, to be faithful to the leadership of spirit or conscience, how does our witness speak to those around us? We all are leaders, as well as being able to decide to follow the leading of others. In our daily lives, wherever we find ourselves, we are given myriad opportunities to ‘do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8). We let our lives speak. In conversation with friends, with family, with colleagues, with people on the bus or in shops, we are also given opportunities to explain what we are doing and why. Each of these acts and conversations can gently challenge others, and each person who decides to change their behaviour contributes to a changing climate of opinion. Eventually the barons – industrial, political and religious – can no longer afford to ignore the change and we reach a tipping point where new priorities can take over. Are we anywhere near it? Our leadership, quiet or noisy, personal or public, in matters small and large – our leadership, based on values that are beyond ourselves – our leadership matters.

* * * * *
Thanks to Helen for this article.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

'Many Heavens, One Earth' - written by Helen Rowlands

I'm delighted to publish another guest post this week. Helen Rowlands is Head of Education at Woodbrooke. She was Clerk to Britain Yearly Meeting 1998-2001 and served as Assistant Clerk to the newly formed Yearly Meeting Trustees 2006-2009. She was nominated by Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) to represent Friends at the 'Many Heavens, One Earth' conference at Windsor, 2-4 November, 2009.

Helen writes:

From 2-4 November Alison Prout of QPSW and I represented Friends at the ‘Many Heavens, One Earth’  conference in Windsor. It was a gathering of 100 or so faith leaders from around the world, and about as many representatives of NGOs and campaigning organisations. The event was jointly sponsored by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Its intent was to celebrate commitments being made by faith bodies to action on climate change, to encourage further such developments, and to bring the influence of faith communities to bear on political decision-makers prior to the Copenhagen summit.

Alison Prout receives certificate from Ban Ki-Moon.

Helen Rowlands receives certificate from Prince Philip.

Some two years ago, the UNDP launched an appeal to faith communities to express long-term commitment to environmental change in the form of seven-year plans:
‘For many, the environmental crisis has created fear and anxiety about the future. It is a time when the major religions of the world must take a lead - sharing their wisdom, their insights and their hopes, and working through their faithful to address these issues in a holistic and comprehensive way.’
Quakers in Britain came to this a little late, but meetings around the country responded rapidly and it was possible for Meeting for Sufferings to adopt the Statement on Climate Change. This statement was endorsed by the Europe and Middle East Section of Friends World Committee for Consultation, as well as by several yearly meetings in Canada and the USA which met during the course of the summer. Alison Prout prepared a summary of action already taken or planned by local meetings, by Britain Yearly Meeting and by our major institutions such as Friends House and Woodbrooke. Together, these documents were accepted by ARC as representing a Quaker Long Term Plan.

ARC’s suggested framework for such plans includes seven areas. In each category, I give just one vivid example of one faith group’s commitment. You can explore the web links given to find many more – they will lift your heart!

1. Assets: The religions of the world have astonishing assets - as well as their outreach to 85% or more of the world's 8 billion people, they also own some 5% of forests, are connected to more than half of all schools, own and manage most of the world's tourist destinations, organise some of the most active tourism enterprises (in terms of pilgrimage) and control some 7% of all financial investments. How can positive use be made of these assets?
The US-based Regeneration Project works through its ‘Interfaith Power and Light’ campaign to use the joint purchasing power of over 10,000 congregations to campaign for renewable energy and energy conservation.

2. Education and young people: this includes looking at school curricula, the impact and use of school buildings, youth organisations and camps, and the all-age educational potential of activities such as eco-twinning of communities. How are faith leaders making the most of the potential of teaching and preaching to influence congregations?
In 2006 some quarter of a million Baha’is participated in study circles, devotional meetings and school classes on the environment. Such courses, and the acts of service associated with them, are seen to ‘represent a significant transformative process for Baha’i communities worldwide.’ The environment is the focus for the next five years of all such Baha’i education initiatives.

3. Theology, wisdom and guidance: how can faith communities draw upon their traditions to change minds and hearts in a way that is consistent with their teachings? We are encouraged to explore traditions of simple living; the training of teachers and leaders; theological understandings of the nature of crisis and adaptation; the importance of sacred places; liturgy, prayer and the foundational stories of faiths.
In Mongolia, Buddhists have worked with ARC, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Bank to rediscover ancient sutras, or texts, which had been lost or hidden during the Soviet/Communist period. These texts told people about the sacredness of the landscape around them - and prescribed which mountains and forests were particularly sacred and should not be logged or hunted "lest the goddess flood your village." By retranslating this old wisdom, ancient ecological knowledge has been preserved and acted upon.

4. Lifestyles: have we undertaken full audits of all our practices as faith communities? Are we supporting and encouraging simple living? Are we making the most of practices such as fasting or pilgrimage as opportunities to bring about lasting change in individual lives?
One of the most successful countries in voluntary curbing of population growth is Iran – and it was brought about as much through religious teaching as through economics and legal structures. Islamic leaders quoted the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) saying that a man should have only as many children as the earth can support, while issuing fatwas (or ‘permissions’) encouraging contraception. From 1986 to 2001 the rate of population growth decreased from 3.2% to 1.2%.

5. Media and advocacy: how are faith-based communications media using their enormous power to be opinion-formers, both among the faithful and among political leaders?
The Muslims plan to work towards printing all 15 million Qur’ans produced every year, on paper from sustainable wood supplies.

6. Partnerships, eco-twinning and creating environment departments: faiths are asked to think about their resourcing of people working on environmental concerns, their engagement of lay people, and development of wide-ranging partnerships which enable people to achieve more together than they could separately.
The New Psalmist Baptist Church, Baltimore, USA, has partnered with one mega church in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya with a network of 2,000 churches in Africa, and another of 70 or more mega churches in the US. This combined network has fostered water and sanitation projects in Africa. Overall both congregations support 17 schools, and have created partnerships with environmental entrepreneurs, providing solar-powered water purifiers and sanitation equipment to the Kenyan slums.

7. Celebration: festivals and celebrations play an important part in building commitment and changing hearts as well as minds.
In Judaism, the festival of Tu B’Shabat  – the New Year of Trees – has become a major environmental festival with education kits, new prayers and projects helping to mobilise Judaism every year. Meanwhile the day of mourning – Tisha B’Av – marked every summer to commemorate the destruction of the two ancient Holy Temples in Jerusalem, has been extended in some Jewish traditions as a lament for the destruction of the earth. The Jewish Seven Year Plan involves recovering the ecological value of Shabbat as a day to step back from the processes of creation: manufacturing, flying and technological manipulation.

Jewish delegates in procession at Windsor Castle.

Further information on the seven areas and lots more examples of actions and commitments, including a summary of Quaker activity, can be found here.

Examples of existing plans can be found here.

Sikhs in procession.

Delegates in the Waterloo Room at Windsor.

Next week, Helen will write about her reflections on the messages this event has, both for herself and for Quakers more widely.

Photo credits: ARC/Richard Stonehouse.

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Thanks to Helen for this article.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Biochar Debate - written by James Bruges

This week’s post is a ‘guest post’ from James Bruges. James was at Woodbrooke for the ‘Zero Growth’ weekend (see last week’s post) and he and I got into a conversation over Sunday breakfast aboutbiochar – so I asked if he would write something for this blog.

James was brought up in India until the age of 12, studied at the Architectural Association in London and subsequently worked in Khartoum for three years. In due course he set up an architectural practice in Bristol. His architectural interests developed in the direction of environmental design and urban planning.

He subsequently took to writing. The Little Earth Book went through four editions that had to be updated annually. It was followed by two editions of The Big Earth Book, and now The Biochar Debate. In these books his aim has been to look at global issues from a moral, rather than a pragmatic, point of view. He is a member of Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, which is largely an informal group connected by email but based in Dublin. Richard Douthwaite is a prominent presence in the group. James has come to regard the western money system, which has gone global, as the primary cause of global degradation.

With Marion, he advises the RH Southern Trust, a family trust. Among the trust’s objectives are to identify initiatives that aim to achieve fundamental change, as well as to provide support for organisations in India that have been founded and run by Indians along lines that are consistent with the attitudes of Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave. James feels that this connection, together with his early childhood, enables him to see issues both from the viewpoint of a wealthy country and from a country with much of the world's poverty.

James’s favourite aunt was clerk of Sydney meeting, and another aunt turned to the Society when her clergyman husband died, so Quakerism is in the family. James is a member of the Society of Friends and attends Redland (Bristol) meeting.

James writes:

James Lovelock, the scientist who coined the term ‘Gaia’ for Earth as a living system, has said that charcoal could save us from global warming. Others point out that the commercial exploitation of charcoal could lead to dangerous monocultures. This is a debate of huge importance.

Over a period of fourteen years the entire volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is brought down to earth and subsequently released. This is the carbon cycle. The longer carbon is held in or on the land the less greenhouse gas concentrates in the atmosphere. Photosynthesis is the magic by which plants capture carbon from the air and transfer it to the soil. Trees, pastures and organic cultivation retain it for a number of years. Industrial farming, on the other hand, destroys the ability of soil to hold carbon. Charcoal, properly used, can keep it in the soil almost permanently.

Fine-grained charcoal is called biochar. Electron microscope photographs show that even charcoal dust is riddled with cavities so that, once saturated, it retains moisture. This is the property that immediately appealed to farmers I met in India. The surfaces around these cavities (one gram of charcoal can have surface areas equal to two tennis courts) attract microbes. When biochar is ‘charged’ with compost, manure and urine, and mixed with soil, it enhances fertility. We met some banana farmers who halved their use of water and doubled their yield through using biochar over a period of four years, and their neighbours are adopting the practice.

Cletus Babu started SCAD (Social Change and Development) an NGO in southern India, 25 years ago. His main aim was to regenerate rural areas. SCAD is now carrying out trial plots using biochar to demonstrate the increased yields that result. Once farmers observe the benefit, the practice will spread. This is the most effective and lasting inducement for farmers around the world to use charcoal. Cletus is aware that the benefit to small-scale farmers could be destroyed if the process were to earn carbon credits from transnational markets: agribusiness would buy up land to ‘farm credits’ and drive small farmers into city slums.

I have been working with Feasta, on the implications for climate negotiations. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit  set an agenda based on scientific advice that could have saved us from the present crisis. At Kyoto in 1997 commercial considerations took precedence and resulted in hugely complicated procedures. These procedures need to be simplified into two categories.

(1) Two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions come from the use of fossil fuels, so this is the first category. It would be easier and more effective to regulate the 400 or 500 companies that extract coal, gas and oil from the ground - the 'supply side' - than to change the behaviour of 6.7 billion people using the commercial incentive of carbon trading in the forlorn hope of reducing demand. Cap and Share is the policy for achieving it (called ‘Cap and Dividend’ in the USA).

(2) The second category includes all emissions from land-based activities, and biochar falls into this category. The carbon content of land can now be measured through remote sensing by satellites. LUCAS New Zealand does this, as does Amazing Carbon in Australia. Countries should be paid a substantial fee for the carbon pool in land within their borders. They should be heavily rewarded if this increases and penalised if it reduces. This policy is called the 'Carbon Maintenance Fee'. Feasta’s Carbon Cycles and Sinks Network has developed the theory and will shortly publish a report.

Synthetic chemicals and intensive use have degraded a large proportion of the earth’s land. Small-scale farmers manage much of it, and it is these farmers, particularly in tropical areas, who can benefit from biochar. But ‘charged’ biochar could also enable any one of us with a garden to take carbon from the air and put it in the ground. Local authorities could also turn the green waste they collect into charged biochar and distribute it.

For keeping up with the fast developing debate the best approach is simply to google ‘biochar’.

Other books:
Biochar for Environmental Management, Science and Technology, edited by Johannes Lehmann & Stephen Joseph, Earthscan 2009
Reducing Greenhouse Emissions from Activities on the Land, edited by Richard Douthwaite and Corinna Byrne, Feasta, 2009 (forthcoming).

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Thanks to James for this article.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

'A Zero Growth Economics?' - the follow-up weekend at Woodbrooke

Six weeks after the day conference in London, we held the follow-up weekend at Woodbrooke, 30 October to 1 November. It was a mammoth event, stretching Woodbrooke’s space to its limits, but it all worked, assisted by the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants. We had over 90 present, including Area Meeting representatives, QPSW staff and central committee people, and Woodbrooke staff, workshop leaders, Turning the Tide Facilitators, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who chaired our London conference day.

We started on Friday evening with Jocelyn reminding us of what we had heard in London, and then we split up into groups to talk about what we had each got from the day. Suzanne Ismail, from QPSW, then introduced the ‘talking wall’ to continue conversations that would inform the work of Economic Issues Group. The ‘wall’ was very well-used during the weekend! Anne Wilkinson from QPSW reminded us that the purpose of this weekend was to plan for practical local work that Friends to initiate or be engaged in.

On Saturday morning the conference split into choices of option groups, everyone being able to attend two different groups. This was an opportunity to hear about examples of local action that had been tried and tested – hopefully to be inspirational.

Caz and Tom Ingall, from Canalside Community Food, talked about their initiative creating a Community Supported Agriculture project on their farm in Warwickshire. They started full scale vegetable production from Spring 2007, and are now producing weekly shares of seasonal veg for over 90 local households.

Laurie Michaelis gave his groups a way into the kind of work promoted and enabled by the Living Witness Project (LWP), which aims to support the development of Quaker corporate witness to sustainable living and explore ways of taking it to the wider community in Britain and elsewhere.

Jan Copley invited Friends to think about how they make choices about spending their money and the wider social and community impacts of that, in addition to the economic effects.

Roger Sawtell with a long history in the co-operatives movement, led his groups to look at co-operatives as an alternative economic model to the dominant shareholder/employee paradigm.

Gwen Prince led a groups sharing their experience of Transition Town and allied activities. Gwen and another Friend from Llanidloes Quaker Meeting started LLES ( Llanidloes Energy Solutions). Llanidloes has currently been designated a 'Green Town', part of a Low Carbon Communities Project which though not part of the Transition network is working towards similar aims.

Ian Care led a group looking at how to run local community businesses – an idea suddenly topical for Archers listeners, who will know that this is a new story-line in the saga of Ambridge! You can find out about community shops from the Plunkett Foundation.

Tony Weekes ran groups on LETS and other Local Currency schemes. While Tony was a research fellow at Woodbrooke he wrote a pamphlet called The Economic Crisis: a Quaker response (Woodbrooke Journal no. 24, Spring 2009). You can buy the printed version from Woodbrooke, price £4.50 (phone 0121 472 5171), or obtain a pay-for-download PDF version direct from the website, price £2.50.

After lunch on Saturday there was free time or a choice of two activities (plus participant-organised discussion groups). We set up a Skype link to Canada, to interact with Geoff Garver, one of the authors of Right Relationship: building a whole earth economy published by Quaker Institute for the Future (this is a link to their blog – the link to their homepage seems to be broken at the moment). Geoff talked with us (and we asked questions of him), and he gave a powerpoint presentation which you can view on the Friends House web pages.

The parallel activity was a chance to view two videos – The Power of Community: how Cuba overcame peak oil (53 mins – you can buy the DVD from the Green Shopping Catalogue); and Annie Leonard’s wonderful animated film The Story of Stuff (20 mins) – you can watch this online. Independent viewing of other DVDs we’d made available included A Farm for the Future (changing a farm over to permaculture) – made as a BBC documentary and now watchable online in five parts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

From Saturday afternoon, Turning the Tide facilitators divided the conference into six smaller groups, and took them through a process of identifying real, practical on-the-ground changes that could be made by, or in relation to, our local meetings.

In the closing plenary, we identified a desire for more technical-but-accessible input on economics for non-economists. Don’t forget the Quakernomics blog.

You might also like to find out about FEASTA (The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability). Additionally, in the ‘Very Short Introductions’ series, there is Economics: A Very Short Introduction by Partha Dasgupta.

Also, if you read a newspaper (online or on paper) it’s worth not just ignoring the financial pages. For instance, on the day following our weekend, The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, had a very interesting piece on what’s happening now, in the wake of the recession. His Monday editorial articles are always interesting and accessible to the non-specialist. This one is called, ‘Painful death of the American dream: mesmerised by big finance, policymakers are sowing the seeds of a new crisis’.

Coincidentally, for us, George Monbiot’s weekly column the following day looked at some of the psychological issues behind consumption and climate change denial. It makes sobering reading: scepticism about human-induced climate change is increasing, not decreasing; people over 65 are proportionately more likely to be ‘deniers’; there is already experimental evidence that ‘some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption.’ The whole article is worth reading.

And on the same day, a piece about the sacking of David Nutt (until then chair of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs) asked questions about government’s attitudes to scientific advice – a problem that is equally intractable in relation to climate change.

So there is lots going on in the world around us that reinforces the importance of what we were doing at the weekend, and makes sure that these issues will be with us for some time to come. And as I was writing this report, a phone call came in from Eoin McCarthy from Quakers and Business Group, telling me that:
On 24th April 2010, Quakers and Business Group's Spring Gathering is scheduled to be held at Redland Friends Meeting House, Bristol. On the day, we hope to address ourselves to: Prosperity v Growth in the context of the limitations of democratically elected government and the possibilities for financial reform.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

'Consumption' or 'Consumerism' ?

This week's post arose serendipitously. A Friend who is part of the Quakers and Business group left me an article from Prospect magazine, assuming (correctly) that it isn't a magazine I normally see. It's an article by Amitai Etzioni, adapted from an earlier one he wrote that appeared in a US publication called New Republic. You can read the full article he wrote there, but you have to be a subscriber to read the full article in Prospect.

I can’t ‘read’ where Etzioni sits on the normal divisions of politics that we’re used to in this country. I don’t think his own position of being ‘communitarian’ works with UK right, left, liberal, or green! I suspect that in British terms he looks more ‘right’ than he does in the USA.

What he’s discussing in this article is the difference between 'consumption' and 'consumerism'. And he has an interesting outsider’s perspective on European affairs. He looks at how various countries have fared during the recent economic turn-down, and argues that France has done well because it is highly ‘statist’; Germany is less statist and has done less well; and the USA and UK are the least statist and have suffered the most. He points out that it is interesting to see the Economist magazine, usually in favour of the free market, praising France; but at the same time insisting that such a statist outcome can’t possibly last. Etzioni remarks that the French and German people have proved much less willing than the British or Americans to work ever harder, ever longer hours, just to buy more goods. So, he wonders, should we embrace the continental model more? If you follow the economic news in the mainstream press, you may have seen discussions of how France and Germany resist the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model.

‘The good life’, he points out (so now you see why this article was passed to me!) has meant many different things, and there have been many variations over time and place in terms of whether material success and conspicuous consumption form part of ‘the good life’, or not.

What Etzioni wants to do is to eradicate consumerism, which does not – he says – mean doing away with capitalism or consumption. The difference he is pointing to is framed in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: when consumption is focussed on satisfying basic needs (food, warmth, shelter, etc) it is appropriate; but when acquiring goods and services is (mis)used to satisfy higher needs, consumption turns into consumerism, which in turn becomes a social disease – and the link to the global economic crisis is obvious.

It is also self-defeating – numerous studies have shown conclusively that, beyond a certain level (about $20 000) increased income does not lead to increased happiness; and that many people in capitalist societies feel unsatisfied. What kind of culture would enhance human flourishing, rather than human consumerism?

Etzioni answers this by referring to ‘communitarian and transcendental pursuits’. In ‘communitarian’ he includes relating to family, friends and others; and also service to the community – not altruism, but ‘mutualism’. By ‘transcendental’ he means religious/spiritual pursuits, but also artistic and even sporting activity. A society focussed on these two areas would, he points out, use less of the Earth’s resources, and have a lower carbon footprint. As well as being kind to the environment, it would exhibit a greater degree of social justice, he argues.

The question, then, is whether and how the economic crisis could lead to cultural transformation. And this is why passing the article to me was so timely – this coming weekend we have the second part of the Zero Growth Economics conference: representatives from Area Meetings coming together at Woodbrooke to follow up on the inputs of the London day (see earlier blog), learn new things, and plan for practical, local outcomes. I’ll be writing about that next week.

A couple of other items of relatively recent interest link in with this discussion.

Between July and September 2007, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation asked the public to consider what social evils face the UK today. This was undertaken as a modern follow-up to Joseph Rowntree’s original memorandum when he set up the trusts that bear his name:
“I feel that much of the current philanthropic effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of weakness or evil, while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes.”
I responded to the public consultation, writing about ‘competitive consumerist individualism’ – thinking that I would be a minority voice among many more people writing about racism, poverty, child-abuse, family breakdown, etc. I was, however, making the point that I believed that many of these other modern societal ills actually stemmed from our collective thrall to capitalist market economics. It turned out that I was far from alone, as is clear from the overall results. A book has now been published – a collection of essays by experts in their fields, drawing on the issues raised by the consultation. You can see a rather badly formatted Table of Contents here; or a Google preview here.

The other related item is the little film called The Story of Stuff. It’s a 20-minute animated film, with narration by Annie Leonard. You can download the whole film, or watch clips. There’s a book forthcoming, a blog, and all the other attendant campaigning bits and pieces. It’s very USA-focussed, but it’s good material, applicable anywhere in the developed world. Be warned – when you load the website you get a blank grey screen! You have to scroll down to get the page contents.

We’ll be showing this film at the Zero Growth Economics weekend coming up – more on that next week.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Respect due: Archbishop Rowan Williams

Last week (13 October) Rowan Williams gave a lecture at Southwark Cathedral, sponsored by Operation Noah, with the title 'The Climate Crisis: Fashioning a Christian Response' (if you go to this page, you'll find a summary of the lecture first, followed by the full text). Interestingly, the Guardian saw fit both to report the lecture and to print an extract from it.

The lecture links climate change with other aspects of the current malaise of Western society, and looks at the resources in the Jewish and Christian traditions that may help us to think about, and respond to, the crisis we find ourselves in. In passing, Rowan reminds us that the narrative in Genesis is not an invitation to dominate and exploit the earth. The economic patterns of our material consumption habits are linked into the climate change issue, in a way that chimes in with the discussions around the recent Zero Growth Economics Conference (see earlier posts below); and Rowan also refers at some length (and approvingly) to Alastair McIntosh's book
Hell and High Water: climate, hope and the human condition.

Rowan asks, in the third section of the lecture,
'When we find ourselves facing massive insecurity of this sort and when we sense that we have somehow sacrificed our happiness along the way, what is it that we have lost? And how can we work to restore it?'
He continues,
'the role of religion here is not to provide an ultimate authority that can threaten and coerce us into better behaviour; it is to hold up a vision of human life lived constructively, peacefully, joyfully, in optimal relation with creation and creator, so as to point up the tragedy of the shrunken and harried humanity we have shaped for ourselves by our obsession with growth and consumption.'
There are lots of quotable passages - but read the whole for yourself to get a sense of the argument as Rowan puts it together.

This is by no means the first time Rowan has lectured, or preached, on this vital subject. One previous occasion was 25 March this year, the 2009 Ebor Lecture given at York Minster under the title,
'Renewing the Face of the Earth: Human Responsibility and the Environment' - this is a more demanding text, both intellectually and theologically, but well worth the time to read it. (There's a link on the Arhbishop's website to listen to the recording of the lecture, but it will require you to download a Microsoft application which will then try to take control of all your computer's audio! Better to listen to it from the link on this page, which works like iPlayer, and will play direct from the webpage. It's recorded in the Minster, so it echoes a bit and is quite hard to listen to - but you do also get the questions at the end.) In this lecture, Rowan is absolutely clear about the magnitude and urgency of the crisis, makes it clear that faith is no 'get out of jail free card', but sees the times we are in as a call to spiritual transformation. Among the questioners is a non-comformist minister who says that when he raises these issues with his congregation, he is accused of 'not preaching the Gospel of Christ' - this makes clear that the challenge to faith groups is one of 'inreach' as well as 'outreach'. Quakers are not immune to this - I was told recently of Friends who questioned the work Woodbrooke is doing in this area as mere 'jumping on a bandwagon'.

During this lecture, Rowan refers to some other resources from the Church of England. One is their website devoted to this whole issue, combining practical advice and theological and spiritual reflection, under the title,
'Shrinking the Footprint'. It's a good site, and I recommend browsing around it. There is some practical advice about church buildings which could also be of use to Quaker Meeting Houses, as well as much else that is good. There's also a pamphlet called, 'How Many Light Bulbs Does it Take to Change a Christian?', which is an excellent and to-the-point title, even it you never get beyond the front cover!

Reading these two lectures of Rowan's has prompted me to think about the usefulness of having a figurehead who can speak with authority, facing both inwards towards the faith group, and outwards towards 'the world'. It reminds me of the recent dilemma that the UK
Green Party had - whether to have a national leader who could speak for the party, and be a point of reference for the rest of the political world. It's not straightforward, of course - because the Archbishop is saying things that I agree with, and things that I think need saying, and saying with authority, I of course think it's good that he's saying them. If he were saying things that I deeply disagreed with, I might feel that he was misusing his position! But his position does mean that his words can reach out beyond his own 'parish'. As Friends we have a different issue to face if we want our views to be more widely known - we were widely reported over the same-sex marriage issue this summer, but for less controversial issues it's not clear how our voice gets heard, either nationally or locally.

The other salutary lesson, it seems to me, from exploring the 'Shrinking the Footprint' website, is that other church groups are, thankfully, forging ahead on these matters. As Quakers we sometimes fall into the habit of assuming that we are 'ahead of the curve' on key social issues - in this instance we most certainly are not. When Woodbrooke sent out the free 'Good Lives' introductory study pack, to about 250 local meetings, we built into it a feedback mechanism that also acted as a research tool. With about 50 sets of feedback returned to us, one thing has become very clear: in places where there is a lot of activity around these issues (such as a Transition Town
group, or similar), Friends are also active, knowledgable and involved; where the local community has no such action happening, Friends are also inactive. In other words, Friends are not, in general, being leaders in our local communities in this matter (although some individual scertainly are) - we are, in general, just like the communities in which we live.

For interest, here is where the
Methodist Church has got to with sustainability. There is a book which shows, in detail, how sustainability is mandated in the Qur'an, 199 Ways to Please God; the author blogs at And in Birmingham we have have an interesting project called Faith and Climate Change based in the Birmingham Friends of the Earth Office.