Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sustainability, peace and security.

The famous 1968 Earthrise image, the first picture of the whole earth seen from space, is credited by Al Gore with starting the modern environment movement. Friends of the Earth was founded in 1969; the first ‘Earth Day’ in the USA was in 1970; in 1972 the first UN summit on the environment was held in Stockholm, and the report Limits to Growth was published, arguing that there were environmental limits to the global economy . . . and so on.

In 1979, James Lovelock published Gaia: a new look at life on earth. And then in 1983, in Vancouver, the churches caught up with this new consciousness when the World Council of Churches called for a ‘conciliar process of mutual commitment (covenant) to justice, peace and the integrity of creation’ – known as JPIC – which became the overarching protestant ecumenical context for the pursuit of eco-justice for the following decade. It has not, like many other WCC ‘Decades’, faded from sight, and the churches continue to wrestle with its implications (as shown most recently, perhaps, in the international, interfaith conference, Many Heavens, One Earth, held at Windsor in November 2009, in the days before the Copenhagen climate summit – see the report of the event, and reflections, on this blog).

These issues - this necessary combination of peace with sustainability and justice - remain a concern.

Sunniva Taylor who is the Sustainability and Peace programme manager in Quaker Peace and Social Witness, writes:

People speak of sustaining the environment; the planet; a way of life; growth; profit; faith; a community; positions of power. When we take the desire to create peace as our starting point we can see that not all of these things can be sustained at the same time, and that ensuring the flourishing of our environment is fundamental.

Maintaining our current consumer-driven lifestyles is dependent on ensuring continued economic growth, but this is contributing to environmental and ecological crisis, fragmented communities, the unequal distribution of wealth and power, and violence. On Saturday 21st August the world as a whole went into ‘ecological debt’. This means, in effect, that from then until the end of the year we are consuming more natural resources and producing more waste than forests, fields and fisheries of the world can replace and absorb (see ‘We’ve gone into the ecological red’ by Andew Simms, in the Guardian 22 August 2010). Our reliance on fossil fuel driven industry - the global economy is 80% dependent on fossil fuels means that the world’s average temperature is warming every year, leading to sea-level rise, drought, flooding and storms. It is the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly those who rely on the land for their livelihoods, who are the first and worst affected.

Through the way we live, and the choices we make, we are all implicated, just as we are all implicated in war through the taxes we pay, however committed to peace we may be. read more . . .

In similar vein, Northern Friends Peace Board has a concern for promoting sustainable security. NFPB is an organisation of Quakers in the north of Britain set up to support "the active promotion of peace in all its height and breadth". They are beginning some work on Promoting Sustainable Security and the following is a statement of concern drafted by the project group doing this work.

Sustainable security
This area of work is based on our understanding that the world is made less secure by economic inequalities, resource depletion and competition, the threat of climate change and the unequal and unaccountable use of political power.

The work is about questioning and challenging the mind-set underpinning these problems and about promoting the longer-term resolution of insecurity and conflict.

The aims for this work are:
Within the overall task of Northern Friends Peace Board
- "to advise and encourage Friends in the North, and through them their fellow Christians and citizens generally, in the active promotion of peace in all its height and breadth "
- to promote sustainable security as a peace priority
- to collaborate and to support existing initiatives

We are in this world together but the way we are living is unsustainable; this makes the world less secure. Our consumption of consumer goods and our dependence on fossil fuels - using finite natural resources and producing ever-more waste - continue to grow. This in turn contributes to hugely destabilising climate change and to unbalanced and unfair economic relationships: where inequalities exist, conflict is inevitable. The interests of those whose power comes from the control of diminishing resources are protected by ever-more costly military and other technology as a mistaken means to building security.

Sustainable security means ensuring a secure future for all based on tackling the causes of conflict and insecurity: understanding the real threats and how they can be dealt with so there is peace and justice for everyone throughout the earth for the long term and striving for a balance with nature.

As Quakers, we have a respect for all of humanity and for other living things. The Quaker peace testimony has always been about seeking to address the causes of war as well as about how we respond to conflict without resorting to violence. Our testimonies to equality and simplicity are similarly about ensuring that all people be enabled to flourish and live.

We know that some conflict is inevitable. We know too that we can choose to develop understanding as to how we contribute to causes of conflict, and in how we respond to and deal with this. Do we accept the short-termist, market-driven approaches that drive resource misuse, inequality, instability and conflict?

It can be easy to feel despondent and fearful. But we can use these emotions in a positive way, to help motivate us in working together to develop a vision of alternative ways of being together on this planet. We depend on all life. It is vital that we recognise that all have the same rights to security and well-being, and that we change from a society driven by perceived wants and fears to one that addresses the real long-term needs of all. Our unsustainable way of living on this planet grows from a mindset; a change is needed to this mindset to underpin the many encouraging practical steps that people are already taking towards more sustainable and equitable ways of living.

We are called to ask questions to promote dialogue and action. We ask that politicians and others in positions of influence and power - including businesses and media organisations - recognise this moral imperative and work together, responding in words and in action to create sustainable security for all.

To assist with reflection on these issues, there is a set of questions for individuals or groups to consider:
- What makes us secure in this world?
- How can we move from a world driven by the struggle for power and control over the lives and resources of others to a world based on equality and respect for all life?
- How can we support one another in building that alternative?
- What resources can we draw on to help ourselves and others deal with pressures of change in ways that are peaceful and build sustainable security?
- What are the political and practical consequences of this?
- What opportunities can you take to raise these concerns with others and to take positive action for change?

And to help anyone grapple with these, there is an extremely useful links page
Friends worldwide are also addressing such concerns in an international frmae work. Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC - the unbrella body for Quakers around the world) has in train a worldwide consultation on global change. There is a set of questions for Friends to consider - called 'queries' - a term that Friends use for taking questions as a device prompting both corporate and individual self-examination.

1. How has global change affected our communities and ourselves?
2. What actions have we taken in response to global change as experienced in our area, to express our responsibilities towards all creation? In what ways have my own activities or those of my community contributed to positive or adverse local and global change?
3. How do changes around us affect our relationship with God? How does my relationship with God affect my responses to changes around us? What role does faith have in my life and in the life of the community? In what ways do I and my Friends church or meeting community bear witness to our Testimonies in our daily lives?
4. What stories and experiences from past times of catastrophic happenings such as major droughts – perhaps from Scripture, perhaps the record of regional or local events- might inspire us to respond to changes the world is facing today?
5. How can we bear witness to the abundance God offers us and testify to the world about ways in which justice, compassion and peace may address significant disruption, stress and tension?
6. How can we support one another in rekindling our love and respect for God’s creation in such a way that we are messengers of the transforming power of love and hope?

Quakers in The Netherlands have added their own further questions, more specifically addressed to their Western European context:
1. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community faithfully maintain our testimonies of equality, simplicity, truth, justice and peace in the face of the global challenges of our time? Do we translate them into action at local, national and international levels when called to do so?
2. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community take up our responsibilities for the conduct of local, national and international affairs in responding effectively to the interlocking economic, ecological, climatic, food, energy and political/institutional crises?
3. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community encourage our international Quaker agencies (FWCC, QUNO, QCEA) sufficiently to contribute to the necessary transformation of the current economic system into a more just and equitable economy? Remember this also requires us to support and respond to these agencies’ projects, publications and calls.
4. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community actively stimulate our International Quaker agencies working within the framework of the United Nations to also work for the reform of the international institutions (UN, Security Council, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc) themselves, so as to equip them better to build a truly sustainable just and peaceful world order?
5. Do we as world-wide Quaker community urge our Quaker agencies on to engage in combating climate change effectively by helping to strengthen the United Nation’s capabilities towards this end? Remember this would first and foremost involve urging our national governments to take appropriate and meaningful action in this respect.
6. Do we as a world-wide Quaker community support our international Quaker agencies in working towards abolishing war as an instrument to settle conflicts, disarmament and a ‘global zero’ for all weapons of mass destruction?
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QPSW has a set of display panels on Sustainable Security: You can view the panels online.
The sustainable security display explains the concept of sustainable security in a clear, easy-to-read format. Sustainable security refers to a sustainable approach to global security, emphasising the long-term resolution of the root causes of insecurity and conflict.
The display is made up of 8 panels and is available in large A1 (borrow for free) and smaller A3 (buy for £25, borrow for free) formats. The display is an excellent resource for use by Meeting Houses, peace and social justice groups, church and community groups and individuals.

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