Faith: reasons to be cheerful
By Ben Brangwyn 27th March 2012
I’m not what people generally know as a “man of faith”, and sometimes the religious responses to the crises of the world have left me exasperated and despairing. However, there is a particular religious initiative taking its place at the leading edge of global stewardship, and it’s giving me good reason for putting faith into the church as a potential vehicle for responding meaningfully to the major ecological and social justice issues of our time.
As an example, here are some extracts of their prayer guide for April 2012. You may be in for a bit of a surprise…:
An International Energy Agency report “Are we entering a Golden Age of Gas?” foresees a 50% rise in global use of gas from 2010 to 2035 when gas will supply over a quarter of global energy demand. But it goes on: “While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels based on renewables and nuclear . . . A high gas scenario implies a rise in carbon emissions consistent with a temperature rise of over 3.5 degrees C.
Over the past decade, more than 100,000 Punjabi farmers have committed suicide due to the exorbitant rates of borrowing demanded for the purchase of modern GM seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, often leading to poor harvests. It seems we have devised a method of farming which not only kills weeds and insects, but indirectly kills the farmers themselves. The Prince of Wales in his book “Harmony” asks: “Is this disconnected, mechanical approach to food production really a long-term, sustainable path for the world to take?”
In 2008 a panel of 400 experts from across the world published an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IASTD) which concluded that to continue with the industrialisation of agriculture, using ever more sophisticated chemicals, GM crops and monocultures, would exhaust our resources and put our children’s future in jeopardy. It called for new economic and legal frameworks to combine productivity with the protection of soils, water, forests and natural biodiversity. The way to help the poorest farmers was not through providing expensive seeds, pesticides and fertilisers, but through adopting traditional methods suited to their land, so as to make them less vulnerable to crop failure, sudden drops in the value of commodities and other factors outside the farmers’ control.
More than 51% of renewable energy projects in Germany are now owned by citizens, farmers and community groups, representing £65 billion of private investment. The director of the World Wind Energy Association said: “If we want to reach 100% renewable energy supply, we have to ensure that local communities benefit from renewable energy projects. Community and citizen ownership models have a proven track record in achieving this objective.”
After World War I domestic consumption in America was languishing, so Edward Bernays, the founder of modern advertising, took it upon himself to spread the gospel of consumerism and unlimited economic growth. In 1928 he wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”
Mass consumerism is so prevalent today because we have been persuaded that living with the grain of nature is a kind of cultural immobility and that ‘progress’ must be pursued even if it threatens to destabilise the very foundations of life.
With this kind of preamble, the prayers that made no sense to me as a curious child accompanying my step-brother into Catholic Mass now actually seem to hold some meaning and relevance. And their potency among people of faith could help mobilise a crucial sector of the population. Here’s an example:
Lord, you have given us this beautiful world, with the ability to harvest its products for our nourishment. Yet in our greed we have been robbing future generations, poisoning your world and destroying many of your creatures. Help us to realise that we interfere with your world at our peril. It is your hand, not ours, that rules this world and we are here as your stewards.
So, which organisation is pioneering an eco-centric and social justice focused faith-based view of the world? It’s the Christian Ecology Link, a fine group of people who have a number of potent initiatives such as:
- LOAF – Christian Ecology Link’s Food Campaign, encouraging people to choose food that fulfils at least one of the following criteria – Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly, Fairly traded
- Ecocell – www.greenchristian.org.uk/ecocell
I’m very grateful for the work this group is doing and how their actions might ripple out among people of faith and beyond.