Planning Ahead

Ecology article connection June 2016 MargaretThere’s a story about Margaret Thatcher in her late-80s pomp. One of her ministers realised that sea levels were going to rise and so the government needed to bump up spending on flood defences. He quickly convinced the Prime Minister, but not the rest of his cabinet colleagues, which was a problem because he needed the cabinet to agree before he could start the extra spending. Before the crucial meeting he rang Mrs Thatcher and told her he was nervous that most of them would oppose it, and that probably the two of them were the only ones who would be in favour. ‘I think,’ came the reply from the centre of power, ‘that that will be enough.’ And it was. [Read more…]

Climate Risk

Climate change is very risky. That’s what we’re expecting the IPCC to say this morning when they announce their latest summary of climate science. Over 600 scientists and over 9,000 peer-reviewed papers later, we expect to hear that climate science is now 95% certain that human activity is making the world warmer. Their last report six years ago was only 90% sure.

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95% is a big risk. I wouldn’t get in a car with a 95% chance of crashing. I wouldn’t light a match with a 95% chance of burning my hand. I wouldn’t even eat a sandwich with a 95% of containing sand. So I’m really hoping  people around the world listen to this report, and decide to do more about it.

Tearfund did a survey of 2,500 people to see what worries people in the UK have about climate change, and found the most common concern was unusual and extreme weather for future generations.

(We found some interesting variations round the country, which I can only speculate on – is the North East more worried about this and Londoners less worried because Londoners are mostly younger and not so bothered about future generations yet? Or are Londoners less worried because their higher propensity to be religious gives them hope? Or are they more relaxed because of the Thames Barrier, whereas the North East has more recent experience of major floods? I’d love to know. But I don’t.)

We also asked what people were most willing to do to help reduce their carbon emissions, and found 70% of us want to recycle more. That’s encouraging, because that’s a big cultural change after 60-odd years of more and more disposable stuff.

But the second most popular was using energy efficient light bulbs, which 60% of us are willing to do. 60%? Disappointing. Energy efficient light bulbs are a big saving of carbon, a decent saving of money, and one of the easiest changes we can make. Why don’t 90% of us want to do this yet? Because avoiding what the hardnosed, unexcitable folk at Price Waterhouse Coopers call ‘the mother of all risks’ means we can’t stop once we’ve switched lightbulbs. We need less consumerism, less coal, less beef, more insulation, more renewables, and more sharing.

So I’m hoping and praying that the IPCC’s message of climate risk gets through loud and clear. But I want more. I want the church in this country to become a beacon of low-carbon behaviour, a noisy hotbed of climate campaigning, and an ever-turning turbine of climate prayer. We already want the world to be fair, but we need to see that it can’t be fair if it’s not sustainable. Climate change is damaging the people God loves so much and the planet he made so carefully, so the church should be leading the way to respond faster.

We’ve got some ideas for how, here

–Ben

Because it Works – why the Lobbying Bill mustn’t stop charities campaigning

Jubilee 2000 making their point

Jubilee 2000 making their point

Next time Justin Welby wants to have a go at Wonga, it looks like he’ll need a permit from the Electoral Commission first. I’m worried the Lobbying Bill – or Gagging Bill – will stop charities, churches, and civil society speaking out about things that matter.

Campaigning’s a vital part of a living democracy. I remember the Sun ran a ‘Bash the Bishop’ campaign a few years ago, inviting people to tell off the Archbishop of Canterbury after he said something they didn’t like. I liked the headline, I loathed the campaign. But I want to live in a country where newspapers, archbishops, charities and all of us are free to hold different views and say so, loudly if we want to, and whether I agree with them or not.

And I want charities and churches to be free to be controversial when the people we serve need us to. Syria, fracking, food banks, disability rights, fostering – there are many reasons for voluntary groups to speak up and represent people. Charities have a purpose, serving people in poverty around the world in Tearfund’s case, and campaigning’s often a useful way to do what we exist to do.

But the government’s draft Lobbying Bill looks likely to shut us up. When both Conservative Home http://t.co/zWOcBD6UFp and Polly Toynbee http://t.co/eRJRPeGo6p oppose something, I sit up and take notice.

I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate attack on civil liberties or a mess made in a hurry, and Tearfund supports more lobbying transparency (through the Open Government Partnership here for example), but at the moment the bill’s set to stop any group that’s not a political party from talking about anything that might feature in any election campaign – local, Europe, national, referendum or any other kind – and tie us up with vague, expensive and complex regulation. As the NCVO – the voluntary sector’s umbrella group – explains

Jubilee 2000 was a great campaign that worked – the kind of campaign this bill would jeopardise. Party politically, it was neutral, but it changed what politicians did. Tearfund and many others spoke out asking governments to cancel the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries. We knew that countries which couldn’t afford it were struggling to make interest payments to countries with far more money. Partly we just thought it was wrong, and partly we could see a chance to use that money to reduce poverty instead.

So far $130 billion of debt has been cancelled. Uganda used the money they saved on debt payments to abolish primary school fees – so children who couldn’t afford to go to school could now start their education. Mozambique have immunised over a million children against deadly diseases. The list goes on. I reckon it would take Tearfund roughly 1,000 years to raise the kind of money our campaigning unlocked – I think we’d spend it even better, but campaigning to get governments to do things on a scale we could only dream of has been a great investment of our time and money. This video follows the story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg6yXYIYG08

As Christians, we liked the idea of Jubilee – a special year every 50 years for setting slaves free, forgiving debts, and restoring equality. It’s set out in the bible in Leviticus 25, and mentioned again in Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted at the start of his ministry. Justice is part of our faith, and campaigning’s one way we live it.

Campaigning doesn’t always work – for example the Jubilee Debt Campaign hasn’t yet won a system for countries to go bankrupt and start again in the way companies and people can. But it often works well for charities, churches, and civil society more generally, as Martin Luther King told us.

Do pray for the government to amend the Lobbying Bill so it doesn’t gag churches, charities and civil society, and do ask your MP to push for the changes it needs. Tweeting @david_cameron and @nick_clegg wouldn’t go amiss either.

Ben Niblett (Head of Campaigns)