Green Christians     Issue 40: Summer 1999

Green Christians is the main publication of Christian Ecology Link and exists to debate environmental matters in a Christian context. Please feel free to contribute articles, opinions and letters to the Editor .
    To obtain a copy of this summer's issue at a bargain rate, see the end of this page.



Greens do it, firms do it, even government officials do it, Let’s do it, let’s do SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT...


Among the trendy buzzwords, sustainable development and its first cousin local agenda 21 (LA21) have the distinction, according to a recent conference involving the media, of being switch-off signals to the general public. Never, it seems, was such important concept more soporific, and yet deputy prime minister John Prescott has vowed to place it ‘at the heart of the Government’s agenda’. So what is this beast?

Born out of the Rio Summit of 1992, its aims are acknowledged to be social and economic as well as environmental. Yet the following definition is provided by the government: ‘It is about ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come’. This is conveniently vague and explains neither ‘sustainable’ nor ‘development’.

Though sustainable development has been the stimulus for excellent local initiatives under the banner of LA21, its very vagueness makes it prone to misuse. The government wants to ‘green up’ its act and has set up Going for Green to advise on switching off light bulbs, improving heating systems and insulation, all in the name of sustainable development. This is all good stuff, but does it go far enough? Is industry’s emphasis on eco-efficiency masking a reluctance to tackle the more fundamental obstacles to sustainable progress?

Thus there is a perception that ‘sustainable development’ may be used as a whitewash, or ‘greenwash’, to allow the status quo to be preserved. The global economy remains biased against sustainability in its pursuit of economic growth. Real sustainability must mean reduced material consumption for the rich nations as well as a redistribution of wealth. Politicians, loath to spell out this truth, and unable to grasp its positive potential, may simply be deflecting attention away from it by using high-profile gimmicks.

Suspicion also rests, as several environmental thinkers have pointed out, on the ‘development’ half of the ‘sustainable development’ tandem, especially as this can be taken by conventional analysts to mean ‘growth’. It is vital to explore the relevance and pitfalls of this, as John Wibberley does in this issue, for ‘developing’ Third World countries.

Christians could be playing crucial role in sustainable development, especially at local level: Anglican Bishop Richard Chartres pointed out recently that churches have unparalleled routes into local communities. Churches can promote local action using LA21 as their basis; they can also tap into the rich vein of our need for community and togetherness, and improve our quality of life by doing so. Churches and local environmentalists can work hand in hand.

Sustainable development would certainly not make a catchy song title, but instead it is rather too ‘catch-all’. We need to sharpen its definition to include specific reference to the environment and its capacity to support life, with an emphasis on the shared needs (i.e. sufficiency) of one Humanity, under one God, in one World, now and in the future rather than a vague phrase like ‘better quality of life’.

Agree? Disagree? The Editor would like to hear from you: write to Stephanie Boucher at

Would you like to read on? Issue 40 of Green Christians focuses on Sustainable Development and contains a lead article on the subject, plus others on farming and development, and on local efforts by Christians. Read also about conservation in the Algarve and much more.

Copies of Green Christians 40 and Green Christians 40a can be obtained from Christian Ecology Link, 6, Bond Street, Lancaster, LA1 3ER, UK. For a trial copy of Green Christians (for people in the UK) please specify which issue is required and send an A4 size SAE and include four first-class stamps to cover costs - a bargain when the cover price is £1.50!

Contents of Green Christians 40 Summer 1999
Contents of Green Christians 40a Autumn 1999

Contents of Green Christians 41 Winter 1999/2000

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