What connects Florence Nightingale and action on Climate Change?
Operation Noah Talk on 6 June 2011 (see also Independent Catholic News )
On Monday evening, one of the world's foremost authorities on Florence Nightingale gave a lecture at the London annual meeting of Operation Noah, the churches' climate campaign. The title was 'The Climate Crisis: Why is nothing happening?' Canadian Lynn McDonald, editor of 'Nightingale's Collected Works', is also a former member of the Canadian Parliament, a Director of the Climate Action Network of Canada, and a co-founder of the 'JustEarth' Coalition. An Anglican, McDonald works with a small group within the Canadian Church to urge church leaders to take on the issue of climate change and this led to a strong resolution being adopted at its last general synod. She shared her experience with around 60 Christian campaigners on the issue in the UK.
McDonald spoke about Florence Nightingale seeing the person in relation to the environment and with a mission to promote public health that was rooted in her Christian faith. In her writings on India, Nightingale gave an early warning about the perils of deforestation. In Britain she was committed to scientifically-based practical public health care measures.
"It did strike me as odd, sometimes," said Nightingale, "that we should pray to be delivered from 'plague, pestilence, and famine,' when all the common sewers ran into the Thames, and fevers haunted undrained land."
She thought the causes of illness should be addressed, notably with a good sewer system. McDonald echoed this approach when she said our society today seems to be oblivious to the harm we are doing by our grossly inefficient methods of production, overuse of resources and failure to think of future needs. She urged faith groups to continue to raise awareness of the dangers of Climate Change and convey its seriousness and urgency. They should work with secular experts and other faith communities, and play an advocacy role in bringing about the political will to address climate change significantly.
Promoting a healthy environment for human well-being, McDonald said, should be part of Christian mission today. The moral dilemma for Christians, in her view, is that a key evil to tackle in relation to climate change is our own lifestyles. It is our 'normal' activities as we go about our daily lives that is causing harm through greenhouse gas emissions.
Our existing moral code predates the damage done by these outputs into the atmosphere. She feels that Christians need to develop a fresh understanding of wrongdoing, a process for repentance and then action for change.
"Existing principles of stewardship and accountability to God for care of the Earth can be built upon" she said.
Examples she gave of where the church has given leadership included Pope Benedict XVI taking Climate Change to the United Nations in 2007, the books of Catholic theologian Thomas Berry which stress the importance of the human community working in harmony with Earth's life systems, climate campaigning of the World Council of Churches, and the climate advocacy work of the Church of England.
Rev Chris Brice, Anglican Chair of Operation Noah, described himself as being a "kindred spirit", also admiring the work of Florence Nightingale and also passionate about the need to respond more seriously to climate change.
Operation Noah's 'Carbon Exodus' campaign was pushed at the meeting. "Inspired by the Exodus story, the journey of Moses and the children of Israel away from the bondage of Egypt, we are embarking on our own journey - away from dependence on carbon towards the promised land of a Zero Carbon Britain by 2030" said Brice "and we want you to join us!"
He urged more people to contribute £10 a month to Operation Noah. Despite financial difficulties its ambitious work for the coming year includes launching a new theological study group - including Anglican bishop David Atkinson, Professor Michael Northcott and Catholic Sr Louisa Poole - maintaining an attractive website, and organising meetings addressed by specialist speakers.
For more information on Operation Noah see: http://www.operationnoah.org
For information on Just Earth go to: http://www.justearth.net