“The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24.1)
“This is the famous stone that turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.” (“The Elixir” by George Herbert)
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
For the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31. 8 & 9)
“The poor are not usually the major cause of environmental degradation – they consume too little.” (Elaine Storkey)
Wednesday 1 st March
Today the Stop Climate Chaos coalition of environment, development and faith-based groups is lobbying MPs at Central Hall, Westminster , to explain the need to take climate change seriously by:
Helping poor countries to cope with climate disasters;
Supporting technology transfer and training to developing countries to enable them to use low-carbon technologies;
Setting a national Carbon Budget for reducing our carbon emissions by 3% year on year.
The role of the Chancellor in setting this year's budget is pivotal, in order to:
Set taxes to penalise excessive carbon emissions;
Create incentives to reduce emissions, and
Enact regulations to promote low-carbon technologies.
For more information contact: Stop Climate Chaos, The Grayston Centre, 28 Charles Square , London N1 6HT. Email: email@example.com or tel. 020 7324 4750.
Thursday 2 nd March
Many environmentalists believe there is an unbridgeable contradiction between the goal of sustainable development and today's capitalist structures. Jonathon Porritt in his stimulating book “Capitalism as if the world matters” holds that today's particular form of capitalism has indeed to be challenged, but capitalism in some form is now “the only economic game in town.” The drive to extend the reach of markets into every aspect of every economy is an irresistible force and, however great the costs of globalisation, the benefits still outweigh the costs. Moreover the adaptability and strength of market-based, for-profit economic systems have proved themselves time after time.
Friday 3 rd March
Porritt distinguishes between “primary goals” such as ensuring human survival in the face of rapid climate change and “secondary goals” such as the elimination of poverty and the attainment of universal human rights. “If we don't learn to live sustainably within the natural limits that provide the foundation for all life, we will go the same way as every other life form that failed to adapt.” Yet ecological and social sustainability go hand in hand. “As we continue to undermine nature's capacity to provide us with essential services such as clean water and a stable climate, and resources such as food and raw materials, both individuals and nations will be subjected to growing pressures. Conflicts will grow, and threats to public health and personal safety will increase in the face of ecological degradation.”
Saturday 4 th March
Last year's UN report of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals reveals that more than 460 million people live in countries with a lower score on the Human Development Index than in 1990. “In the midst of an increasingly prosperous global economy, 10.7 million children every year do not live to see their 5 th birthday and over 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. One-fifth of humanity live in countries where many think nothing of spending £2 a day on a cup of coffee. Another fifth survive on less than $1 a day and live in countries where children die for want of a simple anti-mosquito net.” For every dollar spent on aid in rich countries $10 is spent on arms and military expenditure. Just the increase in defence spending since 2000, if diverted to aid purposes, would have been enough to reach the UN target of 0.7% of GDP being devoted to international aid. “This development disaster is as unavoidable as it is predictable.”
Sunday 5 th March
Lord, we know that while we in our country have an abundance of good things, much of the world is in terrible want. Give us courage to face these things and to think more deeply about them. May thought lead to action in whatever way is in our power; for the sake of your dear Son, our Saviour.
Monday 6 th March
Today marks the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight when events take place throughout Britain to highlight the need to support small producers the world over in the face multinational competition. For example, 65% of banana exports are controlled by just three corporate giants. We can all look out for the Fairtrade Mark on coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, fruit juices, honey, preserves, wine, roses and footballs – and ask for these products if they are not on the shelves.
Tuesday 7 th March
“Economic growth has become fixed in people's minds as a given – indeed a force beyond human control” (Jonathon Porritt). Yet research into US consumers' attitudes reported in Clive Hamilton's “Growth Fetish” found that the vast majority believed that “materialism, greed and selfishness increasingly dominate American life, crowding out a more meaningful sense of values centred on family, responsibility and community.” 80% believed that they consume far more than they need, while recognising that this lust for material things lies at the root of crime, family breakdown, drug addiction and so on. Hamilton believes they are too fearful to change their behaviour. They are wedded to “financial security”, even though they understand that non-material aspirations are the ones that will give them contented lives.” Porritt comments: “Politicians' near-obsessive pursuit of increased growth, regardless of negative consequences, might be justifiable if people were genuinely getting happier – if all that planet-trashing consumptive economic activity resulted in more and more people feeling more and more content with their lot. But surveys of national wellbeing and satisfaction levels show that when a nation moves from developing to developed status, there is at first a significant gain in wellbeing. But once most citizens' basic needs are being met, relative affluence beyond that point makes no difference.
Wednesday 8 th March
In the UK stress-related illness costs around £4 billion a year. “But not to worry” writes Porritt. “The economy after all prospers on such chronic levels of anxiety and ill-health. The more we spend on the NHS, the bigger our GNP. The more people spend on making themselves ill, fat, unhappy and unhealthy, the more they can spend on making themselves thin, happy and healthy all over again – all of which keeps the wheels of the economy whirring merrily away, even if it is rather difficult to see what this has to do with real progress.” Professor Richard Layard, an economist, in his book “Happiness” wonders why governments everywhere refuse to address happiness, or the lack of it, by policy interventions. He suggests that happiness is an objective dimension and can be measured. Since humans are programmed to seek happiness, it should be self-evident that the best society will be the happiest rather than the richest society. As we are social beings, happiness is profoundly affected by levels of trust. We are also adaptable: just because consumption is addictive now does not mean it always will be. (Many societies, both ancient and modern, have been totally devoid of any urge to consume above immediate needs) Finally, “Public policy can more easily remove misery than augment happiness”
Thursday 9 th March
Nobel prizewinner Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank, in an interview for The Independent, refers to the US as the elephant in the room on climate change. “President Bush won't do anything beyond trying to find technological fixes. We have reached an impasse. And the problem is too important for that.” He supports carbon trading as an incentive for developing countries to get involved in tackling global warming.
“ Kyoto offered rewards to developing countries for planting new forests,
but not for maintaining existing ones. So Papua New Guinea can get money if it chops down its forests and replants them, but not if it just keeps them. That's silly.” Finally, he believes that the EU and others should apply to the WTO for a ruling that America 's refusal to join in carbon cuts constitutes a hidden subsidy to US industry – which is illegal under WTO trade rules.
Friday 10 th March
New research from the New Economics Foundation finds that recently reported annual profits from Shell and BP would be turned into losses if the costs of their greenhouse gas emissions were taken into account. A report prepared for DEFRA and the Treasury estimates that each tonne of CO 2 emitted costs about £20 in environmental damage. Emissions stemming from BP's activities and the sale of its products causes 1,458 million tonnes of CO 2 equivalent to enter the atmosphere, so incurring a damage bill of £29 billion. Thus BP's reported profit of £11 billion would put it £18 billion in the red – effectively bankrupt. Equally Shell's profit of £13 billion would become a loss of £4.5 billion.
Unfortunately Treasury statistics show that Government income from the fossil fuel sector – conservatively estimated at £34.9 billion a year – is greater than the revenue from council tax, stamp duty, capital gains and inheritance tax combined. So policies to reduce CO 2 emissions could have a major impact on Government revenues – a serious disincentive to action. Despite a call from the RAC for a major hike in vehicle excise duty for petrol-thirsty cars, there is no sign of Government action to curb transport emissions.
Saturday 11 th March
Ten years on from the wreck of the Sea Empress off Milford Haven, there is still no emergency towing vessel available to cover the Irish Sea . According to WWF, there are more than 300 pollution reports a year to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, the latest being the sinking in the Channel of the chemical tanker Ece. The growing export of Russian heavy crude oil has increased tanker traffic in UK waters. The oil is shuttled from ports in the Baltic and Barents Seas and transferred in UK waters to 250,000 tonne supertankers to continue its journey. Despite the risks of ships dragging anchors, pipe separation between vessels and collision, there are no current regulations, except in Lyme Bay , covering ship-to-ship transfers in UK waters. WWF is pressing for new regulations to be included in the Government's Marine Bill now being drafted.
Sunday 12 th March
Lord, protect your creation; defend the work of your hands.
Save our generation from our addiction to fossil fuels.
Wash our hands of their clutch on dirty energy.
Clean our hearts of our desire for more and more.
Turn our souls away from materialism and our desires from taking and taking from your limited, sacred world.
Give us a vision of the blessings we will receive if we turn away from idolatry of the economy and bow to wisdom and truth.
Let humankind see that true happiness rests in enjoying your earth as you intended, not according to the lies of the enemy.
Show us that a kinder, simpler lifestyle will allow us to see your glory more clearly. Let your glory shine through your kingdom.
Monday 13 th March
According to China 's Xinhua news agency, 82% of the wetlands around the Haihe River in northern China have been sucked dry by industry and a growing population. Only 538 sq. km. remain of wetlands that used to stretch over 3,800 sq. km. along the Haihe, one of China 's three main rivers. China 's per capita water availability is a quarter of the world average. The government's new 5-year plan aims to marry economic development with resource security and includes water diversion from the Yangtse to northern China , deep mining for water and large-scale desalination of seawater amounting to 50 billion cubic metres a year by 2010. “ China 's huge demand will offer enormous business opportunities for firms centring on desalination” say experts. However, China 's vice-minister for construction said: “ China faces a water crisis more severe and urgent than any other country.” That crisis as yet appears to have little impact on China 's headlong drive for economic development.
Tuesday 14 th March
According to the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, sales of bottled water have risen by 57% in the past 5 years. In 2005, 154 million litres of it were consumed around the world. One-third of the money spent on bottled water would be enough to halve the number of people without access to clean, safe drinking water (one of the UN Millennium Development Goals). Sales are rising even where tests have proved many times that tap water is equally safe. Result: much unnecessary packaging waste and huge expenditure of energy used in extraction, bottling and transport.
Wednesday 15 th March In India , as elsewhere in south-east Asia , water is a free resource. Asking farmers to pay for it would be politically impossible. Yet, according to Ramon Alikpala of the Manila-based National Water Resource; “If water is free, then it becomes a subsidy which is against WTO rules. People also take water for granted, so you get a situation where, if a pipe leaks, nobody feels responsible for it.” Participants at a journalists' workshop in Bangkok agreed that, while those who can afford it do not mind paying for clean water delivered to their homes, no politician dares to suggest that raw water itself should be priced. Alikpala believes that water companies should pay for raw water themselves, but their customers should pay for the companies' services, such as cleaning and delivering the water.
Thursday 16 th March
China 's deputy environment minister last year gave an interview to Der Spiegel in which he said: “Our raw materials are scarce, we don't have enough land and our population is constantly growing. There are 1.3 billion people living in China – twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020 there will be 1.5 billion people. Cities are growing, but desert areas are expanding at the same time. Habitable and usable land has halved over the past 50 years . . . Half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless . . . One-third of the urban population is breathing polluted air . . .” The government is trying to persuade the people to eat with their fingers since traditional wooden chopsticks, consumed at a rate of billions each year, are stripping their forests, and they are now having to import timber to replace them.
Friday 17 th March
By 2050 the combined population of India and China will be around 3 billion – about one-third of total world population. Both economies are growing at a rate unprecedented in world history. Since 1978 China 's per capita income has increased sevenfold. It now consumes more grain, meat, steel and coal than the USA . Life expectancy has increased from 35 in 1950 to 71 in 2002. The official goal is to quadruple 2002 GDP by 2020, but President Hu Jintao has warned that economic growth will have to be severely curbed to prevent further loss of critical natural capital as measured by a new green GDP indicator. Since China has just 7% of the world's arable land available to feed 20% of the world's population, the knock-on effect on the world's food supply will be profound. Its foreign reserves are sufficient for it to buy from abroad its needs for oil, food, timber, steel, chemical feedstocks etc. However, it can buy neither fertile topsoil nor fresh clean water. Neither can the rest of the world. China 's constraints are indeed no different from those we shall all face if we continue with our present consumption rates and lack of a population policy.
Saturday 18 th March
“If China were to have a car in every garage, American style, it would need 80 million barrels of oil a day – more than the world currently produces. If paper consumption per person were to reach the US level, China would need more paper than the world produces. If the fossil fuel-based, automobile-centred, throwaway economic model will not work for China , it will not work for the other 3 billion in the developing world – and it will not work for the rest of the world.” (Lester Brown, World Resources Institute)
Yet few politicians recognise the blindingly obvious fact that the more people there are on earth, the harder it is to fashion a sustainable future for all of us. Fewer still recognise publicly that present rates of consumption are unsustainable in the long run. “Technology will see us through”? Micro-generation through mini-wind turbines, mini-CHP plants, PV fuel cells & biomass boilers could indeed make a huge contribution towards securing reliable, low-carbon energy supplies. However, current energy suppliers are largely uninterested in small-scale energy generation, so the potential remains untapped.
Sunday 19 th March
Father God, teach us to use your gifts of inventiveness in the service of your created world, acknowledging you as the source and inspiration of all wisdom and strength.
Monday 20 th March
At the heart of the debate on corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the influence of shareholders on corporations. Henry Mintzberg maintained that shareholder value drives a wedge between those who create economic performance and those who harvest its benefits. “Those who create the benefits are disengaged from the ownership of their efforts and treated as dispensable, while those who own the enterprise treat that ownership as dispensable and so disengage themselves from its activities. Can we have healthy corporations, and a healthy society, without commitment?”
The nub of the matter, according to Jonathon Porritt, is this: If it can be demonstrated that the interests of shareholders, over time, are best served by companies that seek to improve their social, environment and ethical performance, then capital could be allocated on different criteria, and short-term profit maximisation would cease to be the driving force behind an inherently destructive form of capitalism.
Tuesday 21 st March
Research commissioned by the Co-Operative Insurance Society found that most academic studies from the 1970s to the 1990s provided evidence of a correlation between environmentally and socially responsible business practices and good financial performance, showing that CSR can create shareholder value for some issues, in some industries, with some firms and for some management strategies.
Paul Gidding of Australia 's Ecos Corporation believes that emphasis on moral imperatives rather than financial considerations has not helped the cause of sustainability: “A focus on value creation drives change more effectively and therefore drives more change.” He identifies three main reasons for this:
If a business focuses on value creation when undertaking actions in the name of sustainability, it is far more likely to create value;
If companies consistently create, measure and report value from sustainability, financial markets are more likely to recognise and reward the company;
If investor recognition occurs, it will create a self-perpetuating loop, encouraging more action on sustainability, and so on.
Wednesday 22 nd March
David Korten describes the problem thus: A predatory global financial system, driven by the single imperative of making ever more money for those who already have lots of it, is rapidly depleting the real capital upon which our wellbeing depends. Pathology enters the economic system when money, once convenient as a means of facilitating commerce, comes to define the life purpose of individuals and society. The truly troubling part is that so many of us have become willing accomplices to what is best described as a war of money against life. It starts partly from our failure to recognise that money is not wealth. In our confusion, we concentrate on the money to the neglect of those things that actually sustain a good life.
Thursday 23 rd March
In 1997 a Treasury document called “The Statement of Intent on Environmental Tax” stated: “Over time the Government will aim to reform the tax system to increase incentives to reduce environmental damage. That will shift the burden of tax from ‘goods' to ‘bads'; encourage innovation in meeting higher environmental standards; and deliver a more dynamic economy and a cleaner environment to the benefit of everyone.” What has been achieved? The yearly increases in landfill tax up to £35 a tonne are a clear incentive to produce less waste. But on the taxation of transport, particularly aviation fuel, there has been no progress, nor on the control of harmful chemicals, nor on fiscal incentives for better housing standards. VAT is still charged on home improvements but not on new homes. Perverse subsidies (our money) still support fossil fuel industries, road transport, unsustainable fisheries and wasteful water use. Though the forces of inertia seem stronger than ever, Christians can never abandon their commitment to God's fragile world, which we have been put here to tend and protect.
Friday 24 th March
"Consumer Choice” is the buzz slogan of policymakers who assume that since choice is good, more choice must be better. Yet every choice we make is constrained by the choices of others. Individual choices to travel by car lead cumulatively to traffic-clogged, degraded inner cities, car-dependent suburbs and amenities only accessible by car – a mess nobody wanted or intended, whereby those without cars are further disadvantaged and the unnecessary use of fossil fuel emissions is structured into our lifestyles. To advocate limiting “choice” would be politically suicidal, yet thousands of the right consumer choices could undoubtedly provide the “tipping point” towards a genuinely sustainable society.
Saturday 25 th March
Michael Northcott in “An Angel Directs the Storm” pins part of the blame for the environmental crisis on a view of Christianity in the USA , but not, to our shame, confined to that country. He refers to “the civil religion that sacralises the politics of the American empire and the idolatrous rituals of consumerism which it sustains.” He goes on: “That Christian ethics can be put to such use is perhaps the greatest indictment of Christianity for many secular humanists in the 21 st century. Were more Christians in America , Britain and beyond to recover the radical Christianity of its founder, then the abuse of religion by political leaders and by terrorists to sacralise their wars, and their apocalyptic division of humanity into the wicked and the righteous, would be undermined.” How can we deny an element of truth in this indictment? We have much work to do.
Sunday 26 th March
Father, we have not been good stewards of the world you have given us for our home. We confess and repent of all the ways in which we have misused your creation. Teach us how to care for it with wisdom, compassion and dignity, and to pass on to our children a world that is, in at least some respects, the better for our having lived in it.
Monday 27 th March
In a slim book by Tim Kasser called “The High Price of Materialism” he draws on 20 years of research in the USA to reach the following conclusions:
People who are focussed on materialistic values have lower personal wellbeing and psychological health than those who believe that materialistic pursuits are relatively unimportant;
When needs for security and sustenance are not satisfied, people place a strong focus on materialistic values and desires;
Because children are exposed to messages in society glorifying image, fame and wealth, they may strongly pursue materialistic aspirations as a way of gaining the approval of others;
Increases in wealth beyond the need for food, shelter and safety do little to improve people's wellbeing and happiness;
People with materialistic aims have shorter, more conflicting relationships with friends and lovers, and feel more alienated and disconnected from others in society;
Materialistic values are associated with anti-social and self-centred decisions involving getting ahead rather than co-operating;
Materialistic values are associated with low interest in environmental and ecological issues.
Tuesday 28 th March
Despite the evidence, many multinational corporations continue to fight every effort to slow global warming. David Ehrenfeld suggests these measures:
Return to the idea of corporate charters for a fixed term, say 20 years, after which they expire unless renewed after a searching review of the corporation's activities;
Close the legal loopholes that allow senior executives to dissociate themselves from the misdeeds of the companies they control;
Make it harder for corporations to evade responsibility by changing names, merging with other corporations or otherwise altering their identity;
Restrict the ability of corporations to use WTO rules to nullify national environmental and human safety laws;
Protect communities by limiting corporations' rights to transfer factory operations and large blocks of capital between countries. The proposed Tobin tax might be a first step;
Reflect on our own complicity in corporate violence, and avoid purchasing products that are socially and environmentally damaging.
Wednesday 29 th March
America in the past, and now China and India , experience exponential growth in their economies. Albert Bartlett, exploring its meaning, asked us to imagine a single bacterium put in a bottle at 11 pm . It doubles every minute. By midnight the bottle is full. When was the bottle half-full? Answer: 11.59. By the time the more perceptive and activist bacteria notice they are running out of space and call a public meeting, it's already too late. “Growth” makes us exaggerate the time we have left in which to act to save the world.
Suppose at 11.59 an enterprising bacterium discovers 3 empty bottles off the north coast of Alaska . This quadruples the space available and the bacteria heave a collective sigh of relief. How long will this new space last? Answer: 2 minutes. How much oil have we left? Answer: It doesn't matter. Assuming the whole earth is full of oil and we can extract every drop, at the current 7% annual growth in oil consumption, an entire earth full of oil would last about 342 years. “Growth” makes a mockery of our hopes that undiscovered resources will save us. The same applies to coal, scarce metals, trees, fish, fresh water, clean air and open space.
Thursday 30 th March
“How are we going to define affluence” asks Ehrenfeld “in tomorrow's world when the glitter of today's consumables is no longer able to hide our latent poverty?” “The rage of a country packed with the adult equivalent of spoilt, frightened children is not pleasant to imagine. I expect denial, terminal indulgence and random, often self-destructive violence. I hope also for something better. America is a tough society – innovative, resilient and still full of humour. There are many, old and young, who recognise true affluence and are already spreading its seeds throughout our communities. Soon they will have the chance to demonstrate the richness that comes from a simpler, more responsible way of life.
Friday 31 st March
Among the list of instructions to parents in the Talmud is one to teach children to swim – a strange requirement for a desert people. David Ehrenfeld in “Swimming Lessons” teases out a moral.
“Change is now more rapid than it has ever been in recorded history, and preparing children to recognise and cope with frequently destructive changes in their environment is the swimming lesson for the years ahead. The children of wise parents will understand that massive and profligate use of resources, dysfunctional technologies, heedless abuse of nature and inhumane, violent social structures cannot last many more years. They will not be paralysed by fear because they will be ready for the change. They will be accustomed to reading books rather than watching television, sorting truth from lies, playing sports rather than electronic games, conserving rather than wasting, hiking rather than riding SUVs, practising self-sufficiency rather than helplessly consuming, building communities rather than competing alone. There is no need to produce Olympic swimmers, just children who are comfortable and safe in the water. And for the lucky parents, their children will help, making the journey together a delight, whatever the ultimate destination.”
“Capitalism” by Jonathan Porritt (Earthscan); “Swimming Lessons” by David Ehrenfeld (OUP); Jackdaw (Optimum Population Trust); www.edie.net
Contacts: Philip Clarkson Webb, 15 Valley View, Southborough