“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
“God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the Cross.
Friday 1 st December
”Decluttering: a Spirituality of Less” (Grove Books) and “Doing December Differently” (Wild Goose Publications) are two of many books aiming to guide us away from the culture of consumption and excess which has grown up around Christmas. Author Andrew Barton suggests that decluttering is a process that Christians need to go through in order to come closer to God and to be more effective witnesses to our faith.
Saturday 2 nd December
The new Companies Act for the first time requires companies to report publicly anything that concerns the welfare of their employees, their community and, crucially, the environment. Most of the Act will come into force in 2008, and companies can still withhold information that would jeopardise commercial confidentiality – the directors being the judges of that. The working of the Act will be reviewed in two years' time in order to decide whether the reporting of social and environmental matters is working properly, and possibly to introduce stricter legal standards.
Sunday 3 rd December
Loving Father, we praise and bless you for your wonderful goodness in sending your Son into our soiled and sinful world. Help us to care for it as your faithful stewards, knowing that you have touched every part of it with your loving hands. Amen.
Monday 4 th December
WWF's biennial Living Planet Report finds that populations of species in terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems have declined by more than 30% since 1970. In the tropics the decline has been even more dramatic, as natural resources are being extensively exploited for human use. Under a “business as usual” scenario, the authors project that demand for resources by 2050 will be twice what the Earth can provide. “At this level of ecological deficit, exhaustion of ecological assets and large-scale ecosystem collapse becomes increasingly likely. To deliver a shift towards a sustainable society requires significant action on issues such as energy generation, transport and housing.” A comment from Salik Rafiq of Blackburn : “As long as materialism is the new religion, I can see no way people will reduce their consumption.”
Tuesday 5 th December
Addressing the Climate Change Conference in Nairobi , Kofi Annan referred to the “frightening lack of leadership” in meeting the challenge of climate change. The conference agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 but set no deadlines, though there will be a minimal review of existing measures in 2008. However, the new Nairobi Framework will help developing countries, especially in Africa, to fund clean energy technology, such as wind and hydropower, though the head of UNEP, Achim Steiner, said that some of these projects, such as new dams, may be increasingly vulnerable to droughts, and others may be at risk from sea level rises.
Wednesday 6 th December
At 7 pm today at the Royal Geographical Society's hall in South Kensington , the Population & Sustainability Network will host a presentation on “Population Increase – the Greatest Challenge?”. The speakers will be John Simpson of the BBC, Lord Adair Turner, Chairman of the Pensions Commission, and Richard Ottaway MP, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary hearings on the impact of population increase. Tickets are £10 by cheque in favour of MPMT/PSN Account sent to Toby Aykroyd, Population & Sustainability Network, Stag House, Pembridge Villas, London W11 3EP. Tel. 0207 792 9776.
Thursday 7 th December
According to the US Department of Agriculture, world grain consumption this year will have increased by 20 million tons or 1%. Of this, 14 million tons will be used to fuel cars in the USA , leaving only 6 million to cover the world's growing food needs.
Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute comments: “The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol would feed one person for a year. Corn used in the US to distil ethanol has tripled in 5 years, to the extent that livestock and poultry farmers fear there may not be enough corn to produce meat, milk and eggs. We are facing an epic competition between motorists who want to protect their mobility and the 2 billion poorest people in the world who simply want to survive. The equivalent of the 3% grain content in motor fuel from ethanol could be achieved several times over, and at a fraction of the cost, simply by raising fuel efficiency standards by 20%. There are no alternatives to food for people.”
Friday 8 th December.
David Ehrenfeld, author of “Swimming Lessons”, in a lecture in Delhi said that most of those advocating new energy technologies are not suggesting any reduction in overall energy consumption. “If we use the gains from our new energy technologies to continue to increase our consumption and waste, we will find ourselves in a vicious spiral that decreases resources and increases environmental damage – even as our energy technology improves. For example, energy-guzzling helicopters are being used increasingly in the logging of steep slopes. Our insatiable demand for timber thus results in soil erosion and permanent deforestation in mountain areas. The new energy technologies, in the absence of other moderating influences, remove a potential restraint on our ability to carry out destructive forestry. . . Yet the advances in technology could be employed in concert with much-needed changes in lifestyle, such as lower consumption and waste. At the moment, however, a responsible change of lifestyle in the US seems a number of years away, although economic circumstances must inevitably force it to happen.”
Saturday 9 th December
News items regularly tell of farms being sold off, farmers being driven out of business by superstores, villages declining and traditions being lost. The tenant farmers of Fordhall Farm near Market Drayton have saved their farm for the community. A public appeal raised £800,000 through selling shares to 6,500 people and placing this 123-acre organic farm in the hands of community trustees – safe for future generations. The mission of the Fordhall Community Land Initiative is to run the farm as an educational, environmental and social resource, helping to re-connect people with food, farming and the countryside and to demonstrate that small-scale farming, connected to the local community, offers a viable way of life for generations to come. For more information visit: www.fordhallfarm.com or ring 01630 638696.
Sunday 10 th December
Lord Jesus, the carpenter, help us not to be afraid to get our hands dirty as we work in your Name. Challenge us every day to care for your world and to work gently in it. Amen.
Monday 11 th December
The Queen's Speech last month referred to a Climate Change Bill which will bind every government to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050, but there was no mention of annual targets, though there would be an improved monitoring system to keep emission levels in check.
A notable absence from the Speech was any mention of a Marine Bill despite a manifesto commitment and a further commitment in last year's Queen's Speech. WWF commented: “Our marine environment has been let down by the Government's failure to introduce a Marine Bill. It must now ensure that there is joined-up thinking with any new legislation as a marine act will help tackle climate change. The creation of a strategic planning system at sea – similar to the one we have on land – will help speed-up consents for off-shore wind farms. A network of protected areas will also provide sanctuary for increasingly threatened marine wildlife. We need a Marine Bill urgently if this Government is to meet its manifesto commitment.”
Tuesday 12 th December
On the 14 th November the Ringhals 3 nuclear reactor in Sweden was shut down after a major explosion in a transformer 200 metres away. This follows July's incident at the Forsmark nuclear reactor which one nuclear expert described as “almost as serious as Chernobyl ” and brought anti-nuclear protesters on to the streets in Swedish and German cities. Sweden relies on its ten nuclear reactors for almost half its electricity. After a referendum 25 years ago, the Government promised to phase out nuclear power by 2010, but there are now second thoughts in the light of climate change and concerns about energy security.
Wednesday 13 th December
Pollution from Sellafield continues to sour relations with Ireland . Its Environment Minister, Dick Roche, has called for assurances from Britain that shipments of reprocessed fuel will not pass through Irish waters. The Mixed Oxide (MOX) plant at Sellafield uses plutonium, separated during reprocessing of spent fuel for foreign customers, and returns it in the form of MOX for use in nuclear reactors. Dick Roche said: “I will continue to voice the concerns of the Irish people about the marine shipments of nuclear material at every possible forum.” In proceedings before the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal he referred to ongoing safety concerns about the operation of the THORP plant at Sellafield. “These concerns are regularly reinforced by the poor ongoing safety record at the Sellafield complex and more recently by the serious incident at the THORP plant in April 2005. The Irish Government will continue to use every diplomatic, political and legal route to bring about the safe and orderly closure of the Sellafield plant.”
Thursday 14 th December
Today the John Ray Initiative meets in London for its annual meeting, to be followed by presentations on the subject of: “Is Nuclear Necessary?”. After this, Dr. John Weaver, Principal of South Wales Baptist College, will speak on: “Covenant with Creation: God's Commitment and Ours”. At 6 pm at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Sir John Houghton FRS CBE will speak on “Global Warming, Climate Change and Sustainable Energy.” For more information ring 01242 714821 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.jri.org.uk
Friday 15 th December
A survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project and climate risk specialists Acclimatise reveals that only 1 in 8 companies on the FTSE 350 Index see their operations as being at high risk from climate change, leading to a lack of action to adapt to the effects of global warming. 90% of them expressed concern about climate change, but most are not changing the way they do business to cope with its impact. According to a new report from WWF and NEF, BP and Shell caused almost £27 billion of environmental damage last year – double the amount of profits they made in the past 12 months. It points out that Norway has amassed a £111 billion fund to insure against depletion of supplies of oil and gas. It suggests that a windfall tax on oil profits could establish an Oil Legacy Fund to pay for Britain 's transition to a sustainable, decentralised energy system.
Saturday 16 th December
Dealing with hazardous waste from the Olympic site could cost up to £80 million, with up to 4,000 tonnes of contaminated waste needing disposal. This would require 20,000 lorry journeys between the site and the nearest landfill sites in Bedfordshire. The Olympic Delivery Committee has yet to secure all the land of the Olympic site (estimated value £1 billion) and the costs of remediation, originally estimated at £1.044 billion, are now expected to be significantly higher. A post-Blair government's first task will be to assess its priorities in the light of the probable consequences of climate change.
Sunday 17 th December
Dear God, we pray for another way of being, another way of knowing. Across the difficult terrain of our existence we have attempted to build a highway and in so doing have lost our footpath. Lord, lead us to that footpath. Lead us where, in simplicity, we may move at the speed of natural creatures and feel the earth's love beneath our feet. Lead us where, step by step, we may feel the embrace of the common soul. Nothing can be loved at speed. Father, lead us to the slow path, to the joyous insights of the pilgrim – another way of knowing, another way of being. Michael Leunig.
Monday 18 th December
Last month the European Parliament voted to ban mercury from thermometers, which incorporate 90% of the mercury used in measuring devices. Barometers, which use the rest, were granted a reprieve. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), an umbrella group for over a hundred NGOs, reports however that half of Europe 's chlorine plants use mercury in its production and this results in many tonnes of mercury being discharged each year into the environment, endangering wildlife and exposing consumers of fish to mercury contamination. The mercury-cell process of producing chlorine is outdated and inefficient. Less dangerous methods are available and require investment by the industry. “Non-mercury alternatives have been available since the 1980s. The cost of converting all EU mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants to mercury-free processes is far outweighed by the economic and health benefits. The EU Integrated Pollution Prevention & Control Directive requires Best Available Technique for the chlor-alkali sector. This needs to be enforced.
Tuesday 19 th December
Government Minister Ben Bradshaw has told consumers that, if they are unhappy with excessive packaging of supermarket products, they should unwrap them at the checkout and leave the unwanted rubbish for the shop to deal with. He said: “Unnecessary and excessive packaging and waste contributes to dangerous climate change. It also adds to the cost to local authorities and the public of managing waste. Until the supermarkets demonstrate clearly that they are willing to lead by example, we cannot expect consumers to get fully engaged with reducing their own waste.”
Wednesday 20 th December
The EU directive on electric and electronic waste (WEEE), which comes into force next July, is intended to give manufacturers and retailers the responsibility for environmentally-friendly disposal of these goods. But according to the Local Government Association, retailers have offered a one-off payment of £6,500 per site for upgrading recycling facilities, when it is going to cost local authorities £9 million a year on a rolling basis. Councillor Paul Bettison of the LGA said: “It's unacceptable that the council taxpayer should shoulder the burden for new schemes that business should be paying for. Retailers are holding the whole process to ransom. Unless they are willing to contribute more to councils' costs, then it's possible that many town halls simply can't afford to get involved. We risk a situation like the fridge mountains a few years ago unless more money is invested by business. The fear is that, unless councils are fully involved, we could see hundreds of thousands of TVs, mobile phones and kettles being piled high. Electrical goods often contain poisonous substances such as lead, which can contaminate drinking water, and mercury, which can damage the brain. It makes perfect sense for businesses to make use of existing refuse and recycling centres around the country. Local authorities have the experience, expertise and resources. However, councils will not take part if they have to foot the bill. The law makes clear that it must be the producer who pays.”
Thursday 21 st December
New Vehicle Excise Duty bands are based on carbon emissions rather than engine size. London 's congestion charge will also be tied to carbon emissions. Vehicles in Bands A and B will be exempt, those in Bands C, D, E and F will continue to pay at the existing rate, while those in Band G (even if they live within the congestion charge area) will have to pay £25 a day. Thus, central London residents who drive SUVs, people carriers and fuel-greedy sports cars will pick up an annual bill of £6,500. Mayor Livingstone commented: “By making these changes to the congestion charging scheme we are encouraging people to take into account the impact of their choice of new car on the environment and the planet. We are also cleaning up London 's fleet of public vehicles through measures like the introduction of hybrid buses. These new proposals will tackle pollution from private vehicles and ensure that London leads the way in the fight against catastrophic climate change.”
Friday 22 nd December
In 1997 an estimated 6,500 albatrosses died in longline fishing nets in the Antarctic fishery area. In 2005/6, thanks to improved regulation and monitoring, only two birds died and neither of them were albatrosses. Unfortunately 80% of albatrosses live outside the protection of the Antarctic fishery and there, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is rife. For instance, the fishery controlled by the Commission for the Conservation of the Southern Bluefin Tuna is home to half the world's albatrosses but has no effective conservation measures. 19 out of 21 albatross species are listed as threatened and it is estimated that 100,000 albatrosses a year are still dying from baited hooks. For more information visit: www.savethealbatross.net
Saturday 23 rd December
The 2006 Right Livelihood Honorary Award is to be presented in Stockholm to Chico Whitaker Ferreira of Brazil “for a lifetime's dedicated work for social justice that has strengthened democracy in Brazil and helped give birth to the annual World Social Forum, showing that another world is possible.” From its beginning at Porto Alegre in 2000, it has been a forum for people around the world working for alternatives to world domination by capital, as exemplified by the parallel World Economic Forum in Davos. This year the World Social Forum was decentralised to three centres – Mali , Caracas and Karachi . The 2007 WSF will be in Nairobi . Liberation Theology, the inspiration underlying his work, is the radical Catholic theology which (as he puts it) says that “true religion, especially Christianity, means working for the upliftment of the poor, fighting for their rights and against the exploitation of the have-nots by the haves.”
Sunday 24 th December (Christmas Eve)
Bless tonight, Father, those for whom this is a hard and bitter time of suffering and remembering, those for whom your gift seems to offer little comfort. Deepen in our hearts true care for them and for all to whom this night has no holiness or glimpse of the wonder of your love. We thank you that your gift is to all of us, and that you patiently wait for our acceptance. Bring us all, dear Father, to the point where we both know and receive it. Amen.
Monday 25 th December (Christmas Day)
Loving Father, as we think of the little child of Bethlehem, we give you thanks that you, the Almighty, the Creator, the Infinite, whose Being is utterly beyond the power of our loftiest thought and most daring imagination, can speak to us in a little human child. Save us from being overly impressed by the impressive. Help us to see you in simple things – a child's love, birdsong, the quiet loveliness of dawn, human friendship and the peace of our homes. We bow in worship before the majesty of the Creator revealed in a human life. Accept our worship and make our lives more like his. We ask it for his sake. Amen. (Leslie Weatherhead)
Tuesday 26 th December
A study by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) of ice cores in Antarctica, reaching a depth of nearly 3.2 kilometres, where air bubbles have been found in ice formed 800,000 years ago, has found that until about 1700, CO 2 levels varied between 180 and 300 parts per million, the variation corresponding to changes in world temperatures. In the last 200 years CO 2 levels have risen to 380 ppm. – the last 30 ppm of the rise having taken place in the last 17 years.. Methane levels on the same timescale were never more than 750 parts per billion. They are now 1,780 ppb. Dr. Eric Wolff of the BAS told the British Association: “Ice cores reveal the Earth's natural climate rhythm over the last 800,000 years. When carbon dioxide changes, there is always an accompanying climate change. Over the past 200 years, human activity has increased carbon dioxide to well outside the natural range and we have no analogue for what will happen next. . . . On such a crowded planet, we have little capacity to adapt to changes that are much faster than anything in human experience.”
Wednesday 27 th December
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau contains 46,377 glaciers, 80% of which are shrinking according to research released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Yangtse, Yellow, Brahmaputra , Mekong and Salween rivers all originate from this plateau. The estimated 7% annual melting of the glaciers means, in the short term, more run-off, which worsens soil erosion and leads to desertification. In the long term, it exacerbates water shortages in China , which already has only a quarter of the world average water supply per person, while rampant economic growth has sharpened the competition for water resources. According to the UN Human Development Report 2006, water shortages already affect 538 million people in northern China , where 42% of the country's population is supplied by 14% of the country's water.
Thursday 28 th December
The International Energy Agency has predicted a 55% increase in global CO 2 emissions by 2030. China will account for 39% of the increase – more than doubling its emissions as it builds more coal-fired power stations. By 2010 it will have overtaken the USA as the world's biggest emitter of CO 2 Yet it remains, with India , outside the Kyoto Protocol. The IEA said that, by bringing its coal-fired generators up to Western standards, it could save massive amounts of energy and thereby reduce its emissions. 5 billion people still rely on biomass such as fuelwood, charcoal, agricultural waste and animal dung for their cooking needs. The IEA believes it to be imperative that they turn to modern energy (solar and wind?) as reliance on biomass has serious consequences for health, the environment and economic development.
Friday 29 th December
According to the UN Human Development Report, the presence of a flush lavatory in a house reduces infant deaths by more than 30%. Sewers save more lives than antibiotics, yet 2.6 billion people still lack access to sanitation. According to the Commission for Africa , since the Millennium Development goals were set to halve the number of people lacking safe water, the amount of aid for water and sanitation has fallen by 25%. Two reasons are suggested:
Provision of safe water and sanitation requires little technological input: therefore it is unprofitable for most Western donors.
Many African and Asian governments attach a low priority to water and sanitation. In Ethiopia the military budget is ten times that for water and sanitation. Pakistan spends 47 times more on guns than on sewers and clean water.
The fact is that water and sanitation issues mainly affect the poor, particularly women and children, who have little political clout. Strangely, in a booming economy such as India 's, the people may become wealthier, but certainly not healthier as water systems are collapsing in Delhi and Mumbai, while rivers become fetid sewers. Yet neighbouring Bangladesh , though much poorer, has seen a 40% reduction in infant mortality since 1990.
Saturday 30 th December
An international team of researchers has found that in 22 of the world's 50 most forested countries, forest stocks rose between 1990 and 2005. They expanded fastest in China (from 96 million hectares to 143), in Spain and in Vietnam . The research highlights the positive impact that government policies – especially in China and India – are having on afforestation, though some changes could be due to urban migration. Forests areas shrank the fastest in Nigeria and the Philippines . “The main obstacles to forest transition are fast-growing poor populations who burn wood to cook, sell it for quick cash, and clear forest for crops. Forest transition at a global level will depend largely on Brazil and Indonesia , where huge areas of tropical forest are being cut and cleared.”
Sunday 31 st December (New Year's Eve)
Eternal God, before whose face the generations rise and pass away, to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday; as we meditate on the solemn passing of time and turn our minds to the contemplation of eternity, save us from being enslaved by the temporal and the transient. Grant us such a vision of the vast sweep of your purposes that we may be delivered from the bondage of irritating trifles and the trivialities of everyday life. Help us to learn such wisdom and serenity that the depths of our hearts may remain calm, however the surface may be disturbed, and so to correct our perspective, that little things may not distort our vision of the eternal splendours awaiting those who remain faithful to the end. Amen. (Leslie Weatherhead)
Selected sources: The Ecologist