“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3.10)
“The moment you wake up in the morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice – letting that other point of view, that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” (C.S. Lewis)
I knelt to pray but not for long, I had too much to do,
Must hurry up and get to work, for bills would soon be due.
And so I said a hurried prayer, jumped up from off my knees,
My Christian duty now was done, my soul could be at ease.
All through the day I had no time to speak a word of cheer,
No time to speak to those in need; they'd laugh at me, I feared.
No time, no time – too much to do, that was my constant cry,
No time to give to those in need. At last ‘twas time to die.
And when before the Lord I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
Within his hands he held a book. It was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said, “Your name I cannot find,
I once was going to write it down, but never found the time.”
Saturday 1 st September
Why has consumerism developed such a firm grip on our psyches? Thomas Homer-Dixon in his book “The Upside of Down” suggests that, because we are reluctant or unable to talk about our moral values – and these values remain unexplored – utilitarian values fill the void. “Without a coherent notion of what gives our lives meaning, we try to satisfy our need for meaning by buying ever more stuff . . . Reduced to walking appetites, we lose resilience. We risk becoming hollow people with no character, substance or core – like eggshells that can be shattered or crushed by one sharp shock.”
Sunday 2 nd September
How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways? For all things were created by him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be glory for ever! Amen. (from Romans 11)
Monday 3 rd September
Homer-Dixon suggests that five tectonic stresses are accumulating under the surface of our society:
Population stress arising from different growth rates in rich and poor societies, and from the spiralling growth of megacities in poor countries;
Energy stress – above all from the increasing scarcity of oil;
Environmental stress from damage to our land, water, forests and fisheries;
Climate stress from changes in the makeup of our atmosphere;
Economic stress resulting from instability in the global economic system and the ever-widening income gap between rich and poor people.
“Many opinion leaders believe we can free ourselves from the physical constraints that have governed humans throughout history. For a few remarkable decades when energy seemed in endless supply, when our antibiotics seemed to have conquered disease, when we travelled to the moon and when the productivity of capitalist economies seemed boundless – we could fool ourselves that the physical facts of life no longer applied. But now Earth's glaciers are disappearing, massive hurricanes pound the USA , China and Japan – signs that nature is reasserting its authority. We'll learn, probably the hard way, that we're not separate from nature, but dependent on it, and when there's trouble in nature, there's trouble in society.”
Tuesday 4 th September
Today 2600 delegates meet at Sibiu , Romania , for the 3 rd European Ecumenical Assembly. This is a 5-day conference around the theme “The Light of Christ Shines on All.” In the Lutheran church, CEL with other organisations will be exhibiting material showing ways in which the churches are responding to the ecological crisis. One of the hopes for the Assembly is that we “will become aware of the responsibility that Europe has towards other continents of the Earth.” Pray for this Assembly and for all who take part – that there may emerge a consensus on the churches' response to the inevitability of climate change.
Wednesday 5 th September
We respond to unfolding threats, such as the rise of Nazism, first by denial, then by reluctant management. The 2003 blackout of the North American electrical system was forecast in 1982 by Amory and Hunter Lovins who warned that “the USA has built up an energy system prone to sudden, massive failures with catastrophic consequences.” Experts reviewed the evidence, but wilful denial and obstruction by powerful corporate and political interests blocked any fundamental reforms. Just so, the Kyoto negotiations have kept thousands of experts busy on ways of managing global warming while providing cover for politicians who want to appear to be doing something about it. Too often attempts at managing a threat simply add complexity to an already cumbersome management system, making it more rigid and more susceptible to catastrophic failure when exposed to severe stress.
Thursday 6 th September
Most of us, at some time in our lives, have been humbled by a personal or professional crisis – job loss, bankruptcy or the death of a loved one. In response, we've re-examined our basic assumptions, gathered up our remaining resources and re-built our lives – often in new and better ways. When environmental or social breakdown occurs, as it will in coming years, we must make sure that the best of us have the conviction, the knowledge and the resources – spiritual and material – to prevail.
Friday 7 th September
Who, 30 years ago, could have forecast the collapse of Communism, the emergence of AIDS, the worldwide influence of the internet or the events of 9/11? Because we are unable to predict such events, we tend to think the world will continue much as it is. But this is deeply dangerous, writes Homer-Dixon. “The surest way for us to crash disastrously is to believe that we know and can master it all, because then we'll lose our capacity for self-criticism. We'll no longer see the signals around us that tell us things are going wrong and that we must adjust our course.”
Saturday 8 th September
We know that severe pressures are building around the planet. Yet humans are primarily problem-solvers. We're unlikely to prevent all forms of breakdown, but breakdown sometimes can open up opportunities for deep and beneficial progress if men and women of courage and good sense are prepared to act. The Western Roman Empire wasn't supple enough to survive. “If our fate is to be any different, in a world of relentless change and surprise, we must constantly re-invent our societies, ourselves and our futures.”
Sunday 9 th September
Sovereign Lord of all nations, we pray for all who are called to leadership in the affairs of the world. Give them the vision to see far into the crucial issues of our time, courage to uphold what they believe to be right, and integrity in their words and motives. May their service to their peoples promote the welfare and peace of all humankind, through the strength of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. (Basil Naylor)
Monday 10 th September
The population of the ancient city of Rome grew to about 1 million at its peak, but then declined to a mere 100,000 as it exploited to the point of exhaustion the Mediterranean's best cropland and then moved to cultivate poorer fields as its grain supplies snaked further away and it had to work harder and harder to produce each additional ton of grain. Today, we've already tapped the biggest and most accessible oil and gas fields. Now, as we drill deeper for our oil and gas and turn to alternatives such as tar sands, solar, wind and nuclear, we are spending increasing amounts of energy merely to get energy. This cannot go on indefinitely.
Tuesday 11 th September
UN projections show a likely increase in world population from 6.5 billion to around 9 billion by 2050. Combined with higher standards of living, this growth will double, or even triple, our already breath-taking consumption of the world's natural resources – from oil and gas to water, wood and fish. While birth rates are falling in most countries, declining death rates and demographic momentum mean that the global population will continue to grow by over 76 million a year at least until 2020. Iraq , Saudi Arabia , Pakistan and Nigeria will see their populations double by 2050, while Afghanistan 's will triple from 29 million to 97 million. By 2050 the population of rich nations will remain at about 1.2 billion while that of poor countries will have surged from about 5.3 billion to 7.8 billion. The imbalance between rich and poor countries will have far-reaching implications for social conflict between and within these countries and for the world at large.
Wednesday 12 th September
Human survival depends on having enough food to support life. Agricultural practices such as ploughing, haymaking, harvesting and raising livestock are now at least 40 times more efficient, according to Dr. William Stanton author of “The Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000”, than they were in the days before tractors, combine harvesters and milking machines became prevalent. The same applies to working the oceans, where factory ships, trawlers and bulk carriers have replaced sailing ships. The significance of this 40-factor cannot be exaggerated. According to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, the annual production of conventional oil peaked in 2005 at 24 billion barrels. All hydrocarbons, including gas, will peak about 2012, after which a downhill slide in fossil fuel production, food availability and, consequently human numbers, may begin – or sooner if politics or war cuts production in the Middle East. Will we learn how to survive in the hard world of non-fossil energy? Will we learn how to control our numbers by humane methods? Or will we let nature take its course?
Thursday 13 th September
Leonardo DiCaprio's new film “The 11 th Hour” goes much further than “An Inconvenient Truth” in confronting us with the environmental crisis we all face. Experts giving their views include Stephen Hawking, David Suzuki, Paul Hawken, Wangari Maathai and former World Bank economist Herman Daly, who says: “The most basic thing to understand about our world economic system is that it's a subsystem. The larger system is the biosphere, and the subsystem is the economy. The problem is that our subsystem, the economy, is geared for growth; it's all set up to grow, to expand. Whereas the parent system doesn't grow; it remains the same size. So, as the economy grows, it displaces, it encroaches on the biosphere, and this is the fundamental cost of economic growth.” Says David Orr: “Carbon has to have a price. You cannot allow anyone, given what we know, to emit carbon for free. When you price carbon, you force a shift to green energy, to solar, to efficiency and away from things like coal. We're heading for a world where a lot of activity is going to be local.”
The film was released last month in America . UK release dates are not yet available.
Friday 14 th September
Bananas are the single biggest profit-earner sold in UK supermarkets. Tesco makes £800,000 a week from the sale of bananas, most of which come from Central America, where five companies (Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Fyffes and Noboa) dominate the international market.
Banana plantations receive an average of 30 kg. of pesticides per hectare per year – more than any other crop except cotton. Much of this is washed into rivers and coastal areas. According to WWF, the banana industry producing more waste than any other agricultural sector in developing countries.
On the plus side, Fairtrade bananas now account for 20% of the UK market, so ensuring a living for 5 million farmers worldwide. Organic bananas now account for 2% of banana exports, coming mainly from Ecuador , Peru and the Dominican Republic .
In the period of slavery, workers were encouraged to be self-sufficient in food. Now, many of the world's poorest countries are encouraged to dedicate their best agricultural land to growing luxury items, such as bananas, for the West.
Saturday 15 th September
The Central Pacific Gyre, situated in the doldrums of the Pacific Ocean , stretches over 10 million square miles – an area twice the size of France . Dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is the largest body of pollution in the world, where plastic waste originating from Pacific coasts and ocean vessels can rotate and linger for over 16 years. 70-80% of the debris is post-consumer waste from land sites. The rest comes from the fishing industry, consisting of trawler nets, broken buoys, plastic cord mixed with plastic bottles, toys, trainers and cigarette lighters. In Western Europe , the plastic goods market is increasing by 4% a year – far faster than the resources needed to deal with its waste. Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation comments: “We haven't yet learned how to factor the health of the environment into our economic paradigm. We need to work on this quickly because a stock market crash will pale in comparison to an ecological crash on an oceanic scale.” Solutions must surely lie in moderating our need and desire for plastics and so reducing the resulting waste.
Sunday 16 th September
Father, we pray, each one of us, for an honest appraisal of our own lifestyle, that we may admit to ourselves and to you all that we are contributing, directly and indirectly, to the pollution of your world. Help us to bear witness, by our example, to our resolve to amend our lives, so that others may take heart and act accordingly.
Monday 17 th September
60% of US aid for Colombia is targeted towards the cultivation of a single crop – oil palm – for biofuel. The EU, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have also funded oil palm projects in Colombia . In the next 10 years the USA hopes to have at least 20% of its vehicle fuel derived from vegetation. Tests on the conversion of maize into ethanol have shown that energy inputs (fertiliser, herbicides, processing and transport) exceed the value of the ethanol produced. Therefore oil palm is considered the best alternative, despite evidence of widespread forest clearance to make way for new plantations. In addition, within a few years, the land will be needed for growing food.
Tuesday 18 th September
Oil palm grown in the tropics gives 30 times the yield of ethanol produced from maize. Land and labour are cheap in Malaysia , Indonesia , Brazil and Colombia , where oil palm is chiefly grown. Malaysia has dedicated nearly half its cultivated land to oil palm and exports over 3.5 million tonnes a year to China . With crude oil selling at $70 a barrel and likely to rise, biofuel from oil palm selling at $54 a barrel is a market winner. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, with members including Sainsbury's, Unilever and WWF, has expanded to include growers, processors, traders, banks and human rights organisations. The aim is to constitute a body (akin to the Forest Stewardship Council) to prevent imports of palm oil derived from unacceptable social and environmental practices. Certification and rewards for good practice are the way forward. For information visit: www.rspo.org
Wednesday 19 th September
Peak Oil, defined as the time when global extraction of oil begins to decline, was re-assessed by the International Energy Authority in July. “Despite four years of high oil prices,” it warned, “we see increasing market tightness beyond 2010. It is possible that the supply crunch could be deferred – but not by much.” The IEA chief economist elaborated: “If Iraqi production does not rise exponentially by 2015, we have a very big problem – even if Saudi Arabia fulfils all its promises.” Richard Heinberg, author of “The Party's Over”, lists some reasons for the decline in oil production:
Political instability in exporting nations;
Unprecedented technical challenges of drilling in polar regions and ultra-deep water;
Ageing of drilling rigs and other production equipment;
Shortages and high cost of drilling rigs;
Retirement of experienced geologists and engineers leading to a shortfall in skilled labour.
The Transition Movement is a worldwide movement to foster local action in planning for a post-oil age. See www.transitionculture.org and www.transitiontowns.org
Thursday 20 th September
From 1990 to 2004 vehicle emissions in the EU grew from 21% to 28% of total emissions. Car engines have become more efficient, but cars have also become heavier, more powerful and more numerous. The problem is how to price vehicles on the basis of their environmental impact.
Gas-guzzlers might be taxed and the revenue used to subsidise the most efficient cars. Alternatively, vehicle manufacturers might be issued with annual tradable permits, reducing year by year, to cover the CO 2 emissions of the vehicles they made. Any excess over the permits would have to bought, while those which introduced more fuel-efficient models would have permits to sell. Thus, fuel-efficient cars would gain a substantial price advantage over gas-guzzlers.
Friday 21 st September
Between 2000 and early 2005 China 's oil imports rose by 140% and her energy demand is expected to double by 2020. Plans have been laid for an energy-supply network that will draw oil, gas and coal from Siberia , Central Asia , Canada , Venezuela , Indonesia and Australia – plans that are pushing it in the direction of conflict with other energy-hungry countries such as India , Japan and the USA . Oil provides nearly 40% of the world's energy. It is essential for farming, much manufacturing and countless petrochemicals. Oil powers virtually all movements of people, materials, foodstuffs and manufactured goods. The potential for conflict over diminishing supplies is obvious. Pray for wisdom and co-operation among the leaders of the nations as we enter a new and dangerous phase in human history.
Saturday 22 nd September
Hydrogen could, in theory, be used instead of oil to fuel America 's 230 million cars, lorries and buses. However, 230,000 tons of hydrogen would be needed each day – enough to fill about 13,000 Hindenburg airships. To produce this hydrogen by electrolysing water, the US would have to double its electricity-generating capacity. If it did this with renewables, it would have to cover an area the size of Massachusetts with solar panels, or an area the size of New York State with wind turbines.
Even if energy intensity were to decline by 20% a year, energy consumption would not decline unless economic growth also declined. In other words, as long as we are addicted to economic growth, our energy consumption will not go down – even if we steadily improve our energy efficiency.
Sunday 23 rd September
Lord, no one can tell what will happen at the next rise of the crest of the waves.
We wonder why there is turbulence here and there.
We look up at the sky and see thin clouds break and fly past,
Responding to an uprising storm in the far horizons.
No one knows why and how they all happen and what they mean.
In trepidation and terror we watch our shores
Lest the high waters drown our beaches.
Lord, hasten the day when all creation is renewed, with us in faith, hope and love.
(Sione Amanaki Havea , Tonga )
Monday 24 th September
At the World Water Week conference last month in Stockholm , delegates heard that the Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of people without clean water and basic sanitation by 2015 were likely to be missed.
Sweden 's Prime Minister said that rapid population movement to urban areas and climate change combined to exacerbate the problem. “It will need investments in renewable energy sources and biofuels. It will need efficiency and modernisation of farming. It will need aid to give people access to basic sanitation. And – perhaps most crucial – it will need a security and peacekeeping perspective to bring security and peace to areas where conflicts exist or may arise over access to water.”
Tuesday 25 th September
Humankind consumes as much fresh water as would keep 40 waterfalls the size of Niagara running non-stop year after year. Since accessible fresh water is distributed unevenly over the planet, about 40% of the world's population lacks sufficient water for basic sanitation and nearly one out of every five has not enough to drink. If we extrapolate to 2025 on current trends, 3 billion people (a third of the world population) will live in countries with water stress or chronic water scarcity – a sevenfold increase since 1997. Some rivers, such as the Colorado , Nile and Yellow, are so heavily exploited that little water reaches the sea, ruining ecosystems and fisheries that their estuaries once supported. As with so many other environmental problems, population growth is a key factor.
Wednesday 26 th September
Rich countries have solved many of their local environmental problems by pushing dirty industries to poorer countries with weaker regulations and governments. Homer-Dixon comments: “We like to consume the products of these industries, but we don't like to live with their mess. We also extend our reach for natural resources far beyond our borders, sometimes because we've already depleted our local supplies, sometimes because we want to protect the local supplies. The Japanese prize high-quality wood, so they safeguard their own forests while virgin forests outside Japan – in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – are logged to feed the voracious Japanese appetite for wood. In a globalised, interconnected world, such are the advantages of wealth.”
“Because we don't readily connect the global and long-term impact of our actions, we are much less inclined to change our behaviour. As long as it's out of sight, it's out of mind.”
Thursday 27 th September
27% of Britain 's carbon emissions is produced in our homes. If we cut these emissions to Swedish levels, the average household energy bill would be £385 less each year. The average January temperature in Sweden is 7 0 C. lower than that of Britain , yet their energy bills are far lower.
The solution lies in upgrading our existing homes. 75% of homes that will be standing in 2050 have already been built, but at the present rate of progress, it would take 125 years to upgrade them even to current thermal efficiency standards, let alone to low-carbon or zero-carbon status.
Moreover, energy companies have no incentive to sell less energy – quite the reverse. They could be given permits to sell the same amount of energy as in the previous year. If they sold less , they could sell the balance of their permit. In this way, they would profit more by selling less energy.
Friday 28 th September
The IPCC has told us that a 450 ppm. concentration of CO 2 equivalent in the atmosphere is a critical threshold that we should not breach without risking runaway global warming. By contrast, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser has told us that 550 ppm. of CO 2 equivalent could be an acceptable stabilisation target for greenhouse gas concentrations. One leading scientist has commented that this is not a science-based target, but one that a particular scientist has decided is a realistic goal from a political point of view. Tony Juniper of FoE comments: “When scientists start to make policy compromises, then we are truly in grave danger. This is not least because science is the baseline against which we need to achieve results. Inevitably, the special pleading of interest groups such as airlines, and the usual controversy that accompanies almost every measure that is perceived to limit personal freedoms, mean that action is always dragged away from what is necessary to what is acceptable. . .
Any leadership role demands that the right decisions are made and that the case for less popular choices is put across with vision and passion, and with positive benefits (such as more jobs and less waste) brought to the fore.”
Saturday 29 th September
The Transition Movement is one of the fastest- growing grassroots movements dealing with the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. From the Republic of Ireland to Mexico and North America , hundreds of communities are uniting to embrace the possibility that a future with less oil could be preferable to the present, if approached with creativity and proper planning. Eighteen towns in Britain , ranging in size from Bristol to Forest Row in Sussex , have formed, or are in the process of forming, Energy Descent Plans. These involve identifying all aspects of life that a community needs to sustain itself and thrive: for example, food, energy, local economy, housing, the psychology of change and local government. A successful launch usually creates working groups to address these areas. Says the movement's founder, Rob Hopkins, “As we move towards peak global oil production, we can expect skyrocketing oil prices, and a falling supply exacerbated by increasing demand from China and India . The only way to become sustainable is to move away from an industrialised global economy towards a more localised one which will, by necessity, be more reliant on human labour. However, Western society has lost many practical skills that our grandparents took for granted, such as gardening, carpentry and making your own clothes. So an important ingredient of an EDP is The Great Reskilling – providing courses and resources to facilitate learning these skills.”
Sunday 30 th September
Lord God Almighty, make us ready for change – change in our lifestyles, change in our priorities, change in our thoughts and actions towards those most affected by global warming, change in our commitment to the simpler way of life practised by true followers of Christ. Above all, give us the power to light candles in our communities and to serve our neighbours near and far.
Closing thought: “Change is now more rapid than it has ever been in recorded history. 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 4 x 4s, 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.”
- David Ehrenfeld in “Swimming Lessons” pub. OUP
“The Upside of Down” by Thomas Homer-Dixon (Souvenir Press)
Jackdaw (Optimum Population Trust)
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