The Climate is changing! Are we?

Tracy Niven
Thursday 18 June 2020

Good morning,

Yesterday after work, I took a walk in the haar and happened upon a group of students sitting with the remains of a picnic outside St Gregory’s.  Behind them was a banner draped from some windows:

Your Chaplain needs no further excuse to get talking to students.  They shared with me their hopes that out of the coronavirus pandemic some good would come.  They hoped that society would increasingly put its resources into professions which build up human society, such as nursing and teaching.  They hoped that we would increasingly see humanity as part of nature rather than apart from it, and so make decisions recognising the interweaving of all nature.  They planned to spend less on new products like clothes, and re-use existing resources more creatively.  They were hoping that they and others would accept a little inconvenience for the sake of the planet, including far fewer aeroplane flights.  A mixture of postgraduates and undergraduates, some of whom would have been graduating next week in the Younger Hall were it not for the pandemic, I left them full of hope myself that we are changing.

Some of my thinking on environmental issues has been influenced by Mike Berners-Lee, especially his book There is No Planet B.  (Did a title ever more accurately convey a book’s message?)  His twitter feed over the past months has consistently made the point that all our recovery from the pandemic needs to be though a green lens.  “This has to be the moment we start the transition.”  I’ve learned from him the following:  we may be thinking that the drop off in economic activity this year will mean that climate impacts will be slowed.  Yes, that’s true – by about six weeks.   Even if the current levels of economic activity were maintained at these low levels in the long-term, we would still see a 1.5 degrees C increase, with huge impacts.  But nobody expects us to stay at these low levels.

Yet perhaps we do have a chance now.  Governments have a responsibility more than ever to consider which industries to support, which to revive, how to regulate, tax and incentivise.  Will they try to return us to the old climate-emergency-producing normal?  Or will they see there is a huge opportunity here to turn us away from fossil fuels?  And how can we influence those in authority to make the calls the planet and its people need?

Of course any turn away from fossil fuels will mean losses for some, including particular jobs.  But what matters more?  Particular ways of earning a living?  Or an environment in which we can live at all?

Yesterday, I went into St Salvator’s Chapel for the first time in three months to film prayers for the degree conferment ceremonies.  I was struck again by the beautiful window depicting Jesus calming the storm.

Storms are already a feature of the climate crisis, along with other extremes of weather – heat, drought, humidity and floods.  We may pray for God to calm these storms, but we are also invited to share in the work of God’s realm of love, compassion and justice.  And in our time, that must mean our companionship with creation.



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