Jo’s sermon for Jesus College:
“This month saw the release of the United Nations most recent report regarding the impacts of climate change on the world’s ecosystems. The report found that one million species are at risk of extinction because of climate change, many of which within decades.
The report highlights the devastating impact these changes will also have on human civilisation because, of course, our fate is inextricably linked with the lives of those we share the planet with.
The story of Noah and the flood understands this relationship very well. Each and every species was valued enough to be brought into the safety of the arc Noah had built. And at the end of the flood, the story tells us that Noah relied on two of those species, the dove and the raven, to tell him when it was safe to disembark.
I have read the flood story many times but it was not until recently that I noticed the reciprocal nature of the partnership between Noah and the animals he shares the arc with.
My attention was particularly drawn to the birds in the story after my husband and I found a small greenfinch with a broken wing whilst walking last year. It turns out that this little finch, who came to be known as Ginnie, had a disease called canker.
Canker is a parasite that has killed off more than half of the UK’s greenfinch population in less than a decade. It is thought to have spread so rapidly due to changed farming practices and reduced hedgerows.
The ‘Living Planet’ report released by WWF last year revealed that this is part of a wider trend; the earth has lost 60% of all its vertebrate species since the 1970s, mainly as a result of human activity.
The world’s declining species, including the UK’s greenfinches, have much to say to us about our stewardship of the land, and, as with Noah and the dove, the state of the world we inhabit.
But Ginnie’s story had a happy ending, as does the flood story, culminating in God’s covenant with all of creation, symbolised in the rainbow. A sign of God’s unending commitment to the creation and flourishing of the world. This commitment, then, provides guidance for the Church today.
I am the director Hope for the Future, a climate change charity with Christian roots dedicated to equipping concerned citizens to get climate change to the top of the UK’s political agenda. We research the best techniques for communicating climate issues with Members of Parliament, interviewing politicians directly and accompanying people lobbying their MP to learn what techniques work well and not so well.
The rest of our time we spend delivering training to thousands of campaigners across the UK, and many of the major climate NGOs.
If I were to condense our 5 years of research I would say that the single most effective means of reaching people on an issue- any issue- is relationship building. Rather than starting from a point of confrontation and conflict, we train campaigners to focus on finding common ground, meeting people where they are and building strong working relationships over a series of engagements- especially where there is difference in political opinions.
We take our inspiration from Jesus, who built his earthly ministry one relationship at a time. Weddings, meals, picnics, walks and boat rides were all settings in which Jesus built relationships across the whole of society, building a movement that has transformed the world.
HFTF’s ‘relationships based approach to lobbying’ has proven remarkably effective. In 2014 we conducted a survey of campaigners which found that only 1/3 of those going to see their MP about climate change actually for their MP to agree to do something about it. Today, we have a 100% success rate at HFTF.
For example, Laurence Robertson is the Conservative MP for Tewkesbury. His constituents had tried and failed on numerous occasions to engage him on climate change. Eventually, when he cancelled a meeting with them in London at the last minute, they decided to unfurl a banner on Westminster Bridge which read, ‘Laurence Robertson doesn’t care about climate change’.
They soon came to us asking why Mr Roberston no longer wished to engage with them. Our first step was the find his pre-existing interests, one of them being fuel poverty, as our starting point for bridge-building. Over a series of engagements we progressed from discussing housing efficiency, to solar panels, to renewable energy and climate change generally.
Mr Robertson is now one of the most active MPs on climate, recently described by a Minister as a ‘persistent and effective advocate’ for renewable energy.
The past few months have seen the emergence of a very different kind of political lobbying. Extinction Rebellion focuses on mass civil disobedience and has resulted in hundreds of arrests after the group shut down large parts of central London.
One of our former turstees noted that Extinction Rebellion, or XR as they are known, take an approach not so dissimilar from John the Baptists, calling out in the wilderness. Because of XR, MPs are gainer a much greater real awareness of climate change, and at HFTF we have found them increasingly prepared to engage.
Nevertheless, within the climate movement the battle still rages as to how to communicate these issues; Should we tell people the terrifying news as it is, or are we better to paint a vision of a world transformed with clean air, warm homes and pure oceans?
And this is where Christianity has something absolutely essential, even life- saving, to say about hope and faith in the face of climate change. God’s promise to us in the rainbow, and in Christ’s resurrection, inspires, even commands us to hope. It does not assure us that everything will be ok- the rainbow promises that God will not flood the earth again, but not that humans won’t- instead, this ho9pe enables us to keep persevering where others may despair and give up.
We entrust each of our efforts to God, and rather than drowning in guilt and shame about the state of the earth, we can forgive ourselves enough to believe that resurrection is possible.
The dove, present in both the flood story and John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus, have to come to symbolise the peace and hope of transformational new beginnings.
And, without a doubt, it is transformation that is needed. According to the UN we have just 11 ½ years to prevent the globe from reaching tipping points where there is little hope of return from catastrophic climatic change.
The globe is currently experiencing 1 degrees celcius of global warming, and from here every bit of warming matters. The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming is 10cm of sea level rise. At 1.5 degrees we stand to lose 70- 90% of coral reefs, at 2 degrees this figure rises to 90%.
I would like to finish with a quote from the first report from the United Nationals I mentioned today. It is a call to action for each of us to examine our lives, bringing them before God’s loving presence and asking how we each can respond.
And in thinking about our energy suppliers, how and where we travel, how much meat and dairy we consume, the quantity of clothes we buy and how we can each be part of the wider global response, we can develop and grow in our own personal discipleship, practice and journey.
The report states that, ‘by its very nature transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good. By transformative change we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”