READ: Mark 1: 9-15

On this first Sunday in Lent the message we get from the gospel reading is that the “Time has Come” or, to apply a bit more urgency, “The time is Now” to act and make a difference and save the planet. If humanity is to survive we’ve got to do that unless we’re all going to move to Mars!

The time has come to repent and believe the good news that the Kingdom of God is near just beneath the surface of pollution, abuse and exploitation. It’s time to prepare for a big Spring clean, to get the duster out and brush away the cobwebs, dirt and dust to rediscover the beauty of the Kingdom God planned in the beginning. All that is good hasn’t been lost forever, but is like sun, moon and stars hidden by clouds and if we clean up our act we can reveal the beauty behind the mess. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!

Jesus then calls busy people to stop what they are doing and to follow him so that we will become disciples with love as the bait that catches people for God – and saves them. Can we stop what we are doing and help Jesus save the world that our Father loves and wants to restore to the good of its beginning…?

By becoming an eco church we have committed ourselves to living differently, to leave some old habits behind and believe that good news will happen! We are in a wilderness, but if we follow Jesus we will resist the temptations and find out way out. It will need a miracle we can argue, but miracles happen when people work together so I asked one of our church members to reflect on what we can do. He doesn’t want to be named, but he offers his personal reflection:

Oh dear – what can we, a small group of people from a collection of villages in a rural part of a relatively small country, do when faced with the enormity of global climate change and its associated global warming, extreme flooding and droughts with the resulting forest fires, ever-increasing pollution – especially from plastics and airborne particles, massive scale deforestation and environmentally-damaging farming, all resulting in further loss of habitat and threats to survival for many of the world’s species on land, in the air or under the water, including ourselves.

We only have to read or listen to the tales of present and future woes and watch the splendid Richard Attenborough and other excellent, but often chilling, TV series to see the scale of the threats facing every county in the world, the oceans and all the creatures and plants that share this planet with us. In fact, we are becoming engulfed by messages of gloom from all quarters, but who’s listening and equally important, who’s acting??

We have to face up to the fact that we are the only species on the planet that can do anything about it on the scale that is needed. God appointed us as stewards to manage Earth for all its inhabitants, not just ourselves.

We are not doing a very good job so far. Recently, several very influential people, including Bill Gates who, along with his wife Melinda, have put much of their wealth from Microsoft to charitable causes, have openly voiced their fears for the future if we all continue our present ways of life in relative complacency, talking but not doing. Gates recently said that the likely future impact of uncontrolled climate change and problems in managing it will dwarf the impact of Covid19 and other past global pandemics unless we do something about it, and soon.

Basically, whereas diseases, natural catastrophies such as earthquakes, tornados, volcanoes, tsumanis and even wars have limited durations, no matter how bad they are, the effects of global warming and ever-increasing pollution are building up steadily and incessantly, until points of no return will be reached when the earth and its inhabitants are damaged beyond repair, at least for generations to come, with many species wiped out. It is this steady build-up that is so dangerous, as the tendency too often is to put off the necessary actions until a more politically or financially acceptable time – putting us closer and closer to points of no return. When could these occur? No-one knows for certain, but certainly within the lifetime of many of those presently alive.

It is, of course, the younger members of the population who have the most to lose in the future but, in most places, they have only a limited voice when up against governments with political interests and businesses with profit targets and investors to satisfy.

So, back to the original question: what can we, a small group of people from a collection of villages in a rural part of a relatively small country, do about it? Quite a lot if we put our collective minds and bodies to it!

First however, what’s already happening on a larger scale?

Globally, we are of course waiting for the November UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which hopefully the leaders of all major countries will attend, including of President Biden after America’s welcome post-Trump change in support of the UN. This is the most important global climate change conference since the 2015 Paris Conference (COP21), where a global agreement to reduce global warming was approved and adopted.

Many individual countries are formally recognising the urgency of reducing global warming and are setting strategies for making their own contributions, with varying success, owing largely to political and commercial pressure to tone down or delay the proposed actions. This is one of the key problems, the danger of letting the global warming crisis, in particular, continue to creep up on us until it’s too late.

On the brighter side, many countries, in collaboration with their universities, major industries and utilities, are looking into new inventions or procedures to tackle not only climate change but pollution. At last, big business is starting to realise that a green agenda opens up new opportunities which are potentially as profitable as some of their present non-green, polluting activities. Some of the more enlightened farmers around the world are similarly looking at greener ways to manage their land without losing their livelihoods, even if this means growing different crops or breeding different animals. The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention is very appropriate here.

Large polluting companies, particularly those involved with the extraction or use of fossil fuels, are facing potentially existential problems unless they can re-direct themselves towards non-fossil fuels and lubricants. Some have already decided to go along that route, often with the support of their major shareholders, who can see that such changes are essential and ultimately inevitable. These changes will of course directly impact the future of air travel, shipping (both major sources of pollution) and of course road vehicles, as even electric ones must rely on an adequate source of electricity, which will increase its demand significantly and require facilities for reliable generation in all weather. This will also require better ways of storing electric energy: a huge challenge already being addressed everywhere but not yet resolved on a commercial scale.

On a smaller scale:

We have many eco-related organisations already active in this country, many of which are charities, as indeed is true in much of the world. The list is extensive, ranging from global bodies such as Greenpeace and of course Greta Thunberg’s massive following, to national political parties such as the Green Party, pressure groups, national charities such as RSPB, National Trust, Bugwatch, the Woodland Trust, religious groups such as A Rocha & Wild Christian, Green Muslims and the Islamic Foundation, EcoSikh, Green Zionist Alliance (Aytzim), Green Net (the Buddhist Centre), as well as local charities such as Gloucestershire and Worcestershire Wildlife Trusts down to the village level groups. This excludes the many government departments also involved in eco-policies, together with the utility companies. Indeed, we have a very confusing number of organisations to listen to and maybe to support!

So, what are we doing and what can we do which will make a difference?

First, at Church level:

With the support of West Midlands Synod, we joined the A Rocha Eco-Church initiative in August 2019 and it currently has over 3000 Anglican, Methodist and URC churches throughout the country, with more joining all the time. It basically gives us guidance on what we can do to improve our eco-credentials, identifies sources of information, provides resources for eco-services and challenges us to graduate from a starter church through to a Gold Award church against a check-list of achievements in five categories: Worship and Teaching, Church buildings, Church land, Community and Global engagement and Lifestyle. Despite Covid 19 impacting on our activities, we have been able to progress sufficiently in all five categories to receive a Bronze Award last month – thanks primarily to our highly enthusiastic Eco-Church Steering Group members and Richard. Given the Covid restrictions, we have concentrated primarily on our “Church Land” and “Worship and Teaching” to date, where we have managed to make a significant difference.

The Church Land developments are, in no small part, the result of a wonderful response to the February Broadsheet and word-of-mouth invitations to our congregation and community to help with the biodiversity of church land. 18 people came forward to help, trees have been donated for planting in the National Forest and Heart of England Forest, birdboxes, birdfeeders, insect boxes, a butterfly box and a log pile have already been donated and installed in the Hall garden, four large pots of grasses and primroses and the gifted Juniper tree placed in front of the church, and promises received for the supply of suitable wild-life friendly plants to be placed around the Hall site.

Richard and the Worship team have ensured that the Eco-Church objectives have been frequently included in services and his letters, and Roger has helped us to resolve queries regarding the sources of electrical energy for the Church, and Church insulation.

We will continue with our on-going activities, primarily in the gardens, hoping that we can start to address “Community and Global Engagement” and “Lifestyle” gradually over the next few months as Covid restrictions are withdrawn. In this context, however, we will always welcome suggestions or comments on eco-matters at any time from everyone, who should contact one or other of the Eco-Church Steering Group (Noel, Mark, Virginia, Laura or myself) to be passed on to our committee. We have decided to withdraw the original suggestion box, but any suggestions made at the time and not yet acted on will still be addressed.

So at last we are down to what we can do now at individual levels without having to await future suggestions from our committee. There are indeed many things we can do ourselves. I will now make just a few suggestions in no particular order:

  • Join one or more national eco-charities of choice, obvious possibilities include the RSPB and/or British Trust for Ornithology, Woodland Trust, Buglife, National Trust.
  • Join your county Wildlife Trust (Worcestershire or Gloucestershire) and/or the CPRE.
  • Join or support a very local eco-movement (eg Broadway Natural History Society).
  • Plant a new tree or two in your garden, or elsewhere like the National Forest.
  • Create “wild” patches in your garden using insect-friendly garden plants or wild flowers.
  • Consider changing any personal investments you may have (including pension funds) to ethical ones, as our Church did some years ago. The more pressure that can be put on investment companies and the businesses in which they invest to change their funding to greener companies the better. This is potentially a huge game-changer.
  • Financially support an overseas green project through a reputable funding organisation.
  • Make the effort to join local and national petitions with which you are sympathetic. These can be to your local councillors, your MP, the government, multi-national companies or global eco-organisations. Again, the more pressure that can be put onto decision-makers the better. As an example, one increasingly obvious but unexpected target is the huge amount of electricity used in powering Bitcoin: it reportedly uses more electricity than the whole of Argentina, the Netherlands or the United Arab Emirates and consumption continues to rise. Another possible target is the upcoming council elections – what are the candidates offering regarding climate change and other Eco-matters?
  • Take an intelligent interest in organisations which you may feel doubtful about, despite their good intentions, and which would probably benefit from more sensible supporters who might influence their approach. I have in mind the Green Party, Greenpeace, Friends of the earth (incl. Take Climate Action), and Greta Thunberg, who has arguably had more influence on behalf of young people than anyone else), although there are many others also to consider.
  • Note that May’s Christian Aid Week’s theme looks at the impact of climate change. Very timely!

At household level, a few thoughts to get on with:

  • try to use LED bulbs, starting with the lights you use most frequently
  • look at your electricity supplier to see to what extent the energy is genuine green-sourced energy and not just qualified by buying renewable energy certificates. Consider changing supplier if most of their green energy claim is based on carbon-offset.
  • never run a hot water tap unless you are prepared to wait for the hot water to flow, as every time the tap is run, even with cold water coming out, more hot water will be needed to replace it
  • try never to use water directly from the tap to wash out any waste or recyclable items. Rinse them with used water instead.
  • See if you need and qualify for a government house insulation allowance, although this programme is reportedly in some difficulty.
  • Minimise the use of open fires and, if burning wood, try to make sure it is totally dry, whether on an open fire or in a wood-burning stove. Household fires account for 30% of our air pollution!
  • Try to minimise use of the accelerator when driving, as it wastes fuel.

In conclusion, we are facing huge challenges with both climate change and environmental degradation, but they are not insurmountable if we all take action now and do not just exchange words. The action may well be at some cost to ourselves or our future lifestyle, but it will be worth it.

Finally, we must pray for positive results from the critical upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow, which could have a far-reaching impact on our lives from now and forever. So, the time has come to repent of the past and make a difference for the future….