Shaping our Community in a changing climate: the good, the better and the best

Presentation to the LSMU Conference, Vaughan Park, 19th October 2019.

Hello, and thank you for this invitation to speak to you today.

All of a sudden, it seems the world’s news media are full of stories on climate change – some are facts, some opinions and some, even in the face of overwhelming science-based evidence, are objections to the fact that we humans have caused global warming.  

Cancellation of one of the All Blacks Rugby World Cup games due to tropical typhoon Hagibis raised a storm of its own earlier this month.  It’ll take a while for science to show that the severity of that storm, the typhoon one, not the media one, are a consequence of anthropogenic global warming.  But it likely will – science has already shown the proof that global warming has claimed five whole islands in the Pacific.  And that we have seen the death of the first glacier in Iceland.  And…  And… And…

… I could keep going with such examples but do not need to frighten anyone in to taking climate actions.  There are now so many science-based attributions of human induced global warming causing or worsening today’s catastrophic events, that the message is clear: if we do not stop emitting new carbon to the atmosphere, those impacts will worsen.  

Given these warnings plus the fact that global emissions are not declining, who can doubt that we are facing a Climate Emergency?

Declaring it as such, acknowledges that we are living in a time that represents a grave and urgent threat to the global environment, to the earth’s ecology and to humanity.  For both today’s and future generations. 

How can we even think about shaping communities in the face of all this?

The answer lies in the evident need for us to apply our Christian values.  These call for us to care for each other and to cherish the Earth.

If we do not care enough, then we will experience a rise in greed and in envy.  Greed leads to the exploitation and commodification of God’s resources for personal profit, and envy leads us to societal unrest and for some, crime.

In the face of the myriad problems before us, not just a changing climate, the question needs to be asked: have we and are we caring for creation and are we caring for each other?

If we cared enough then would we not be working harder on a proper responses to the threats we face?

The scientific consensus is that without incredibly ambitious and rapid decarbonisation, we face severe environmental degradations that will cost lives, will displace people from their homes, will impoverish communities, and will so badly degrade ecosystems, that they will take many many decades to recover.

Scientists from the IPCC tell us that it is not too late – we still can stabilise the climate.  And we can do so at a level that, whilst still dangerous, is short of catastrophic consequences.

Which means that it is the vulnerable among us, young, old and those in need, who will suffer the most.  Despite them having contributed the least to the problems we face.

This is what a climate emergency is.  

To declare it is simply to waken us to the need to take actions which will be based around cherishing the earth and caring for others.   Whether we have or have not done these things in the past, no longer matters.

My hope is that our Diocesan Zero Carbon Plan, as provided for at Synod 2019, will declare a climate emergency.

I believe we need to do that, for the drivers of this problem are getting worse, not better.

Despite New Zealand’s commitment to the 2016 Paris Agreement and our Zero Carbon Amendment Bill, our emissions of fossil-fuel derived carbon, are increasing.   New Zealand’s gross emissions increase 2016 – 2017 (the latest year for which data is available) was 2.2%.  Even worse, the net increase, that is after reductions from land use change (mainly forestry) are accounted for, was 4.8%.

If we continue increasing net emissions at this rate, the task of limiting warming to less than 1.5°C, will become impossible to achieve.

We people of faith must decide the responses to climate change that we will support. 

To me, that response must be transformative, and it must impact our energy, transportation, food, water and waste systems, as well as our buildings and infrastructure.  

Which is where the good in our community response to climate change comes in.  

I gave thanks that we are now doing things that will make a difference to the future my grandchildren will live in, and their children and grandchildren.  Plastic straws are being targeted, as are burping cattle and sheep, and replacing private car use with public transport.

We are seeing more community gardens like the one we have at St Andrews Pukekohe.  They’ll bring down the food miles that non-local foods have.  As well as re-connecting people with where their food comes from – the soil in the earth.  That’s a good thing in itself.  Science is only now starting to show that getting our hands down and dirty in the soil, is beneficial to our well being.

Add a worm farm to the food garden, as well as a compost, and the emissions from green waste going to landfill will come down.  As well as showing us how to rebuild the soils degraded by so many years of abuse from inorganic farming and growing practices.

Add a rain water harvesting system and the emissions from the municipal water supply will come down.  As well as your waste water charges…

These are all things we will introduce to the parish sustainability champions that were provided for at Synod.  My hope is that they will be part of the effort to shape community around our response to climate change as written in to the Diocesan Zero Carbon Plan.

Also consider the social benefits of getting people back to an understanding of where their food comes from.  And what goes in to it.  

Our Friends of the Garden scheme running along side the St Andrews food garden has given my wife and I, and others, many good friends.

Yes, these changes are good changes, and they are making a difference.  Is that enough of a difference though?

We must also face up to the root driver of the issues we face – the economic system underlying our society, but that will come later.   Those changes will not come about easily.  But they will come – in an evolutionary way, rather than by revolution.  

Change we must, if we are to meet the challenge.  For business as usual, even in a cloak of green, will not be sufficient.

Which leads me to the better aspects of shaping community in a changing climate, the ones that will make a bigger difference.

So many environmentalists and humanists have long advocated for reduced energy use by changing production to what people need rather than what they want as defined by the marketing of what corporations in rich countries sell to enrich their bottom lines.

So, to our food garden we’ll add other, local, food gardens, that will become a network of food gardens and eventually, a community food hub, where, instead of food going to waste, we’ll bring it in to the hub and make it available in food parcels to those in need as well as to our regular customers.  That food will be fresh, locally grown, seasonal and organic, which means that it will be more nutritious and therefore, healthier.  Might it be that food will actually be our medicine?

And rather than just giving food away, we’ll offer our Grow Your Own Food course to recipients of food parcels.  That’s about teaching them how to fish… sort of…

I want to see this concept developed into a social enterprise – Franklin Kai – that’ll bring people together in to community centred on food production, water conservation and waste elimination.  

That’s a better future to aim for is it not?

But shaping community does not stop there – how does a garden tools repair cafe sound?  A future that recycles and reuses the tools and appliances that are presently dumped and a future that calls out to men to get in to community to help make the circular economy a reality.  Of all the missional activities in our church, men are catered for insufficiently…

And we will bring them and others further in to our community with a Time Banking service where, in return for people’s service, whether in the food garden, the op shop or the repair cafe, they’ll collect time credits that can be donated, turned in to cash, or used by having someone else with a debit balance to come and do some work for them.

If this all sounds a bit utopian – wait there’s more…

Imagine another social enterprise – Anglican Community Energy, or ACE for short,  that makes electricity available to those in need at a price 25% cheaper than current retail rates.  The supply will come from those with sufficient wealth to afford the capital cost of roof-top solar, and they will receive a price 33% higher than they presently get from the large electricity generators.  Is that not a win win?  Actually, its a win-win-win, because ACE, the social enterprise, will make a profit for distribution to local community service organisations.

There is so much more that we could do when we localise community.  

Which to me, is the best thing about our response to climate change – shaping communities in to a local economy focused on local people and the environment.

Not only will shaping communities in these ways help to mitigate the drivers of global warming, it will also provide a foundation from which climate change adaptation measures are implemented and it will do so in a framework that ensures social justice in the transition. 

The core of our christian theology is the important understanding that creation is not there because of its value to us.  God did not create the earth’s resources because they have a value to humans – for some resources, that will become had (a value to humans) in our lifetime   Until we collectively understand this, we will not solve the myriad problems before us.

I hope you get that I feel strongly about the issues that led me to be here today.  Some think I am a dreamer.  But these things I talked about are all possible.  None of them are new ideas.  None of them are unachievable.  Together, they will lead us down a different path.  A path that addresses the much deeper malaise affecting humanity.   

Given the catastrophic consequences of climate change we are already experiencing, it may seem perverse for me to consciously focus on extracting positive outcomes from the inevitable. To me, doing that means that we will avoid the worst of the consequences.

It is the ability to care that shapes strong, resilient communities and just democracies.  To realise these human outcomes, we must first honour God more through our actions as well as our words.

May I commend to you and your Ministry Units, the work going on today to develop a Diocesan Zero Carbon Plan.  That work is being done by a group of committed individuals and I invite you to join us.  I see this process as a means to shaping our communities.

Thank you.

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