This webinar was organised by the Granthan Institure.
A Changing Planet seminar by Prof EJ Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity at University of Oxford, and Director of ICCS
This webinar was organised by the Granthan Institure.
A Changing Planet seminar by Prof EJ Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity at University of Oxford, and Director of ICCS
This article came to us via a friend in the USA from a friend in Greece!
Orignal article by Mary Adamopoulou
Afew months ago, while I was facing a serious health problem in my close family environment, a friend, in an attempt to reassure me, told me: “It’s going to be okay. I’ll stop by St. Kevin’s and light a candle.” At first I didn’t pay attention. I thought I was disobeying my agitation. But when the problem was overcome, I calmly recalled our discussion and came back asking for clarification. “Who’s St. Kevin?”
The appointment was given a few days later, on Acharnes Street, next to the kato patissia power station. Just a few metres away, among dozens of barber shops run by migrants, small and larger grocery stores with delicacies from the Arab world and countries in the former eastern bloc and restaurants with dishes from Iran to Russia, a chapel is displayed. Ceramic red, with a triple bell tower and a small courtyard full of flowers that would be more suited to the environment of an island than to the grey and concrete urban fabric.
An improvised sign at the entrance welcomes us to the chapel of Osia Xeni, which is a metochi of Agios Nikolaos Syros. And since he urges us to take all necessary means of protection for the pandemic, he invites us to meet the chapel with the Celtic saints. A chapel that counts only a few months of life as its canonization was completed during the first period of confinement, last spring.
At first glance nothing seems strange in the chapel. Believers worship and light a candle. The well-known saints adorn the walls. By the time the gaze falls on an opening in the middle of the temple, on the right. “Guardians” of the entrance on either side the Saints Panteleimon and Charalambos. Among them, the inscription “Holy chapel of Celtic saints”.
Just three square meters, chock full of 21 saints, whose names in most of us are more reminiscent of actors of cinema and in no (rather) case saints, and indeed of Orthodox doctrine.
St. Kevin’s, St. Alban’s, St. Bridgend, St. Hilda’s, St. Brendan’s… All of them small, strict in appearance, most with a sympathetic look and several of them surrounded by animals: dolphins, hares, blackbirds.
“It is the first place in Athens dedicated to the Celtic Orthodox saints (p.p.: another chapel dedicated to these saints exists in the retreat of St. Porphyri in Melesi Attica) and could not be found a better hostess than Osia Xeni to embrace “foreign” saints” says in “NEA” the vicar, Father Georgios Ganotis, who does not only work in a church with “foreign” saints , but also in a neighborhood full of immigrants from every corner of the planet.
The chapel of the Celtic saints until about a year ago was nothing but a warehouse, in a miserable state, as he describes us, with candles that smelled and no one wanted or dared to pull the curtain covering its entrance. “Today it is a gem that combines beauty with knowledge,” he says proudly.
But who are these Celtic saints? They are saints who lived in the early centuries when Christianity arrived in Britain, Wales, Ireland. They were then lost after the roman Catholic Church and Protestantism prevailed in these areas, when many monasteries were destroyed, while the remains of the saints were even used to make mandre.
St. Kevin, one of Ireland’s most important saints, for example, lived in the 6th century. and came from a family of the royal generation, as we read in the edition “The Celtic saints in the chapel of Osia Xeni” available only from the temple. He lived like a hermit in the Valley of the Two Lakes, near Dublin, was associated with nettles and was particularly well-groomed. In fact, an otter was once said to have brought him the manuscript of the psalms that fell on him in the lake, became friends and fished on his behalf. He is pictured holding a nest of blackbird chicks in his right hand, as he is said to have held their nest in his hand for days, motionless, until the blackbird threads its eggs and feeds the cubs so they can fly.
Saint Bridgeid asked Christ to make her ugly so that no one would want to marry her so that she could be insulated. Her wish came true, but in time she regained her natural beauty and reportedly performed a multitude of miracles forming only the spot of the cross. It is also due to the crosses of reeds – popular in Greece – for protection from evil. St. Brendan, although to some he is known as the fictional character of the play “Brendan’s Journey”, was born in the late 5th century BC. in Ireland and in addition to the fact that he founded many monasteries in his homeland, Wales, Scotland and France, he may have done a great sea exploration that led him to the shores of North America, hence he is depicted on a ship in the company of dolphins and other living beings of the sea. Saint Hilda who lived in the 7th century. they consulted kings, princes and bishops of England as they considered her the spiritual mother of the country.
Among them is a well-known saint to all, even today: St. Patrick, the Scottish missionary who taught Christianity in Ireland. In his youth and a prisoner of pirates, he managed to escape and then became a missionary teaching the mystery of the Holy Trinity using as an example the clover which, although composed of three parts, is a plant.
One of the questions that arises is that, since these saints are largely unknown, how did the defendant of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Vryoulon of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens, Gerontissa Philothei, manage to create the 21 hagiographies that adorn the chapel? “It wasn’t easy. I relied on information from the co-rooms and used my imagination. Hagiography is not a copy paste. Many times out of ignorance and fear we proceed to sterile copies so as not to attribute elements that do not match the Orthodox spirit. But if we observe the Byzantine hagiographers, we will find that they have been bold”, explains the abbot, who has been involved in hagiography for the last 22 years and while she had no contact with either painting or hagiography until her acquaintance with her teacher, priest Stamatis Skliris.
From the creation of the drawings to the completion of the project, gerontissa Philothei took about a year and a half and worked with hagiography powders and glue. The difficulties were not lacking, as he tells us, when moisture problems on the roof caused the angels he had painted to fall and had to be repositioned.
The idea for the canonization of the chapel belongs to the philologist Konstantinos Ganotis (father of the vicar), who knew about the Celtic saints through his spiritual father St. Porphyrios. The latter even said that “when the Greeks discover the Celtic saints, the Anglicans will become Orthodox”.
But why did the unknowns even in the ecclesiastical circles of Celtic saints occupy a place in a temple in the heart of Athens? “We are not only interested in making these saints known in the world, but in showing the universal character of Orthodoxy. Many times we have a localistic approach, we believe that our religion concerns the Mediterranean basin and we do not realize that we are part of a larger puzzle. When you discover foreign saints, you discover that the Church is a global affair. Universal. And you understand that the saints are not our handlers and that the Church is not in our pocket,” explains Father Georgios Ganotis, who admits that the reception of these saints was initially restrained by the faithful. “But as time goes by, they worship and are interested in learning about the saints who lived so far from our land. Children come who want to see the animals as almost all these saints had a special relationship with the animals, they were nature lovers. They’re buying the book we’ve published to get more information. They approach the chapel as a part of the temple they already love,” he concludes.
Fr. Alex Chetsas
I’ll never forget the look on her face: “Father, what’s this about blessing pets this weekend? Will. ..will they be in the church?” “No, not this time,” I replied with my best deadpan. “I don’t think we have enough pews.” My parishioner and I both smiled, she a bit nervously, and on we moved toward our first “St. Modestos Blessing of the Animals Event” at my little Florida parish.
It turned out to be the start of something wonderful In our community, and I’ve kept the concept close to my heart-and in my ministry “playbook”-ever since. The idea for the event came simply enough. A few years ago a clergy friend of mine gave me an animal blessing prayer from St. Modestas, Archbishop of Jerusalem (feast day Dee. 16). He mentioned that he’d been blessing pets during Epiphany house blessings. This sounded smart: people love their pets, and this would be a low-key, personal way to connect with parishioners while visiting homes. At the same time, 1 was on the lookout for a Christmas outreach event, something a little outside the norm that would invite people to take another look at our parish. I’d been hearing for years about Catholic churches blessing animals. After doing a little research, I learned that this was also a long-standing Orthodox practice, connected to more than a few saints of our Orthodox faith.
The idea developed into a parish-wide concept, and it seemed a great opportunity to
engage in this ancient Christian tradition in a broad, modern setting. The event is held outside the church, so there is no confusion about liturgical boundaries or respect for the church building itself. I started testing the waters with parishioners whom I knew had pets; the response was overall very positive. We picked a December date that was close to St. Modestos’s feast but not too close to Christmas-near enough to ride the positive, cheerful coattails of the season, but not so close as to overwhelm our busy parishioners. Into the bulletin, Web site and local papers the announcement went. We enlisted our JOY group to sponsor the event. The children would enjoy a lunch beforehand, learn about St. Modestos and the respect he had for all that God made, and make sure all of the pets and people were well-satisfied with plenty of tasty treats.
My wife, Brandy, animal-lover and PR machine that she is, got on the phone with everyone from the governor’s office to the city animal shelter, to neighboring churches and synagogues, to every free online and traditional newspaper in fifty miles, spreading the word with a sense of hospitality, friendship and community outreach. I talked to our parishioners not only about St. Modestos but also about the real meaning of Christmas, the coming of the Lord, the Light that shines in the darkness, the Healer of all creation. And I challenged them to recall the simplicity of that unforgettable night so long ago-the brilliant-star beaming, over the cave, which nature itself offered up to our Lord for shelter. I described how the ox and the donkey (Isaiah 1:3) looked upon their new-born Master in the chilly darkness, warming Him with their breath. We talked about our unique relationship with God and what it means to be made in His image and likeness. But I also reminded them that everything God made is good-.and how all of Creation rejoices at His coming. That He comes to make everything new. This truly good news is cause for celebration, worthy of thanksgiving and a blessing.
On the big day, two major outreach aspects of the event fell nicely into place. First, our new friends from the county animal shelter joined us as promised. They brought not only irresistible puppies and kittens to adopt, but also handmade Christmas ornaments for sale. So they offered
great information and education while raising some needed funds for their outstanding, ongoing work. Second, as we Hoped, members of the general public joined us as well. This gave our parish an opportunity to be a witness of our faith in a latent, nonthreatening manner. The visitors observed glimpses of our theological and liturgical life, and we got a chance to welcome them, engage them and hopefully show them the hospitality of Abraham.
And then there were the blessings themselves. A parish council member counted, and told me later that 55 “clients” had been blessed. Among them were 41 dogs, 6 cats, 2 birds, 2 rabbits, a turtle, a goat-yes, a goat-and 2 stuffed animals (why not?). The dogs ranged from the tiniest Chihuahua to the greatest Dane I’d ever seen. I had the drool on my hands, shoes and service book to prove it. This was hands-on ministry. It made me feel like building an ark. Each encounter represented a fantastic moment of bonding with parishioners and people I’d never met before. Getting down at eye level with their pets and blessing them somehow connected us. This bond was inexplicable but real. Some pets had ailments, and I heard about these, too, from our parishioners and new friends. They knew that what was important to them was important to me-and most importantly, to our Church.
A young lady who was with us from the county shelter even pulled me aside for twenty minutes about halfway through the blessing. She told me she had a friend who was depressed and thinking about hurting herself. This young lady was worried and deeply nervous about what might happen to her friend. We talked, exchanged numbers and followed up on her concerns. God put us together on this day-somehow-and some good came of this unlikely encounter. It’s amazing what happens when we put ourselves out there.
As for my little JOY helpers, it was really inspiring and satisfying to see our children hard at work. Fresh from their fun session about St. Modestos; they were ready for action. They served the adults hot cocoa and cookies. They constantly ran to and from the parish hall refilling water bowls, gathering more doggy treats and looking for makeshift toys for anxious critters to play with. They were in charge of a unique ministry: they were caring for something; they were having fun at Church; they were taking good care of what God made. Their excitement was contagious.
At the end of the afternoon, as we were cleaning up, there was an unexpected and final blessing of the day. In the eleventh hour, an SUV roared up and screeched to a halt in front of the church. A couple I’d never met emerged, explaining that their beloved Golden Retriever was dying of cancer. He’d had several surgeries, but things weren’t looking good. They told me that they weren’t members of our community, but they had read about the event in the paper and really wanted me to bless their dog. Maybe it would help. Maybe it would put them at ease. They felt they had to do something. We tried to let them know that even though they weren’t “members” of our community, they now belonged to our parish family. After they’d left, more than a few of us were moved. We had all made new friends, and hopefully we had offered something to one another through this unique circumstance.
I share these experiences because they’ve been instructional and revealing to me. I saw my parishioners in a new light, and I was gifted with a host of opportunities to develop new relationships. I saw our children get excited about a hands-on ministry and watched some of my shyest parishioners evangelize without even knowing it. And then there was the greatest and most awesome blessing of the whole day-the holy water of the Agiasmos service enveloping us, refreshing us, renewing us and reminding us that what God made is good. This was my planned “big message of the day,” but I never really had to say the words. No sermon-to the relief of all-was necessary. For lack of a better expression, it was “acted out” by God’s people.
Since that inaugural event in Florida five years ago, I’ve seen this ministry grow and mature. At my current parish in Weston, MA, we now invite a host of animal “helping” agencies, offer microchip clinics and even feature a “doggie buffet,” compliments of a local pet supplier. OCF college students, who are part of a mentoring program within our parish, run the event. They engage our HOPE and JOY families for support. To grow the community outreach aspect, we’ve also begun to invite law enforcement: Cappy and Mighty Mouse, two equine members of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Mounted Unit, are now regular participants and major attractions. Mouse, a miniature horse, is a big draw. And this is not only a thrill for our parish children, but it also tightens the vital, indispensable bonds between our parish and the general community. We’ve even brought on a parishioner who is a professional photographer to capture that perfect Christmas shot of each pet. He accepts a small offering for each print and gives all proceeds to his local animal shelter.
What could you expect if you started a similar ministry in your parish? At the end of a pet blessing day, your priest may end up with fur on his robes. Your parish council members may shake their fist as they “patrol” the church lawn for early Christmas gifts. Some of your fellow parishioners may decide that “Fr. John has finally gone off the deep end,” and your parking lot will need a serious hose down. But that’s okay. It’s worth it. What God made is good, and it’s our duty to proclaim this truth-and act on it with creativity, conviction and great love.
FR.ALEX CHETSAS ISTHE ASSISTANT PRIESTAT ST. DEMETRIOS GREEK ORTHODOX CHLIRCH IN WESTON, MA. HE HAS SERVED PARISHESIN CALIFORNIA AND FLORIDA, AND HE NOW RESIDES IN WAYLAND. MA, WITH HIS WIFE. BRANDY, AND THEIR CHILDREN. PHOEBE AND BRAM.
Going Deeper St. Modestos of Jerusalem (Dec. 16) St. Modestos was born in 292 in Palestine. When he was less than a year old, his parents were put to death for practicing Christianity, and he was brought into the imperial household and raised as a pagan. As a teenager, though, an awakening occurred. He learned of his parents’ martyrdom, and that he had actually been baptized before their execution. A Christian goldsmith began to teach and mentor him, but the man’s jealous sons eventually sold St. Modestos into slavery in Egypt. He remained there seven years before gaining his freedom (he converted his master’s family to Christianity) after returning to Jerusalem. After a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai, he made his way to a monastery, where he was ordained a priest. He quickly became known for his devotion to the faith, holiness and loving nature. After years of dedicated service, he was selected as Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was during these latter years of his life that his long-time devotion to God’s creation intensified and blossomed. He had a particular affection for animals-he saw animals as sublime and mysterious gifts from God. Often he would bless livestock, praying for their health and productivity and giving thanks for all Creation.
OTHER SAINTS WITH A SPECIAL CONNECTION TO NATURE & ANIMALS: St. Seraphim of Sarov (Jan. 2), shared his bread with birds and wild animals; was often visited by a bear that obeyed his words. St. Blaise/Vlassios of Sebaste (Feb. 11), blessed and healed sick animals by laying his hands on them. St. Mark the Ascetic (Mar. 5) healed a hyena cub and taught it to leave the sheep of the poor in peace. St. Mary of Egypt (April 1 and 5th Sunday of Lent) after her death, a lion guarded her body in the desert and helped St. Zosimas bury her. St. Elijah (July 20) nourished by ravens, which brought him bread and meat in the morning and
“BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS” PRAYER
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, compassionate and all-good, Who fashioned in wisdom both the invisible and the visible creation; Who pour your mercies upon everything that has been made by You; Who, in Your loving providence, provide for all Your creatures, from the first to the last; hear my prayer and drive away and banish every injury and illness from all these cattle (or pets, sheep, horses or other animals), which are being used for the livelihood of your servants [name(s)]. Yes, Lord, look down from Your holy dwelling place and bless all these animals, as you blessed the flocks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of all Your faithful servants. Multiply them, grant them health, strength and productivity; render them robust and successful in the various services which they render so that their owners, having derived abundant benefits from them, may engage in all good works which are pleasing to You, and may glorify on earth Your Holy Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Vicious circle of cheap but damaging food is biggest destroyer of nature, says UN-backed report
More than 80% of global farmland is used to raise animals, which provide only 18% of calories eaten. Photograph: Alamy
Agriculture is the main threat to 86% of the 28,000 species known to be at risk of extinction, the report by the Chatham House thinktank said. Without change, the loss of biodiversity will continue to accelerate and threaten the world’s ability to sustain humanity, it said.
“The root cause is a vicious circle of cheap food, the report said, where low costs drive bigger demand for food and more waste, with more competition then driving costs even lower through more clearing of natural land and use of polluting fertilisers and pesticides.”
The report, supported by the UN environment programme (Unep), focused on three solutions. First is a shift to plant-based diets because cattle, sheep and other livestock have the biggest impact on the environment.
More than 80% of global farmland is used to raise animals, which provide only 18% of calories eaten. Reversing the rising trend of meat consumption removes the pressure to clear new land and further damage wildlife. It also frees up existing land for the second solution, restoring native ecosystems to increase biodiversity.
The availability of land also underpins the third solution, the report said, which is farming in a less intensive and damaging way but accepting lower yields. Organic yields are on average about 75% of those of conventional intensive farming, it said.
“Fixing the global food system would also tackle the climate crisis“, the report said. The food system causes about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with more than half coming from animals. Changes to food production could also tackle the ill health suffered by 3 billion people, who either have too little to eat or are overweight or obese, and which costs trillions of dollars a year in healthcare.
“Politicians are still saying ‘my job is to make food cheaper for you’, no matter how toxic it is from a planetary or human health perspective,” said Prof Tim Benton, at Chatham House. “We must stop arguing that we have to subsidise the food system in the name of the poor and instead deal with the poor by bringing them out of poverty.”
Benton said the impact of the food system on climate and health was becoming widely accepted but that biodiversity was too often seen as a “nice to have”.
Susan Gardner, director of Unep’s ecosystems division, said the current food system was a “double-edged sword” providing cheap food but failing to take into account the hidden costs to our health and to the natural world. “Reforming the way we produce and consume food is an urgent priority,” she said.
Jane Goodall, the renowned conservationist, said the intensive farming of billions of animals seriously damaged the environment and inhumane crowded conditions risked new pandemic diseases crossing into people: “It should be phased out as soon as possible.”
On Tuesday, a landmark review by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta concluded the world was being put at extreme risk by the failure of economics to take account of the rapid depletion of biodiversity.
The Chatham House report said the world had lost half its natural ecosystems and that the average population size of wild animals had fallen by 68% since 1970. In contrast, farmed animals, mainly cows and pigs, now account for 60% of all mammals by weight, with humans making up 36% and animals just 4%.
In reforming the global food system, “the convergence of global food consumption around predominantly plant-based diets is the most crucial element”, the report said. For example, it said, a switch from beef to beans by the US population would free up fields equivalent to 42% of US cropland for other uses such as rewilding or more nature-friendly farming.
In another example, the report said if the permanent pasture around the world that was once forest was returned to its native state, it would store 72bn tonnes of carbon – roughly equivalent to seven years of global emissions from fossil fuels. Benton said the report was not advocating that all people should become vegan, but should follow healthy diets that are as a result much lower in meat.
The year ahead offers a potentially unique opportunity to redesign the global food system, the Benton said, with major UN summits on biodiversity and climate, as well as the world’s first UN Food Systems Summit and an international Nutrition for Growth summit. The large sums being spent by governments as nations recover from the Covid-19 pandemic also provide opportunities for “policymaking that affords equal priority to public and planetary health”, the report said.
Philip Lymbery, at Compassion in World Farming, said: “The future of farming must be nature-friendly and regenerative, and our diets must become more plant-based, healthy and sustainable. Without ending factory farming, we are in danger of having no future at all.”
Opening Webinar of Halki Summit IV
January 26, 2021
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Beloved friends and dear listeners,
Distinguished speakers, guests, and participants,
It is a special privilege to welcome you to this opening webinar of our Halki Summit, which marks the fourth in a series on environmental responsibility and sustainability.
These summits follow a long tradition of almost three decades. They are named after the island of Halki, just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, Turkey, the site of great importance for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, since on the top of the hill of this island, known as “the Hill of hope,” is located the historic and magnificent edifice of the Patriarchal School of Theology, which has remained silent for exactly 50 years, since the end of the academic year of 1970-1971.
But this year – and this particular summit – is unusual in many ways, not least because of the painful impact of the Covid-19 on people’s lives and interactions. This is why we wanted to dedicate a series of discussions to the relationship and connections between the pandemic and climate change.
We are particularly honored by the presence of eminent leaders, thinkers and experts, all of whom share the same vision and the same purpose, the same prayer and the same promise – namely, the healing of vulnerable human lives and a wounded planet.
Our efforts over the last three decades have focused on promoting conversation and cooperation among all faiths and all disciplines in an effort to contribute to awareness and change with regard to the ecological crisis.
The Halki Summits have proved a vital step in this dialogue and partnership. We are convinced that any real hope of reversing climate change requires a radical transformation of the way we perceive and treat the world.
However, part of the problem lies in our unwillingness to make sacrifices for the sake of others and the earth. We are called to distinguish between what we want and what we need, or – more importantly – what the world needs first and foremost.
We must be ready for costly surrender and sacrifice. As the Prophet David says in the Book of Samuel: “I will not offer to the Lord my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing.” Such sacrifice is a fundamental religious and spiritual value. It is also a fundamental moral and existential principle.
At the same time, very much like the climate crisis, Covid-19 has also taught us the priceless lesson of the importance of listening to and learning from one another. Of being humble enough to care for and share with one another. Of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” so that all may have life – and “life in abundance.”
This unprecedented crisis has revealed the power and value of love and solidarity, which transcend human standards and bear the seal of God’s grace. The pandemic has reminded us that the world is larger than our individual concerns and ambitions, larger than our church and faith communities, and larger than our political powers and national interests.
During the period of this global crisis – with the mandatory restrictions and lock-downs; with the suspension of movement and travel; with the shutdown of factories and the diminishment in industry – we observed a reduction of pollution and contamination of the atmosphere. We were reminded that there can be no genuine progress that is founded on the destruction of the natural environment.
Moreover, it became apparent in recent studies that humanity’s persistent and excessive “intrusion” into nature, with the vast illegal wildlife trafficking and the destruction of the natural ecosystems, through deforestation, urbanization, intensive farming, and through the dispersion of chemical contaminants, as well as globalization and increased interconnectivity, are responsible for the quick spread of contagious diseases and viruses from animal to animal, including man. It is no coincidence that the rise in wildlife-borne diseases has occurred alongside increasing human encroachment on natural world and a rapidly changing climate. The pandemic is not an act of “revenge” by God, but it is a desperate call to a much more respectful approach to nature by all of us.
We pray above all that the God of love and mercy, creator of heaven and earth, maker of all things visible and invisible, physician of our souls and bodies, will give rest to those who have lost their lives, strengthen the sick in their suffering, console their family and relatives, and support the selfless service of healthcare and essential workers.
This time will soon pass; the pandemic will gradually subside; God will heal all wounds. Spring is already in the air. May all of us emerge having discovered a dimension of depth in all things, having experienced a “good transformation,” and having appreciated the value of the divine gifts of life and health, as well as of sacrifice and solidarity.
We sincerely hope that the Halki Summit IV deliberations and discussions will unfold fresh and fruitful ways of informing and working with one another. Whether you are participating “live” or listening to a recording, we pray that all of you will be inspired to initiate new and vital ways for a genuine conversion of hearts and minds.
May God bless you all!
1] 2 Samuel 24:24
Webinar by Dr Andre Menache for the Animal Interfaith Alliance, of which we are a member:
We are delighted to announce a new tier to our charity’s structure – an Advisory Group.
We are honoured and humbled to have two highly respected Eastern Orthodox theologians join us in our quest to educate others on Eastern Orthodox Church teachings on compassionate care for all of God’s creatures. See further details below:
The Fr. Dr. John C H R Y S S A V G I S is Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, serving as theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Born in Australia (1958), he matriculated from The Scots College (1975). He received his degree in Theology from the University of Athens (1980), a diploma in Byzantine Music from the Greek Conservatory of Music (1979), and was awarded a research scholarship to St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary (1982). He completed his doctoral studies in Patristics at the University of Oxford (1983) under the supervision of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. While serving as Personal Assistant to the Greek Orthodox Primate in Australia (1984–95), he co-founded St Andrew’s Theological College in Sydney (1985), where he was Sub-Dean and taught Patristics and Church History (1986–95). He was also Lecturer in the Divinity School (1986–90) and the School of Studies in Religion (1990–95) at the University of Sydney. In 1995, he moved to Boston, where he was appointed Professor of Theology at Holy Cross School of Theology and directed the Religious Studies Program at Hellenic College until 2002. In December 2020, he was elected Honorary Professor of Theology at the Sydney College of Divinity.
Fr. John also serves as senior advisor of the Department of Ecumenical Affairs of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The author of over thirty books and numerous articles in several languages on the Church Fathers and Orthodox Spirituality, his publications include Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Holy Cross Press, 2000), Light Through Darkness: the Orthodox tradition (Orbis Books, 2004), The Letters of Barsanuphius and John (2 volumes, Catholic University Press, 2006–2007), and The Office of Primacy and the Authority of Councils (2 volumes, St. Vladimir’s Press, 2015–2016). He is the editor of three volumes containing the select writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Fordham University Press, 2010–2012) and the official biographer of the Ecumenical Patriarch with his publication Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary (Harper Collins, 2016). His latest book is Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality (Bloomsbury Books, 2019). He is also now a member of the Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals Charity Advisory Group.
Archimandrite Jack Khalil is Dean of the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology – University of Balamand and Professor of New Testament Studies. Furthermore, he has been visiting Professor at many Orthodox Theological Faculties and Institutes over the world, e.g. University of Athens, Thessaloniki, IOCS (Cambridge) and St. Serge (Paris), University of North Eastern Finland, Theological School of the Church of Cyprus, et cetera. He holds a Ph.D. degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and studied for 3 years as Visiting Fellow at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität in Tübingen, Germany. His main fields of interest are the Epistles of St Paul and the Johannine Literature. He is the author of one book published in Greece, which has been admitted as a textbook reference at the University of Thessaloniki since 2005, and many chapters in books, researches and studies published in Lebanon, Greece, France, USA, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, and Bulgaria. He is known for his contribution on the contemporary Orthodox interpretation of the Justification by Faith in the Pauline Epistles.
Archimandrite Khalil is a member of the Biblical Federation in Lebanon, the Hellenic Society of Biblical Studies, the Revision Committee of the van-Dyck–Boustani Bible Arabic Translation, the Synodical Revision Committee of Liturgical Books, the Synodical Committee of preparing a modern translation of the New Testament. He is also a Central Committee member in the WCC since 2013, as well as a member of its Faith & Order Commission since 2014. And he was between 2007-2012 the Eastern Orthodox representative in the WCC Continuation Committee on “Ecumenism in the 21st Century”. He was for many years the Church representative of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East in the Committee of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches for the Collaboration with the United Bible Societies. He is also now a member of the Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals Charity Advisory Group.
We have been given permission by Father John Chryssavgis and Aaron Hollander to reproduce this interview on our website and we thank them both for this honour. This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Ecumenical Trends, a publication of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute. See below for further details. An excellent way to start 2021.
The Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was born in Australia, studied theology in Athens, completed his doctorate in Oxford, and lived for a time on Mt. Athos. He has taught theology in Sydney and in Boston, and he currently serves as theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, known worldwide as “the green patriarch.” His latest book is Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality (Bloomsbury, 2019). He lives in Maine.
Dr. Aaron Hollander is Associate Director of Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute and Associate Editor of Ecumenical Trends, currently serving as Vice President of the North American Academy of Ecumenists. He is a scholar of theology and culture, whose current research concerns the dynamics of ecumenical/interreligious conflict and coexistence, the aesthetic textures and political functions of holiness (particularly in Orthodox Christianity), and the circulation of theological understanding beyond explicitly religious settings.
Aaron Hollander, for Ecumenical Trends: Fr. John, we are so pleased to feature this conversation with you in Ecumenical Trends, as we reflect on some important ecumenical anniversaries and look with cautious optimism toward the future. We have had a lot to do with one another this year: GEII staff and our collaborators were delighted to have you join us for the “Ecology and Ecumenicity” webinar in September, and around the same time we featured a series of ecumenical responses to For the Life of the World, the new Orthodox social ethos document, in the composition of which you played an instrumental role. I was honored to participate in your interview series for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on antisemitism in the contemporary church, and I’m grateful that we now have the opportunity to share a little more of your tireless work and influential perspective with our readers.
Your personal and professional histories are themselves fascinating, taking you from a childhood in Australia, by way of theological, historical, and musical studies (and professorships) at the world’s great universities, to your current role as Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and special advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on ecological issues. Would you talk us through a few of the key milestones of this trajectory, and their significance to you today?
John Chryssavgis: Aaron, I am so glad to reconnect with you after first meeting you in Chicago many years ago, and now after these several collaborations of the past months. Your question highlights transitions that may appear curious, but there are some very fundamental connecting threads that bind together the aspects you raise. Born into a cradle Greek Orthodox and clerical family, I always envisaged combining ministry and education. That is what I dreamed of; that is what I studied; and that is what I’m doing and enjoying. That’s what took me to Athens, New York, and Oxford for academic studies; that’s what led me to Mount Athos, Australia, and America for early formation; and that’s what attracted me to the innermost court of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in recent years. It has been a journey fraught with frustration for the tensions within the institutional church, but also filled with gratification for the potential of the global church.
AH: You are very well known for your work in ecological theology and ethics, not least in light of the extraordinary global leadership of Patriarch Bartholomew on these matters. We’ll return to ecological questions a little later, expanding on your remarks at our recent “Ecology and Ecumenicity” program (which will themselves be published in a later issue of Ecumenical Trends). Yet much of your scholarship concerns the ascetic thought and practice of the early church, for instance, in works on the desert fathers and on John Climacus. How would you describe the connection between these two fields of interest, the ecological and the ascetic?
JC: Once again, at least from the perspective of my own journey and vocation, there is a direct connection between the early desert fathers (who are the center of my research and my passion) and the concern for the environment (which is at the heart of my energy and attention). I recall very vividly flying back to Australia after my studies in England and Greece, wondering how I could possibly relate or reconcile my love for ascetic and monastic spirituality in my beloved homeland Australia, a country so markedly shaped by (at best) a-religious indifference or (at worst) anti-religious secularism. It was only as I flew over the vast arid desert, which constitutes two-thirds of that continent, that I recognized the immediate association between the geography and the spirituality. I quickly became aware that the landscape had more to teach me – whether through the truth of creation or the imagination of the “dreamtime” – than I could ever hope to bring to the table in any dialogue and discussion. From this consciousness and confession emerged my first publication: an anthology of theological, historical, and literary reflections on the role and place of the Australian terrain, entitled The Desert is Alive.
AH: It’s easy to associate the desert with an ecology of deprivation and barrenness, not least when we’re familiar with the Christian ascetic tradition’s figuration of the desert as “wasteland,” “abode of demons,” and the like. But you see more than this in the cosmological orientation of the desert fathers and mothers, don’t you? What is it about the desert that speaks to Orthodox Christian understandings of ecological integrity?
JC: Most definitely. The desert is multifaceted, and the dimension of deprivation or barrenness is only one aspect, which in itself is so variegated. In Australia, for instance, the fact that people have chosen to flee the desert and live on the margins – which is exactly the opposite of what ascetic men and women did in third- and fourth-century Egypt – is surely indicative of a different set of priorities and principles. The desert is a place where you are forced to face your demons, which can easily be avoided in the distraction of a city.
By contrast, for the desert fathers and mothers, the desert was the place where you strive to meet and live with God, where you come to know yourself and open up to others, where you become attuned to your environment. There are abundant stories about the desert-dwellers and their association with nature and animals. And this is an affinity that surpasses sentimentality or superficiality. It is an alliance that transcends time and place, centuries and cultures – and so we find the same spirituality in the seventh century with Isaac the Syrian, in the thirteenth century with Francis of Assisi, and in the nineteenth century with Seraphim of Sarov. It originates in the conviction that God created and loves the world – “and all the fullness thereof” (as Psalm 24 has it) – and aspires to a reorientation and reconciliation of all things with God. If the early desert ascetics were eccentric, it is because they reminded the world that we have relocated or removed the proper center of the world.
AH: How about in the present day? As we look around at the culture and at the institutions of our industrialized society here in the US, as well as around the world, we see deeply unsustainable patterns of consumption as well as callousness toward the well-being of future generations. You’ve written about how easily human beings can become trapped in patterns of wish-fulfillment and self-prioritization: do you suppose that this applies to our institutions as well? Are we unwilling, or are we unable, to reimagine and reinstitutionalize our world for sustainability? And in either case, what can be done about it?
JC: I have been criticized for my emphasis on the ascetic dimension in responding to climate change. And I seriously contemplated and considered just how vital and practical such a response really is. But I am convinced – more so than ever before – that it is the only way of addressing the problem. There is an intimate inter-connection and inter-dependence between conscience (as self-understanding) and compassion (as concern for the world).
First of all, we know that sustainability inevitably mandates consuming and wasting less – despite how much that goes against the grain of development and progress – so we must learn to embrace the notion of “detachment” if we are truly to appreciate the notion of “attachment.” Otherwise, if we are destroying the very resources we are hoping to enjoy, that in itself should raise a red flag. Second, we have become so unfamiliar and unaccustomed to doing with less – especially in a society where we are overwhelmed and overawed by cultural images of having more and more – that we literally experience “withdrawal symptoms” and profound denial whenever confronted by the need to have or waste less. As a result, travelling light or living simply appears unnatural and uncomfortable. And finally, frankly, if it seems challenging and inconvenient, perhaps we should consider that there might actually be something to breaking the patterns or contradicting the norms. That is, after all, exactly what the early desert-dwellers proved: that there is value in stepping back to reflect; that there is virtue in surrendering in order to share; and that there is validity in assessing the impact and consequence of our actions.
AH: Many would think of asceticism as something that individuals do; or at most, we might think of community structures where many individuals live together and support one another in their spiritual exercises. But can the lessons of the Orthodox ascetic tradition be scaled up, so to speak, or (dare I say it?) modernized? Can they intervene in the political order and our civic institutions, and if so, in what ways?
JC: I have already hinted at the correlation between the personal and the political, the spiritual and the social. Both poles need to be maintained: without the personal or spiritual, there may be no direction in the political or social; and without the political or social, there may be no purpose to the personal or spiritual. For centuries, the Orthodox Church has championed – indeed, even excelled in – the mystical and liturgical dimensions of social justice and responsibility. At the same time, Western Christianity and civilization have initiated – indeed, demonstrated leadership in – the societal and legal dimensions of the Christian response and vocation. But both of these aspects must be brought and held together if Christianity is to balance the tension in its mission and mandate of being “in the world” but “not of the world.”
The problem of course is that the term “asceticism” carries with it a long history and complicated baggage; people associate it with negative, even excessive behavior. But detachment and self-denial do not have imply self-pity or self-absorption; it is not ultimately about deprivation or disconnection. Asceticism is essentially about commitment and community; it is hardly about being consumed with oneself, but rather about being concerned about others. And that means that there is a direct line from the heart of the individual to the heart of the world.
AH: ACan we take up a concrete example here? In the United States, we have been living through a time shaped by political anger and avarice, a culture of despair and carelessness, a gluttony for material pleasures at the expense of the many worldwide who are crushed under the wheels of American consumption, and what might best be described as epistemological vainglory – the conviction that the information which supports our beliefs and practices must be true because we are satisfied by it and are able by way of it to maintain what we take to be a moral or cultural high ground over others. We have just undergone a presidential and congressional election that has been regularly described as a referendum on the “soul” of the nation. In this context, do I even need to mention those remaining two of the classic eight demonic thoughts – lust and pride?
The ascetic tradition (and not only in Orthodoxy) knows how to engage with anger, avarice, despair, carelessness, gluttony, vainglory, and so forth. What does it offer, on this larger scale, to a country deeply divided and disoriented by these same realities? What might it take to “talk back” to the demons of systemic racism, ravenous profit-seeking, or tribal epistemology (none of which can be addressed adequately by individuals)? Can the ascetic tradition speak to people and institutions that have not opted into a monastic environment?
JC: I have come to appreciate that it is so simple – and at the same time so tempting – to rationalize or spiritualize the fundamental response to and vital responsibility of creation care. Clergy and theologians are especially susceptible to this kind of justification or pretext. After all, we have all the bulwarks of inquiry and insight – from doctrines to heresies – at our fingertips.
But I have abandoned the notion that I have to convince people that living simply in order that others might simply live is a way of deconstructing the demonic systems that you mention. It would be like explaining to people that prayer can light up the whole world with fire or that silence can equal a thousand words of conversion and transformation. It is not persuasive to speak these things without demonstrating them in our lives. How then can we understand the spiritual struggle “against powers and principalities” as somehow different or detached from the struggle with outward systems of oppression and consumption?
When I surrender some of my indulgence in comfort, I learn to share with those who don’t have enough to survive. When I realize the discomfort of fasting, I recall the hunger of others. And when I consider the hunger of others, I begin to crave for God. Then I begin to suspect the sacred nature of food and that I “cannot live by bread alone.” Then I begin to affirm that material creation is not under my control and is not for my exploitation. Then I begin to break down barriers with my neighbor and my world, gradually moving away from what I want to what the world needs.
AH: In one way this strikes me as following in the model of the saints, as we are all invited to do: to represent the “beautiful struggle” (2 Timothy 4:7) for a healed heart and a renewed world not primarily by arguing about how to go about it (though there is surely a place for this too!), but by living this struggle in the presence of others, in ways that others will witness and from which they will, in John Chrysostom’s conventional metaphor, “catch fire.” I think we’ve just reinvented a modern aphorism by way of ascetic theology and hagiology: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” In this context, though, I’d say it feels less like a platitude and more like a genuine basis for hope.
Let me transition here to another matter of recent ecclesiological and ecumenical importance. You had a significant hand in the special commission that produced the groundbreaking Orthodox social ethos document published earlier this year, For the Life of the World – several responses to which we featured in the previous issue of Ecumenical Trends. Would you share your own perspective on the significance of this work, and on the rationale for producing the document in the way that it was written and disseminated?
JC: This groundbreaking document has special significance given the historical background of Orthodox Christianity that we spoke of earlier. In recent years, the Eastern Church has been allergic, even aversive to social statements. This is arguably the result of a struggle to understand its place in the world resulting from long periods of isolation or persecution within many traditional Orthodox homelands, particularly those behind the Iron Curtain. But, as I already pointed out, the church has always grappled with its place and role in the world. So, whether speaking of heaven in relation to earth, or of the world in relation to the kingdom, it has covered the full spectrum from identifying (and compromising) with the world to becoming estranged (and aloof) from it, frequently being reduced to an ethnic ghetto or to nationalistic triumphalism. In the last century, the church has been frequently viewed as responsible for handling otherworldly or sacred things, whereas the state was entrusted with worldly or secular things.
Yet it wasn’t always this way. The early and Byzantine church had a bold voice on questions of social justice. Even a cursory reading of fourth-century writers like Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom reveals the prominence of the social core of the gospel teaching in their minds and ministry. While there may be some merit to questioning whether Christianity should merely be a “useful” accessory in a world of competing promises for security, the alternative does not need to be a Christianity that is primarily a “useless” anachronism in an age of pluralistic choices.
AH: That’s a helpful way of describing the great diversity of social perspectives (and diversity of attitudes toward social intervention) that have animated the history of Orthodox Christianity – the same, of course, is true for other churches too, even as their specific contexts may have looked rather different. So then, what is particularly unusual or significant about how For the Life of the World addresses the contemporary (that is, globalized and pluralistic) world?
JC: While the crafting of this document was in some ways unparalleled in the transparency of its process, and it was unprecedented as a partnership between the official hierarchy and the world of theological scholarship, the readiness and openness of the church to involve and inform the laity in matters related to doctrine and polity still fall far short of the ideal. An ongoing chipping away at the hardened nucleus of clericalism and institutionalism is still required. Nonetheless, the fact that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew commissioned, entrusted, and endorsed this social document is in itself a welcome and refreshing shift in mentality and priority for a church that is normally associated with the past and alienated from the present.
But For the Life of the World should be received as a first step toward imperative reflection on the social ethos of the Orthodox Church as well as toward the consideration and articulation of a social role for the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world. It is intended to provide a roadmap for reconciling contemporary issues with the traditional wisdom and spiritual beauty of Orthodox Christianity, while initiating a conversation with parishes and congregations, schools and seminaries, as well as ecumenical circles and the broader community. So I am delighted that you are asking me about it and, more significantly, that you have published a series of critical responses in Ecumenical Trends.
AH: There is an important ecological message in the document, as well. Chapter VIII of For the Life of the World deals with “Science, Technology, and the Natural World.” The section draws on Maximus the Confessor’s notion of human being as a “cosmic priesthood,” and it suggests that all humans – not merely all Christians – are called to “bless, elevate, and transfigure” the earth. For our readers who are not steeped in Orthodox theology, can you unpack this claim somewhat? And to what extent does this way of thinking resonate with, push beyond, or stand in tension with Patriarch Bartholomew’s longstanding ecological vision and initiatives?
JC: In the seventh century, some of the more insightful mystics understood that they stood at a crossroads embracing the past and espousing the future with a more open worldview. Writers like Maximus the Confessor, John Climacus, and Isaac the Syrian integrated the positive traditional concepts related to the sacredness of the human body and the significance of all creation. Thus Maximus spoke of the divine incarnation as reaching “the last extremities of nature” and of the world as a “cosmic liturgy.” Maximus also described the human person as a microcosm and a mediator between Creator and creation. In such a worldview, everything acquires a sacramental seal, and everything enjoys a sacred significance.
This means that there is a dimension of art, music, and beauty in nature’s liturgy. And it further implies that, whenever we narrow life – even religious life – to ourselves and our own interests, we are inevitably neglecting our vocation to reconcile and transform all of creation. Our relationship with this world determines our relationship with heaven; we cannot conveniently or complacently separate the two. The way we treat the earth is reflected in the way that we pray to God. Walking on this planet and kneeling in church are tantamount to the same thing.
In this sense, some Orthodox theologians have spoken of human beings as “priests” of creation. And while such a definition carries with it another complex constraint of misconceptions and abuses – whether in terms of chauvinism, clericalism, or institutionalism – there is no doubt that we are called to challenge and criticize our relationship with the rest of creation, beyond that of master or proprietor, and even steward or custodian. The last designations are often championed by Christian or religious environmentalists, especially because of the long history of “stewardship” in Judeo-Christian scripture and literature. However, this too retains some of the vestiges of management, command, and even control over nature and creation.
AH: Part of what you’re suggesting, it seems to me, is that we need spiritual exercise: we need to deepen our own being through a process of ongoing conversion. Maybe we don’t give up our fundamental points of reference, but we have to recognize that we often clothe them in self-serving habits, or we mistake an ideal for a nonnegotiable course of action in the world –
JC: Yes, but even sometimes our prized moral or theological points of reference – I think sometimes we do have to give them up, or at least suspend them temporarily. Sometimes we need to acknowledge – all right, I hold my beliefs and values, but I don’t operate out of all of them all the time, and often I live them poorly. So for now, for the sake of the other’s conscience and their created dignity and the possibility of breaking free of legacies of antagonism, can I just take a step back humbly and dare to view the other’s faith and call as legitimate, offering some new insight? John Paul’s description of dialogue as “the exchange of gifts” is a good starting point. But commitment to ecumenism also involves a willingness to be changed, inviting us to the more radical “dialogue of conversion.”
AH: What does this tension between Orthodox theology and such controlling modes of human intervention in creation suggest with regard to the natural sciences, and the technological advances that they have generated? One of my favorite lines in For the Life of the World is its declaration, with no tiptoeing or ambiguity, that “the Orthodox Church has no interest in hostilities between simpleminded philosophies, much less in historically illiterate fables regarding some kind of perennial conflict between faith and scientific reason” (§71). The language of the document is crisp and clear throughout, but this struck me as a statement that is given particular emphasis. Why is this rejection of a “science-versus-religion” mentality so important? And should a distinction be drawn, then, between an embrace of science and an embrace of the technological domination of creation?
JC: For the Life of the World was actually conceived and composed well before the appearance of COVID-19. However, much of its content – particularly the section you are referring to on religion and science – is certainly pertinent and timely. For a long time, faith and science were falsely understood to be in search of different sorts of truth, as if there was more than one truth. This resulted in a dangerous dichotomy of truth as transcendent on the one hand (in the case of the church) and immanent on the other (in the case of science). In terms of creation theology, this manifested as an emphasis by science on the “book of nature” and the response (sometimes reaction, and even retaliation) of the church with an emphasis on the “book of scripture.”
However, during the current pandemic, the entire debate has emerged as a bone of contention as churches and faith communities have been compelled to address their role and responsibility toward their parishioners and constituents. It isn’t a coincidence that the pandemic is described as a crisis; and “crisis” is a Greek word that indicates judgment. We will be judged by our response to this defining moment in our lives. In the Orthodox Church – both here in the US and globally – this has culminated in a heated conversation about the way Holy Communion is distributed and received.
And what was painfully apparent during this crisis was the absence of an articulate Orthodox social ethos – capable alike of guiding the behavior of Orthodox leaders and Orthodox believers – in matters of public concern regarding the role of religion in the public space, the relationship between church and state, and the tension between faith and science. With the recent “lockdown” restrictions, and particularly with the closure of churches and temples, it has sometimes been difficult to discern whether religious leaders (in Greece and other “native” Orthodox countries) were sometimes more interested in protecting medieval treasures from imaginary enemies or in promoting conspiracy theories or global “plots” against Christianity. One exception has been the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (but also some metropolitan dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Europe), where the intense debate resulted in creative decisions. But for the most part, our churches are not always prepared (and in many cases are sinfully incompetent or at least reluctant) to respond appropriately to the most fundamental and crucial problems of their faithful in the modern world.
As for the strain between the Orthodox sense of “cosmic liturgy” and the modern drive to “master nature,” it should always stem from and lead to a creative tension that reveals a sense of humility and partnership between religious thought and the natural sciences, instead of reflecting a sense of conceit and condescension toward one another.
AH: We are living through a time that – while it may be a stretch to claim that it is somehow more ethically contentious than times gone by – can leave no doubt that the great challenges we face are exacerbated by profound ethical divisions among us. Ecological ethics, not least, can be a society-dividing issue, as well as a church-dividing issue (as was a key topic of conversation at our “Ecology and Ecumenicity” event). Have you found this to be the case in the Orthodox Church, that ecology is polarizing? What have you found most challenging and most rewarding with regard to engaging ecumenically on ecological matters – whether within your church or between churches?
JC: There is no question that adopting an ecological ethos is fraught with challenges of denial and resistance. Some of these we have already touched upon in our discussion about asceticism. But there is also no doubt that engaging individuals – whether believers or not, whether Christian or not, and even whether Orthodox or not – on environmental ethics is very often polarizing. I have watched as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has patiently and pastorally encouraged his peers in other autocephalous Orthodox Churches to recognize that creation care is part and parcel of their ministry and mission as Orthodox leaders, especially since many of them are so often preoccupied with nationalistic interests and political survival. But I have also witnessed Orthodox clergy and laity struggle to embrace the spiritual vocation required by climate change or, worse, vigorously dismiss climate change as a partisan hoax and leftist construct.
I was, in the past, inclined to contend or contest such arguments, particularly where I perceived a willingness and openness to frank conversation and sincere exchange. But when politics and ideology remain deadlocked and convoluted – when, for example, the “culture wars” in the US deliberately brand any association with protecting the environment as a boutique ideology that implies certain positions on abortion, gun control, gender and sexuality issues, and so forth – then I have to wonder if we are all reading the same Scripture. Because creation is not a partisan reality. And the libertarian ideology and mercenary selfishness of dismissing the need to subordinate our own pleasures to the well-being of creation is diametrically opposed to the Christian gospel. It is, moreover, definitely incompatible with the ascetic imperative, which we discussed earlier and which aims at restraining the crude and irrational passions of greed, envy, and lust, which are drivers behind the market economy and free trade. The jungle ethic of survival of the fittest is fundamentally irreconcilable with the liturgical ethos; the former suggests a “dog eats dog society,” while the latter resonates with the scriptural admonition to “love one’s neighbor as oneself.” For deniers, environmentalism has become a conspiracy against commerce and the freedom to consume whatever we want whenever we want. Whereas I perceive the spiritual approach as emphasizing compassion instead of consumption.
AH: I think that many of us look to the Orthodox Church as containing a wellspring of ecological insight, as it is reasonable to do with the Franciscan tradition as well. But are there aspects of your eco-theological understanding in which you have been particularly informed ecumenically, by listening to and learning from the witness of other churches? And in what ways have you learned from encounters with other religious traditions, beyond Christianity?
JC: I am so glad that you ask this question. Because it would be a sign of temptation and conceitedness to somehow imagine that, as Orthodox, we somehow hold the answer to the urgent crisis of climate change. If we did, then Athens and Moscow wouldn’t be the polluted cities they are, while the Mediterranean and the Black Seas wouldn’t be wastelands of plastic and hazards for biodiversity. As His All-Holiness “the green patriarch” Bartholomew likes to say: “We’re all in the same boat.” Nothing will happen without humility and sensitivity, without accountability and responsibility, as well as without sacrifice and compromise in order to learn the how the cry of the poor is reflected in the cry of the earth.
And in this vein, all of us must be willing to learn from and work with one another. So, yes, I have been informed by other religions and traditions, by other churches and communities, by other theologian and thinkers – from my time in Australia through my time in America. I have learned from indigenous peoples – the Aborigines and the Native Americans. Perhaps most importantly, I have collaborated with scientists and activists, establishing close friendships and networks, which have shaped many of the initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the last two decades and longer. Orthodox clergy and theologians often forget the vital importance of “translating” basic scriptural and religious concepts into a living tradition and language that relates and responds to contemporary world. The sort of questions that are foremost in my mind – indeed, the questions addressed in For the Life of the World – are: What happens when Christians want to interpret the phrase “on earth as in heaven”? In other words, how is God manifested among us? Or what does God’s kingdom look like in human society?
AH: Again, to take a concrete example: 2020 marks the fifth anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Francis’ influential encyclical, Laudato Si’, “on care for our common home.” Can we reflect briefly on the ecumenical significance of this encyclical, which is so widely known for its ecological teachings? Have you found Laudato Si’ to be of any particular significance in your thinking about the integrity (or disintegrity) of creation as an existing unity that precedes and exceeds any division between Christians or between religions?
JC: What has become immediately apparent to me from the encyclical is not so much the specific contents or diverse interpretations of the text, but the ecumenical mandate that it represents. The integrity of the natural environment is the shared responsibility of all inhabitants of the earth. I have come to believe that, in our relationship with the earth, we are called to evoke and affirm our interconnectedness with the rest of the world, because this sense of interconnectedness reminds us that the earth unites us all – indeed, before and beyond any doctrinal, political, racial, or confessional differences. We may or may not share religious principles, ethnic backgrounds, or political convictions. But we most definitely share an experience of the earth: the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the ground that we tread – although this sharing is not always equitable or just. By some mysterious connection that we do not always understand, the earth reminds us of our interconnectedness.
As for the ecumenical importance of Laudato Si’, it is also important to note that, when Pope Francis began preparing the encyclical, he reached out to Patriarch Bartholomew in order to express recognition and admiration for the work achieved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate since the late 1980s. In fact, he included a prominent reference to the Patriarch and his environmental leadership in the papal encyclical, highlighting the patriarchal activities and pronouncements in an unprecedented manner. It was the first time that an Orthodox leader was spotlighted in a formal pontifical statement – this is an act of profound ecumenical significance. Prior to this, moreover, Patriarch Bartholomew had spontaneously decided to attend the inaugural mass of Pope Francis in March 2013. This, too, was an extraordinary move, the first time ever that an Orthodox patriarch was present at the installation of a Roman pontiff.
To an outsider, such events may appear insignificant and inconsequential. However, their impact on such issues as climate change is paramount and momentous. I believe that the papal encyclical letter on creation care was long anticipated not only from an ecological perspective, but also in the context of inter-Christian openness between these two contemporary religious leaders, who are personally and distinctly marked by a close friendship, while at the same time profoundly and steadfastly committed to restoring communion between their churches. There is no doubt in my mind that the favorable reception – in fact, I would venture to add also the adverse reaction to and harsh criticism – of their advocacy for God’s creation is arguably the greatest testimony and promising evidence that they are most definitely on the right track.
AH: The relationship you describe between patriarch and pope is doubtless a meaningful fruit of ecumenical friendship and love for the church universal, even in the midst of our political and ecclesial fragmentation. And that’s a fitting place to conclude, I think, as we are looking forward to the new year and to the 2021 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with its theme: “Abide in my love… and you shall bear much fruit.” There’s a resonantly and relevantly ecological valance of this theme, isn’t there? “Fruitfulness” requires being rooted, requires being sustained and sustainable where one is; God’s love, so to speak, functions in the metaphor as fertilizer to nourish and uphold our own ways of pouring love into the world, for its transfiguration.
Any last word you would like to offer on this sense of fruitfulness as an interpretive or prophetic category for Christian life, theology, or ecumenism?
JC: It’s true. By this [fruit] shall people know us – namely, if we have love for one another (cf. John 13:35). We know that we are on the right track, if and when we are establishing communication, building community, and affirming communion.
This is the power of ecumenical commitment and collaboration, which lies in beginning to open up beyond ourselves and our own, our communities and our churches. It is learning to speak the language of care and compassion. It is giving priority to solidarity and service. And in this respect, creation care has a vital ecumenical dimension in that it brings divided Christians and insulated believers before a common task that we must inevitably face together.
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“Save the world, O Saviour. For this you have come. Set your whole universe aright”.
With the above words, Saint Romanos the Melodist introduces the last stanza of the famous Christmas kontakion. The lines are a supplication and an acknowledgement that the Lord will redeem humanity and save all creation. He Who was before all time heard the cries of humanity and came to save the world. It is this act of divine love that we remember and celebrate each year at Christmas.
The birth of Jesus the Christ was a moment in time when the course of our world was forever changed. Darkness was dispelled as the Sun of Righteousness shone, bringing hope to fallen humanity. Another hymnographer of our Church extolls us with certainty, “Christ is born, rejoice! And, we rejoice knowing that salvation has come to the world.”
This year, the joy of Christmas will be a different experience for many people, as the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 virus have changed our usual patterns of life. The preparations and festivities that normally capture our attention this time of year will be dampened by worries and concerns for ourselves and our families, for the vulnerable members of our communities, for our health care workers and our civil leaders. The essence, however, and the meaning of this holy feast remain untouched and true for us in every way. Every year, it is our hope that the bright lights and beautiful trimmings will serve to inspire an understanding and recognition that we are entering into a time of grace and light, as we prepare to receive the light of Truth. But, this year especially when we perceive the darkness around us to have grown, we feel within our hearts an even stronger desire for the light that shows us the way to the Kingdom on high. As Isaiah prophesied, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given.” We know that child to be the light of the world, our Wonderful Counsellor, our Prince of Peace: Christ the Lord Himself.
Although this year we may have fewer people at our table when we sit down to celebrate the birth of our Lord, we are assured that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Christ is there present, as is the fullness of our hope in Him. Christ is our ballast amidst the storms of this life and the message of salvation is not only a remembrance of an event some two thousand years ago, but a constant offering and outpouring of love, an invitation for Him to be born continuously in the hearts of people—as the Holy Fathers of the Church themselves experienced and passed down to us. Even if our experience of Christmas this year will undoubtedly be accompanied by a prayer that next year’s feast will be restored to its full joy, we know that the love of the eternal, the living Word of God is unchanging. So, on Christmas day, and on every day, let us bow our heads in gratitude to God for the many blessings He has given us, with the conviction that we have received what was promised and more, “since God had foreseen something better for us (Heb. 11:40)”.
Together, this Christmas let us pray for Christ to come and be born in our hearts, so that His grace, peace and love may abide in us, as we abide in Him. Not only this, but let us offer, together, a doxology to Him, for He Who is gentle and lowly in heart “will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:1-2). Indeed, He comes as an innocent child to bring a new and different understanding of life to the world. He comes to bring justice, harmony, love and peace to the hearts of all, to each and every person. And, through His presence and witness, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord forever as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9).
May all the joy, peace, and happiness of the Nativity be with you and all the world, and may God lead us to the New Year 2021, filling it with every good and perfect gift which comes from the Father of Lights.
With paternal love and blessings,
+ Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain
reports Daisy Dunne, Environment Correspondent for The Independent
More than 17,000 species across the world will lose some of their habitats if little is done to tackle uncontrolled agricultural expansion, a new study has found. The research uses modelling to estimate the extent to which continued agricultural expansion across the world could encroach on the habitat of nearly 20,000 species by 2050.
It finds that 88 per cent of these species will see some habitat loss by mid-century if little is done to curb food system expansion. Around 1,200 species could lose a quarter of their habitat.
“Business-as-usual” agriculture would also cause 33 species to lose at least 90 per cent of their habitat, according to the results. These species include 14 frogs and toads, nine rodents, and two primates, the white-throated guenon and Sclater’s guenon. Both these monkeys are native to Nigeria.
However, the research, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, also finds that habitat losses could be stemmed if large-scale changes are made to the food system. The largest savings could come from greater agricultural efficiency in developing-world regions, which could free up land from nature, according to the study authors.
A global transition towards healthier diets, including eating less meat and dairy, could also help to stem habitat loss, said the study’s co-lead author Dr Michael Clark, a researcher of environmental sustainability from the University of Oxford. “We need to start combatting biodiversity loss at much larger scales than we currently are, and we need to start doing this now,” he told The Independent. “Until we start addressing what we eat, how it is produced, and everything in between, we’re not going to make widescale progress towards existing conservation and biodiversity targets.”
The way humans use land is currently the biggest threat to Earth’s biodiversity. However, the threat posed by the climate crisis is fast increasing, with some research suggesting that it could overtake the threat posed by land-use change by 2070. “It’s worth noting that we did not include the impacts of climate change: the huge habitat losses we projected are just from agricultural expansion,” the study’s co-lead author Dr David Williams, a conservation scientist from the University of Leeds, told The Independent. “When combined with climate change, overharvesting, hunting, pollution then things are likely to be even worse…But the conservation approaches we examined could all help reduce these threats as well.”
For the research, the authors created detailed maps showing where projected agricultural expansion could overlap with animal habitat under different scenarios. The first of these was a “business-as-usual” scenario for the world’s agriculture, which would see populations increase and the popularity of meat-based diets continue to rise in the future. The researchers find that, under this scenario, global cropland would increase by 26 per cent from 2010 to 2050. Increases in agricultural land would likely be largest in sub-Saharan Africa, south and southeast Asia and, to a lesser extent, Central and South America.
This increase would lead the 19,859 species examined to lose 7 per cent of their habitat, on average. However, of these species, 1,280 are projected to lose more than a quarter of their remaining habitat, 350 could lose more than half and 33 could lose more than 90 per cent.
One group particularly threatened by agricultural expansion could be saddleback toads, a genus of tiny toads and frogs that are typically 1cm in length and live among leaves on the floor of Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest. Dr Williams said: “Many of them are already listed as being threatened with extinction, and out of the 21 species in our analysis, two are projected to lose more than 25 per cent of remaining habitat, four more than 20 per cent of remaining habitat, and seven more than 15 per cent of remaining habitat.”
The second scenario developed by the researchers studied habitat loss by 2050 if four different changes were made to the food system. These changes included global improvements to agricultural efficiency, a global transition to healthier diets with fewer animal products, a halving of food waste and global agricultural land-use planning to avoid competition between food production and wildlife. The authors find that, in a scenario with these four changes, global cropland would actually decrease by nearly 3.4 million square kilometres from 2010 to 2050. In addition, the average rate of habitat loss would be reduced to 1 per cent.
A global switch to more efficient agriculture would come with the largest savings because it would allow land to be freed up in biodiverse parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, the researchers said.
In addition, a global switch to eating fewer animal products could help to stem habitat loss while also helping to tackle the climate crisis, the researchers said. Meat production is particularly polluting because cows and sheep are ruminants, meaning they belch out methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In addition, meat production also requires large amounts of land to be cleared for the production of animal feed and to create space for grazing. Deforestation causes CO2 to be released into the atmosphere.
“There are clear win-wins here. What we need to do to safeguard biodiversity is also going to be really good for people,” added Dr Williams.
“We should already be trying to transition to healthier diets, including fewer calories and animal-based products in richer countries, to improve human health across the world. We should already be trying to waste less food to improve food security in the global south and better support people and farmers across the world.”
Most people are unaware of the high failure rate – 90%+, of the animal testing model and of its failures to advance human health. Here is the latest very informative webinar from Dr Andre Menache, who is writing a chapter on the failure of the animal testing model, for my new book. Please feel free to circulate widely. Those of you who have my book on Eastern Orthodoxy Christianity and Animal Suffering, will know that I have written extensively on this subject.
As a Board member of the Animal Interfaith Alliance, representing the Pan Orthodox Concern for Animals charity, I recently proposed that this subject become a campaign for the AIA over the next year and this suggestion was unanimously agreed by the Board. Part of this process will be campaigning for a Parliamentary Early Day Motion asking for an independent panel to investigate the use and failures of this mode. I will keep you posted as we move forward.
Click on the link below:
As we have a Brazilian expert, Prof. Paula Brugger, writing a chapter on the destruction of the Brazilian Rainforests and the fires in the Cerrado, this article and the corresponding ITV News coverage, makes this article worth publishing.
This story is published in collaboration with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian, and ITV News.
Britain’s leading supermarkets and fast food outlets are selling chicken fed on soya that has been linked to vast deforestation and thousands of fires across a vital region of tropical woodland in Brazil, an investigation has revealed.
Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando’s, and McDonald’s source chicken produced in the UK by the agribusiness giant Cargill – America’s second biggest private company. It is estimated that Cargill ships more than 100,000 tonnes of soybeans to the UK every year from Brazil’s threatened Cerrado savannah.
Though less well known than the Amazon rainforest to its north, the Cerrado is an enormous natural biome, covering two million sq km of land. It is a major habitat for wildlife – home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species – and a critical region for tackling climate change. It is also under increasing threat from industrial food production.
An investigation by Unearthed and a coalition of reporting partners has revealed the complex supply chains that bring this soya to the UK – much of it from the deforestation hotspot of the Cerrado, where allegations of land-grabbing, violence, and deforestation have been rife.
Exclusive figures obtained from Aidenvironment, a non-profit research consultancy, reveal 800 sq km of deforestation and more than 12,000 recorded fires since 2015 on land used or owned by a handful of Cargill’s soya suppliers in the Cerrado. Fires are often set to clear woodland and aid agricultural expansion. Footage obtained in the investigation shows huge fires burning on a farm belonging to one of Cargill’s suppliers in October.
Cargill said it broke no rules, nor its own policies, by sourcing from the farm in question and made clear it does not source from illegally deforested land.
The broadcaster and campaigner Chris Packham said the revelations showed that consumers needed to be given more information about their food. “Most people would be incredulous when they think they’re buying a piece of chicken in Tesco’s which has been fed on a crop responsible for one of the largest wholesale tropical forest destructions in recent times,” he said.
“We’ve got to wake up to the fact that what we buy in UK supermarkets, the implications of that purchase can be far and wide and enormously damaging, and this is a prime example of that.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/NfI67wpSdHA?feature=oembed
Video: Georgie Johnson and Sian Butcher
The findings come as the British government is proposing new legislation, aimed at stamping out deforestation in British supply chains, that would make it illegal for companies to import foodstuffs linked with any illegal environmental destruction in the source country.
Campaigners and politicians say the legislation needs strengthening because it would potentially omit areas – including the Cerrado – where local laws permit significant deforestation.
“Voluntary commitments … from the private sector just don’t work, which is why we need robust UK legislation,” Kate Norgrove, director of campaigns at WWF-UK, said. “Although an important first step, the proposed approach to due diligence, relying on local laws, will not be enough. We need a legally binding UK target to end all deforestation and habitat destruction in precious landscapes like the Cerrado through our imports.”
Neil Parish, the Conservative chair of the environment select committee, said he welcomed the government’s proposals, “but this investigation shows legal deforestation is widespread, ingrained and endemic in our supply chains”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the proposed legislation was one piece of a “much larger package of measures” to tackle deforestation. “Businesses must take greater responsibility for ensuring the resilience, traceability and sustainability of their supply chains.”
McDonald’s, Asda, Lidl, and Nando’s do not publicly say where the soya in their supply chains originates from, though Nando’s told the investigation team that its soy is from Brazil and Paraguay. Tesco states that some of the Cargill soya in its supply chains comes from the Cerrado but in 2019 it told Greenpeace it does not know the origin of much of the product it uses.
The supermarkets and fast food chains all said they are committed to tackling deforestation in their supply chains but acknowledged there was more work to do. All these corporations recently wrote to the government in support of the proposed legislation and urged that it be expanded to cover locally legal deforestation too.
Some argue the only way to get companies to act is by applying public pressure. “It’s vital that pressure is applied to Cargill, but also to the household names like Tesco, Asda, McDonalds, and Nando’s if they are using soya from deforestation hotspots for their chicken,” said Parish. “Naming and shaming these companies is an important tool in our armoury, and our consumers deserve to know.”
Ten years ago Cargill set itself a deadline of 2020 to eliminate deforestation in its supply chains of key commodities such as soya, but admitted last year it would not be met. It has pushed back its deadline to 2030 instead. McDonald’s has given itself until 2030. Experts have repeatedly warned this is far too late.
A final refuge for wildlife
While the Amazon rainforest has become the focus of global environmental concern in recent decades, its neighbouring Cerrado region remains largely unknown to the outside world. Yet despite being much smaller than the Amazon, it has lost more of its vegetation over the 10 years to 2018, and today only half of its original cover remains.
The Cerrado’s trees, shrubs and plains are estimated to store the equivalent of 13.7bn tonnes of carbon dioxide – significantly more than China’s annual emissions. The savannah is considered a crucial part of South America’s water system and is home to many Indigenous communities as well as endangered animals, including jaguars, giant armadillos and giant anteaters. It provides a habitat for more than 4,800 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet.
But although traders and international NGOs agreed a ban on felling trees in the Amazon for soya production in 2006, no such agreement has ever been reached for the Cerrado. While beef production continues to drive Amazon deforestation, soya is doing the same in the Cerrado, with the region estimated to account for 90% of soya-driven deforestation in Brazil.
Global exports of Brazilian soya were linked to 500 sq km of deforestation in 2018, according to the supply chain expert Trase. Cargill is one of the world’s biggest exporters of Brazilian soya, alongside another American trader, Bunge.
Last year, Cargill publicly opposed proposals for a Cerrado soya moratorium similar to that in the Amazon. Instead it announced $30m of funding for efforts to address deforestation, but did not specify what this would be spent on. According to Reuters, in 2018 the Brazilian government’s environmental agency, Ibama, fined Cargill for trading soya originating from illegally deforested areas in the Cerrado.
Cargill said it is “committed to nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way” and that it is aiming to build a deforestation-free soya supply chain. It added: “Cargill estimates that 96% of our soya volumes in Brazil for the 2018-19 crop year were deforestation-free … Cargill does not and will not supply soya from farmers who clear land in protected areas.”
The former president of Ibama, Suely Araújo, said ruling out deforestation in legally protected areas was not enough. “The rules that regulate agriculture in the Amazon are much stricter than those related to the Cerrado,” she said. “The mega-companies that commercialise the production of soya and other products from Brazil … must work with robust requirements from their suppliers and this, in some regions, implies going beyond the fulfillment of the legal rules.”
Brazil’s farming frontier
This August, the investigation team tracked the journey of a bulk tanker, the BBG Dream, as it left Cotegipe port near the Cerrado carrying 66,000 tonnes of soybeans on a journey that included a stop into Liverpool docks. The team was able to confirm that Cargill had leased the ship and that the beans on board were from the Cerrado’s hard-hit Matopiba region – including from the heavily deforested municipality of Formosa do Rio Preto.
Some of the ship’s beans were originally supplied by Bunge and another trader, ADM, but trade data shows all the beans were unloaded into Cargill’s soya plant in Liverpool.
Matopiba is Brazil’s newest soya frontier, an expanding agricultural powerhouse that has driven Brazil’s record soya harvests. An exclusive new analysis by the Dutch NGO Aidenvironment has found vast deforestation and fires on land used or owned by nine Cargill suppliers in the Cerrado, mainly in Matopiba.
Some of these farms are in Formosa do Rio Preto, a municipality notorious for alleged land-grabs and violence, and for its rapid transformation from a lush biodiverse savannah into the site of many sprawling monoculture soya fields.
On just one farm in the area, Fazenda Parceiro, more than 50 sq km of vegetation was razed in the first three months of 2020 alone, according to the sustainability risk analyst Chain Reaction Research. Cargill has confirmed that it sources soya from this farm, which is owned by SLC Agrícola, one of Brazil’s biggest soybean producers. SLC runs 17 large farms in Brazil, 10 of which are in Matopiba. More than 210 sq km of deforestation has been recorded on SLC Agrícola farms since 2015 – a total area roughly twice the size of Bristol.
Huge fires were spotted burning on Fazenda Parceiro as recently as early October and were estimated to have affected at least 65 sq km of land. There is no evidence to suggest the farm started these. https://player.vimeo.com/video/483077599?dnt=1&app_id=122963
Timelapse satellite image showing deforestation in the municipality of Formosa do Rio Preto, western Bahia state, Brazil.
A former Fazenda Parceiro employee interviewed for this investigation said the company was under intense pressure to address deforestation in its production. In September, SLC Agrícola said the company would stop engaging in deforestation from 2021 onwards but admitted it still planned to clear around 50 sq km before the end of this year. SLC Agrícola declined a request for comment.
On another soya-growing estate, which is one of the largest in the area and not part of the new data analysis, last year Greenpeace Brazil filmed guards seemingly threatening villagers with guns.
In the UK
Once Cargill’s soybeans from Matopiba arrive on UK shores, they are processed at its soya crushing plant in Liverpool for use in animal feed. The plant sends the processed soya to Cargill’s poultry feed mills in Hereford and Banbury. Cargill runs its UK chicken operations under the banner Avara, a joint enterprise with the British producer Faccenda.
The soya is mixed with wheat and other ingredients at the feed mills, then taken to Avara’s contracted chicken farms. Identifying a typical case, the investigation established that the Hereford mill supplies a nearby farm that sends birds on to McDonald’s. Avara also supplies chicken to Asda, Lidl and Nando’s, and is the largest fresh chicken supplier to Tesco.
Avara said it has committed to eliminate deforestation in its soya supply chain by 2025. It said it is exploring ways to reduce its dependency on imported soya and that the issues raised by the investigation would only be combated by “continuing to work across the full supply chain to improve transparency”.
The findings highlight how even homegrown livestock has a global environmental impact. The UK slaughters a billion birds – the equivalent of 15 per person – every year and according to one estimate, chickens account for around 60% of the UK’s imported soya consumption.
McDonald’s serves meals to 3.5m customers a day in the UK, including McNuggets, Chicken Legends and McChicken sandwiches. It has admitted that 14% – a seventh – of the soya used in its chicken feed was not covered by any sustainability certification; the rest is covered by buying credits – similar to carbon offsetting – or other schemes. The credits support farmers producing sustainably but the actual soya in the retailers’ supply chains can still come from deforesting farms.
A McDonald’s spokesperson said: “We’re proud of the progress we’ve made, yet recognise there is more to do. […] An effective approach will require strong collaboration between governments, civil society and the private sector.”
Nando’s, which also uses a credits system, said: “We recognise that there is more work to do, which is why we are also investing in research looking at more sustainable feed alternatives.”
Several British supermarkets including Asda and Lidl say they are working towards buying 100% “certified” soya by 2025. Asda said: “We understand the importance of sustainable soya to our customers and are committed to reducing food production linked to deforestation.”
Lidl GB said it is committed to sourcing sustainable and deforestation-free soya and that it was the first supermarket to cover its entire soya footprint with sustainability credits. Tesco said it has set an “industry-leading target” for its soya to come from verified “deforestation-free areas” by 2025.
“Setting fires to clear land for crops must stop,” a Tesco spokesperson said. “We are working with partners including WWF to build the industry-wide support needed to deliver this.”
Last year, Tesco committed £10m in funding to help find a solution to soya deforestation in the Cerrado. McDonald’s, Nando’s and the three supermarkets named have publicly expressed their support for a new moratorium, like that in the Amazon, to restrict deforestation for soya in the Cerrado, but opposition in Brazil has so far been successful. Cargill has publicly said it opposes a further moratorium. What is soya certification?
Global soya supply chains are complex and opaque. The beans from different farms are often mixed together, and buying carefully segregated sustainable product is costly and rare, so retailers rely on certification schemes that promise to offset their environmental damage.
Nando’s, Asda and Lidl use credits, the most basic certification tier that involves purchasing offsets for every tonne of soya they use. The money supports farmers producing sustainably, but the soya in the supply chain is not necessarily deforestation-free. McDonalds also says it uses credits, among other schemes.
The next tier up, which Tesco has set as a goal for the end of 2020, is known as “mass balance”. This means it restricts its buying to suppliers who grow at least some sustainable soya. The supplier may mix this in with beans from deforested farms, but under mass balance, Tesco and its meat suppliers would only purchase a volume of the crop that matched the amount of sustainable soya that went in.
Critics call these schemes greenwashing that allow logging to continue. The retailers say they help fund progress towards less destructive farming, but almost all admit that more needs to be done – albeit in five or ten years’ time.
Dr Christina Nellist – (forthcoming mid 2021)
In my latest book, forty experts in a variety of disciplines and diverse cultures, interrogate various aspects of sustainable living and creation care in the era of climate change. They offer suggestions to policy makers and individuals alike, in the hope of steering us away from the cliff-edge and towards a sustainable and flourishing future, set within the confines of our planetary boundaries. That such a book is still necessary in 2021 is testament to the failure of successive governments across the world to: a) acknowledge the science and b) acknowledge the wisdom in the thousands of voices from across the world, which spoke and continue to speak, with knowledge and sincerity on this subject.
In the 70s and 80s many of us were teaching or producing scientific papers on various aspects
of what we now refer to as ‘climate change’. During this same period, some religious leaders,
like the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Christian Church, His All Holiness Demetrios 1st,
expressed concern on the misuse and abuse of the natural environment. He called for individuals to change their hearts and minds and to view the world not as something solely
to be used as a resource, but rather, as something to nurture, by enabling creation’s flourishing. In 1989 he established the 1st September (the first day of the new ecclesiastical calendar), as the day dedicated to the protection of the natural environment, calling for Orthodox Christians to pray for the protection and preservation of God’s creation. This work on behalf of creation continues under his successor, His All Holiness, Bartholomew (also known as the Green Patriarch), culminating at this present time in the Halki Summit 111 (2019) entitled: Theological
Formation and Ecological Awareness: A Conversation on Education and the Environment, which essentially called for ‘Creation Care’ to be added to Orthodox Seminary and Academic educational programs. Similar calls and practical guidance are also found in other faiths and these are included in the book.
In the 80s and 90s progress also began to be made in the political sphere, with the 1992 Climate Convention in Rio and similar Conventions and commitments of intent, continuing until today. Yet, despite the grand words and commitments, we continue to stumble to the edge of the cliff, as if we are in some form of collective psychosis, because these very same governments refuse to implement the necessary strategies to effect real change. They appear to be more concerned with re-election, than saving the lives of their citizens and more than that, the lives, indeed existence, of the myriad other creatures on this planet. This is one of the reasons why those from a faith-based worldview are vitally important to the present debate on sustainable living in an increasingly unstable world. They provide an alternative voice and vision for the future, based in many cases upon teachings from sacred texts, which inform us that the entire world is interconnected and sacred. They provide spiritual, moral and ethical arguments on the link between climate change, a flourishing creation and goals for sustainable living.
Today, the vast majority of people understand that climate change is real and that it is dangerous. Whilst their level of knowledge on the subject varies (and it is likely that the
majority need to know more), with children to grandparents demonstrating on the streets in
countries across the world, there is at last, an acknowledgment that climate change is real
and that urgent and immediate action must be taken. Societies better understand their global
interconnectedness to each other, to other creatures and to our planetary boundaries. Our
presence, level of consumption and misuse of the natural world, has negatively changed our
atmosphere, weather patterns, environments and the lives of the creatures within those
environments. This misuse threatens all forms of life via food insecurity, rising sea levels,
mass migration and social unrest, to name just four from the awaiting crises.
Whilst recent attention has been diverted to the Covid 19 pandemic, the spectre of climate
change reality continues. One good thing arising from the pandemic is our reawakening
to the important things in life – our families, our green spaces and the creatures in them,
clean air and our health systems. Increasingly, we hear disparate voices repeating the same
message – we do not want more of the same, we want a ‘new normal’ and ‘building back
better’ policy decisions.
Dealing with Covid 19 has meant dramatic changes to the way we live, resulting
in our industries and economies grinding to a halt. Most surprising of all, is that this
‘lockdown’ has been achieved with a level of civic compliance never thought possible outside
of oppressive regimes. This indicates that the prospect of attaining the ‘new normal’ has
never been more attainable. What is required now is for politicians and policy makers to ride
the wave of desire for real change, rather than lazily returning to the destructive policies and
economic strategies of the past.
It is however, equally important for us as individuals to realise that in order to achieve
these changes, we must play our part by changing our desires and demands. Cheap
meat, cheap clothes or cheap flights are not cheap, if the full social, environmental and
economic cost of production, transportation and GHG emissions are taken into account. Cheap
is a delusion fed to us by those with other agendas; the real costs – unstable weather
patterns, habitat loss and species extinctions, ocean acidification and rising sea-levels are
now only too apparent.
Some changes are relatively easy for the individual– turning off the lights, buying green
energy; flying less often or not at all, driving more slowly, cycling or walking whenever
possible; reducing, recycling, reusing; avoiding fast fashion, giving up or reducing animal food
products and buying from local farms with better animal welfare standards whenever
possible; growing our own food; digging up lawns and planting meadows; planting more
trees; avoiding plastic; lobbying our MPs and for those who can – having less children. The
list is long enough to cater for varying degrees of commitment to change.
In this latest book, experts write with authority and clarity on various aspects of sustainable living in an era where climate change is acknowledged as the greatest threat to human existence on this planet. They write from faith-based or secular perspectives but share a desire to explain why we are in this situation and how we might affect real change, both as individuals and as societies, in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. They write in the hope that we – either as individuals or as decision makers in government and civil society – will be guided to respond far more quickly than is currently the case; for without swift action, we condemn future generations of human and non-human animals to lives of intolerable instability, with little hope of regaining what humans have squandered by our collective arrogance.
by Urban Squirrels’ Natalia Doran, published in the Animal Watch (Anglican) magazine.
Can language kill animals? Do we consent to this killing simply by using certain words? It is actually quite hard to kill a sentient creature. In order to do it, we usually have to rebrand them: as food, as pests, as vermin, as a danger to the public. The killing can then be called food production, management, control, culling, balancing out, protecting biosecurity or biodiversity. Just as with fellow human beings we have to first change the label of the persons we intend to kill to “enemy”, with non-human animals we also have to first change the label, both to ease our conscience and to hide the killing from others. And, before we know it, the killing gets out of control, and no one knows any longer why it has happened or how to stop it.This is certainly true in the case of animals that are classed as “invasive alien species”. A rather extreme example is the humble grey squirrel, residing in the UK since the 19th century and endlessly entertaining city dwellers in particular with their agility and intelligence. Because of their status as “invasive aliens”, they are mercilessly persecuted; a process that has passed beyond absurd in December 2019, when a law came into effect that punishes with a prison sentence of up to two years any wildlife rescuer who returns back to the wild a grey squirrel whom they took in for rehabilitation. The grey squirrel is accused of causing deforestation (not true, according to Forestry Commission research), of causing the decline of songbirds (not true, according to an extensive government-funded monitoring programme), of killing off red squirrels (who were in severe decline, due to habitat loss, before grey squirrels were introduced). And all because grey squirrels are on the list of “invasive alien species”.So who exactly are these dangerous “aliens”? The species in question, ranging from plants like Japanese knotweed to animals such as signal crayfish, muntjac deer and the afore-mentioned grey squirrels, have the misfortune of not having lived in Great Britain since the formation of the English Channel about 8000 years ago (which would make them native), or since the 12th century (which would make them naturalized). Historically, they could almost be described as victims of fashion. In the 19th century the fashion was to collect animals and plants from all over the British Empire and to try to establish them on different continents. The process was called “acclimatization” and was considered cutting edge science. It was in this atmosphere that grey squirrels, for example, were brought over from America 150 years ago. Unfortunately for the bushy-tailed ones, the pendulum of fashion has swung in the opposite direction, and introduced species are now considered public enemy number one.One could, of course, argue that the unpopularity of these species is not a question of fashion, but of their ecological impact, which is a scientific fact. But science formulates its agenda, and reports its conclusions, in words, in concepts, and it is important that these concepts are neutral and impartial, as well as equal to the task of conveying facts. The concept of “invasive alien species”, however, falls far short of these requirements. First of all, it is highly charged emotionally: “Help, we are being invaded!” Instead of “invasive” we could say “highly successful”, or “adaptable”, or “intelligent”. The scientific facts behind the statements would remain exactly the same. We would simply be adding the extra semantic layer of “aren’t they wonderful” instead of “help, we are being invaded!”. A more neutral expression would be “wide-spread” species – scientific fact, and nothing else. Plus, the word “alien” in this context sounds biased. It has the connotation of either “alien from outer space” or “does not belong here”. But “does not belong here” is not an evidence-based judgement, it is a value judgement. Habitats change, sometimes beyond all recognition, and an animal that did well in it 300 years ago (such as the red squirrel) is not necessarily going to do well in the new changed habitat, whereas an introduced species (such as the grey squirrel) can become an accidental, but nonetheless good ecological fit. So why should the history of dispersal, rather than present-day ecological fitness determine who belongs and who does not? The neutral expression “wide-spread introduced species” seems far more appropriate for scientific communication than the emotive and biased “invasive alien species”. “Invasive alien species” terminology is also problematic in purely scientific terms. As an instrument for formulating and exchanging scientific ideas, it is too blunt. As Andrew Chew and Matthew Hamilton point out in an essay entitled “The Rise and Fall of Biotic Nativeness: A Historical Perspective”, the term in question does not accomplish any theoretical work, other than justifying human intervention in nature. The authors point out that the very idea of biotic nativeness is scientifically obsolete. They write: “This is a pre-Darwinian conceptual framework, worked out before a full description of natural selection, before ecology and genetics; and none of these offer to reinvigorate it.” In other words, if scientific research and communication is guided by “invasive alien species” considerations, it amounts to taking modern science and stuffing it into a pre-Darwinian conceptual straightjacket. And it gets worse. In an article published recently in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Meera Iona Inglis notes a parallel between automatic rejection of introduced animal species with the portrayal of human immigrants as dangerous invaders – something that makes “invasive alien species” rhetoric both misleading and morally inappropriate. It is worth noting that many social media accounts that advocate the killing of grey squirrels, for example, will also carry politically far right content.In the same article Dr Inglis highlights yet another moral problem with the “invasion” narrative. Vilifying introduced species can be a distraction from far more significant problems in conservation, problems that relate to human activity. “The invasive species discourse is too often used as a political tool to scapegoat other living things for problems that are in fact caused or exacerbated by humans,” she writes. To illustrate her argument, one could add the following point. The latest UK State of Nature Report points to two main problems for wildlife: intensive farming and climate change. But tackling these issues would bring the government into conflict with powerful human interest, whereas grey squirrels, and other “invasive alien species”, are an easy target and can be legislated against with impunity.Perhaps the most famous, and certainly articulate, public opponent of the “invasion” narrative is the award-winning environmental journalist Fred Pearce. In his book entitled “The New Wild”, with the subtitle of “Why Invasive Species Will be Nature’s Salvation”, he argues that we should rather celebrate the “new wild” of a mix of species, including non-native ones, who are, in many cases, nature’s own way of overcoming the damage that homo sapiens has done to the common environment. An example that he does not give, but that easily comes to mind, is our own grey squirrel. Our current habitat, except for some parts of Scotland, simply cannot support red squirrel populations. But the far more adaptable grey squirrels can survive in our ecological mess and perform the role in the ecosystem that their red cousins used to play. And are we grateful? No, we choose to label “invasive” and persecute the species that is Nature’s own way of dealing with the environmental problems that we created.As with all public discussion, any criticism also draws counter-criticism. Those who object to the use of “invasive alien species” vocabulary have been called science-deniers. This counter-criticism, however, rather misses the point of exactly what is denied. It is not the science that is rejected, but the conceptual tools that the science operates with, it is not the same thing. Science does not make moral decisions for us. Science can tell us, for example, that in certain habitats one species outcompete another (e.g. the grey squirrel outcompetes the red in most British habitats). But science does not then tell us to kill off the more successful grey squirrels and artificially maintain the red squirrels in conditions that are not suitable for them. This is a moral decision, and one that is not helped by the automatic adoption of “invasion” terminology.So let us not be taken in by words. “Invasive alien species” rhetoric leads to animal cruelty on a massive scale. Once labelled “invasive alien species”, animals lose what little moral protection they had, and are exposed to unimaginable mistreatment, from being denied help by vets to being culled (another euphemism for killed, of course) in their thousands and millions. Grey squirrels, for example, are trapped, transferred to a bag and hit on the head by an army of volunteers recruited by conservation charities. These acts were first described as “bludgeoning” in the press, but the newspapers were later forced to change this to “cranial dispatch” – another linguistic trick for us to watch out for. Some other examples of language being used to cover up activities that the public may find distasteful are: “managing the ecosystem”, “protecting biodiversity”, “balancing the habitat”. These can all be euphemisms for killing animals that some humans think should not be there. If we love animals, we should be careful about the language we use, and be prepared to examine the language that others use, so that we do not sleepwalk into condoning animal cruelty that is normally abhorrent to us. In the English-speaking world we have all heard that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me”. For millions of animals it is, sadly, not true.
Jane Dalton, The Independent/ Carbon Brief summary.
In a new report, experts have warned that preventing future pandemics depends on tackling biodiversity loss and climate change, the Independent says. The publication from the UN-established Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says that unless there is a massive shift in human activity, the world will face further disease outbreaks, the news outlet explains. The report says: “The underlying causes of pandemics are the same global environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss and climate change. These include land-use change, agricultural expansion and intensification, and wildlife trade and consumption.” IPBES found that about half of an estimated 1.7m undiscovered viruses in nature might be able to infect people, Reuters reports, adding that activities such as trading in wildlife, poaching or clearing forest to grow soy or palm oil can bring humans and pathogens into closer proximity. The report says that curbing intensive meat production would help alleviate pandemic risk, says the i newspaper, as would a tax on meat. IPBES chair Dr Peter Daszak tells the paper that a levy on the production or consumption of meat was a “viable strategy” for reducing the risk of pandemics as well as improving public health and the climate. He said: “It’s bad for our health, we know that. And it’s also unsustainable in terms of its environmental impact. It’s also a driver of pandemic risk…We can continue to eat meat, but we need to do it in a way that is far more sustainable if we want to get rid of pandemics.” (Carbon Brief recently published an interactive on the climate impact of meat and dairy.) The report notes that preventing pandemics could be more than 100 times cheaper than tackling their deadly effects, BBC News says. The Guardian adds the costs of changing land use practices “would be ‘trivial’, the experts found, compared with the trillions of dollars of damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic alone.” The Daily Telegraph, Hill and BusinessGreen also cover the report, while Carbon Brief has previously published a Q&A on the links between climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics. Finally, Axios reports that the “pandemic is throwing a wrench into Americans’ understanding of science, which has big implications for climate change”. It adds: “Recent focus groups in battleground states suggest some voters are more sceptical of scientists in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while surveys reveal the persistence of a deep partisan divide.”
I have chosen two sections from the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Social Document (see details below) which are found just prior to the concluding section because they contain crucial teachings regarding the non-human animal creation. My comments are in italics:
“Our reconciliation with God must necessarily express itself also in our reconciliation with nature, including our reconciliation with animals.” Human salvation is therefore in jeopardy if we fail to care for the animal creation.
” The animals that fill the world are testament to the bounty of God’s creative love, its variety and richness; and all the beasts of the natural order are enfolded in God’s love; not even a single sparrow falls without God seeing (Matthew 10:29). Moreover, animals by their very innocence remind us of the paradise that human sin has squandered, and their capacity for blameless suffering reminds us of the cosmic cataclysm induced by humanity’s alienation from God.” The suffering of animals ought to remind us of the innocent suffering of Christ.
“We must recall also that all the promises of scripture regarding the age that is to come concern not merely the spiritual destiny of humanity, but the future of a redeemed cosmos, in which plant and animal life are plentifully present, renewed in a condition of cosmic harmony.” Animals will be in the future Kingdom of God and are not to be dismissed as non-eternal beings.
On Friday, March 27, 2020 His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew appointed a special commission of theologians to prepare a document on the social teaching of the Orthodox Church, in the spirit of and reflecting upon the relevant decisions of the Holy and Great Council of Crete (June 2016). Commissioned in early 2017, the document assembled input from numerous eparchies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate throughout the world and was submitted to the Holy and Sacred Synod, which, in late 2019, congratulated the commission for its inspiring work and recommended the publication of this text.
For the Life of the Word: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church is now online in twelve languages. The statement does not pronounce clear-cut responses to social challenges, but instead proposes general guidelines to difficult questions. The purpose is to initiate reflection and conversation on what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Revelation 2:7). In the words of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, “This text opens us up to the implications of what it means to be loved by God, and to respond to that love by loving one another.”
While the document was completed prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, it nonetheless addresses the importance of social responsibility, the voice of faith in a world of science, medicine and technology, as well as the response of the Church on matters related to health care, social justice, and public welfare. In this regard, the document provides a framework for addressing current challenges as well as challenges we haven’t yet imagined.
For the Life of the World presents a way of reaching out across social distancing at a time of global calamity – as our faithful are either self-isolated and quarantined (a term that literally refers to a period of forty days and reflects the church’s struggle during Great Lent) – in order to address the role of the Church at a time of spiritual crisis, challenge, and concern. Therefore, the document is being released during Great Lent as a period of self-discipline and reflection on our interdependence and vocation to care for one another. It is offered with humility and love for reflection and conversation as all of us “shelter in place.”
77 We must also recall, moreover, that human beings are part of the intricate and delicate web of creation, and that their welfare cannot be isolated from the welfare of the whole natural world. As St. Maximus the Confessor argued, in Christ all the dimensions of humanity’s alienation from its proper nature are overcome, including its alienation from the rest of the physical cosmos; and Christ came in part to restore to material creation its original nature as God’s earthly paradise. Our reconciliation with God, therefore, must necessarily express itself also in our reconciliation with nature, including our reconciliation with animals. It is no coincidence that the creation narrative of Genesis describes the making of animal life and the making of humanity as occurring on the same day (Genesis 1:24–31). Nor should it be forgotten that, according to the story of the Great Flood, Noah’s covenant with God encompasses the animals in the ark and all their descendants, in perpetuity (Genesis 9:9–11). The unique grandeur of humanity in this world, the image of God within each person, is also a unique responsibility and ministry, a priesthood in service to the whole of creation in its anxious longing for God’s glory. Humanity shares the earth with all other living things, but singularly among living creatures possesses the ability and authority to care for it (or, sadly, to destroy it). The animals that fill the world are testament to the bounty of God’s creative love, its variety and richness; and all the beasts of the natural order are enfolded in God’s love; not even a single sparrow falls without God seeing (Matthew 10:29). Moreover, animals by their very innocence remind us of the paradise that human sin has squandered, and their capacity for blameless suffering reminds us of the cosmic cataclysm induced by humanity’s alienation from God. We must recall also that all the promises of scripture regarding the age that is to come concern not merely the spiritual destiny of humanity, but the future of a redeemed cosmos, in which plant and animal life are plentifully present, renewed in a condition of cosmic harmony.
§78 Thus, in the lives of the saints, there are numerous stories about wild beasts, of the kind that would normally be horrifying or hostile to human beings, drawn to the kindness of holy men and women. In the seventh century, Abba Isaac of Nineveh defined a merciful heart as “a heart burning for the sake of the entire creation, for people, for birds, for animals . . . and for every created thing.” This is a consistent theme in the witness of the saints. St. Gerasimos healed a wounded lion near the Jordan River; St. Hubertus, having received a vision of Christ while hunting deer, proclaimed an ethic of conservation for hunters; St. Columbanus befriended wolves, bears, birds, and rabbits; St. Sergius tamed a wild bear; St. Seraphim of Sarov fed the wild animals; St. Mary of Egypt may well have befriended the lion that guarded her remains; St. Innocent healed a wounded eagle; St. Melangell was known for her protection of wild rabbits and the taming of their predators; in the modern period, St. Paisios lived in harmony with snakes. And not only animals, but plants as well, must be objects of our love. St. Kosmas the Aetolian preached that “people will remain poor, because they have no love for trees” and St. Amphilochios of Patmos asked, “Do you know that God gave us one more commandment that is not recorded in scripture? It is the commandment to love the trees.” The ascetic ethos and the Eucharistic spirit of the Orthodox Church perfectly coincide in this great sacramental vision of creation, which discerns the traces of God’s presence “everywhere present and filling all things” (Prayer to the Holy Spirit) even in a world still as yet languishing in bondage to sin and death. It is a vision, moreover, that perceives human beings as bound to all of creation, as well as one that encourages them to rejoice in the goodness and beauty of the whole world. This ethos and this spirit together remind us that gratitude and wonder, hope and joy, are our only appropriate—indeed, our truly creative and fruitful—attitude in the face of the ecological crisis now confronting the planet, because they alone can give us the willingness and the resolve to serve the good of creation as unremittingly as we must, out of love for it and its creator.
An excellent speech, which focuses attention on the need to change the way we view/tackle the effects of Climate Change. Five key areas are identified and are crucial in providing a sustainable future for both human and non-human lives.
One example mentioned is the need to tackle the wildfires that are devastating large areas of pristine forests and ecosystems. We cannot understand why governments wait for a lull in the weather in order to get on top of these fires. This is outdated practice used for normal fires, not the mega-fires of today and tomorrow. Countries have standing armies that can be immediately deployed or there could be a specialised group from countries across the globe who can be called in to aid and assist countries suffering such incidents. The key is to get in early to minimize the loss of animal lives and environmental damage, which would in turn, also prevent the loss of human life and property.
SUNDAY, 20th SEPTEMBER 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to have been invited to open this year’s critical Climate Week. The borderless climate, biodiversity and health crises are all symptoms of a planet that has been pushed beyond its planetary boundaries. Without swift and immediate action, at an unprecedented pace and scale, we will miss the window of opportunity to ‘Reset’ for a ‘green / blue recovery’ and a more sustainable and inclusive future. In other words, the global pandemic is a wake-up call we simply cannot ignore.
Having been at this now for well over forty years, I have long observed that people tend not to act until there is a real crisis. Ladies and Gentlemen, that crisis has been with us for far too many years – decried, denigrated and denied. It is now rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
At this late stage, I can see no other way forward but to call for a ‘Marshall-like Plan for Nature, People and Planet’. With the planetary emergency so critical – with the permafrost melting in Siberia for instance, producing dire effects on global warming, and with the Pantanal in Brazil being consumed by unprecedented numbers of fires, we can no longer go on like this, as if there was no tomorrow and no ultimate reckoning for our abuse of Nature. So what do we do? Without doubt we must now put ourselves on a war-like footing, approaching our action from the perspective of a military-style campaign. That way, working together, we can combat this most grave and urgent challenge.
If we have the resolve to shift our trajectory, we must start now by bringing forward our net zero target – I am afraid 2050 simply suggests we have room to delay. Using the frameworks of my Sustainable Markets Initiative and the imperative of The Great Reset, and knowing that we are all familiar with the problem we face, I would just like to outline, if I may, five overall action areas of this Marshall-like Plan for which coherent strategies should be assembled.
First of all, by COP26, and using a ‘future of industry’ approach, it would make a very great difference if each of the main sectors of the economy ( whether energy, transport, financial services, and so on) were to outline publically accessible roadmaps that identify the steps to net zero from 2020 to 2030 along with plans for the protection and restoration of natural capital and biodiversity. We have an incredible opportunity to create entirely new sustainable industries, products, services and supply chains. Moving together, with clear roadmaps, we can create efficiencies and economies of scale that will allow us to leapfrog our collective progress and accelerate our transition.
In these efforts we can also make sustainable options the trusted and attainable options for consumers. After all, market-leading companies have demonstrated that it is entirely possible to be profitable and sustainable at the same time. In fact, businesses and investments that are ESG aligned are increasingly out-performing those that are not, even in the current economic crisis. To put these roadmaps into practice in operational terms, we need our financial experts, along with our Chief Financial Officers, to help design the business and investment case to match growing demand for sustainable goods and services.
Secondly, having listened to the wise and experienced business leaders who are involved in my Sustainable Markets Initiative, I would also encourage countries themselves to work towards COP26 by outlining publicly available roadmaps to net zero which set out priority industries for transition along with the actions required to restore or enhance biodiversity and natural capital. It is absolutely vital, given the enormity of the problem we face, that we make truly transformative progress along the road to net zero by 2030, taking the tough decisions now rather than deferring them to the next generation.
With roughly two-thirds of emissions taking place in cities and with a near doubling of the world’s urban population projected in the next fifty years, it is clear that the spatial planning of cities to allow for sustainable growth is imperative. My Foundation has been working with Commonwealth partners to develop a Mayor’s rapid planning toolkit focussed on secondary cities where more than half of the urban growth is projected and where far fewer planning professionals exist. As we seek to rebalance the urban-rural divide and the need to address rural to urban migration, the physical implementation of secondary city plans is one of the areas that can have the most positive impact in the coming decades. Cities and local government leaders can and must lead the way, and I would encourage if I may city leaders to showcase their city plans and sustainable building solutions at COP26 in order to accelerate further progress.
Thirdly, by COP26 we need a global investment strategy for restoring Harmony with Nature. This includes major investment in Nature-based solutions in sectors like agriculture, forestry and fisheries – indeed, for all the resources that we take from the Earth. Nature’s contribution to the global economy is estimated to be worth more than $125 trillion annually – that’s greater than the entire world’s annual G.D.P. If we build conservation and nature-based solutions into our asset base and supply chains we will be able, therefore, to drive significant economic growth for countries and businesses alike – including in areas such as the circular bioeconomy, ecotourism and green public infrastructure.
In order to accelerate the restoration of biodiversity and Nature’s ecosystems in the short time left to us, it will be essential to target coordinated and globally trusted carbon-offsetting funds from the entire private sector to the recovery of Natural Capital and the reduction of carbon emissions. Similarly, to buy us crucial time as we transition, Carbon Capture, Use and Storage will be utterly vital if we are to draw down on the excess of carbon that needs to be removed from the atmosphere.
To have the impact required, we must also think at scale. Global mega projects such as 30% by 2030, the Great Green Wall, Africa 100, the 20×20 Initiative and many others, have the potential not only to improve natural capital, but also to increase opportunities in the green economy while improving sustainable livelihoods and local economic growth.
If, Ladies and Gentlemen, we valued our natural capital properly, our national and individual balance sheets might look very different indeed! So let us start to articulate, fully and clearly, Nature’s value and begin building our business and economic solutions around the wealth that Nature affords us – particularly, if I may say so, through the establishment of a long overdue and effective market for ecosystem services. Only this way can we rebuild Nature’s unique capacity to sustain us.
Fourthly, Ladies and Gentlemen, by COP26, my great hope is that we might also see global financial institutions and institutional investors outline publically accessible roadmaps that define the steps to take their portfolios to net zero between 2020 to 2030. After all, we know that it is not a lack of capital that is impeding our progress, but how we deploy it.
We must also explore how to reverse perverse subsidies and improve incentives for sustainable alternatives. Re-orientating economic subsidies, financial incentives and regulations can have a dramatic and transformative effect on our market systems. For instance, for many years I have tried to encourage the adoption of the “polluter pays” principle in order to provide the necessary incentives. Public policy, therefore, has a critical role to play – particularly, if I may say so, in the possibility of the development of an effective, equitable form of carbon-pricing – perhaps one based on a “Citizen Dividend” model – which could unlock a huge flow of investment into zero carbon technologies currently seen as uneconomic.
The good news is that, on every pressing issue we face, there are solutions that are not just available, but increasingly cost effective. At the same time there are trillions of dollars in sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, insurance and asset portfolios looking for investible and sustainable projects with good long-term value and rates of return. It is time to align sustainable solutions with funding in a way that can transform the market place. This requires not only showcasing high potential investments, but that we reimagine financial analysis, structuring and models of return. I must say that I am greatly encouraged that members of my Sustainable Markets Initiative are starting to lead the way.
Fifthly, we are on the verge of catalytic breakthroughs that will alter our view of what is possible – and profitable – within the framework of a sustainable future. By COP26, we need a comprehensive strategy for science, technology and innovation, with clear entry points for investment, in support of industry, country and city roadmaps.
With the enormity of these opportunities, our science-based and economic systems are vital to finding and scaling the solutions we so desperately need. We have seen in the last decade how quickly sustainable technologies can move if there is a strong market signal and a clear sense of direction. This is absolutely crucial if we are to accelerate the pace.
Ladies and Gentleman, as we consider these five areas, the exponential win-win benefit only comes when we find points of common interest and seek to leapfrog our collective progress. When industries, innovators and investors understand the longer-term direction and priorities of countries, they are better able to mobilize, in order to partner with each other, to invest and grow the market. Similarly, a market signal in one industry can rapidly mobilize others to act. Knowing the direction of travel is half the battle, which is why these roadmaps are so critical. The more we know about our shared ambitions for the future, the more we can help each other get to the destination.
Ladies and Gentlemen, achieving a sustainable future is the growth story of our time and can, in fact, fuel our post-pandemic recovery in a way that pays dividends for decades to come. But the window for action is rapidly closing. A new ‘Marshall-like Plan for Nature, People and Planet’ is urgently needed if we are to align our collective efforts for the highest possible impact and to save our planet from continued destruction. I trust you will all agree that our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
With the aim of capturing the will and imagination of humanity, while seeking to accelerate the identification of solutions, I am pleased to be launching a visual platform for short films called RE:TV. I hope this can be one way to demonstrate what is now possible in the pursuit of a sustainable future. Through my Sustainable Markets Initiative and The Great Reset, I remain committed to working with ‘Coalitions of the Willing’ to push these efforts forward. Billions of people around the world are waiting and longing for concerted action to right the balance of this planet that we have so rashly disrupted. Millions of younger employees of countless companies and corporations are desperate for action not more words. It is their lives we are gambling with, as well as the ultimate survival of everything that tries to share this ailing Earth with us. So let’s get on with the urgent task of forming a global alliance to overcome the perverse obstacles facing us.
Clarence House Communications
An excellent discussion.
Our Charity belongs to the Animal Interfaith Alliance. Despite our numerous differences in beliefs, we share a common belief that the creation, including the animal creation, should be nurtured and loved, rather than abused. For those who saw the powerful David Attenborough programme ‘Extinction’ last night, https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000mn4n/extinction-the-facts and who follow us and organisations like us, will not be surprised at its content. The short article below shows how close our respective religions are on such issues and remedies.
The Hindu and Jain Perspective
Two of the oldest religions of the world, Hinduism and Jainism have advocated a lifestyle which is in harmony with nature. The resources that nature has provided in the form of forests, rivers, oceans as well as the sun and the moon are worshipable to Hindus and Jains. The idea is not to exploit the world’s resources but to respect and revere them. It is
not unusual to see people in India offering prayers to the rivers, mountains, the sun and moon, or bowing down to an elephant. The idea that animals are sentient beings and have souls has been around for tens of thousands of years. The struggle that other cultures and faiths have with this idea is a source of mystery to faiths born in India namely Hinduism,
Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Compassion towards animals is a core belief of Hindus and Jains. Indeed, there is no spiritual progress without compassion towards all living beings. It is bad karma to harm animals – even insects. It is in the nature of a mosquito to bite you but it is bad karma to harm it. You may protect yourself from being bitten by taking preventive measures but you should not harm it. Just as every action has a reaction, good and bad karma will impact an individual’s actions.
Closely linked with the law of karma is the belief in reincarnation. The holy book of the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita states that we have all been born before and will be born again. Our next birth depends on our actions in this birth.
The Hindu Perspective
The Bhumi (Earth) Project has put together a Hindu declaration on climate change. It quotes several ancient Hindu scriptures.
Atharva Veda (12.12): “The Earth is my mother and I am her child.”
The Mahabharata (109.10): “Dharma exists for the welfare of all beings. Hence, that by which the welfare of all beings is sustained, that for sure is Dharma.”
The Srimad Bhagvatam (11/2/41): “Ether, Air, Water, Earth, Planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this a devotee respects all species.”
The Jain Perspective
The Jain Declaration on Nature was presented to Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace on 23 October 1990.
There are 24 Tirthankars, enlightened souls, in Jainism. The 24th Tirthankar, Lord Mahaveer was present around 2,600 years ago. He preached a complete and absolute compassion to all living beings. Jains are well known for running animal sanctuaries in India. There are 5 main concepts Jains live by:
Non-violence (Ahimsa); truth (Satya); non-stealing (Asetya); chastity (Brahmacharya); and Non-possessiveness or non-materialism (Aparigraha).
Jain monks live to the letter of these principles. From being extra vigilant in not harming even an ant or an insect to living by using a minimum amount of resources. Even a drop of water should not be wasted. There is another concept Jains live by. It is called ‘Abhay Daan’. It means giving someone protection from fear of death. So not only are you required to avoid
any violence (himsa), you have to be proactive in your non-violence (ahimsa). This means you should actively campaign against all forms of exploitation, especially of animals as they cannot fight for themselves. Many Hindus and Jains stop animals being taken for illegal slaughter.
Jains also believe in the idea of ‘Parasparopagraho Jivanam’, meaning that we are interdependent on other living beings as well as all that nature provided in the form of rivers, oceans, forests and mountains.
In 1958, Chairman Mao launched a war on sparrows because they were eating too much grain. The whole country was mobilised to kill millions of them. Around 195,00 were killed in one day in Shanghai alone. Sparrows were important to the food chain. The bugs they fed on thrived, the locust population spiralled out of control, as did grasshoppers. The insects
devoured the crops and famine followed. A salient lesson to human beings that when you disturb nature it reacts with ferocity. In the West the emphasis is on taming nature and taking everything out of it. This is the reason why the world is on the brink of disaster. In our own lifetime we are seeing droughts, cyclones, hurricanes and many other disasters. Driven
by short-term profits, the human race just does not see what is staring in its face. Future generations will suffer greatly for our folly.
Plant based healthy diet.
The health benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet are indisputable. Various forms of cancer, diabetes and heart diseases are linked with meat eating. The biggest challenge facing the medical world now is that antibiotics are not working. This is because 45% of all antibiotics are fed to animals raised for meat and they are losing their potency. Without effective antibiotics, diseases like TB and pneumonia will rise once again. Surgery, childbirth and organ transplant will all become dangerous without antibiotics.
Economic Sustainability and the Planet
Capitalism has become the world order. The fight to restrain the forces of consumerism it has galvanised is futile. In 1909 Mahatma Gandhi talked about the danger of unplanned and reckless industrialisation. However, his voice and that of others like Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Ruskin, Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy were drowned out by the march of
industrialisation. We will have to narrow down to the biggest cause of the plight of the planet and what impacts mother Earth most negatively and try to tackle it.
Meat and Fish Consumption
The one single factor that poses the greatest threat to the planet is meat and fish consumption. Over 70 billion animals are raised and killed for meat consumption every year. Our planet is simply not big enough to sustain these numbers. The destruction of rainforests for cattle ranching, the insatiable demand to produce cereals to feed the animals, the waste
of water resources, the billions of tons of animals waste choking the waterways and the methane gas released by billions of farm animals is the cause of the plight of the planet. The earthworms, pollinating bees, insects and birds are all disappearing. We might have only a few harvests left. Huge trawlers used in fishing are killing off all marine life, mangrove forests and coral reefs. The future generations face a catastrophe with an uninhabitable planet.
Mankind’s brutal treatment of animals is leaving a cloud of unmovable despondency, which is leaving human beings bereft of any joy, happiness or peace. To mend the planet European nations and the United States need to urgently abandon meat, fish and dairy. A vegan diet is the only solution to save the world. Veganism is the ideal but vegetarianism can be a very important first step for those who cannot make a direct transition from being a carnivore to a vegan. The out-dated plea by the United Nations and some animal welfare organisations to reduce meat consumption will not work anymore. Justice will also be served to the downtrodden and poor nations of South America and Africa as instead of food cereals being fed to animals raised for meat , it will become accessible to them at affordable prices.
Animals have to be accorded fundamental rights. They should not be exported to other countries, they should not be hunted, they should not be imprisoned in cages, they should not be subject to horrific experiments. All forms of animal exploitation should become illegal.
We need a new dawn whereby mankind makes peace with the animal kingdom. We will not be doing any favours to animals, we will be doing ourselves a favour. Once the killing of billions of animals stops mankind will be at peace with itself. It is now or never.
Nitin Mehta MBE email@example.com; http://www.nitinmehta.co.uk/
Founder Young Indian Vegetarians and Jain Animal Sanctuary; Member One Jain, UK. Aug 2020
Having read the policies proposed by this group – Friends of the Earth, we can support their views.
This report identifies the policy changes needed for a green and fair recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Green because human health and wellbeing is dependent on a healthy planet. The impacts of climate change seen across the world are a vivid demonstration of this reality, but also, as the World Health Organisation says “our own destructive behaviour towards nature is endangering our own health – a stark reality we’ve been collectively ignoring for decades.”
Fair because while we all suffer the consequences of a degraded world, not everyone suffers equally. For example, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities suffer most from the lack of green space in our towns and cities and from worse air pollution. And globally it’s poorer communities who suffer most from environmental degradation, despite having contributed least to these problems. Fairness is not, however, just a moral imperative – it’s also a necessity for addressing shared global problems. We’re all in this together, and we need to act like it.
The COVID-19 recovery plans that are being written are a great opportunity for change. As Arundhati Roy puts it so eloquently, “historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.”
We identify actions needed in 5 areas: health and wellbeing, green jobs, fixing the economy to work for people and the planet, international co-operation, and empowering communities and their elected local politicians to lead the recovery. Right now, there is an unprecedented breadth of people, organisations, and businesses calling for COVID-19 recovery plans to be green and fair. Now is our opportunity, we must not squander it.
Note: throughout the document policy demands are made that have implications for all levels of government – the UK government, devolved nations, areas in England with devolution deals, combined local authorities, and individual local authorities. All areas are likely to be writing COVID-19 recovery plans of some description. In our policy demands we have been specific to the level of government where it is necessary to do so, in other cases we refer more broadly to COVID-19 Recovery Plans as the policy demand will need to be addressed in plans written at the different levels of government.
Human health and wellbeing is dependent on a healthy planet. The impacts of climate change seen across the world are a too often vivid demonstration of this reality. Destruction of habitats also impacts on human health. For example, the United Nations and World Health Organisation have highlighted that many diseases over recent years, including Sars and Ebola, originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures. The same might be found to be true for COVID-19. They warn that “our own destructive behaviour towards nature is endangering our own health – a stark reality we’ve been collectively ignoring for decades.”1 We need to fix the planet for our own health and wellbeing, as well as for the wellbeing of future generations.
While we all suffer the consequences of a degraded world, not everyone suffers equally. BAME communities suffer most from the lack of green space in our towns and cities, and they suffer worse air pollution. Poorer and marginalised communities are least able to prepare for the extreme weather caused by climate change and least able to respond and rebound when it occurs. Globally it is poorer communities, and particularly BAME people, who suffer the most from climate breakdown, air pollution and other forms of environmental degradation. The great injustice is that poorer people and marginalised communities have contributed least to these problems but are disproportionately harmed.
The respected Lancet Commission on Climate Change has said “left unabated, climate change will define the health profile of current and future generations, will challenge already overwhelmed health systems, and undermine progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and universal health coverage (UHC).”2 In other words, it’s necessary to address the environmental causes of ill health, as well as properly invest in the health systems that we all rely on when we fall ill, a point made strongly by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.3
The UK’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan, as well as recovery plans developed by the UK’s nations and local authorities, are an opportunity to build back better by simultaneously rebuilding our economy while addressing the health threats that result from continued environmental degradation.
Make cycling and walking safe and easy, by spending £2 billion a year on them
The UK has much lower levels of cycling than countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands. Increasing the proportion of journeys by bike is necessary to reduce carbon emissions. It is also necessary to reduce crowded public transport, traffic congestion, and air pollution as the public are told to avoid public transport to enable social distancing. As part of the COVID-19 Recovery Plan the UK government must commit to spending £2 billion a year on walking and cycling. This would bring us up to the level of investment in countries such as the Netherlands.4 As part of this it will be necessary to ensure that devolved nations also have the necessary resources to deliver the quality cycling infrastructure that is needed. A June 2020 poll found that in 5 of the UK’s major cities almost four-fifths of residents want cars to give way to bikes, buses and walking.5
The recent encouragement of local authorities to install temporary cycle lanes by the UK government and devolved nations is welcome. But COVID-19 Recovery Plans must go further and enable temporary changes to reallocate road space to pedestrians and cyclists to be made permanent.
Research for Friends of the Earth by Transport for Quality of Life has shown that the provision of segregated cycleways at the scale provided in countries such as Denmark, alongside widespread adoption of e-bikes, could result in a third of journeys being by bike.6 This would significantly benefit health and reduce climate change gases and air pollution. The Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions at the University of Leeds has even suggested that the use of e-bikes in rural as well as urban areas could halve carbon emissions from surface transport.7
Spending on cycling and walking is socially progressive as well. Almost 50% of low-income families don’t have access to a car, the proportion of women that don’t have access is double that of men, and BAME people are less likely to have access to a car than white people.8
Reduce air pollution to World Health Organisation standards by 2030 including by investing £8 billion additional money annually into clean, affordable public transport.
So far the government has been resisting putting a firm date for meeting the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards into law. This is despite the death toll and the widespread support to include this date in the Environment Bill, which is progressing through Parliament. The Welsh government is committed to a new Clean Air Act, including on WHO standards, with a White Paper due later this year. The Environment Bill should include a 2030 target as the latest date for air quality to meet WHO standards, as should a Clean Air Act in Wales.
Meeting these air pollution targets will require a significant shift from car travel to public transport, cycling and walking. This is true even with a rapid shift to electric cars. Likewise meeting climate goals will also require such a shift. This means significantly increasing the availability, quality, and affordability of public transport, including buses and trams. The Government and devolved nations must set a target to double the proportion of people that travel by walking, cycling and public transport by 2030. Currently only around one-third of journeys are by walking, cycling or public transport.
Right now, public transport is suffering financially as the public are urged to avoid using it where possible. Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and Transport for Quality of Life have previously argued that bus franchising plus changing the structure of the railway so that it is a single entity operating under public control is necessary to meeting climate goals.11 The COVID-19 pandemic makes this more necessary, as private companies are in effect being almost entirely bankrolled by the public purse. For example, the railway companies have already been provided with an additional £3.5 billion and are calling for substantial financial support for at least the next 18 months.12The UK COVID-19 Recovery Plan must set a pathway for rapid railway renationalisation and local authority bus franchising. In Wales, the government is supportive of bus franchising but need to fast-track the action necessary to make it happen. It should also include developing more innovative ticketing, such as part-time season tickets to support more frequent home working.
In addition, even before COVID-19 there was a need to substantially increase investment in public transport. The UK government COVID-19 Recovery Plan must invest at least £1.3 billion a year more on buses, £5.52 billion on rail, and at least £1 billion a year on new trams, and this should be in addition to the extra funds provided to compensate for falling passenger numbers. A fair share of this will need to be allocated to devolved nations.
Meeting air pollution goals will also require the implementation of Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) in towns and cities where air pollution is high.13 ULEZs must be funded as part of COVID-19 Recovery Plans, and their introduction should not be delayed.
Lastly, the government is reportedly considering a scrappage scheme as part of the COVID-19 Recovery Plan. An international review of previous scrappage schemes suggests that schemes that do allow for the purchase of another car should be restricted to only pure electric and funded by increasing taxes on more polluting vehicles.14 The UK government scrappage scheme should go further by supporting a modal shift in preference to a new car purchase, including the purchase of a bike or e-bike and public transport tickets, in order to support the growth of the most sustainable forms of transport. Focussing more on sustainable travel is also more equitable, as in practice a scrappage scheme aimed at the purchase of new cars only really works well with those with spare capital or easy access to credit which in effect rules out those on lower incomes.
If it does include support for buying an electric car this needs to be additional to the sales the car industry already needs to make to comply with EU law. It must not support the purchase of hybrid vehicles or Euro 6 cars or vans.
Ensure access to high quality, nature-rich, green spaces for all.
Only around a third of the population have access to a public park or playing field of a reasonable size15 within a 5-minute walk, and deprived communities particularly suffer from a lack of quantity of green space within their areas, as has been witnessed during the COVID-19 lockdown. White people are nearly 4 times as likely as black people to have access to outdoor space at home, whether it be a private or shared garden, a patio, or a balcony.16 Also, not everyone has equal access to trees in urban areas either, with poorer areas often having fewer trees and only wealthy urban areas have greater than 30% tree cover according to Forest Research.17 Forest Research has said that all urban areas should have a minimum 20% tree cover. Friends of the Earth is calling for UK tree cover to be doubled and for the minimum urban 20% tree cover target to be met, and COVID-19 Recovery Plans should work towards this.
Green space and connecting people to nature is key to improving mental and physical health, as illustrated through the growth in social prescribing by health professionals who allocate an amount of weekly exercise in a green space or involvement in a community gardening project. It is not just the quantity of green space that matters, it is also the quality. Public green space should be managed to be nature-rich (eg, pesticide-free) and attractive to use (for example, free of litter, dog waste, etc.). Green space also helps mitigate the impact of heat waves in urban areas.
Quality nature-rich green space, alongside other green infrastructure such as green corridors (eg, street trees) and blue (water) corridors, are essential for nature restoration and resilience. The highly respected Lawton Review identified the critical role for green networks within our cities and towns in addition to more space for wildlife in our countryside if the UK is to deliver on nature restoration.
The Environmental Audit Committee has recommended that the National Planning Policy Framework in England should be revised to include a public green space target on local authorities. The government has responded to this recommendation by saying that “once the Green Infrastructure framework [under development] has been published, Defra and MHCLG will work together to see how our commitments on GI can be incorporated into national planning guidance and policy.”3
COVID-19 Recovery Plans and planning policy must require and enable local authorities to meet quantity and quality green space standards that enable healthy living and help restore nature. In some places this may be repurposing car parks or roads to parks and parklets.
The UK COVID-19 Recovery Plan must increase funding for national nature restoration, including £0.8 billion a year for habitat creation (including afforestation to move towards a target of doubling tree cover) and £2.6 billion a year on environmental land management to ensure public money paid to farmers is used for public goods as recommended by the Greener UK coalition.18
Enshrine a right to a Healthy Environment in law.
The COVID-19 recovery plan must lead to a reduction of health inequalities which have become more apparent during the crisis, including those that result from a degraded and polluted environment.
Strong environmental and health regulations are essential to protect citizens from harm and enhance their wellbeing. But regulations do not cover all threats to health and in any case, regulators may choose not to adequately monitor or enforce them for a range of reasons (eg, lack of resources or staff, other priorities, or political pressure). In some instances, the public does not have standing to take forward its own case to enforce regulations directly in the courts, and Judicial Review may not be a realistic option. The ability of citizens to protect their health would be significantly enhanced by enshrining in a law a new legal right to a healthy environment that they can enforce easily and effectively where damaging environmental decisions impact their health and wellbeing.
A report to the UN General Assembly in New York by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd, said 155 countries already have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to a healthy environment, including countries such as Portugal, Spain, France and Norway.19
Wales has taken a step in this direction with its Wellbeing of Future Generations Act which requires public bodies to set objectives with a view to maximising their contribution to achieving each of the wellbeing goals, including “a society in which people’s physical and mental wellbeing is maximised.”20Although this is an important contribution to achieving sustainable development, a legally enforceable right to a Healthy Environment would significantly add to the legal certainty that is needed.
A new law should:
The UK COVID-19 Recovery Plan should commit to introducing a new law to provide people with a Right to a Healthy Environment as one of the tools for eliminating health inequalities that result from a degraded and polluted environment.
The Bank of England has said that unemployment could double because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 8 million jobs have been temporarily saved by the government’s furloughing programme but many of those may be lost over the following year. There is a need to create new jobs but not in polluting activities that harm the environment and public health. Instead the jobs need to be created in industries that protect and restore the environment or improve wellbeing in other ways.
There are already several reports that estimate how many jobs could be created through investing in the green economy through COVID-19 recovery plans. Estimates of job numbers vary in these because of different methodologies or boundaries of what jobs are and are not included in the studies, but they all point towards significant job creation opportunities if investment is prioritised to the green economy.
The potential for growing green jobs is clearly huge, if policies are put in place to deliver them.
Create 40,000 new jobs and eradicate fuel poverty by rolling out a massive programme of home insulation.
The UK has a notoriously old and leaky housing stock, and more than 2.5 million households in the UK are in fuel poverty. The sad reality is that this number will increase substantially if the coronavirus pandemic extends into the autumn and winter. Investment in energy efficiency has collapsed over recent years because of funding cuts.
In addition, to meet climate change targets, it is necessary to start replacing the gas heating and cooking in the UK’s homes with eco-heating options such as heat pumps. Under the current government proposals, it would take 1,500 years to fit the necessary number of heat pumps.26
The UK government and devolved nations should use COVID-19 Recovery Plans to bring all homes up to a decent energy efficient standard by 2030 (at least EPC C standard) and collectively install an average of 1 million heat pumps per year. This will create jobs across the UK, including in areas of high unemployment and those where the economic impact of COVID-19 has been greatest.
The Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group have called for an additional public investment into energy efficiency for the next two years to create 40,000 new jobs, in addition to the financial pledges made by the government in the Conservative Party Manifesto.23 Its estimate of the new investment needed for energy efficiency is comparable with that made by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, E3G and others in 2019.27 In our report we identified that around £5.4 billion was needed each year for insulation and installing low carbon heating options such as heat pumps. In total, over the next two years COVID-19 Recovery Plans should invest at least £10.5 billion into energy efficiency and heating. Additional government and devolved nation investment in this area will also encourage private investment across the UK.
But spending is not all that is required as regulation is also necessary, including:
The regulation of energy efficiency in homes is not devolved to Wales as it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although Friends of the Earth argues it should be.
Quadruple the rate of renewable energy construction to create tens of thousands of new jobs.
The government has set an ambition for 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, which will create tens of thousands of new jobs, particularly in areas which have suffered job losses due to the decline of industries such as shipbuilding and steel. This is very welcome. They have also said that onshore wind and solar can now compete for their Contracts-for-Difference (CfD) support scheme, which guarantees a price for the electricity produced and gives investor confidence. However, they also limit the amount that can be built using this support mechanism. But in England they have in place a brake on onshore wind development through a de facto ban that in effect allows a minority of people in a community to block a new onshore windfarm development even if it has been supported by the majority of the community. The UK government must remove the de facto ban on onshore wind in England in its COVID-19 Recovery Plan and remove the cap that limits the amount of new renewable energy capacity supported through CfD auctions. Doing so will significantly increase job opportunities in this sector.
The government’s ambitions for renewable power also need to substantially increase. Last year saw the smallest increase in renewable energy capacity for more than a decade with only 3GW of plant built.28 The UK should be aiming to build 14GW of additional capacity every year. This is greater than the 9GW the Committee on Climate Change says, as a faster and deeper reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is needed than it has recommended.29
The UK Government and nations must collectively aim for 14GW of new renewable energy capacity year on year.The majority of this should be wind power as this generates more power in the winter when renewable power will be needed for heating.Guarantee green jobs or training for those made unemployed because of COVID-19.
COVID-19 will lead to increased unemployment across the UK, but some areas and some sections of society will be harder hit than others. The RSA found “a stark geographical divide, with rural areas located in the north and south west of England most at risk of high job losses” and that “younger workers are overwhelmingly more likely to be furloughed – nearly twice as likely as middle-aged workers.”30
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) has said that to protect those who lose their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from the “scarring effects” of unemployment, the government should draw up a new work-and-training guarantee programme so that anyone who cannot find a job can be paid by the state to carry out a green job.31 The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has similarly argued for a jobs guarantee, in addition to other measures to prevent job losses.32
Young people are particularly vulnerable to job losses because of the pandemic33 and it is feared that the pandemic will have serious long-term consequences for their mental health.34 The scheme promoted by both the SMF and TUC highlights the importance of this guarantee for young people. Both also highlight the importance of using the scheme to help deliver climate emissions reduction goals.
The TUC proposal is that jobs created through a work-and-training guarantee pay at least the National Living Wage (or union negotiated rate for the job). The jobs could be with the private or public sector but must include accredited training with participants spending at least 20% of their working week for training and education. It envisages that jobs through the scheme are guaranteed for young people under the age of 25 after 3 months of unemployment and for the over 25s after 6 months. Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, has also argued for guaranteed apprenticeship for young people.35
The UK government should work with the nations to introduce a jobs guarantee scheme for those made unemployed due to COVID-19, with the central aim of skilling-up people to work in the green economy.
In any case, a much greater focus is needed on training regardless of the COVID-19 crisis because society, technology and economies are rapidly changing anyway. According to NESTA 6 million people in the UK are in roles that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear due to automation, population aging, urbanisation, and the rise of the green economy.36 A dystopian view of this is high levels of unemployment and people trapped in insecure, low value, low pay employment. But NESTA also says that “evidence shows which skills people will need in the coming years as jobs change, and new, tech-based training and careers solutions are becoming available for people who want to reskill so they are ready for the future.”
Several local authority organisations, together with green groups including Friends of the Earth, have also called for a greater focus on skills and training, including better use of existing resources.37 The UK COVID-19 Recovery plan must enable councils to accelerate low carbon skills development by joining up the National Skills Fund, the National Retraining Scheme and the Apprenticeship Levy at local level and align this with place-based employment and business support systems. The devolved nations’ COVID-19 recovery plans similarly need to give high priority for accelerating and simplifying training programmes.
But training for the future also needs to start earlier than young people entering the world of employment. A 2019 OECD study said “…the UK has the highest level of prevalence of memorisation in classrooms, which has also been shown to reduce a child’s ability to solve problems and think critically.” It says that countries like Japan and China that used to depend on rote learning have shifted to a much greater emphasis on understanding and critical thinking. The report says that “The dilemma for educators is that routine academic knowledge (the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test) are exactly the skills that are also easiest to digitise.”38 In other words, teaching needs to be transformed to help develop the critical thinking skills young people need, including in a context of a changing environment.39 The Durham Commission on Creativity and Education makes important recommendations that all education authorities and establishments should consider, as well as devolved nations and the UK government.40
Help transition workers from polluting into clean industries with a £4.3bn a year transition fund.
Some industries do not have a future in a low carbon economy (for example, fossil fuel extraction) and the transition of workers from these industries needs to be planned. The social damage caused by the unthinking and uncaring transition from coal mining are still evident decades on. Instead a planned transition is needed. This will need funding.
Friends of the Earth Scotland has been working closely with unions and others on what a transition needs to look like.41Scotland is home to much of the UK’s oil and gas workforce. Even in Scotland there will be a net gain in jobs created through the transition to the green economy but as elsewhere it is necessary to target support, training, and investment to areas most in need. Friends of the Earth Scotland’s research with Oil Change International and Platform shows that given the right policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job at risk, and can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.42
Not all those working in currently polluting industries will need to change job because some industries can clean up. For example, the car industry is a major employer in the UK and in some areas the main employer. It is widely recognised that even with a significant shift to public transport, cycling and walking there will still be many cars on the road, and that these need to be electric. Electric vehicles are the future and to protect jobs the UK needs to be at the forefront of the transition. The government needs to support and encourage this transition, including through setting an early date to ban the sale of new petrol or diesel cars and vans. The UK government’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan should say that after 2030 only pure electric new cars and vans can be sold.
Steel, cement, and other industries are major users of fossil fuels, yet the use of hydrogen manufactured from water and renewable energy or electrification can wean these companies off fossil fuels.43
The IPPR Environmental Justice Commission has mapped those areas where the highest proportion of jobs are in industries that are greenhouse-gas related.44 This kind of mapping allows for a targeted response to enable a planned transition. The UK government should fund the transition with £4.32 billion each year and work with devolved nations, councils, unions, and employers to develop locally relevant transition plans to fund skills development, retraining, and for local investment to develop new employment within the areas.
The UK economy has been badly damaged by the pandemic. But it is not as though it was working brilliantly before.
UK economic strategy, like many others, was fixated on growth (GDP) and rising consumption even though the result has been severe damage to the environment, and the endangering of the prospects of future generations. The economy has also seen a flourishing of low paid jobs in the gig economy. The gap in household wealth between richer and poorer families has also grown considerably since 2006 according to the Resolution Foundation, driven to a large extent by house prices and rising values of financial assets.45 Wealth provides economic resilience for times of hardship, for example a period of unemployment or to rebound from a flooding event, and it is also positively correlated with wellbeing. Wealth inequalities impact on social mobility.
But it does not have to be like this. Out of the ashes of the economic ruins from the pandemic an economy that works for people and the planet can be born. It’s just necessary to break the fixation with GDP and instead point economic strategy in the direction of increasing wellbeing and restoring the environment.
Help fund the recovery by removing tax breaks from big polluters, taxing polluting activities and scrap spending on climate-wrecking infrastructure.
Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF, and others identified before the COVID-19 pandemic the level of government spending needed to begin the process of rapidly reducing greenhouse gases, restoring nature, and stepping-up support for developing countries.46 The sum of money, £42 billion per year for the next three years (see table below), is small change compared to total government spending, and is dwarfed by the scale of the cost to the UK economy of protecting lives from COVID-19. It will also be less costly than the damage to lives, livelihoods and economies from not taking sufficient action on climate change.
The money for environmental spending can be raised by several means. One method is reducing spending on harmful activities. For example:
The UK government should announce within its COVID-19 recovery package that it is scrapping its Roads Investment Strategy and HS2 to use the funds to deliver projects that will create jobs in the green economy, from housing retrofits to low carbon transport to nature restoration (including in towns and cities).
Other methods for raising money are through taxing harmful activities. For example:
The UK government is expected to announce some tax changes as part of its COVID-19 Recovery Plan. It should announce new carbon taxes such as those recommended by the Grantham Institute, including a Frequent Flyer Levy and road user charging in the form of an eco-levy. The revenue from new pollution taxes should be used in the first instance to fund green measures but any excess funds could be used to reduce employers’ National Insurance contributions to reduce the cost of hiring staff and/or reducing taxes that disproportionately impact lower income households.
Financial bailouts of failing companies must come with strict conditions to protect workers’ jobs and ensure the company is cutting emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
The issue of government bailouts for polluting industries has sparked controversy, particularly when it involves companies with billionaire bosses who haven’t paid taxes in the UK for over a decade.54 Friends of the Earth is supportive of measures that help workers in these industries, such as the furlough scheme or any retraining schemes that are delivered, but not in support of simply providing the businesses with large amounts of money to continue with business as usual when the COVID-19 crisis recedes.55
The Bank of England has provided £1.8 billion to the aviation industry with no environmental conditions attached. Environmental NGOs, including Friends of the Earth, have spelt out how the aviation industry needs to operate post-COVID-19.56 This involves including the emissions from the sector within the UK carbon accounting regime for greenhouse gas reductions (carbon budgets), ensuring the industry is properly taxed, and a requirement on technological innovation to further reduce emissions. Bailouts need to be accompanied by strings which dictate how the industry must operate in the future. The aviation industry in particular has had a largely free ride when it comes to environmental impacts for decades, and this needs to stop.
The issue of bailouts to oil and gas industries was discussed by the recent Parliament’s Citizens’ Assembly, the interim findings of which have just been published.57 The Assembly consisted of 108 people who were selected to represent the demographics of the UK population and the levels of concern about climate change. 79% of participants thought government support to enable recovery from COVID-19 should be designed to help achieve net zero. Statements made included “I don’t think oil or gas companies should be given bailouts, you’re wanting to stop them anyway, so why support them – support the people who work for them but not the companies – that’s because they aren’t compatible with net zero” and “avoiding lock in of fossil fuel use [is] key – best chance to do this is now to avoid going back into the trap of fossil fuels again. That would be disappointing.” These sentiments reflect Friends of the Earth’s position, that any bailouts must include conditions that transition the industry towards a low carbon future and this must include that the industry pay the levels of tax which reflect the damage its products do to people and the environment.
Any COVID-19 Recovery Plans that include bailouts for fossil-fuel industries must have conditions attached so that the companies involved are swiftly reducing emissions from their operations and use of their products so that a rapid transition to net zero is achieved.
Measure the impact of the COVID-19 Recovery Plan by how it improves people’s lives not economic growth (GDP).
As identified earlier, GDP is a poor measure of success because it can increase while the environment is harmed and wellbeing decreases. Instead indicators that measure real wellbeing are needed, ones which capture the value of unpaid work (often by women), don’t discount environmental harm, and recognise the damage that income and wealth inequalities do for social cohesion, social mobility, and the willingness to pursue shared goals.
The New Zealand government has given up on using GDP as the measure of success. Instead it is using a Living Standards Framework, which is a composite of 12 domains of wellbeing,58 which was developed by the New Zealand Treasury.
Businesses,59 the Committee on Climate Change,60 local authority organisations61 and many others have said that the government’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan must deliver on the UK’s net zero ambitions. The government itself has said that its recovery plan will be green and fair. Despite this, there is still a risk that the metric used by the government and by the media to judge the success of recovery plans is GDP. The UK government, devolved nations, and local authorities should explicitly identify that the metrics to judge success of the COVID-19 Recovery Plans are how well they reduce poverty, decrease inequalities, meet carbon reduction and nature restoration goals, and contribute to the global delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals and not GDP.
The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may have passed for the UK but the same is not true across the world. At the time of writing numbers are rising sharply in countries such as India and Brazil. As one of the world’s wealthier countries the UK has a moral responsibility to help poorer countries through this crisis.
But in the case of climate change the UK has more than a moral responsibility. Through the United Nations international climate agreement, it has committed to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” This basically means that the UK must do more than developing countries to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
A year ago, the UK set a net zero date for territorial emissions by 2050. However, it has not yet set new interim steps along the path to this. To be consistent with its international obligations, the new pathway will need to result in less than half the emissions than the current pathway.62The Committee on Climate Change will advise the government on the new pathway at the end of this year.
It has also pledged, alongside other developed countries, to together provide $100 billion annually for a five-year period from 2020. The UK has said it will give £11.6 billion over the next five years, between 2021/22 and 2025/26.63
However, how much the UK should do is strongly contested. The UK is historically one of the largest contributors to climate change (see graph below), which is disproportionately impacting on poorer countries who are least responsible. Friends of the Earth and others believe the UK should do much more than it has currently pledged in terms of emissions reductions and finance.
The UK also has international commitments on nature through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UK will miss most of its 2020 biodiversity targets agreed at the Aichi meeting of the CBD, according to the advisor for the UK government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation.64 As with climate change, the UK also contributes significantly to impacts overseas through its consumption. A recent RSPB and WWF report on the impact of UK imports of seven commodities revealed that “the data shows nearly a third (28%) of the UK’s total overseas land footprint is still linked to countries assessed to be at high or very high risk of deforestation, destruction of other natural ecosystems and human rights abuses” and that “the study also finds the majority of all palm oil (89%), soy (65%) and cocoa (63%) imported to the UK comes from countries with high deforestation rates – and therefore there is a risk that these are associated with the destruction of biodiversity hotspots such as the Amazon, and forests in Indonesia and West Africa – home to endangered species including the giant anteater, orangutan and the pygmy hippopotamus, respectively.”65
The UK’s global responsibility needs to extend well beyond what the UK does on UK-based carbon emissions and biodiversity. It also needs to reduce our impacts overseas and to improve on how we help developing countries grow out of poverty sustainably. If wealthy countries don’t do more, the global Sustainable Development goals will not be met and nor will agreed climate and biodiversity targets. The COVID-19 recovery plans need to be measured on how well they contribute to these goals, as well as how well they deliver domestically within the UK.
Provide our fair share of climate finance to support the transition of the world’s poorer nations.
As identified above, the UK is committed to provide climate finance to support developing countries. The sums currently pledged equate to just over £2 billion a year for 5 years. But this is far from adequate.
Calculating a fair contribution of climate finance to developing countries by the UK depends on a range of factors, including how much historical pollution is considered, how much global emissions need to be reduced by to have confidence that the worst of climate change can be avoided, and how in practice you estimate how much finance is needed. For the latter – a financial estimate – different approaches can include estimates of the money needed by developing countries, putting a price on a tonne of carbon, estimating damage or variations of these. These complexities can lead to very different estimates. An estimate of financial flows based on damage would lead to very significant finance flow. For example, the International Monetary Fund has calculated the hidden costs associated with continuing to burn oil, coal and gas — such as air pollution and global warming — could have amounted to $5.2 trillion in 2017 alone, and much of this damage will be in developing countries.66
But what’s clear is that current pledges are far from sufficient. Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and a former co-chair of the IPCC’s working group on mitigation of climate change, has said “neither the amount of financial flows nor their direction is sufficient to keep temperatures below 2 °C, let alone 1.5°C.”67
A report for Friends of the Earth International and others estimates that the UK should support developing countries with £40 billion a year by 2025 and over $50 billion by 2030, taking into account the UK’s historical emissions and using a price of carbon at $65 per tonne, alongside reducing the UK’s own emissions by around 80% by 2030.68 This is in addition to existing development aid money. Regardless of the methodology for calculating the UK’s international climate finance obligations, the UK needs to increase its contribution by at least tenfold.
Given that COVID-19 will significantly damage many developing countries’ own resources for climate mitigation,it’s essential that the UK’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan significantly increases UK international climate finance to our fair share, which is probably at least an order of magnitude increase on current levels.
End UK government investment in overseas coal, oil and gas projects.
Remarkably the UK not only continues to fund fossil-fuel expansion overseas but has increased funding since it signed the Paris Agreement on climate change.69 This is despite the Paris Agreement requiring “finance flows [to be] consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”
Together with CAFOD and Global Witness, Friends of the Earth has highlighted how a little-known government agency (UK Export Finance) has supported offshore oil and gas fields in Ghana, expansions of oil refineries in Kuwait, and offshore oil platforms in Brazil, amongst others. 70 Other parts of government have also funded fossil-fuel extraction overseas.
Friends of the Earth is not alone in expressing concern about this funding, for example:
However, the UK government has failed to date to take any positive action in response to these calls. In fact, it continues to consider support for projects such as Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas. This is despite the hugely detrimental impact on local communities, including human rights issues, arising from the existing LNG development and actions taken in connection with it. Such impacts are reported to include the forced removal of people from their homes and away from the land they depend on for their livelihoods, and violent attacks including fatalities.
COVID-19 gives the UK an opportunity to re-evaluate how it helps developing countries that are facing the triple emergency of climate, nature, and poverty as well as now COVID-19. Its spending shouldn’t make any of these crises worse. A good place to start would be for the UK COVID-19 Recovery Plan to commit to stopping all funding of fossil fuel extraction overseas.
Only do trade deals that guarantee the highest standards of environmental and public health protection.
The UK has left the EU. This threatens our environmental standards and safeguards. Friends of the Earth and others are campaigning to make sure these rules keep working properly in the future. The government must guarantee environmental standards, establish a strong UK environmental watchdog, and enshrine principles such as the precautionary approach in UK law. They must do this before the end of the transition period.
But these legal protections are already under threat. The government is rushing to strike new trade deals, and the economic impact of COVID-19 has been used to justify starting multiple negotiations, including with the USA. These rushed trade deals could lead to seeing food on our shelves made using chemicals that are currently banned, or pumped full of unnecessary, harmful antibiotics. They could also mean giving foreign investors the power to influence our environmental standards. In a number of pieces of legislation currently before Parliament, the government must say no to any trade deal that weakens environmental, safety or consumer standards. And it must take the time to develop a world-leading trade policy which puts our environmental ambition at its heart.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the willingness of people to reach out and help others in their community. It has also showcased the incredibly important role of councils and those that work within them, including Metro-Mayors. This is also true of the governments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The UK government is indebted to these people.
Addressing recovery from COVID-19 and tackling the climate and nature crises will also require local leadership – from nations, Metro Mayors, City Regions, councils, and local communities – alongside UK government action. It simply isn’t possible to do so without further empowering local government, particularly given that recovery in each area will need to be different and tailor-made based on a deep understanding of the place, its history and its culture. Many councils across the area are now in significant financial trouble due to the extra expenditure on COVID-19 and falling revenues, so national government must make sure the necessary financial resources are made available to local government.
In addition to empowering and financially supporting nations, Metro Mayors, and councils, it will be necessary to empower those whose voice is not so easily heard in decision-making, for example young people and marginalised communities, as well as ensure participatory forums for discussing contentious issues are formed.
Provide nations and councils with the significant new powers and resources they need to deliver an inclusive and green recovery in their area.
Over the last year Friends of the Earth has been working with local authority associations and others to identify the powers and resources councils need to deliver on climate change and nature restoration. This work has involved the input from scores of local authority staff and politicians from across the country and has been updated for the COVID-19 recovery. “The blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level” identifies more than 50 policy changes that are needed in areas from nature restoration, to transport, to waste and sustainable consumption.37 It has 5 main recommendations, which are:
The Blueprint did not estimate the total financial resources needed by each local authority, because this requires a bottom-up and detailed approach. Also, not all investments would necessarily flow through local authority coffers, for example capital grants for heat pumps might flow directly to householders but local authorities would have an important role in coordinating an area by area approach to energy efficiency and heating. Nevertheless, it is clear that substantial investment is needed to reduce emissions and restore nature (£42 billion a year, see above) and some of that would be needed directly by councils (for example, for investment in trams or segregated cycleways). Camden Council has estimated its most ambitious plan to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels would require an additional £900 million invested in its area, 73 whereas Bristol City Council has said £3 billion needs investing in the area on low carbon heating.74
Delivery on climate and nature goals requires the full and active involvement of government at all levels. The UK COVID-19 Recovery Plan must provide nations and councils with the significant new powers and resources they need to deliver an inclusive and green recovery in their area.
Require decision-makers at all levels to demonstrate that the voice of those most directly affected by environmental harm is heard in the development of COVID-19 Recovery Plans.
Those most impacted by environmental harm are often the poorest and most marginalised in society. The health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis has also shone a light on these inequalities. It is critical that those in power at all levels listen to those worse impacted. We have some mechanisms and laws that are a positive contribution to achieving this aim, but they are far from enough.
The UK government has recognised the importance of public participation in decision-making through ratifying the United Nations Aarhus Convention. This important but under-publicised treaty gives citizens rights to access information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary, described it as “the most ambitious venture in environmental democracy undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations.” However, while it covers decisions such as planning rules, it’s not comprehensive and doesn’t cover all the environmental decisions that will be made on the COVID-19 recovery. What’s more, it’s poorly implemented in the UK. There are regulators such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the to be established Office of Environmental Protection (currently being legislated for in the Environmental Bill), but their responsibilities are to ensure existing laws are adhered to.
In Wales, the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act has created a Future Generations Commissioner who has set championing public participation and involvement in decision-making as one of her priorities. The Act itself identifies 5 ways in which public bodies must act, including “the importance of involving people with an interest in achieving the wellbeing goals, and ensuring that those people reflect the diversity of the area which the body serves.”75 But the Act doesn’t guarantee that the voice of those most impacted by environment is heard in practice, including in the development of the Welsh COVID-19 Recovery Plan, so there’s still a need to keep the pressure on decision-makers to do so. That said, the Welsh Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is very important and welcome and has inspired the introduction of a Future Generations Bill into the UK Parliament, which the government should support.76
These important regulators need the powers, funding, and independence to ensure they can hold the powerful to account and act to protect the most marginalised in society. But ensuring the voice of the most impacted and marginalised is heard in all decision-making will need more than this, it will also require:
It will also require regulators such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission (and the Office for Environmental Protection when eventually set up) to take tough action to ensure that COVID-19 Recovery Plans do not unlawfully discriminate, for example by rigorously policing the public sector equality duty and protecting the Human Rights Act from political attacks. It will also require them to warn the government against creating worse environmental problems for the future (eg removing environmental protections and building across much needed natural spaces). This action by the regulators is not a substitute for proper participation but is complementary and will help to lessen inequality.
COVID-19 Recovery Plans should be developed in line with the rights and visionary democratic principles of the Aarhus Convention, and the processes used should be documented and available for public scrutiny. The UK should also begin the process of fully implementing the Aarhus Convention in a new Aarhus Act.
Participatory processes such as citizens’ juries and citizens’ assemblies can facilitate better decision-making and there are now several examples of local Climate Assemblies at different stages, inspired by the Extinction Rebellion movement. My Society has published digital tools for these approaches.77Being demographically representative these should amplify the voices of those so often shut out of political decision making. While it’s not easy to ensure full participation in discussions and debates, it can be achieved. The example of Preston is strong.78 A city facing extraordinary challenges and hit by austerity has pioneered its own model of urban renewal and participatory community wealth building over the past decade to be named the most rapidly improving urban area in the UK to live and work.
But often plans and policies are driven by politics and the need to win votes to gain power. Young people’s voices need to be heard as COVID-19 recovery plans are drawn up, particularly given they will live with the environmental consequences for longer. Allowing younger people to vote would have an impact, particularly in areas where elections are on the horizon (for example, metro mayor and local elections in England). 16- and 17-years olds will be entitled to vote for the first time in the Welsh Senedd elections in 2021 but are still denied the vote for council elections in England or Northern Ireland, or for the UK Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly.79 The UK government should reduce the age of voting to 16, starting with the local and Mayoral elections in 2021.
Help grassroots and community organisations through the COVID-19 crisis and invest to enable them to build back stronger.
Austerity heightened the importance of grassroots organisations just at the time as councils legally had to concentrate resources on statutory functions. For example, the role of “friends groups” in looking after parks or volunteer-run food banks. Local sports clubs, which are so important for the mental and physical health particularly of young people, saw the financial support from local authorities decline and they already faced funding gaps before COVID-19.80 Fields in Trust highlight the risk to green space locally as funding pressures creates pressures for councils to allow sales to go ahead.81
The government has recognised the importance of grassroots organisations in its Civil Society Strategy in 2018, which it says “proposes significant reforms across the public and private sectors to build a fairer society [and] that people, communities and charitable organisations will be at the centre of decision-making.”82 But the government has been strongly criticised for the lack of progress.83
COVID-19 has hit the finances of many voluntary organisations significantly, according to NCVO.84 But it has also again shone a light on the importance of them, for example through the work of mutual aid groups during lockdown. Volunteer local environmental groups, such as practical conservation groups or parks groups, will not be immune to the impact of the pandemic. They play an important role in the restoration of biodiversity, but also increasingly link up with health practitioners who carry our social prescribing for physical or mental challenges such as loneliness. The #NeverMoreNeeded campaign has highlighted the deficiencies of the government’s support to grassroots organisations to date.85
A large range of organisations invest in the grassroots but there is still a very significant shortfall of monies needed to ensure vibrant grassroots activities, including environmental. COVID-19 Recovery Plans must include funds for grassroots and community organisations, including environmental groups, to weather the current crisis but also to build back better and stronger. The Welsh government used World Environment Day to announce new resources for groups involved in local nature or woodland creation projects as an area that needs action in the COVID-19 context. This is a step in the right direction, but more is needed across the UK.
Make cycling and walking safe and easy, by spending £2 billion a year on them.
Reduce air pollution to World Health Organisation standards by 2030 including by investing £8 billion additional money annually into clean, affordable public transport.
Ensure access to high quality, nature-rich, green spaces for all.
Enshrine a right to a Healthy Environment in law.
Create 40,000 new jobs and eradicate fuel poverty by rolling out a massive programme of home insulation.
Quadruple the rate of renewable energy construction to create tens of thousands of new jobs.
Guarantee green jobs or training for those made unemployed because of COVID-19.
Help transition workers from polluting into clean industries with a £4.3 billion a year transition fund.
Help fund the recovery by removing tax breaks from big polluters, taxing polluting activities and scrap spending on climate-wrecking infrastructure.
Financial bailouts of failing companies must come with strict conditions to protect workers’ jobs and ensure the company is cutting emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
Measure the impact of the COVID-19 Recovery Plan by how it improves people’s lives not economic growth (GDP).
Provide our fair share of climate finance to support the transition of the world’s poorer nations.
End UK government investment in overseas coal, oil and gas projects
Only do trade deals that guarantee the highest standards of environmental and public health protection.
Provide nations and councils with the significant new powers and resources they need to deliver an inclusive and green recovery in their area.
Require decision-makers at all levels to demonstrate that the voice of those most directly affected by environmental harm is heard in the development of COVID-19 Recovery Plans.
Help grassroots and community organisations through the COVID-19 crisis and invest to enable them to build back stronger.