Ordinary heroes effecting extraordinary change

Climate change is a massive deal. It’s so massive, it’s pretty difficult to know what – if anything – little ol’ me can do about it. I’m not an oil tycoon; I don’t run the government; and I don’t have a time machine to go back and fix some of the terrible environmental decisions humanity has made. I am simply an ordinary person, leading a (fairly) ordinary life.

Thankfully, Tearfund has hit upon a way in which I – and you – can do something that could help to change the situation. Off the back of their latest report entitled The Restorative Economy, they’ve launched a campaign for people to become Ordinary Heroes. I guess it’s basically encouraging us to become slightly less than super heroes, which must mean a slightly more ordinary costume – maybe a pair of M&S knickers over a pair of black leggings, rather a full-on Superhero jumpsuit? [Apologies, that illustration has possibly gone a little too far!!]

The promotional video for Ordinary Heroes. 

The premise is that if we all, as individuals, commit to making lifestyle changes the combined effect will be considerable. Christians have a good track record for this kind of collaborative action, and Biblically, it builds upon the parable of the mustard seed – even from the smallest of seeds can big things grow. Last night, at the launch event for the report and campaign, we were encouraged to wave coloured paper in response to potential commitments we could make, that could begin this momentum:

  • Fly less. Yes, I travel to the US around once a year and my last 2 trips to Belfast have been flights, but I’ve just made a trip to France via Eurostar (and it’s my preferred route there) and I do take the ferry to Ireland when it’s feasible. Texas is a little trickier, sadly…
  • Use a sustainable energy provider. Once I’m in the position to make such decisions, I will do. My current house – given the environmental passion of its owners – definitely already do this.
  • Eat less meat. This is one I’m already committed to. Ethically, I’m well on the side of vegetarians, I just appreciate bacon and a good burger too much to go fully vege, but my cooking at home is almost meat-free out of habit.
  • Spend money/invest wisely. Yep. I’m the child of passionate boycotters, so I’m well versed in this. I’m also thankful to be living down the road from a Co-Op – an excellent source of Fairtrade produce, especially wine! When I have money to invest, I’ll look into this…
  • Buy Fairtrade. See above! But I’d be up for campaigning to see more products go this way.
  • Take political action. Next month, we’ll have a new government. Later this year there’s a UN Climate Change summit. Both are excellent opportunities to raise the issue. Potentially, I’m even up for the mass lobbying of parliament on June 17th.

A climate change campaign may seem like an odd thing for a Christian development organisation to launch. What do they know about the environment? Actually, an awful lot. The thing is, while we might see the odd effect of global warming in the UK, those in the most marginalised areas of international society – who Tearfund work with – experience it at first hand and it’s a massive issue for them. They want to know what organisations like Tearfund are going to do about it.

Several years ago, while working for the Methodist Church, I had the opportunity to meet with Methodist partner churches from all over the world. I vividly remember a representative from the Church of Bangladesh giving a very emotional speech about the impact climate change was having upon his community NOW! [It resulted in me going off on a rant about why on earth our building had a vicious air-con system.] A friend in the South Pacific wrote a book on the theology of the Ocean and the potential impact of rising sea levels upon the Pacific Islands – as someone born on one of those islands, I can’t bear the thought of those communities being lost due to the ignorance and idiocy of industrialised societies.

Matthew Frost

At the launch, Tearfund CEO Matthew Frost spoke of visits around the world where the question of Climate Change had cropped up time and again. He and his Tearfund colleagues had witnessed at first hand the impact these changes had had upon the poorest in society. From villagers in Peru losing water supply owing to disappearing glaciers; to extending deserts in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, the question is being asked: “What can you do to help us?”

The report is a good read. Theologically grounded, but accessible to all (there’s a shorter summary that does its job well) it makes clear the case for taking action. As Christians, the case is compelling. We were created by God to steward creation and quite frankly, we’ve done a pretty rubbish job of it! I hope we can make a difference, before it becomes too late…

The Restorative Economy(Incidentally, an article about the launch written by me & using the same title as this blogpost will be appearing in the religious press next week. I couldn’t get away with referencing knickers in that piece, so I felt the need to write something else here too!)


Ashes to ashes…

Day five of the volcanic ash crisis…and perhaps the end is in sight (for Europe at least, Canada may be next).

Britain has yet again been reminded that it is most definitely an island nation – or rather, a nation comprised of several islands. For some reason we only realise this at moments of severe weather (freezing fog or extreme cold) or when all planes are grounded thanks to an Icelandic volcano. Despite the fact that we’ve always been surrounded by water, every time we lose our tenuous links with the mainland it comes as a surprise.

Many are saying that we’ve become too dependent upon fast, cheap air-travel, both for travel and for freight. Currently 400,000 Britons are stranded somewhere in the world (and this is after many have made it back from across the Channel) because they were on a short Easter holiday in the sun or a long-haul business trip. Supermarkets have no fresh Kenyan roses or packaged fruit salad. Should we really be relying upon overseas imports of flowers and unseasonal fruit and view regular flights to nice places as normality?

It struck me today that until I was 17, my experience of flying had been very limited. True, there was my inaugural 24 hour flight aged 6months when I returned from the tropics, but I didn’t set foot on another plane  until I was 10, and not again until I was 17 – that’s 3 trips in 17 years. In the last 10 I’ve been on 17. Admittedly, at least 7(ish) of those are thanks to the parents moving to Belfast and the fact that I’m lucky enough to have had some pretty interesting travelling opportunities, but I definitely take it for granted. I plan my Clinique purchases around my family’s flight schedules and have a well-defined Gatwick routine.

But, even with half the family in Ireland, it doesn’t have to come down to flying. There are ferries, which we’ve used, especially at Christmas, though the 8hour Belfast – Liverpool crossing is a tough test of endurance. When my Dad was a student in Dublin 30 years ago, flying there wasn’t even considered. The journey took a day and you accepted it. Thus, he was fairly non-plussed to find himself stranded in Manchester on Thursday morning. He discovered he could buy a train ticket to Dublin that included the ferry (a bargain at £27 – worth knowing) and got home late the same night.

My sister was stranded in Germany and had a little bit of a rawer deal as she was in the company of 20 choristers. (She has very entertaining holidays…) But, partly thanks to it being a school trip they were safely on a coach back to the UK hours before their original flight was due to depart. Yes, she had 20 hours in a confined space with young boys high on sugar, but at least she got home. Twenty years ago [I’ve actually just shocked myself by writing that…how am I this old?!?] our family went on its first holiday to Bavaria and we drove all the way – it took two days, but that’s what we did. [Random recollection from that drive: For a considerable amount of time I thought all German roads led to a town called ‘Ausgang’…turns out that was just the sign for an exit off the autobahn.] All three holidays that took place outside the UK during my childhood were reached by car, there was never any hint at flying somewhere.

Yes, lots of people are in unenviable situations, but (so far) this ‘disaster’ hasn’t killed anyone. As a bonus, the skies have been quiet – no noise or any other form of pollution being issued from the flying tin cans.

Perhaps we just need to slow down and take time over our journeys. Time is a luxury, but so is our planet and reckless (or even unthinking) flying is damaging it.

Should we really being relying upon planes to import fruit & veg just because we want to be able to eat it all year round?

Lots of questions, but few practical answers. Give it a week or so and things will go back to normal and we’ll have forgotten all about it. I’m not a Green – in all likelihood flight will continue to be my transport of choice to Ireland because I don’t have the time to spend a day getting there and back. My feet itch for destinations beyond the confines of Europe on a regular basis and while I can afford to, I’ll scratch that itch as often as I’m able. [Apologies, not an attractive metaphor.] But I do care for this planet and don’t want to act in a careless or reckless way.

Still, something to ponder, surely?

PS – If anyone’s in need of/interested in good quality, regularly updated information about volcanic travel, check out the Guardian’s live blog. Truly excellent and endlessly diverting.

Working 9-5

Apologies for the absence of Friday Fun today. It’s entirely because I’ve been having too much fun of my own. Actually, I say ‘fun’, it was in fact flipping hard work. Today was 11 Million Takeover Day and our building was overtaken by children & teenagers (thankfully only 80 of them, not 11 million).

Because I am a fool and volunteer for crazy things (and can’t seem to say ‘No’), I had the responsibility of involving 30 of these invaders in a research project we’re doing on Climate Change (actually, specifically carbon reduction), so we came up with lists of things our building could do better to reduce our emissions.
It was fun, but I’m knackered and have a whole new level of respect for teacher friends. I promise, never again will I make comments about my having a ‘proper’ job!! You guys are amazing and deserve all the holiday you get!

Anyway, I have one final book recommendation for you to end the week:
I was lent a copy to help with the planning for today and loved it. It contains 100 suggestions to change your workplace, including a sizeable number of environmental ones, but also things that help create a better mood. Even better, some of the suggestions come with stickers (who doesn’t love a sticker book?!) – wouldn’t you like to compliment fellow colleagues with gold stars or show gratitude with Thank You stickers?
There are similar books by the same authors, but this is specifically for the workplace and the older reader. One suggestion that had me laughing out loud was #61: Speak rather than e-mail…
“It’s nicer.
It’s also better to see someone’s reaction for real.
Plus, there’s another reason. It’s also because your boss can read all your e-mails.
Didn’t you know this?
Why do you think he was looking at you so weirdly last Tuesday?
He KNOWS what you want to do with the office junior and a tub of low-fat yoghurt.”

If you want something a little less risque, there’s Teach Your Granny to Text (for children) and Change the World for a Fiver. Highly recommended.
I’ve now been allowed to keep the copy I was lent, so next week the lovely Children & Youth team will be getting a Thank-You sticker and gold star. Fabulous.

Creative 404’s

From Greenpeace:

This could have happened for several reasons:

1. The page may be extinct, like many whales, chimpanzees, and gorillas in the wild could be without your help.
2. The page may have moved, like many Pacific Islanders will have to do when their homes sink beneath the waves due to global warming.
3. You may have made a mistake typing the address, or we made a mistake creating a link. Mistakes happen. Chernobyl and Bhopal should have taught us that they can have devastating consequences, which is why releasing inadequately tested genetically engineered crops into nature is stupid and dangerous.
4. Our web server may be malfunctioning. This happens to large complicated technical systems often, which is why the Star Wars missile defense system will never work and shouldn’t be deployed.