The UN Copenhagen Climate Conference begins tomorrow, coughing and spluttering to the start line like a soot-filled factory chimney . Who will be there, and who won’t has been the subject of great speculation. So too the underlying science, with leaked e-mails being used and abused to suit the purposes of the thermosceptics. Whilst every effort has been made to downplay expectations, the summit may yet make significant progress towards a far-reaching replacement for Kyoto, even if the binding agreement only comes next year.
Politicians get a bad press much of the time. Sometimes it’s deserved. Sometimes it isn’t. Often they are simply trying to get as much as they can out of an imperfect process, and this is one such example. In fact its the politics more than the science which has occupied so much time and effort.
I'm sat in Delhi airport as I write, about to return to the UK. India is considered to be the third largest polluter in the world as measured by its actual emissions, so here you see the problem writ large. With one-fifth of the world’s population, hundreds of millions of India’s people live in chronic poverty.
But India is changing, and changing fast. There is a huge emerging middle-class in the urban centres, with considerable wealth to be seen. The October 2010 Commonwealth Games will be in Delhi and everywhere in the city seems to be under construction. The stadiums and sports infrastructure are nearing completion, but the centrepiece is the Delhi Metro . This has gradually begun to expand, spider-like, across the city. Mass-transport for millions will benefit this clogged city for years to come.
These projects consume enormous amounts of energy, and cement and steel manufacturing are hardly low-carbon processes. But such projects are essential for a growing economy, and along the way they provide employment for hundreds of thousands of people. Persuading India to cut emissions, which it is ready to do, cannot be at the expense of reasonable economic progress. They argue that we have had 200 years of industrial polluting to get to where we are today, so who are we to preach to others.
So how is the circle to be squared? “The” answer will in fact be several answers. Technology promises much, not least with hydrogen cell technology holding out a possible alternative to oil-based fuels, and maybe even carbon-capture on a large scale. Recycling and low energy consuming products will make a contribution too. But one of the main answers relates to our lifestyles. If we fly less, consume less, and become more content with what we have rather than always have an eye for what we don’t have, the world will literally be a better place. I don’t know about you, but putting that into practice is difficult.
At BMS, we have started to do what we can. Seven years ago several of our staff members started persuading everyone to recycle what we could. They were coined the “Green Police” and the name stuck! (Thanks to Jenny, Gwyn, Doobs and a host of others!) Their dogged perseverance changed hearts and minds and made a huge difference within the mission. Woe to anyone who doesn’t recycle within BMS today! Everything has its place – plastic, paper, cardboard, batteries, even the tea-bags go for composting. We’ve sourced our electricity from green suppliers. We’ve cut out a lot of face to face meetings in the UK especially, using Skype and conference calls. We’ve offset all our air travel by planting trees in a gold-standard forestry project in Ghana, and along with BUGB and the Baptist Union of Scotland we’re moving as quickly as we can towards carbon-neutral Assemblies. In all of this we’ve been given invaluable help by our partners A Rocha.
But, of course, I am not suggesting that we have really cracked this issue. It’s not just that our contribution is small – every individual, family and organisation can only make a small contribution. The really big issue is how to adapt to a lifestyle where we consume less. In one sense it’s easy – just do it! “Live simply that others might simply live!” But simple things are often just not simple. You want to lose weight? Eat less exercise more! You want to be free of your addiction to drugs, tobacco or alcohol? Just stop! Oh, if only it was that simple.
It’s often said that the real answer is motivation. And in this, as Christians, surely we have an advantage. Committed to the Lordship of Christ, he is the one about whom it is said “all things were created by him and for him" (Col 1:16). To paraphrase Elaine Storkey – the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and we’d better look after it because he’ll want it back in good shape!
And in addition to this, our concern for humanity, our sisters and brothers with whom we share this world, millions of whom live in poverty, should persuade us to adopt a simplicity agenda.
So, as Copenhagen comes and goes, can I encourage you to do two things. Firstly, remember to pray for Gordon Brown and others who will need wisdom, skill and courage to get as much out of this summit as we can. I wrote to Gordon Brown recently, a letter co-signed by many of our international partners, and I promised him we would pray. Irrespective of your politics, I don’t think you’ll need persuading to pray.
But check out part of our website too – we have recently developed an area that looks at the whole issue of Simplicity. There are some great links there that are worth exploring. Do what you can, however small, and as millions do likewise, maybe Copenhagen 2009 will prove to be more significant than the doommongers predict.