Gaining popular support for realistic action on the climate emergency

The Environment
Questioning Church
World of Diversity
Image of a street demonstration
Author
Michael Bayley

Michael Bayley is a retired Anglican priest and long time member of St Mark's Broomhill. He was formerly a Lecturer in social work and social policy at Sheffield University. He co-founded Hope for the Future and is still a trustee.

 

When politicians are asked why they are not more active in pressing the need for decisive action to counter the climate emergency, they often say that they get more complaints about dogs fouling the streets than they do about the climate emergency. On the other hand citizens are justified in thinking that if politicians talk so little and act even less about the climate emergency, then surely it can't be very important.

A Citizens’ Jury run by BritainThinks found “that people were reluctant to make a big change in their own lifestyle when they don't feel the government, big business or others in society are doing the same… The public are willing to accept change and do things differently, but before that they want to see that there is a clear strategy in place… and that everyone is playing their  part." (Green Alliance blog on 12 August 2019 by Lucy Bush,)

But how you reach the position where there is a clear strategy in place, which is pursued consistently by government. It is a chicken and egg problem. How do we get the clear and consistent policy, which is needed to get citizens support, when the citizens support is needed to get a consistent policy from government?

It is a problem that we have to solve because we have been told repeatedly that we have a mere 11 years to get a grip on our greenhouse gas emissions.

First we have to recognise that there is a crisis.  The great temptation is to carry on with our comfortable normal routine. It is this smug complacency that Jesus challenges at the beginning of his ministry. “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14)

The usual word for time is chronos which means clock time, ordinary time. The word Mark uses here is kairos which has the sense of opportunity, danger, crisis. And surely it is a kairos time for us now.

 During the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the churches produced a paper called The Kairos Document. It was a time when people had to stand up and be counted and it was a time when there was a real chance of a new South Africa. The same could be said of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. The time leading up to it was a kairos time during which key people in the Protestant and Catholic communities realised that they had to think and act differently and take big risks.

It is a question of looking with new eyes. What do we see in the Attenborough programme The Blue Earth? Slick television or a wake-up call to treat the planet with respect? What do we see in Greta Thunberg? A cocky, manipulated teenager or an extraordinary girl who is a prophet for our time? What do we see in Extinction Rebellion? A lot of enthusiastic idiots or courageous people who “act in peace, with ferocious love of these lands in our hearts. We act on behalf of life." What do we see in the Hope for the Future? One more futile, do-gooder organisation or a thrilling example of a refusal to write off our politicians and show how trust and good communication can be rebuilt between MPs and their constituents?

None of these are the answer. However they, and similar initiatives, can help us face up to reality of the crisis and respond to it so that the government can reach the clear and consistent policy which is needed to get citizens’ support, and  citizens can provide the support and energy is needed to get a consistent policy from government? Surely such a work of reconciliation and trust building is something to which all Christians are called.

Michael Bayley is a retired Anglican priest and long time member of St Mark's Broomhill. He was formerly a Lecturer in social work and social policy at Sheffield University. He co-founded Hope for the Future and is still a trustee.

Resource Type
Articles