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Thinking as one humanity: the 2016 Interfaith Climate Symposium

Posted in: Comment
Date posted: 23 September 2016

Operation Noah took part in the Interfaith Climate Symposium on 21st September. Board member Ruth Jarman reports on the event.

‘Nearly everyone working in this area agrees that climate change is a spiritual issue,’ said Bishop Nicholas Holtam, the lead bishop on the environment, in the first talk at the Interfaith Climate Symposium on Wednesday evening. The aim of the event was to enable and encourage faith groups to work together on climate change. The atmosphere in the church was as vibrant as it was friendly, during the talks, discussions and the very tasty kosher, halal and vegan supper.

Giles Goddard, who is an Operation Noah board member, hosted and chaired the evening at his beautiful classical church of St John’s Waterloo.

The remarkable line-up of Bishop Nicholas, Sir David King, Dr Husna Ahmad, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi Natan Levy and George Marshall demonstrated the hope surrounding this exciting opportunity for people of faith to work together on something that, according to Bishop Nicholas, ‘is so huge, it relativises all the differences between us.’

Christian and Muslim speakers at the Interfaith Climate Symposium.

George Marshall of Climate Outreach talked about his recent research project looking at how to communicate climate change to faith groups. Words that seem to work across all faiths are ‘gift’, ‘moral challenge’, ‘care’, ‘legacy’, ‘future’, ‘balance’, ‘action at all levels’ and ‘wake up!’. Words to avoid for some or all of the groups were: ‘natural world’, ‘creation’, ‘planet’, ‘blame’, ‘greedy’.

He also said that a personal pledge can be very powerful – which must be shared with others without judging them. He has made a personal pledge to himself to try to start up a conversation about climate change with a stranger every day!

Since the biggest indicator of views on climate change is political identity, he suggested that the single most important thing people of faith can do is to speak across political boundaries. And we should do this following these guidelines:

  • Respect
  • Speak to shared values
  • Avoid disputed language
  • Start the conversation
  • Talk about your own journey
  • Focus on the better world you both want.

Dr Husna Ahmad, CEO of Global One, spoke about how ‘khalifa’, or stewardship, is required by the Qur’an, quoting: ‘Do not cause corruption on the earth.’ I was very moved when she invited Rev Giles Goddard and Rabbi Natan Levy to stand on each side of her as she spoke of the rising Islamophobia and racism in the world and, holding their hands aloft, said, ‘only when we think as one humanity can we save this planet.’

Sir David King, the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, who at Paris had pushed for the 1.5 degree target as well as the clause allowing the ‘ratcheting-up’ of carbon cuts in the future, said that he believed that generations ahead of us might well cite 12/12/15 as the most important date for their habitable climate. He gave us the graphs.

George Marshall was, I am sure, shaking his head imperceptibly, but my 16-year-old daughter and her friend loved them. That’s despite the fact that they showed the future, under current carbon commitments, to be pretty uninhabitable. Particularly this one, showing that the world needs to kick the fossil fuel habit by 2035 to secure the 1.5C target. But that’s why we faith groups are so important. And also why, I guess, Sir David has managed to stay working for the government through Labour, the coalition, and even now, working for Boris Johnson, of all people.

He somehow manages to tell the truth about the science and about what we need to do globally, while giving a positive message, highlighting the good things that the UK are doing – the International Climate Fund, for example. All without a whisper of a mention of the deep black hole in any domestic policies that would begin to play our part in meeting the Paris agreement. I expect he is working extremely hard behind the scenes to try to change that, but should he not at least encourage us to campaign for the government to implement the policies as it must know, from his advice, it needs to do?

After half a dozen lively workshops, including ‘How do I engage my congregation,’ with Islamic Relief and the Climate Coalition; our James Buchanan’s ‘Divesting and Investing’; and ‘Faithful NVDA’ with me, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and Rabbi Natan Levy wrapped up the evening with a ‘where do we go from here?’ plenary discussion. Attendees were encouraged to join the Climate Coalition’s Speak-Up week of action in October. There is already a follow-on event planned on January 25th and plans for a Facebook group.

Group photo at the Interfaith Climate Symposium.
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