There is no doubt that the planet is warming; some still deny that it is human induced, but the vast majority of scientists accept that it is more than 95 percent likely that human behaviour has been the cause. The issue now is what can we do?
In this context the Wellington Anglican Cathedral of St Paul and the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington held a conference on 19 May at the Lambton Quay campus.
Drawing on the see-judge-act process that has its roots with Cardinal Joseph Cardijn and the Young Catholic Worker movement, the day was divided into three key sections: What Scientists are Saying, Spirituality for Change and Future Strategies for Energy Use—What can I do?
David Wratt, the first of the two scientists, talked us through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports that gather, summarise and critique all the relevant scientific research.
The first report looked at the physical science involved in climate change, the second, about the impact it will have and how to diminish the risks, and the third and most recent, about how to mitigate climate change aiming to limit the rise in temperature to only two degrees (see www.ipcc.ch).
But because the IPCC is an intergovernmental process, Peter Barrett, from the Antarctic Research Centre, warned us of the level of moderating involved in the reports and stressed that we need a greater sense of urgency around the issue. From his study of ice sheets, Barrett believes more attention needs to be given to what ice can tell us of earlier climatic conditions and how ice has melted in the past in response to rising temperatures. He strongly advocates radically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
A spiritual linking
Through a creative role play Peter Healy sm and Noelene Landrigan rsj brought into sharp relief a spirituality that underpins the current focus on economic growth, progress and getting ahead with one that was more aware of our interconnectedness with creation, more open to indigenous wisdom and more willing to live sustainably within limits.
Drawing on the Universe Story recounted by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, Healy and Landrigan called us to a mystical hearing of this story and an opting for life and the life of the planet.
To do this we have to unlearn the so-called wisdom of today and be open to a new journey that connects us, and all of creation to the One who is holy, the One who is God.
A Ng%u0101ti Tuwharetoa NIWA scientist working with M%u0101ori coastal communities, Charlotte Severne, deepened our insight into indigenous knowledge and spiritualities. For her, M%u0101ori oral histories, environmental knowledge, place names and weather terminology are a rich source of understanding the coastal climates in the past and in the future.
This knowledge is inseparable from the deep bond M%u0101ori experience and name as central to their identity and spirituality. The urgency to exercise kaitiakitanga arises from this sense of interconnection.
A theologian at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral Raymond Pelly, unpacked the questions ‘Who (or what) is God?’ and ‘Who are we?’
Naming God as pure self-giving and pure creativity, he calls us to go beyond our self-interest and attempts at reciprocity and to be creative. The future is in our hands and fighting for our survival, and that of the planet, is urgent.
But Pelly is also realistic about human limitations—carrots are better than sticks to enable people to change, but we will need laws to change behaviours and to respond to the plight of the most vulnerable. Central to this change is a spirituality of being more connected to the environment, of living more simply, of stopping the plunder and of learning to be more self-giving.
The day ended with two presentations on future strategies. Peter Cozens, from the Centre for Strategic Studies, found the question ‘What can I do?’ stunningly difficult to answer.
Starting from ‘Does it matter what I do?’ Cozens focused on consumption and waste. Every product has some embedded energy and a significant part of this ends up as costly waste. He advocates we be more aware of limiting consumption, of what we can recycle, of what goes to landfills, into the atmosphere or out into the ocean.
Businessman Shaun Devoy then spoke of a low cost eco-house with solar panels, a wind generator, a separating toilet, rain water and grey water collection, double glazing and a heat pump. These features, he argued, enable a family to live with minimal impact on the environment.