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New Year Comment 2018

posted 26 Jan 2018, 01:25 by Martyn Goss
I’ve been an environmental activator and activist for over 40 years and have passionately campaigned on many issues including climate change, transport, food and energy. With others, I set up a student Eco-action recycling scheme in London as long ago as the early 1970s, and became absorbed in the political discussions around ‘Small is Beautiful’, ‘Enough is Enough’, the Brandt and Brundtland reports, and more. Reading Silent Spring propelled thousands of us to think and act as if the planet was precious and that future generations mattered.

Much of my thinking developed from my personal convictions around a God that forms and shapes life through natural scientific processes, and which transcend conventional faith structures. I became convinced that the anthropocentric approach to life, especially that of the Christian Church, was at best misleading and at worst encouraging of the manipulation of Nature for short term greed. It is easy for churches to forget that the God we believe in is imbedded in and through the Earth.

Since those days, it has become abundantly clear to me that the economic model of global capitalism which places financial profit before all else is intrinsically incompatible with the biblical view of justice for a more equitable and sustainable sharing of the globe’s resources. The appropriation of land, power and wealth in the hands of the few contradicts the vision of wholesome society which provides for the needs of all. It undermines that scriptural image of all families and communities having access to their own provision and sustenance (e.g. sitting under their vines and fig trees) and reinforces the notion that we are to be ruled by political elites.

If the economy does not bring about wholeness, health and happiness for humanity and also protect the diversity of all planetary life, it needs to be challenged and changed. And faith systems have a critical role to play in suggesting alternatives – whether to the ways we measure progress (not GDP/GNP) or the ways we trade with one another (fairer and more accountable) or the ways we build relationships of trust and hope (not cynicism, apathy or division).

In the face of all this, I have to say the Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan (A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment*), is extremely disappointing. In spite of some rhetoric about interdependency, it does not seem to offer much joined up thinking, no legal framework for implementation, sparse public funding and little sense of urgency. 

There is little mention of energy, transport or buildings – key sectors systematically damaging life. In this its superficiality beggars belief. We cannot wait 25 years to remove plastics and chemicals from ecosystems. That is to condemn children to a toxic future by already taking away their health rights.

 In medical terms, one doesn’t get rid of today’s headache by taking an aspirin next week. To remove the ache means tackling its causes from yesterday and into the future.

The Environment Secretary’s acknowledgement (for example at the Oxford Farming Conference) that we cannot cut off the tree branch we are sitting on is to be welcomed. Natural capital is essential for any economy but will politicians deliver the more radical approach to energy, food and land-use that a deeper green agenda implies?

The scale and speed of the ecological dangers we face are unprecedented: loss of species, habitat, air pollution, global climate uncertainties, water and land contamination. These are all already claiming the lives and livelihoods of millions. Recycling glass and taxing plastic bags are all well and good but are not going to take us back from the precipice of a collapsing civilisation that we are likely hurtling towards.

The UK Government’s more laid back approach contrasts distinctly with the work of those looking at Planetary Boundaries who recognise that climate change, loss of biodiversity, land-system changes and altered natural cycles have pushed us into a new state of imbalance. In addition, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, freshwater use, and chemical intrusion all contribute to living in an increasingly difficult world.

We surely need more insightful and less superficial approaches to the planet we live on. Let’s rediscover the wisdom of our elders, the holistic lessons of cooperating for the common good and the pulling together to recreate communities that care for one another and the world whose web holds us all.

2018 will hold tensions for us. However, we might use the energy that those tensions produce to move forward in faithfully bringing about a more just, loving and peaceful world - in spite of all the odds and apparent contradictions.

Martyn Goss 

*for Government 25 year environment plan see: