Climate crisis: why the Quakers are taking action

Quakers and climate change: you might ask why is a faith community best known for its peace work spending time on environmental issues? Oliver Robertson, head of witness and worship at Quakers in Britain, explains.

The answer is partly because we do more than the headline stuff. Partly that the Quaker community has been telling us to do this since 2011. Partly because we can see the connections with all our other work. And partly because it’s something all of us need to do. As a previous blog has mentioned, climate action is everyone’s business.

Quakers in Britain see sustainability (‘right relationship to the earth’, as one dialect of Quaker-speak has it) as a core value in itself, but it also links to other values around equality, simplicity and peace.

Quakers have long seen peace as about much more than no war. It’s about working to make war unthinkable, removing the paths that can lead to violence. Climate change can exacerbate so many of these factors. These can range from climate-induced crop failure causing food shortages (and the famous claim made by Alfred Henry Lewis that all civilisations are “nine meals away from anarchy”), to other issues we work on, like migration.

We see the need to take urgent action on the climate crisis as fundamentally a matter of justice. Rich nations like the UK, who have profited from fossil fuel energy and have done the most to cause climate breakdown, must take responsibility. Our climate work is built on an understanding that to meaningfully address the climate crisis, we must build a new economic system based on equality, participation and wellbeing. We believe it is vital to tell this story wherever we can and to put the rights and the voices of poor and marginalised people first in the transition to zero carbon.

The last year has seen a surge of interest in climate action, including among faith groups. We are in a good position to support this thanks to our longstanding work on climate and economic issues, and we are developing shared advocacy work with other faith groups in the run-up to the COP26 climate talks in November.

There is much that can be done at a local level. Part of our work is to support Quakers around Britain to take action on the climate crisis, including through engagement with their local council. We are also encouraging Quaker meetings to link up with and support others doing social change work in their local area – for many meetings, this is a key element of their work already.

We also see the power of leading by example. In 2013, Quakers became the first church to divest from fossil fuels, with many local Quaker meetings following suit. Since then, thanks to tireless campaigning by grassroots activists, the divestment movement has taken off – including among faith groups, several of whom have now made divestment pledges.

On a practical level, Friends House, our main office and conference venue in London, has been working since 2009 to become more sustainable. Extra insulation has gone in, electricity and gas come from renewable sources (and we’ve negotiated a deal for any Quaker meeting house across Britain to get good rates), food is mainly vegetarian or vegan, we’re not providing notepads and pens to conference guests unless asked for (probably a blessing for those of us with overflowing penholders). It’s reduced the building’s carbon footprint by 30%. But importantly, this has happened in stages, with lots of smaller steps making change more manageable and less scary. Doing something is a great spur to doing more.

Looking at our work through the lens of climate change can also have some unexpected benefits. Quakers in Britain owns some small parcels of grassland that we haven’t been sure what to do with (an occupational hazard when you’ve been going for nearly 370 years). But thinking of how to make them the biggest carbon sinks they can be, and using those as part of efforts to minimise our carbon footprint, has transformed our view of them.

Climate change IS everyone’s business, and because it touches everything there are myriad opportunities to do something about it. We don’t need to do everything, we just need to bring our part of the solution.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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