During the past few weeks Extinction Rebellion has been active in cities all over the world. Here in Britain the focus is on London where many streets have been blocked and over 1000 arrested.

On the church side various Christian Green groups have been active and three bishops have taken part, including Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. This blog both re-blogs and discusses Bayes’ blog The Rainbow of Non-violent Advocacy

On thursday 17th October tube trains were stopped at Canning Town to the chagrin of commuters. There were ugly scenes and protesters  were pulled off the roof of the train and roughed up. The scene was ugly, but commuters were stopped getting to work.  Here Christian Climate Action were highly involved and among arrestees were an Anglican and Catholic priest.

Enough of this which fills the news, and before discussing Bayes’ blog , here is something about me.

I consider myself an environmentalist (though some would deny me that now), but cannot say when it started as my parents gave me a love of nature and the countryside, especially mountains. That led to me changing from studying chemistry to geology and then working for a mining company in Africa. There I became more aware of environmental issues (although my company was pretty good on the environment compared to some recent horror stories.) and as I trained for the ministry I found virtually nothing on a Christian view of the environment until Sam Berry wrote a little booklet and Bp Hugh Montefiore tried to make an impact.

At that time I was in Friends of the Earth, anti-nuclear, pro-organic and voted Ecology in in 1979. Then no one opposed coal, possibly because E F Schumacher (with whose sons I went to school) was the green guru and he was pro-coal and anti-nuclear. I only used my bike in the parish.  It was my eccentricity! Moving to a vicarage in 1980 I practiced wildlife gardening. One disappointment was visiting the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales. I was not impressed by the poor engineering of their alternative technology – at that time I ran Morris Minors and swapped engines, gearboxes, wings, doors and – woodwork. My ultimate was when a Minor conked out on the Galibier Pass. We were off again in five minutes.

There was no interest in the environment in the diocese of Liverpool and in 1982 I brought it up on the Board of Social Responsibility. I was met with stony silence and never made it to the minutes!

From the late 1980s the reality of Climate Change became clearer but took a decade to become generally accepted. Some, especially American evangelicals rejected it, and I wrote about that in my book Evangelicals and Science (2008) and then in Religion in environmental and Climate change https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/evangelicals-and-climate-change-1990-to-2011/  I finished it on the day a tremor was caused by fracking 10 miles away, which I did not feel. At the time I was hostile to fracking, but started to research it in depth after reading a Green Party leaflet in 2012. What it said about earthquakes was laughable and thus I did not vote Green as I intended!! I started to research fracking and soon found the immense inaccuracies from Green groups, which were swallowed by Christian environmentalists. Having a geological background did not help me!

Since then I’ve been concerned at the total bias of so many Christians on the environment, or usually only climate change, who seem to have replaced the apocalyptic scenario of Dispensationalism with a climate apocalypse. That I cannot buy into. (I suppose I ought to say that I consider Climate Change a serious issue, which needs addressing on many fronts, rather than just Divestment.)

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Enough of me and so to Bishop Paul Bayes.

He begins with his protesting with CND in the 1980s, rather like Rowan Williams at that time.

He speaks of a rainbow of responses from the backroom girl to the activist

Within the rainbow some work quietly and unobtrusively to influence political and other leaders with facts, evidence, scholarship, quiet wisdom, nuance. Others will follow the advice of an editor of the Economist: “Simplify, then exaggerate”, crafting messages which motivate the heart and lead people to take a stand, and proclaiming them clearly and very loudly.

Facts and evidence are essential on any issue, as without them one is liable to talk nonsense or worse, and be intentionally or unintentionally, dishonest. That may be the scientist and historian in me coming out, but there is always the one ugly fact that can destroy one’s case. I reckon those ugly facts are the best facts of all. On climate change the evidence is paramount. Once a researcher or activist comes out with false facts, they lose credibility.

Bayes’ second one “Simplify, then exaggerate” is very dubious. Yes, things must be put over simply, but exaggeration is no better than dishonesty, and too many activists have fallen foul of this, like Hallam’s claim that 6 billion people will die of Climate Change by 2100. Proclaiming a lie clearly and very loudly is doomed to failure, and is liable to result in less action over Climate Change. It has emotional appeal, but it is wrong to convince people of the dangers of extinction and death, when they are not there.

And so he writes

 “In the case of Extinction Rebellion the messages and demands are suitably loud and clear (See https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/demands/):

  • Tell the truth (and declare a climate emergency)
  • Act now (and move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025)
  • Go beyond politics (and establish a citizens’ assembly to focus the practical steps)

The details of these demands are of course open to debate

And so to consider these three points

  • Tell the truth (and declare a climate emergency)

Sadly Extinction Rebellion is prone to exaggeration. Hallam’s 6 billion deaths is a good example from a founder of ER. We also see it as people, especially the young, are reduced to tears as they fear they will not get to old age.

I have not found ER good at telling the truth. In time this will backfire to the detriment of the planet.

  • Act now (and move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025)

I would say we should have acted 20 years ago and in fact most governments have. The progress since 2000 has been considerable but needs more. I can’t expand on that here.

The second part to move to Net Zero by 2025 is simply impossible, – 2050 is possible but not 2025. There is simply not the technology in place or available for 2025. To reach Net Zero by 2025 would mean us reducing energy consumption by a good 80%, as there are no Net Zero alternatives available now. It would mean that nearly all homes would have their heating stripped out, with nothing to replace. That would increase deaths from hypothermia.

Slightly flippantly could I suggest that Liverpool diocese gives an example and follow this timetable so the diocese is Net Zero by 2025. The timetable –

mid-2020 all clergy and employees should stop using cars

mid-2021 all vicarages must stop using fossil fuels for heating (est cost £26,000 per house to provide alternatives. That would be about £4 million)

mid-2022  all churches should stop using fossil fuels for heat.  (another £10 million)

mid-2023 all churches and vicarage must get off mains water , as that is dependant on fossil fuels for distribution AND chlorine for sterilisation – the Cl is made in Widnes using natural gas by Ineos.

This is clearly impossible and is a daft suggestion, but illustrates the impossibility of Net Zero by 2025. Realism is needed as well a naive hope.

  • Go beyond politics (and establish a citizens’ assembly to focus the practical steps)

This is a total rejection of all our democratic structures, and a citizens’ assembly sounds more like a separate political organisation to which most people would not have a say. There is something dark and dictatorial about ER.

The whole talk of DEMANDS is anything but democratic.

Image result for system change not climate change

The unwitting message of this banner is that ER is not about Climate change but a rejection of any form of Social Democracy and capitalism. (yes, Capitalism can and does go wrong, summed up by Ted Heath in the 70s on Lonrho “the unacceptable face of capitalism.” Capitalism needs regulating, with regulations continually brought up to date , not rejecting it out right.) One does not have to look far to find arguments for System Change.

 

And so he concludes.

If you’re a Christian then, in matters of the future of the planet, in all matters of justice and peace, will you listen for the voice of the triune God who loves you, the voice of the Holy Spirit within you who comforts and provokes you? Will you take your stand within the rainbow of non-violent advocacy? And if you will, where will you stand?

I am very uneasy with his conclusion as it invokes Christian discipleship (which is much needed) but implies, if it does not state, that if you disagree with this you are not a faithful Christian. In other words, if one rejects what Bayes says, one is not listening to God. That is offensive and will alienate many Christians. It is rather like extreme evangelicals who insist you believe in the inerrancy of the bible and, for some, creation 10,000 years ago. Many will simply dismiss what he says and carry on turning up the heating rather than putting on a sweater.  (I write this in a cosy fleece.)

At this pointPaul Bayes seems to present a very exclusive view of Christianity, whereby those who don’t stand with his views on ER and the environment are somehow outside the fold. Have normally been a contender for an Inclusive church here he does the exact opposite. Anyone who works in fossil fuels, mining, much of energy are those excluded from the rainbow. I can name some who are in that position, and feel their church involvement under question.

I am only too aware that many Christians and others have little or muted environmental concern, but this will only make them less concerned.

Just focussing on churches, we will find many (most?) are not bothered by Climate Change and the actions of ER will make them less so as seen in response at Camden tube station.

As David Sheppard, former Bishop of Liverpool, told me in his study years ago, to argue in such a 100% /0% way means than many will reject what you have to say, but a 60%/40% will persuade your hearers/readers of a little.

However if protesters went out ,put on a fleece, turn off the tap while brushing their teeth or planting trees in their garden or churchyard, instead of stopping people at work that would be a big step in the right direction for the climate.

Recently the Bishop of London has written a fine, gently encouraging and challenging, letter to her diocese. I doubt if her readers will get arrested protesting, or swearing about extremism, but are liable to say, “Mmmm, I think she has a point.” Suggestive ideas can eat away over time, and change people. A bloody nose does not.

https://www.london.anglican.org/articles/letter-from-the-bishop-of-london-taking-action-in-response-to-climate-change/

*************************************************************

via The Rainbow of Non-violent Advocacy

by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

my-name-is-paul

Last Thursday I stood with a number of colleagues, lay and ordained, as part of the Christian Climate Action contribution to the Extinction Rebellion protests in London. We read from the book of Revelation In Trafalgar Square, standing in front of the National Gallery, surrounded by people of all faiths and none who were taking their stand together to form part of this extraordinary non-violent direct action movement.

I was not arrested, though I could have been. Some of my ordained colleagues there had been arrested the previous day, and a great many Christians have been arrested before and since, just a few of the 2600+ people (at the time of writing) who have taken their protest to the point of loss of liberty. Without violence they break the law and they face the music. And who are we to judge?

On the way to Trafalgar Square I passed Downing Street and Admiralty Arch, two of the several places where I myself had been arrested in the 1980s, over 35 years ago. At that time it was my great privilege to be a national co-chair of Christian CND, and to have been able to take a stand on the wide rainbow of non-violent advocacy which wanted to see nuclear weapons banned, within the still wider rainbow that seeks to change the world for the better in any way. That was around the time of the “Church and the Bomb” report. I spent time lobbying the General Synod and arguing with bishops, and I spent time in the cells at Cannon Row police station. All that advocacy felt like one seamless thing to me.

And the arguments used against Extinction Rebellion last week were also familiar to me, since the same things had been said to me whenever I sat in the road, or chained myself to railings, or prayed persistently outside a US base, or otherwise took action all those years ago. “Isn’t this just ridiculous middle-class posturing?” “Aren’t you just messing about?” “Do you really think that these protests will change policy – will change anything at all?”

All these are fair questions, but they miss the point. The point is that non-violent advocacy is a wide, wide rainbow, and each colour in it has its place, and it would be foolish to assume that no part of it makes or will make a difference. It’s a matter of diversity, as St Paul understood very well when he spoke of the body and its different parts.

The advocacy of Mahatma Gandhi or of Dr Martin Luther King took its place within this diverse, non-violent, world-changing rainbow. Within the rainbow some work quietly and unobtrusively to influence political and other leaders with facts, evidence, scholarship, quiet wisdom, nuance. Others will follow the advice of an editor of the Economist: “Simplify, then exaggerate”, crafting messages which motivate the heart and lead people to take a stand, and proclaiming them clearly and very loudly.

In the case of Extinction Rebellion the messages and demands are suitably loud and clear (See https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/demands/):

  • Tell the truth (and declare a climate emergency)
  • Act now (and move to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025)
  • Go beyond politics (and establish a citizens’ assembly to focus the practical steps)

The details of these demands are of course open to debate, and so are some of the tactical choices made about where and how to protest and what to disrupt. But when it comes to the future of the planet the rainbow of advocacy needs XR, just as it nees Greta Thunberg and the school strikes. The urgency of the climate crisis means that nuanced debate between sophisticated grown-ups is not enough, as the famous sculpture by Isaac Cordal, “Waiting for climate change”, makes clear:

Waiting for Climate Change

All this is personal. It bears in on each one of us, as Bishop Rowan Williams knows. Writing in the afterword to the XR manual “This Is Not A Drill” [1], he has this to say:

“To put it very directly: it is worth changing our habits of consumption, the default settings for our lifestyle, the various kinds of denial and evasion of bodily reality that suit us, the fantasies of limitless growth and control, simply because there are healthy and unhealthy ways of living in this universe.

To go on determinedly playing the trumpet in a string quartet is a recipe for frustration and collapse and conflict. There are ways of learning to live better, to make peace with the world. Learn them anyway: they will limit the disease and destruction; they may even be seeds for a future we can’t imagine…

It just might work.”

And as a person of faith he says:

“In the Book of Proverbs, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the divine wisdom is described as ‘filled with delight’ at the entire world which flows from that wisdom. For me as a religious believer, the denial or corruption of that delight is like spitting in the face of the life-giving Word who is to be met in all things and all people…”

And he ends by saying:

“Anger, love and joy may sound like odd bedfellows, but these are the seeds of a future that will offer life – not success, but life.”

So what? Well, with all this in mind, there is a question for you who are reading this. On this matter – the future of the planet – and indeed on any other matter of justice and peace, will you take your stand within the rainbow of non-violent advocacy? And if you will, where will be the right place, the best place, for you yourself to stand?

Of course some approaches stand outside any non-violent advocacy rainbow. On one side is the assumption that no advocacy is necessary at all, or perhaps that advocating is so naïve as to be pointless, or perhaps that we can’t be bothered – that other people will engage with it and so we won’t have to. And on the other side, the assumption that only violence will change things, or that if we feel we must break the law, then having broken the law, no consequences should or must be faced.

Neither of these approaches was taken by Mahatma Gandhi, or by Dr King. As they engaged with the issues of justice that lay before them, each one understood the spectrum of advocacy and operated across it; at times pragmatic, at times prophetic. Jesus too spoke highly of the law and also acted in ways that challenged it, reaching out to the excluded. In words of the Lutheran Gordon Lathrop that so often speak to my own heart, “…we are speaking of the biblical, historic Christ who eats with sinners and outsiders, who is made a curse and sin itself for us, who justifies the ungodly, and who is himself the hole in any system”.

Jesus lived with urgency, for the times were urgent. The times for us too are urgent, as indeed they have always been.

If you’re a Christian then, in matters of the future of the planet, in all matters of justice and peace, will you listen for the voice of the triune God who loves you, the voice of the Holy Spirit within you who comforts and provokes you? Will you take your stand within the rainbow of non-violent advocacy? And if you will, where will you stand?

 

Paul Bayes is Bishop of Liverpool

[1] Extinction Rebellion, “This Is Not A Drill”, Penguin Books 2019

 

 

2 thoughts on “Bishop Bayes on Extinction Rebellion

  1. Paul Braterman

    As so often, Michael, I agree with much of what you say. There is no way to go carbon-neutral by 2025, even if we were to bring nuclear power online as quickly as possible. And I can imagine nothing more counter-effective than interfering with the London Underground, the most environmentally friendly method of mass transport that could be imagined.

    Regarding a citzen’s assembly, however, I think your criticism is misplaced. Its role could only be the development, expression, and focusing of opinion, rather than undermining the electoral system as such, nor do I see how it could acquire the power to do so. As I recall, such processes outside of formal channels were helpful in devising the Scottish Parliamentary system, whose superiority to Westminster is, right now, all too apparent.

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    Reply
  2. Pingback: Why Extinction Rebellion seems so nuts | Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

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