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We all need to co-exist on planet Earth

Climate change protests have been very much in the news recently, but Andy Bryant argues that there is an even more fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.

At long last the issue of climate change seems to be getting the attention it needs.  Two weeks of protests in London has certainly bumped the issue up the headlines although it remains to be seen whether a government paralysed by Brexit will actually make any concrete response. 
We cannot continue to ignore the reality that, in the West, we have for too long adopted lifestyles that are unsustainable.  For too long the basis of economic development has been based on exploiting the planet’s resources rather than learning to live in harmony with creation. 
For too long we have lacked a real sense of urgency in our approach to climate change.  We have tinkered with small changes hoping it will be enough, avoiding facing up to the extent to which we are all going to have to change our lifestyles if the impact of climate change is to be stopped, let alone reversed.
Extinction Rebellion argue that there is no other issue so urgent and that this justifies the level of disruption they have been causing on the streets of London.  The crisis is now, and facing up to it requires action now.
Without wanting to detract from this very real sense of urgency, I nevertheless want to suggest that there is one issue which is even more urgent.  An issue that has faced humanity ever since we first walked on this planet.  An issue that grows ever more urgent as populations grow and communities become ever more inter-connected.  An issue which, if not resolved, will frustrate the best efforts at halting climate change.
And the issue is this: how as human beings can we learn to live in harmony and co-operation with each other?
Our animal instinct is to exclude.  The herd seeks to protect its territory, defend its food sources and its females for mating.  Human society has followed the same instinct, with tribes and nations seeking to maintain borders, control migration, protect food supplies.  We divide the world into those that are like us and those who are not like us.  At best this leads to avoidance and suspicion and at worst it leads to oppression and war.
Tragically, religion has echoed rather than challenged this divisive approach to living on this shared planet.  Each faith claiming their faith is the true faith, dividing the world into those who are saved and those who are not, those who are in and those who are out. It is the belief that “God is on my side”. This is echoed in the language of evangelism and conversion. 
Sadly, there are even divisions within the faith groups themselves. Although words such as welcome, inclusion and love are much spoken about, the reality is that too often religion has been for the dividing and not the healing of nations and peoples.
The world of politics is similarly so often is about divide and rule.  A powerful individual or group dictating the direction of a nation.  The best democracies know that they must be more than dictatorship by the majority but the governments that genuinely seek consensus are few and far between.  Despite the ideal of the United Nations as a forum for co-operation the structure of the Security Council ensures that the old fault lines amongst the nations are endlessly replayed.
The inability of humans to live together in a spirit of mutual co-operation leads to numerous places of conflict and millions fleeing as refugees, the suffering of many in the face of oppression and millions being trapped in poverty, the murder of people in their places of worship and the persecution of people for their beliefs or political ideals.
As critical as the challenges of the climate crisis may be, unless humans can discover new ways to co-exist, then the prospects of deep and lasting change seem all too unlikely.
We need politicians who build bridges and promote co-operation, who reach out to learn from those who hold opposing views and who cherish shared ground and the common good.  We need faith groups known for their depth of generosity, the sincerity of their welcome, the quality of their inclusion and their lack of judgement.
Each day I am challenged by the words of St Benedict to treat the visitor as if they were none other than Christ himself. The truth is I would most likely have found much of what Jesus said and did rather annoying. I would have criticised his teachings and, even if not one of those shouting “crucify”, I would have been quite glad when the authorities finally got him off the streets. And yet this is the one I find who can most truly teach me the true meaning of love.
If I could treat each person I met, especially those who I do not naturally warm to, those who hold contrary views to my own, those who approach life in a different way to me, as I would want to treat Jesus, then maybe, just maybe there is a chance.
Extinction Rebellion is right that the crisis is now.  However, unless we humans can learn to reach out to one another, break down the barriers that too easily divide us and build a new consensus across the global community, then I fear all that will be left from these current protests is not rebellion but just extinction.
The image above is by Steve Watts from


Andrew BryantCFThe Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry
here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.

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James Knight (Guest) 02/05/2019 13:00
Andrew, it's rare to find an article that's so full of misapprehensions about the subjects under scrutiny. It's a medley of confusion from start to finish, and amounts to a fantasist interpretation of the world we live in.

As I wrote in a recent Philosophical Muser blog, I can show you why by presenting the opportunity to do something climate change alarmists never will do - to show there is a problem that needs solving; to show they understand that it can be solved with radical new measures, and to propose viable solutions to solve it.

The fact that they can't do this, and never attempt to, is reason enough not to take them seriously, because if they really did care about this issue as they say they do, and genuinely thought there was an intelligent solution, they'd be happy to shout it from the rooftops. Given the foregoing, in my submission, here is the only way they can show themselves as a credible group to be listened to seriously:

1) Give us a proper, comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the present relationship between industrialised human progress and its effects on the environment, showing why the resultant analysis yields a net cost against the industrialised human progress in favour of a radical interventionist alternative.

2) Given the efficacy of number 1, propose a practical, realistic method of implementation of a series of mitigating actions within the current technological capacities, stating timescales, expected empirical results, and why this series of actions won't knock on to have a net detrimental effect on the positive elements of human progress we are trying to sustain.

3) Given the combined efficacy of 1 and 2, present an empirically demonstrable, fully costed plan of action, explaining how this allocates the required resources more efficiently than the market, and how the leading two dozen world economies can best come together to achieve this without it having a net negative economic impact on their citizens.

4) Given the combined efficacy of 1, 2 and 3, justify why all these impediments to market growth won't have a net detrimental effect on the developing world - on the planet's poorest billion people, who most urgently need a global, industrial market in which to participate, to help them climb the ladder of prosperity.

No one can even begin to call themselves a serious climate change thinker until they've produced a detailed analysis based on those 4 assessments. And that is the challenge that should be presented to all of them, every time they try to propagate their agenda - because they have earned not one jot of credibility until they do.

Until you’ve answered these four questions, your article is just baseless opinion - so we very much look forward to your answers.

James Knight (Guest) 02/05/2019 13:12
On this ---

“And the issue is this: how as human beings can we learn to live in harmony and co-operation with each other? Our animal instinct is to exclude. The herd seeks to protect its territory, defend its food sources and its females for mating. Human society has followed the same instinct, with tribes and nations seeking to maintain borders, control migration, protect food supplies. We divide the world into those that are like us and those who are not like us. At best this leads to avoidance and suspicion and at worst it leads to oppression and war.”

This is a very unbalanced view - it only tells a bit of the story, and omits the most important parts. The overall human drive for improvement is not to exclude and be in conflict - it is to engage in cooperation and mutually beneficial transactions. Because of humans pursuing their best possible, the agents of participation have to negotiate strategies that identify risk in order to have sufficient transparency to obtain an optimal (or efficient) end goal. When there is negative outside interference that distorts this process and diminishes transparency, we get perverse incentives and less-efficient outcomes. Individuals who pursue improvement for their own lives, simultaneously make everyone else better off by doing so - it is the great human cooperative; the greatest democracy; the greatest antidote to corruption and tyranny; and the greatest celebration of talent, diversity, individual sovereignty and equality the world has ever seen or probably will ever see. It is the individual search for utility and the collective aspiration for cooperation that drives progress.


John Pinnington (Guest) 03/05/2019 08:40
Thankyou Andy for a very thought provoking article. `So many problems would be solved by the approach you have suggested of following the words of St Benedict.
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