Tuesday, April 02, 2013

London landings

Having just made the transition from the record high temperature of Melbourne to the record low temperatures of the UK  I was pleased to have my overcoat here in London despite the hastle of carrying it.  Not that it is that cold in London it is just that it is particularly cold for this time of year. These temperature extremes are to be expected within the growing understanding of climate change science.

Despite the weather, returning to London is always  a tonic. The Man Ray exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was absorbing.  I woke early Sunday morning and by chance caught Profile on BBC Radio 4; this episode was devoted to Rev'd Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James's Piccadilly and former Canon of St Pauls Cathedral.  The Profile brief says: 'Many inside the Church see her as favourite to become the first female bishop of the Church of England, if the rules change.'

On the basis of what I heard I headed off to breakfast at Inn the Park thinking that it might be interesting to experience the Easter service at St James's.  From my sun-drenched table adorned with early daffodils (very expensive at the moment because the cold has delayed flowering) and an excellent breakfast menu I had views of the FCO, Horseguards, assorted towers of Whitehall Court, and the MOD building and, to my left, the Mall. The spray of the fountain drifted to my right gently blown by an east wind (the bearer of cold weather).

By the time the 11am service began at St James's the church was full. It was a mixed congregation but not as ethnically and socially mixed as I had expected.  Perhaps my perception is a product of experiencing a Melbourne compared to a London crowd? My motivation for attending the service was to find out, if I could, what the service might tell me about a key UK institution (the Church of England) in transition.

There was a good vibe and good singing well organised.  Love - the acknowledgment of others as legitimate others - was present in various ways from greetings to devices to support congregation participation in the service. Concerns for social justice were obvious along with LGBT...but I was disappointed that there was no discourse about human relations with the non-human world, although Lucy Winkett's sermon could be interpreted in that way if one so chose. It was an impressive sermon, and for me the highlight of the experience.

Without being presumptious (I hope) let me draw on Lucy's sermon to elaborate my point above - of how the sermon could be used to draw attention to the breakdown of human love for the non-human world - and to make a link to an earlier posting. My starting point is the insightful claim that 'the news of resurrection is news of a disappearance - he is not here!'  If we reframe 'he' (though it could be she) as the biophysical world and/or other species, or 'nature' (though this has limitations) than this 'he' is missing too in most of what we humans do.

Lucy goes on to say: 'In fact the resurrection is not so much a conclusion or an answer as a profound question........ But actually, if the question after the crucifixion is“what do we do now?” then it’s actually the same question after the resurrection; after this disruptive, counter intuitive, jolting resurrection, it’s not a question of nodding wisely because it helps us understand the suffering; far from it; it is the beginning of something else even more colossal and disturbing."  Acceptance that we have entered the Anthropocene raises the very same question: 'what do we do now'?  Do we follow a path of self-crucifixation by continuing to support greenhouse gas-producing resource use and patterns of consumption that maintain our historical carbon fix? Or do we open ourselves to exploring a path of resurrection in which what we have done before is no longer here, or at least no longer conserved unknowingly?  In my earlier posting I called for an abandonment of key foundations on which our business- as-usual approach is built accompanied by the creation of new foundations - a basis for a form of resurrection.

In this regard Lucy's sermon offers a key framing and invitation: 'Resurrection is totally disruptive; it is what there is the other side of nothing. It is the life we had not thought of, and despite our best efforts can’t imagine.''  The new foundations I speak of are not there for the choosing - they will require efforts we can't yet imagine... but first we must roll away the rock that blinds us to our current prediciment. Resurrection I would claim is of the living for eternity is what we live each day and which we conserve through our manners of living.

What of the overall experience? What light did it shine for me on the possible transformation of one of the UK's key institutions?  In this regard I was not moved.  For me the issues of primary concern to the established church whilst important socially do not focus on the key issues of our times.  I suspect Lucy Winkett is aware of this when she says:  "Before it became a message or a doctrine or a church’s creed, Christianity was simply contact. A relationship".  But to which relationships should we devote our time and passion? My own responses to this question are not in sympathy with the claims made by the new Archbishop of Canterbury in his Easter sermon though I do agree with his claim that 'a “hero leader culture” in which all trust was placed in one person only [leads] to false hope.'

Monday, April 01, 2013

The new UN Sustainable Development Goals

The following press release has just be issued by Monash Univerity reporting an important contribution that MSI (Monash Sustainabilty Institute) is making to the formulation and pursuit of the UN's new SDGs - sustainable development goals.
Development dependent on sustainable approach
22 March 2013

"Scientists taking part in a UN working group to develop a set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have warned that on our current trajectory, environmental degradation will reverse progress made in eradicating poverty.

Director of the Monash Sustainability Institute, Professor Dave Griggs and colleagues published an article in the prestigious journal Nature, setting out a new conception of sustainable development and six base goals that they argue must be implemented by 2030.

Professor Griggs delivered a keynote address based on the Nature paper at a UN-sponsored meeting in New York this week.

The meeting followed the decision at last year's Rio Earth Summit to develop goals to guide the process of lifting the world's rapidly-growing population out of poverty while ensuring that Earth can continue to support human life.

The SDGs are due to come into effect in 2016, adding an increased environmental emphasis to the Millennium Development Goals. Professor Griggs said their importance should not be underestimated.

"If these goals are not meaningful, measurable and achievable, we risk having gains made poverty reduction undermined by environmental impacts," Professor Griggs said.
"We are already seeing the damage that human development has caused to the Earth's oceans, forests, waterways, atmosphere and biodiversity. Our population is due to hit nine million by mid-century. To continue to operate the way we have until now will result in irreversible environmental damage, which in turn will undermine development."

Professor Griggs and his colleagues argue for six specific goals couched within a new conception of sustainable development.
"Until now, discussion and policy around sustainable development has been guided by three pillars - economic, social and environmental," Professor Griggs said.
"We argue that it is more beneficial, and indeed necessary, to think of these pillars as concentric circles - economy within society within the environment.

The six goals are: thriving lives and livelihoods; sustainable food security; sustainable water security; universal clean energy; healthy and productive ecosystems; and governance for sustainable societies.
"Since the Millennium Development Goals were introduced, we have seen a reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty in many developing areas of the globe. This success illustrates both the effectiveness of goal-setting on an international scale and the importance of this week's meeting for our future," Professor Griggs said."

Form my perspective this is an important initiative.  I hope that soon we will be able to critically learn from what did and did'nt work in the pursuit of the UN sponsored MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) and bring that thinking to the framing and pursuit of the SDGs.  Within a systems theoretical framing the pursuit of goal-seeking behavior has been found limiting - perhaps this learning could be applied to the praxis of pursuing SDGs before old ways of acting become institutionalised?