Last summer, for one solitary hour in July, solar energy took over as the number one source of electricity in the UK. I remember being enraged when I heard this. If this can be achieved almost by accident, what could be done if the political will and the necessary resources were in place? If every new building had to be fitted with solar panels, for example? How dare we not have laws to require this?
Plastic bags are another case in point. Ireland, so often more progressive than the UK, imposed a levy on plastic bags back in 2002. The UK did not introduce this levy until 2015 and, predictably, usage of plastic bags has dropped by 85 per cent.
I am ashamed to say that until the law changed in the UK I regularly accepted plastic bags in supermarkets – in fact my mum would always stock up when she came over to visit. Now, even though only five pence a bag is at stake, I will always bring my own bags when I shop. I cannot explain why I was not evolved enough to commit to this before the levy. Yet is this not a perfect example of good legislation?
Waiting for people to change their individual behaviours voluntarily will always have a limited uptake. We are in a war to halt the degradation of our planet, and conscription is required.
I think this taps into something very deep within human nature. We are designed to require accountability. We nearly always behave better when there is a community around us expecting the best from us.
So my heart has been greatly warmed by the non-violent protests on the streets all over the world during Holy Week and Easter Week this year – Extinction Rebellion speaking truth to power about the international emergency that is upon us.
For Christians involved in the rebellion in London it has been a profoundly moving season. On Maundy Thursday they spent hours bathing the tired feet of fellow protesters with water and oil. Over Easter weekend they broke bread and shared wine on the streets, sang and prayed as they got arrested, playing their small part in this deeply thoughtful movement which is committed to the long-term. The emphasis on non-violence is painstakingly embedded in every aspect of the organisation, and it shows.
At first I was crestfallen not to be part of it. I had planned on heading up to London myself for the first Monday to join whatever was going on. I had a physical yearning to be there, even just for a day, standing alongside others to express my concern. But then I realised I couldn’t. I was a new curate in my first Holy Week of ordained ministry. I was not free to leave. I had many precious duties to perform that day and every day throughout the week.
Yet I have grown to understand that the protesters are representing me. They are representing those of us who were too busy with our daily responsibilities to be able to get away, representing those of us who manage to compartmentalise our alarm at the state we are in, who don’t have the capacity or the energy or the resilience to attend to our ravaged planet as it deserves and needs. Protester Rev Helen Burnett put it most beautifully: they are holding that grief for our planet on behalf of all of us.
Extinction Rebellion is prophetically declaring that we must whole-heartedly mobilise with the utmost urgency – globally, unilaterally, now! – against the further degradation of our beautiful, broken world. It is a speaking out on behalf of those who are affected the most – the poorest and those as yet unborn. I am so grateful.
The Church has much to learn, much to repent and divest of, possibly insights to offer, humbly. We must watch and pray and stand and swim and, by the grace of God, rise to what is required of us at this gravest of junctures.