Press release on 11 March:- Report from : Treasure in the Field : CEL’s 30th Anniversary Conference: Bristol, 10 March 2012
"We need growth that doesn't destroy the Earth"
The current push for economic growth by politicians and financial institutions was questioned by environmentalist Jonathon Porritt at Christian Ecology Link's 30th anniversary conference on 10 March. "Economic growth is kept at the heart of our model of progress despite plenty of scientific evidence about the scale of environmental problems", said the keynote speaker, "and many believe so firmly that technology will one day solve these problems that the growth paradigm goes unchallenged".
The packed audience of around 150 Christian environmental activists was urged to re-examine the notion of 'wealth' as meaning 'wellness' and challenge politicians and others who take it to mean 'money'. After 100 years of suicidal growth it is still possible to change our dire situation", he said, "but we need to strain each sinew to do so - and call in aid every spiritual resource".
Porritt, a Christian Ecology Link patron and Director of Forum for the Future, was speaking at St. Michael's Church in Bristol to the theme, 'Treasure in the field : spiritual capital and sustainable living'. He told the audience "this community of action and reflection is very important to me as a source of inspiration" and indeed Forum for the Future's publication 'Moving Mountains' has drawn on Christian Ecology Link material.
In his book 'Capitalism as if the world matters', Porritt identified that besides financial capital, there is the natural capital of the mineral and biosystem resources of the earth, plus the capital of human skills and social organisation, together with the built environment, infrastructure and technology - 'manufactured capital'. He also suggested a further crucial resource - 'spiritual capital', suggesting that 'spiritual capital' developed through a spiritual 'renaissance' can help achieve true sustainability. "Today's so-called 'ecological crisis' is in essence a crisis of the human spirit" he has said, "for as we have degraded the earth, so we corrupted our souls, caught up in a frenzy of suicidal consumerism".
Porritt also suggested that social justice is the real test for sustainability. However, he also suggested that churches on the whole were too 'other-worldly' and failed to engage with environmental realities. "I don't put much store in treasure in heaven" he said; "if more Christians focused on the treasure in the field rather than treasure in heaven then we would live in a very different world today". He did single out Anglican bishop James Jones, author of 'Jesus and the Earth' as somebody he greatly admired.
Aove photo by Martin Davis
Tim Gorringe, Professor of Theological Studies at Exeter University, responded, agreeing on the contradiction of infinite growth on a finite planet and suggested that the Tansition movement offers a striking alternative form of growth. He said people of faith cannot be relegated to a 'spiritual realm' for the whole of reality is a gift of God and there is an imperative to promote sustainable living.
While Porritt left the gathering at lunchtime to join protestors at Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset to mark the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster - and to call for a halt to the development of Hinkley C, a new pressurised water reactor, afternoon workshops at the conference explored alternative ways of living leading to a sustainable future. Chris Sunderland from EarthAbbey reflected on the contemplative heart of environmental activism. Jeremy Williams from Breathe suggested a radical change in our consumerist culture is vital to any hope of a sustainable future. Theologian and gardener Edward Echlin argued that small scale, biodiverse, organic food production is not only the best way food growing preserves soil and stabilises climate but is also the most productive. Mark Letcher of Climate Works explored low-carbon living in an overall context of faith. Jonathan Essex of the Greenhouse think tank asked if representative democracy could deliver sustainability.
(See other reports and pictures on conference)