Autumn greetings and happy St. Francis day!

First of the month – Pray and Fast for the Climate…  

Earlier this week I found myself on a train between Exeter and Birmingham which was stopped at Gloucester because of a gas leak and where a two hour wait and chaos ensued. Eventually I arrived at my destination almost 3 hours late and the fragmentation of our once effective railway system is very apparent.

It is clear that the train operators and station companies do not always have contingency plans and, as usual in such situations, official communications are very poor with nobody seeming to know what is going on.

What really happens is that the institutional life of the rail industry labours to continue in the face of unexpected challenge. But interestingly what takes over is an unexpected sense of community. Suddenly anonymous strangers become travelling companions. We all give a hand with overloaded passengers with heavy luggage as they struggle to get on and off replacement buses. Those who may be more vulnerable, including the semi-blind man next to me, receive offers of help and support.

The institution temporarily fails but human relationships take over. Common unity transcends the urgency of individuals. We all see life from a renewed perspective. Large scale agencies, which run like efficient machines when life is regulated, no longer succeed and are replaced by basic human care and concern.

In the coming 2 months we face some of the greatest institutional challenges our human species has known when governments and decision-makers meet at the COP21 summit in Paris to put in place transnational and trans-generational agreements to phase out fossil fuels and move us to a low-carbon future.

This has to be of interest to us all, but especially to people of faith and goodwill. We now need to do unto others as we would have them done unto us in a massive way. We must do unto the future as the past has done to us – offer abundance of life, but not to undermine the ability of planet Earth to hold us all.

Institutionally governments, businesses, scientists and NGOs all need to line up to bring about a strong agreement to limit carbon emissions for the next 30 years. In theory this will happen, but in reality the Summit might not deliver all the expectations laid upon it.

Faiths are encouraged to play a full role in this – setting out aspirations to divest from fossil fuels, to protect the most vulnerable and to establish pointers towards a more just, participatory and sustainable world. In the end we share 2 things across all peoples – our common humanity and our common home.

So we need to remember that if politicians fail it will fall to the community to really bring about change. In the end it will be citizens acting together to create and sustain a different kind of society – less dependent on coal, oil and gas, and more resilient to live on less – which will make a lasting difference. If institutions cannot deliver in the face of climate uncertainty, human community relations must have a strong role to play.

To many of us it is abundantly clear that we are going to have to leave fossil fuels unextracted and unburnt, and at the same time design communities of sharing and support, not profligacy and waste. Cooperation will need to dominate over competition for a new world to be possible, but once we grasp this truth it may well set us free…

All best wishes – Martyn