This article was written in 2021, the SNU’s Year of the Environment. A Year in which we started conversations about the climate crisis that needed to continue into the future. At this time the UK’s National MET Office issued their first ever amber warning for extreme heat in parts of the UK. Parts of Europe were still reeling from the death and destruction brought by severe flooding. Further afield, wildfires were ripping through California. Canada had recorded temperatures of almost 50 degrees (Celsius), far surpassing the stifling heatwave mentioned experienced above. The MET Office reported that these were all further warnings that the climate crisis isn’t a future possibility. It is a reality that is happening now. These warnings are also becoming more frequent. Humanity has been quick to cause these and other environmental catastrophes, yet our reaction to halt and reverse the damage is dangerously slow. On Earth Day 2022 it is clear why these conversations must continue, because we still need to act!

While these issues might be described as environmental, they are inextricably linked with the issues that Spiritualists would describe as spiritual. From one perspective, the crisis is a blanket problem that is affecting all life on earth. A closer look reveals a startling injustice that snarls in the face of the unity and equality that God intended for us all. The organisation Faith for the Climate describes this succinctly, saying “Faith communities have a unique and precious role to play – in our thought, speech, worship and action, alongside and in partnership with secular environmental organisations – enabling people of faith to live out their calling by acting to protect the climate.”

Growing consumption in the richer countries on this planet is driving up pollution and drought in the poorer ones. Trash and recycling is shipped and dumped onto poorer countries too. Power stations across the world are ablaze with fossil fuels that are pushing global warming. And the world’s forests, nature’s lungs, are choked and burnt, replaced by crops to feed cattle and produce palm oil, pushing species to extinction, destroying homes and livelihoods, and feeding those who have at the expense of those who have not. Big business has a lot to answer to. According to fullfact.org, “of the estimated greenhouse gas emissions from human activity (excluding certain sources like agricultural methane) between 1988 and 2015, 71% originated from 100 fossil fuel producers. This includes the emissions released when the fossil fuels they sold were subsequently used by their customers.” It seems clear that the personal responsibility we value in our own actions isn’t shared at a corporate level by many companies, and they need to know our disapproval, and our desire for better options.

There are other issues affecting the environment too, that don’t have the same high profile, and these were discussed in our gathering called “Spiritualists for Social Justice” where we looked at them through the lens of Spiritualism. The inspiration for these gatherings came from John Blackwood OSNU who wanted to create a forum for participants to advance their thinking and galvanise their actions. He is also a facilitator in the sessions. Participating in the discussion was Kirk who spoke about the environmental cost of preparing for war and how military activity is challenged by our spiritual thinking. He said, “As a Spiritualist, our fifth principle compels me in working towards a world where conflict is resolved without the use of force. The military industrial complex perpetuates war, with the environment being its silent victim. The United Kingdom (UK) arms repressive regimes with UK made weapons, which play a devastating role around the world. Nuclear weapons pose the single biggest threat to the Earth's environment, yet the UK plans to increase its nuclear weapons arsenal. Our second principle compels me to stand with our brothers and sisters who are calling for an end to the arms trade and a world free from nuclear weapons. Our seventh principle compels me to believe in a better future for humanity and our beautiful Mother Earth.” In addition, the 2019 carbon footprint of military expenditure in Europe is estimated as equivalent to the carbon dioxide output of 14 million cars (see Scientists for Global responsibility, sgr.org.uk). Considering Kirk’s perspective, we begin to see that environmental issues are complex and intersect every aspect of our lives. Our spirituality intersects every aspect of life too, so it also demonstrates how Spiritualist thinking can provide an insight we might otherwise have missed, and a motivation to act.

It’s the SNU Year of the Environment – aiming to start conversations about how we can take better care of the natural world we live in. At our Annual General Meeting’s Sunday session this year, we invited a speaker from Greenpeace to talk to over 100 delegates, and field questions and discussion. They were able to share their knowledge about some of the current climate change and pollution issues that affect the planet, but also to relate that to real and achievable actions that we can undertake as individuals, church communities and an organisation. At the end of the session it was clear that we are at a crossroads to our future. Emerging technologies that will help manage environmental impact are still far from perfect, leaving some of the best choices we have are only the least worst. We are also living in systems that restrict our choices and prevent us from making the better choices that we want to make. However, our personal responsibility can help us to make the better choices when they are within our reach, and push for change where they are not.

This article, as well as introducing some of the issues, is about what we can do. We have researched a range of resources and information that can help you and your church to act for the environment, and demonstrate our care for life and for nature. Often it takes just a little research to find a solution to an issue. This was exemplified following our gathering when Joan of Brighton and Hove Spiritualist Church followed up on a discussion about recycling things that are not collected in kerbside collections. She found the Brighton-based Green Centre (www.thegreencentre.co.uk) has a Recycling Guide that gives a comprehensive list of all the things they accept, from crisp packets to cosmetics packaging. Joan discovered that they were working through a backlog due to the pandemic, but noted, “They have a stall at our Open Market every Thursday and under normal circumstances they accept anything on the list.” This opens up a way for their congregation to divert waste from landfill into new products. There are similar facilities in other towns and cities, and as Joan found, a little web searching can reveal a lot of useful information that focuses on your locality. Here are some more starting points.

Recycle

TerraCycle (www.terracycle.com) says it is “eliminating the Idea of Waste by recycling the ‘non-recyclable.’” Its website lists free drop off points and other options for recycling a wide range of items not recycled by local authorities, and operates in the UK and 19 other countries. Example: You can order a free envelope to send used disposable razors for recycling.

Recycle Now (www.recyclenow.com) promotes waste reduction and recycling, and its website has lots of information, advice and can help you discover recycling facilities where you or your church are located. Example: Has an A to Z of what to do with unwanted items.

Weeecharity (weeecharity.co.uk) is an organisation that began in a spare room in a church in 2016, and now collects unwanted computer equipment and electronics (mobile phones, printers, routers etc.) from around the UK. With a little planning, your church could hold a collection day for items on Weeecharity’s list quickly followed by an arranged collection, helping unused equipment to be recycled, or refurbished to help alleviate financial hardship in our communities.

Reuse

Local charities. Donating resalable goods to local charity shops is a win-win method of reusing items and helping charitable organisations. Many will collect, so again, liaising with a local shop could enable the church to organise one off / periodical collections. Working with organisations that provide shelters or refuges can also help you collect items that people (or animals) need at a time of crisis. Many will also take unsaleable fabric that can be sold on as rag for recycling.

Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) is a grassroots, non-profit movement providing an online marketplace of almost anything you can think of that people want to give away for free. Unwanted items can be advertised, and an arrangement made for it to be collected by someone who wants it. It keeps things out of landfill, and prevents further consumption.

Community Repaint (communityrepaint.org.uk) has many partner organisations where you can donate leftover paint from your decorating project, or access low cost paint. It also has the Community Recolour scheme that provides larger quantities of paint at lower cost for community organisations – such as your church! Good news if you are thinking of refreshing your building.

Other Actions

Litter Picking. As well as joining local litter picks (check local community newsletters and noticeboards) why not organise one with your church congregation? It’s a good way to get everyone working together, and to help tidy up the area around your church. Take photos, and use social media and local newsletters to let the community know that your church has been doing something that benefits the area, raising the profile of your church in the process. www.cleanupuk.org.uk lists existing litter picks you can join, and has advice on organising your own (including the essential risk assessment templates to help keep everyone safe from hazardous litter and other risks).

Letter Writing. If you notice issues in your area, such as lack of recycling facilities or pollution that is occurring, then getting together with others from your church community to write letters explaining why you would like to see change. This might include businesses, such as supermarkets, asking them what their plans are to reduce plastic packaging. Joining with other Spiritualists in this way can amplify our voice.

Food. What we eat, and the impact that it has on the environment has been one of the major topics of environmental concern. The demand for cheap food, and poor awareness of how it is produced, has meant that industrial-scale factory farming has damaged land, water and contributed to the production of methane, a greenhouse gas. And as Silver Birch reminds us, there are spiritual considerations behind our relationship with animals. He said, “All life is one. You cannot divide life into water-tight, rigid compartments. All aspects of life, man and animals, must move forward together. The animals cannot be left behind while man makes his evolutionary ascent.” Moving to a plant-based diet is an effective way to reduce this impact. Including more, or all plant-based options at church social events is a good place to start, and an opportunity to start conversations about treading more lightly on the earth. Plant-based options are now strongly competing with their animal-based counterparts. Find out more about the environmental and health benefits, as well as practical ideas for providing food at meatfreemondays.com and veganuary.com

Attracting pollinators. The bees are in trouble! Planting wild flowers and other flowers that attract pollinators can help to support the population of pollinating insects, such as bees, in your environment. 75% of food crops depend on them. This can be done at home or church if there is even the smallest area of land. Avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and weed killers is also helpful in supporting them. Head over to www.buglife.org.uk to learn more.

Shop local. Buying food that is in season, and is grown locally, will help to cut down on the “food miles” that it has travelled to your plate. As well as supporting the area that you live in, it helps to reduce food miles. Searching online for a seasonal food calendar will give you information about what food is in season wherever you live in the world.

Ethical Considerations: American sustainability educator Anna Lappe said, “every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” The idea of ethical consumption sits at the intersection or many areas; environmental concern, human rights, animal rights, and social justice. Often companies and systems that we are forced to buy from or exist in ignore these, whether deliberately or not. This is, of course, a challenge to Spiritualist thinking, in which life and quality of life is respected, and the vision for a peaceful, equitable, fair world is signposted by our Seven Principles. Websites such as www.ethicalconsumer.org can help you to make the choices that sit well with your sense of personal responsibility. There are big environmental concerns with areas such as the fashion industry, multinational companies, fuel companies, retailers, technology, and financial products. Ethical Consumer provides information to help you understand the issues, and to make the choices that sit well with you – “changing the world with your wallet.”

Energy. At the moment, the most accessible way to act on fossil fuel generated energy is to switch to energy produced by sustainable means. This may be an option you explore as an individual or a church. There are other options that require a more thought-out approach, and require considerable research along the way. You may remember the article from the last issue of this magazine (“Solar Empowerment”) which described the journey of Croydon Church installing solar panels. Another church, Bittern, has a ground source heat pump. If your church is seriously thinking of projects like these, then reach out to the Union for advice.

Housekeeping. Disposable cutlery, plates and cups are not a sustainable option for our picnics and buffets. Even paper-based items may be rejected from the recycling stream when contaminated with food. Reusable items are a clear winner. When it comes to washing up, and other cleaning that’s required at home or in church, we can look at options that will minimise their impact when they go into the environment. We often think that harsh chemicals are the best option, but ordinary soap has been a key defence against Covid-19, which is destroyed by its action. Reading the label helps us make better buying choices, and using the correct dose of products has less of an impact.

Knowledge. As Spiritualists we have a head start on understanding the value of evidence. We can all further our education on environmental issues using the internet, and following environmental educators on social media. We have to be discerning, because despite the catastrophic things mentioned at the start of this article, there are those that deny climate change is a reality, and some businesses that have a vested interested in protecting their profits by diverting our attention. There are lots of well-known environmental organisations, such as Greenpeace, the Soil Association, the World Wildlife Fund or the Wildlife Trusts in the UK. Spiritualism stretches across the globe, so to take a wider view from wherever you are, the United Nations Environmental Programme, www.unep.org, is worth a look. There also many environmental and sustainability campaigners and influencers; most of us will be familiar with Greta Thunberg’s work. These can all be useful ways to keep ourselves informed, and allow us to concentrate on what is important to us individually. Researching individuals and organisations (including the ones in this article) can help reassure you that they are presenting information to you honestly and reliably. Fact checking organisations such as fullfact.org can be helpful.

Sharing your environmentally friendly intentions, and starting conversations about them in church helps our community to be more knowledgeable and active in this area. There is strength in numbers, and the more that we work together, the more that Spiritualists can be part of the solution. When a church has a shared environmental goal, it has a strengthening effect and helps the church community to feel part of the bigger picture, and proud of the churches sense of responsibility.

Most of all, it’s important to adopt a pragmatic approach and to look after ourselves. It is so easy to become overwhelmed, and burnt out by these issues. Taking a rest and regrouping when we need to is an important self-care action that we should take. Remembering the inclusion of our personal responsibility is invaluable too. Each of us is different, and being supported by each other in change is preferable to feeling pressurised. Some options are not available or practical to everyone; they may be beyond our current financial means, or simply not accessible. We certainly do not live in a perfect world, but we can start small and build on this once we are able. Many groups in our society face barriers that make certain options out of reach, reminding us that the environmental crisis is steeped in social justice issues too. “Am I doing everything within my power to address this?” Ultimately, it is a question that only we are able to answer for ourselves, but humanity’s response will be reflected throughout the planet and the lives that we share it with.

Make every day #EarthDay

Our environment art competition runs until the end of May 2022. Find out more.