Remember: World Environment Day is June 5th
by Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Paul and Silas heal a slave girl who is doubly oppressed (Acts 16). Firstly she is a slave and secondly she is possessed by an evil spirit that controls her. When she is healed, her owners are furious because they have lost their source of income. Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown into jail. Their response is to sing hymns and praise God. When given the chance to escape, they do not take it. Their sacrifice and attitude leads to the jailer and his whole household being saved.
There are people who are now being willing to face being imprisoned to protest against environmental degradation. It is a reality that climate change is impacting on those most vulnerable to drought and flooding. It is also a reality that the transition that is so urgent from fossil fuels to renewable energy will impact on the stocks and shares of some of the wealthiest people on the planet. The status quo is being challenged.
But the damage being done to God’s people and to God’s Earth is unconscionable. Just like Paul and Silas, we must protest and advocate for change. This may place us against the political and economic elites.
This week faith leaders were arrested in New York protesting against Black Rock an investment company investing heavily in fossil fuel and they were arrested. A few weeks ago faith leaders were arrested in the UK for blocking new oil developments in the #Stopoil protests.
So what can we do to speed up the rapid transition away from fossil fuels? The young people are rising up – School strikes involving 1.3 million young people have taken place in 128 countries. The extinction rebellion is calling for non violent protest to get the governments to listen.
Last year in the UK after blockading roads in central London and causing traffic chaos, Extinction rebellion protestors received a lot of publicity and the UK government responded by declaring a Climate Emergency.
One of the people arrested in those protests was Rev Sue Parfitt – aged 77. The reason that she joined the protests she said was “I cannot bear to leave a bleak and barren world for my beautiful grandchildren”.
Throughout history there have been those who have been willing to face imprisonment like Paul and Silas for standing up for what is right.
The African-American abolitionist Sojourner Truth, the suffrage campaigner Susan B Anthony, the Indian independence activist Mahatma Gandhi and the US civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King have all convincingly argued for the power of peaceful protest.
In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.
In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.
Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.
In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.
There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way.
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
Chenoweth’s influence can be seen in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, whose founders say they have been directly inspired by her findings.
Climate scientists tell us that we have less that 12 years to avoid uncontrollable climate change. Individual change, though important, is not enough to change the systems. We need to amplify the voice of the voiceless and pressurise companies and politicians to effect those changes. And just like Paul and Silas, some of us may risk imprisonment for doing so.
Forgive us, Lord God our Creator.
In haste and hunger for progress we have laid waste the good earth you have made.
We have mined landscapes, spoiled coastlines and polluted air and water.
We have brought health and wealth to some and suffering and deprivation to others, exploiting the earth and threatening its creatures.
Make us hungry now for generosity and balance.
Make us brave enough to choose more wisely for the future of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
© The Anglican Church of Australia
Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us this beautiful land: we have sunshine, rain, and air to nourish earth, sea and sky. For our greed, our excessive exploitation and consumption of resources, polluting the air you have given to us, we beg for your forgiveness. Give us hearts to cherish your creation, so that we can work together to protect the land. We also pray for all countries in the world that they may work together to formulate better environmental policies to improve our atmosphere so that we can again see the life-force provided to the world through the growth of nature, and in so doing find a closer relationship with you. In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
by Dr. Rachel Mash, Cape Town