A Statement in Response to the Minute:
“Living Sustainably and Sustaining Life on Earth”
(produced at the FWCC World Plenary in Pisac, Peru – January 2016)
I write this statement out of loving commitment to the FWCC and to life on Earth, present and future. Having participated fully at the Peru Plenary, in the Consultation entitled “Sustaining Life on Earth,” I regrettably found that I was not in unity with the final Minute (see Moreover, I am strongly led by the spirit to share my reasons. It is my hope that the reflections below will shed additional light on this critical topic, and will support our continued efforts to promote positive change regarding our planet’s environment. Consider this a thought-piece, compatible in many ways with the Minute—as rooted in the 2012 Kabarak Call for Peace and Eco-Justice (http://www.fwcc.world/call.pdf)—and intended to enrich our discussion into the future.
After much prayerful meditation near the end of the Plenary, I made a decision to not stand in the way of the Minute, even though I was not in unity with it. I did so because its contents are well-stated and essential for a healthy future. Nevertheless, I now follow a clear leading to speak from the heart because of the serious and significant omissions from the Minute. These are omissions that some of us pointed out and tried without success to have incorporated into the final version. In a nutshell, the omissions entail current, cutting-edge strategies for addressing climate disruption (the preferred term used by FCNL and others). These are strategies designed to directly impact the already existing damage—to the environment, and especially to the world’s numerous disadvantaged peoples and nations.
Rather than lament the omissions from the Minute, we can be motivated to redouble our efforts to move ahead in the coming months and years with a fully comprehensive set of action points that provide guidance to Quaker individuals, meetings, and larger entities. Simultaneously, we should laud the facilitator team and the participants in the Consultation for their good and hard work regarding how to achieve additional mitigation of the future aspects of climate disruption yet to come.
In general, there are two interrelated issues that I wish to highlight here, for further reflection and consideration. One has to do with Friends’ unique “value added” as a spiritual community addressing a global crisis. The other has to do with coming opportunities to approach this topic integrally, touching on all parts of the equation, and thereby advancing it with a resolute sense of responsibility and compassion.
As we engage in developing guidance on global issues at our world gatherings, it may be that we Quakers are not all experts on the topics that we discuss; and yet we are indeed, all of us exceedingly experienced spiritual practitioners. Through our collective efforts we can certainly bring inner Light and prayerful discernment to matters of concern to our community.
Preliminary Food for Thought: Quaker Process and Practice
Quaker process is rather unique in its capacity to assure that marginal or even single voices are heard and taken into account—for reasons that are both practical and spiritual. However, this practice was set aside as the “Sustaining Life on Earth” Consultation progressed, most likely in the interest of deadlines and brevity. While understandable, the somewhat majoritarian and steadfast approach that was employed was not ideal for our purposes. It would be wise for future deliberations on this topic to take minority and dissident points of view under consideration as documents are crafted.
Moreover, there was a problematical internal issue that was not dealt with during the Consultation, namely the revision in the thematic title—from “Sustaining Life on Earth” to “Living Sustainably.” This resulted in a significant and limiting change in our focus. Subsequently, the final Minute combined both titles into one, but maintained a concentration largely on the second. This set the stage for some confusion. For the sake of clarity, the Consultation description that was distributed both before participants traveled, and upon their arrival in Pisac, was as follows:
“Sustaining Life on Earth: inspired by the Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice, developing worldwide Quaker collaboration for environmental, economic, and spiritual changes.
How do we respond to the spiritual imperative described in the Kabarak Call?
How do we give life to the Kabarak Call?
How can we lend our collective Spirit-led, God-given voice for the good of the world?”
The original title and description eloquently spanned addressing, remediating, and preventing damage done to humans and our environment, now and in the future, including attending to impacts that are already evident. The working title, as revised, pointed primarily to how we might live our lives so as to produce less damage—through decreased climate disruption—to future humans, flora, and fauna. This is a necessary goal to work toward, but is not nearly enough if one takes a humanitarian point of view, both social and economic, which is anchored in a solid spiritual foundation.
The Minute: Strengths and Limitations
The material on page one of the Minute is both thoughtful and eloquent, especially the second sentence of the second paragraph, which forcefully states the problem: “We see that our misuse of the Earth’s resources creates inequality, destroys community, affects health and well-being, leads to war and erodes our integrity.” Unfortunately, the Annex on the second page, recommending “practical sustainability action”—the real meat of the Minute—does not adequately nor explicitly address these issues as they are manifested in the here and now.
The principal breakout-group exercise during the Consultation directed participants to develop a list of “sustainability actions” that individual Friends, Monthly Meetings, and Yearly Meetings could carry out or have already been carrying out. This resulted in the aforementioned Annex—a commendable gathering together of 28 familiar suggestions that have been seen or heard in the media and in open discourse over the past 10-15 years or more. The list was thorough, the items were all excellent ones, and arguably it is important that Quakers be doing not just a few, but all of them.
Nevertheless, the primary question posed (What sustainability actions should Quakers be taking to address the environmental crisis?) in the end limited us to identifying actions which will have an important impact in the future, but which leave aside virtually entirely: (1) the very critical areas of current thinking and action regarding paths to sustaining life on Earth right now by attending to the significant, growing damage that has already been done to the environment; and (2) the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis that promises to hit hardest the disadvantaged peoples and nations around the world.
Since the Plenary, I have devoted considerable time and energy to meditative thought and to research, as well as also consulting with several climate disruption experts who currently work full time on these issues. Below is a summary of their and my concerns (some of them stated above) with the final Minute:
The world is facing a burgeoning humanitarian and environmental crisis, of epic proportions, at this very moment. This crisis is the result of anthropogenic climate disruption, and international bodies now agree that the threat is no longer one that is simply expected to arise by 2050, or by the end of the century. Especially vulnerable communities in the world are already experiencing significant consequences of climate disruption, and the threat is growing.
Long-term, mitigative strategies, while absolutely critical, do not address the immediate crisis affecting the Earth’s environment and its human victims. This crisis includes, but is not limited to climate disruption, and the impact curve is becoming steeper. Recognizing and addressing past and current harm to the planet and its inhabitants is at least as important as preventing further harm.
“Sustainability” is a philosophical concept, not an action, and it has become a catch-all phrase with limited specific meaning. In an environmental context, it typically requires specification such as “environmental sustainability” or “sustainable socio-economic development.” In the context of climate disruption, sustainability or sustainable practices entail the mitigation (necessary but not sufficient) of greenhouse gases and other processes, and they primarily promise to address the future results of climate disruption, years and decades down the road. By living more sustainably, individuals and groups will not alter the environmental damage that has already been done, nor the suffering that is currently being borne by the inequitably disadvantaged.
There are several major themes that the world community is currently negotiating around and struggling to act upon: these are mitigation, adaptation (sometimes referred to as resilience), and sustainable socio-economic development. They are all interrelated. The 28 action points in the Plenary Minute deal primarily with mitigation—i.e. actions designed to slow down and eventually halt escalating climate disruption. This is very important to do, of course, but it’s only one part of the equation. Perplexingly, of the 28 action points, none deal explicitly with building adaptation/resilience—i.e. enabling disadvantaged individuals, communities and nations to adjust to and survive the impacts of climate disruption. Nor do they address an additional theme that is emerging upon the world stage: regenerative efforts to remediate current and past damage to the environment. (Unless, that is, one reads the phrase “support Quaker organisations” as implicitly, though not explicitly including all of these above actions.)
Most if not all of the 28 points can be found in lists and proposals that were available a decade or more ago. As important as they are to follow, today’s understanding of the crisis demands that much more be done, and that it reach far beyond the realm of incremental, preventive mitigation.
As We Move Forward: Shining the Quaker Light
A concern exists that Friends missed an exceptional opportunity at the World Plenary to carry the inspiring Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice onward by urging Friends to advance past the point where many of us have been up to now, thereby offering the world Quaker community specific and explicit proposals that could push the envelope forward.
For Friends to largely omit the vital responsibility of attending to the victims of environmental and climate damage, makes our approach incomplete, and worse yet, I fear it suggests that our spiritual community is unconcerned with the current and recent victims of environmental harm—which is certainly not the case.
It is a spiritual and a moral imperative that we join with the poor in their efforts to build their capacity for adaptation and resilience as regards climate disruption. It is also a spiritual and moral imperative to clean up our own industrial-world messes by taking steps to regenerate the Earth’s environment that we have despoiled. In that regard, mitigation actions such as taking public transportation, using bikes, reducing water and electricity use, investing ethically (if you are so fortunate as to have wealth), and so on—as important as they are to carry out—are neither sufficient nor timely. Nor will these mitigative actions reform the socio-political systems that form the basis of the world economy that has produced such damage in the name of consumption and a never-ending push for growth. Pope Francis inspires us with his messages that brilliantly link the “cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” Friends have the credibility and the history that would allow us to walk the walk with Brother Francis.
So, where does this leave us? What would be a roadmap for future deliberations? In the words of one climate disruption expert: “We are facing the greatest crisis in the history of humankind.” Many recognize that the crisis is spiritual, political, and economic. A sea change is called for, not just in how we use the earth and its resources, but in how we think about it and organize ourselves into systems and structures. If indeed, better daily behavior is essential but not sufficient to meet the challenge, then this is where spiritual practice in general, and Quakerism specifically, have fundamental roles to play.
Just as Friends (and others) addressed abolition of slavery, reforming care for the mentally ill, attaining women’s suffrage, and opposing wars throughout our history, we should now challenge ourselves to develop strategies for achieving the key prerequisite for addressing environmental damage and climate disruption—that prerequisite being a massive spiritual sea change in how human beings relate to the Earth and to all living things on the Earth.
More Quakerly Food for Thought: Queries that Might Help
With the above concepts in mind, queries such as the following might flow forth:
What is the biblical basis for Earth stewardship and care for creation?
What is the Christian basis for hearing the call of the suffering? How are these two queries linked?
In day-to-day practice, what does it mean to love the Earth and all living things?
If environmental and climate justice are human rights that warrant the same level of effort as other agreed-upon human rights, how do we make establishing such rights our goal, and move the world community towards declaring and achieving them for all people?
How do we better grasp the powerful connection between nature and the spirit; why is that connection so critically important; and how do we nurture it and bring it to the attention of others?
How have Quakers in the past contributed to vital spiritual sea changes?
How can Friends promote broad transformations in the human heart and soul—through thought, word, and deed? What specific acts of bearing witness and forceful action should we employ? What about increased public protest, lobbying and media campaigns, civil disobedience, and more?
How do we increase current efforts to turn world opinion toward seriously attending to the suffering of disadvantaged communities and nations that face climatic cataclysm?
And how do we step up regeneration of the Earth’s despoiled rivers, lakes, oceans, aquifers and water tables, dry lands and deserts, forests, soils, and atmosphere? Might new economies be built on a foundation of such challenges; new jobs created? Is it enough to wait in anticipation of some miraculous new technology or technologies that will purportedly “save” us?
Friends have been led by the spirit in the past to address inequality, inhumanity, injustice, war, and oppression. What will be the next major challenge that the spirit leads us to embrace? Can we Quakers consider our next new mission, our new testimony, to be care for the Earth, and care for the suffering of our Earth’s disadvantaged humanity, its fauna and its flora? “The Earth and the poor cry out!”
The above are issues and actions that fly straight to the heart of peace and nonviolence, social justice, human development, and imminent mass migration of eco-refugees. Faith communities of all stripes can play a vital role, early on, in moving us forward on these issues, with all due haste. These could be topics for further discussion and strategizing at Quaker gatherings to come.
In closing I wish to thank the individuals who approached me during the Consultation at the Plenary, and those who wrote during the days and weeks that followed, urging me to write this statement. I have done so, fully aware that my challenge throughout has been to honor the solid efforts of the facilitators and the participants in our “Sustaining Life on Earth” Consultation—while simultaneously adding to those efforts by calling attention to what I and others feel is missing from the Minute. And then pointing toward steps we might take next. I hope others will find this statement of some use in future deliberations. In short, I feel nothing but heartfelt esteem and reverence for all who were involved in our Consultation.
Respectfully submitted…while seeking the Light,
February 29, 2016
Charles D. Kleymeyer, PhD
Senior Fellow, Center for the Support of Native Lands