What happens in developing countries may seem a world away from Preston New Road (PNR), but my family's involvement with organisations such as Christian Aid, CAFOD and the Fairtrade movement has shown many parallels between what happens overseas and what is happening at PNR.
Firstly, Climate Change:
A few years ago, we were visited by a grower of Fairtrade cotton from Mali. He told us that the biggest threat he faced was climate change. A couple of years ago my parish was visited by a nun from a parish in Zambia that it has supported for a quarter of a century. She said the biggest threat was climate change. In February CAFOD hosted a partner for Zimbabwe. In his very first sentence he spoke of the threat from climate change.
Climate change has a disproportionate effect on countries with climatic extremes and particularly on the poor and marginalised of those countries who often eke a living at the margins of survival. We are extremely lucky in the UK, as the latitude at which we sit means that it is rarely too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. Yes, we have seen effects locally, with the four devastating floods that have hit the North West in the last 15 years, but the effects on the poor overseas are orders of magnitude greater. Much of the current mass migration is driven by climate change but the press just blames the migrants. As a nation, we remain shockingly complacent and will continue to do so until the Thames bursts its banks in London big-time.
It is a testament to the Government's priorities and complacency that it is actively supporting a fossil fuel industry whilst withholding money from innovative renewables projects and investment in domestic energy conservation.
Climate change is a huge moral issue. Any person who uses fossil fuels unnecessarily, or who promotes the unnecessary extraction of fossils fuels is committing a crime against humanity and in particular, a crime against the poor. It is notable that development agencies such as CAFOD and Christian Aid were founder members of the Climate Change coalition.
Such agencies are now lobbying the World Bank to end their support for fossil fuels overseas particularly the big carbon-fuelled power stations and huge transmission networks, which account for over 99% of its current expenditure. They are being asked instead to invest in renewable projects, particularly solar, so that even the remotest village has a carbon-neutral source of electricity. The World Bank is now beginning to respond to this pressure.
The lesson is that it can be done. It needs the will. Here today at PNR we are telling our Government to get a grip, to stop believing the "transitional energy source" fantasy and commit to the only sane route of energy provision.
Secondly, the rules that govern the world:
Development agencies are very familiar with the damage caused to communities and the environment by the activities of businesses and governments. These include land grabs, destruction of forests and the despoliation of land to extract timber or minerals or to grow crops such as oil palm or animal foodstuffs like soybeans for export to the rich world. The particular iniquity is that this is often done at the expense of the indigenous people.
To put it somewhat simplistically, there is a contest between the works of God and the works of the corporate world - which I will refer to as Mammon - a good old biblical word. The works of God are embodied in creation - the natural world and the astonishing beauty and diversity within it. Mammon is concerned only with financial gain - anything is moral so long as it makes a profit. Tax - that process which siphons off company profits to finance the common good is an anathema and is to be avoided at all costs. Mammon cares not one iota for the environment or its inhabitants. People are, at best, commodities - work fodder. Many of Mammon's big players regrettably operate from our own shores, although for tax purposes are often nominally based overseas.
Mammon thrives because most of the rules and conventions by which governments and commerce operate were made by the rich for the rich. Their rules take little or no account of creation or indigenous peoples and are thus inherently sinful. Pope Francis has been uncompromising in denouncing this as "structural sin".
To fight against trade injustices, development agencies such as Christian Aid and CAFOD established Fairtrade over 30 years ago providing an alternative to the unjust trading arrangements for commodities such as tea and coffee and to campaign for trade justice. Please do your bit to support Fairtrade.
My third point follows on closely from the second:
Throughout the developing world, we see people being denied their rightful voice. 30 years ago, In El Salvador, the government (effectively a consortium of rich families backed by the USA) ran a campaign of intimidation and murder against the leaders of poor farmers. The local Archbishop, Oscar Romero, consistently denounced the injustices in his weekly sermon broadcast country-wide on the church radio station - so the regime blew it up. CAFOD rebuilt it. Shortly afterwards, Romero was assassinated to silence him forever. It is a very sad fact that today repression, intimidation and the murder of people speaking out against the exploitation of the poor and environmental exploitation is as bad, if not worse than it ever was. These are people fighting for the forests, for their own land in the face of speculators and corrupt governments.
I went to a talk about Archbishop Romero a few weeks ago. The speaker was asked about the biggest changes that had occurred in El Salvador in the last 30 years. He replied that it was no longer the big families running the country, it is the corporations. Other than that, little had changed - the people are still oppressed, intimidated and subject to death squads for speaking out.
Both Christian Aid and CAFOD put significant resources into advocacy - providing the means for poor and often illiterate people to fight for justice against oppression illegal logging, mining and land grabs. It is money well spent as it strikes at the root of injustice, the frequently unchallenged power of the rich.
We opponents of fracking are on the streets, not because we want to be but, like the poor throughout the world, it is where our voices can be heard - as we are denied the access to the corridors of power that industry lobbyists enjoy. Jesus said in his great Sermon on the Mount "Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, they shall be satisfied". There are loads of very hungry people here today demanding justice. Our weapons are faith, hope, truth, joy, love, a passion for justice and an indomitable spirit. Praise be!
Extracts from input by Dr Stephen Garsed at the "No Faith in Fracking" liturgy on 25th April 2018
Stephen is a member of Lancaster Diocesan Faith & Justice Commission Environment Group Full input at www.lancasterfaithandjustice.co.uk/newsletter
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