17th December 2015

1212vAfter Paris, and all the excitement and anxiety of #OccupyQUB, today feels like the first day of near-normality for a long time.  This morning we had our AGM as the board of Development Media Workshop, exactly a year since the last one, and probably my last community-type meeting of 2015.  Michael showed us a video he has recently created for the Leprosy Mission Ireland, which is incredibly powerful.  I’ve written before about the ‘missing millions’, those with undiagnosed leprosy or with permanent disability as a result of the condition, who are airbrushed out of the WHO’s jaunty pronouncements, and I’ll be saying more about this in 2016.

I had hoped that by now I would have written up my notes about last week’s events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Paris, but with one thing and another, I haven’t got there yet.  I have at least gone through my photographs, so here are a few to whet your appetite for the full story.

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6th December 2015

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A few yards from our house this morning.

We’re having a brief lull in Storm Desmond today, but for thousands it is only an opportunity to take in the devastation of what used to be their everyday lives.  Across Ireland and the north-west of England, floods have left more than a thousand people homeless and many more isolated by impassable roads and power failures.

Some of the problems, and the delays and deficiencies in dealing with them, can rightly be blamed on government under-funding and cuts in essential environmental and emergency services.  But even if the resource levels for these had been maintained, we would still have been in trouble.  It is impossible to say that any particular extreme weather event is definitely the result of climate change, but the number and frequency of formerly freak occurrences can have no other cause.

For the past week, the COP21 talks have been taking place in Paris, seeking an effective and transformative global agreement on climate change.  There is no longer the slightest reasonable doubt: human activity, principally the burning of fossil fuels, is causing devastating levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to crises for us at home and catastrophe in much of the rest of the world.  ‘Business as usual’ will lead to a future where nothing is as usual, and individuals, communities and their environments will be ravaged beyond our imagining.

That is why I was standing in the stormy Diamond on Friday afternoon, why I have been praying for the talks as part of the #Pray4cop21 network, and why at 2am on Tuesday morning I will be setting off on my way to Paris to express my hope and commitment in person.  I’ll be travelling by bus, ferry and train to London, meeting up with a group of frack-free activists there and going on to Paris to a series of events organised by Friends of the Earth.  The recent attacks in the city have made everything a bit more difficult, but we are determined to meet, to share ideas and experiences and most of all to express our longing for a better, fairer, cleaner and richer future for our earth and all its inhabitants.

Events in Syria, and their consequences around the world, have dominated this week’s news. But the really big story, of which the Middle Eastern crisis is only a part, is about whether we will have a liveable home on this planet at all, no matter what our politics or religion.  When our grandchildren ask us what we did to save it, let’s have our answer ready.

 

4th December 2015

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Not saluting, just trying to stop my hat from blowing away.

Here I am this afternoon, keeping the Vigil for Survival in the Diamond, Enniskillen, for the Fermanagh Churches Forum.  Based on a simiilar event which we carried out six years ago, during the Copenhagen talks, the idea was to express our solidarity with those already affected by climate change and our hopes for transformative action in the current COP21 talks in Paris.

EU climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete has expressed his fears that the Paris talks are not proceeding actively because the countries involved are still within their ‘comfort zones’.  That inspired me to defy Storm Desmond, which by late afternoon was battering Fermanagh with high winds and cold rain at least on the cusp of becoming hail. ‘Comfort zone’ would not exactly be the phrase I’d use for the exposed and deserted Diamond.

I had almost decided to abandon the idea an hour or two beforehand, when, as the only signed up guest on the Facebook event page, I read about the security alert (bomb scare, in the old language) at the DUP offices, just yards from where I planned to settle down with my candles and box of matches.  ‘They’ll never let me do it anyway,’ I reassured myself, preparing to jettison the boots and woolly hat in favour of a pair of slippers.  But then I noticed that Phil Flanagan had retweeted my earlier brave resolution. 1204a

Well, I couldn’t bale out now, even if baling out was exactly what I was going to have to do with my waterproof rucksack of carefully prepared prayer sheets.  Throngs of environmentally concerned nationalists might already be making their damp and dishevelled way towards the Diamond – Green honour was at stake.

So I made it, on the way fending off the gusts, torrents and a random man who inexplicably wanted me to join him for a ‘tea or coffee’ (must have been the allure of my woolly hat).

I had been slightly concerned over the past few days as to whether, amidst all the cake stalls, evangelists, Santa and assorted elves, there would be a spare yard or two for a bit of climate change awareness.  I need not have worried.  Whether it was Desmond, the bomb scare or a combination of the two, the Diamond was utterly desolate, empty but for the occasional scuttling form of a teenager, blazer over head, on the lonesome trail of the bus station.

I found the most sheltered corner, between B&M and the locksmith, realised that there was no point in even trying to light my candles, clutched my laminated (well, taped into a polythene bag) sign, and prepared for a long hour.

I hadn’t expected any company at all, but had reckoned without the reslience of my elders.  None of my contemporaries, or the half-century younger than us, managed to brave the elements, but John, Sheila and Barbara from the Fermanagh Churches Forum all appeared out of the gloom to share the vigil.  Many thanks to them, and to Martin who came along to rescue me just as the chill was really taking hold. Just a shame that Wetherspoons didn’t have any mulled cider left.

Three hours later I’ve just about dried out.  I only wish that the flooded parts of our battered earth could do the same.

29th November 2015

12310025_1246286408730647_56534459519022498_o(1)Having a wonderful time with the family in England at our ‘wee Christmas’ planned months ago, and the only weekend we could all get together, but sad to be missing the Climate Change rally in Belfast.  Of course there are lots and lots of other Greens there – here’s our chair, John Hardy, making a wise point.  Well done everyone – and did the rain really hold off for you?

10th November 2015

11332474144_b3ae3637b0_zThe 2013 London Chess Classic, including Gawain Jones (fifth from left) and Jonathan Rowson (eighth from left). Photo by John Saunders.

Back to Saturday’s conference. I was especially looking forward to hearing Jonathan Rowson, because I had seen him so often over the past couple of decades.  As fellow grandmasters and former British chess champions, he and our son Gawain have known and played against and alongside one another for many years.  I didn’t know anything about his life outside chess, and so when I first read the programme I wondered whether it was another chap of the same name.  But no, Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson and Jonathan Rowson, Director of the Social Brain Centre of the RSA are one and the same.

His work is excitingly multi-disciplinary – ‘trans-disciplinary’ as it’s described – in a way that’s been unusual for the past century or so.  Spirituality, psychology, sociology, economics and biology all inform one another in the work of the Social Brain Centre, creating really imaginative yet grounded ways to approach contemporary issue and dilemmas.

And there is no greater dilemma or more urgent issue than climate change.  As Jonathan pointed out, even when the science is utterly credible, the fact of climate change stays incredible for us; a challenge so vast that our rational responses bump up against their limitations and we remain impotent.  To find anything like appropriate resources, we need to dig deep into our roots, and it may be that spirituality, as much than science, can give us a felt sense of the problem we face.

One of the unexpected links between Jonathan’s talk and that of Molly Scott-Cato, which I wrote about on Saturday evening,  was the issue of death.  One of the symptoms Molly identified as part of the Max Weber’s ‘disenchantment of the world’ is a failure to encompass the idea of death.  If, as participants in a growth-obsessed society, we only exist to produce and to consume, then the idea of dying, of no longer being either a consumer or a producer, becomes literally unimaginable.

Jonathan’s insight was related, drawing a parallel between our ambiguous attitude towards our individual deaths and towards the communal, global self-destruction that is climate change.  Just as we both know and choose not to know that we will die, so we are both aware and wilfully ignorant of the existence and escalation of climate change.

Jonathan described himself as ‘not really Green or Christian, but close enough to both’ and his insights, as a ‘proto-Christian’ were invigorating and challenging.  He pointed out that climate change is not just an environmental problem, but about economics and power, and suggested some of the ways in which Christian approaches and concepts might help us to ‘get real’ in how we think, speak and work.  Some of what follows is Jonathan’s own phrasing, some my interpretation and response.

I have already mentioned the parallels between our simultaneous awareness and denial of death and of climate change, and Jonathan sees the Christian centrality of Easter, that ‘very grown-up story’, as a source of strength and hope.  We already have, at the heart of our tradition, an understanding of suffering and humiliation, and a pattern and promise for how they can be transformed and overcome.

The sacramental narrative of baptism speaks of being thrown into a chaotic, destabilized world and finding order and meaning, while that of the eucharist tells us of the centrality of the tangible, of our bodies, and of how the body can be a tool for liberation.  Climate change is fundamentally an attack on our collective body, and we cannot overcome or contain it without acknowledging the vulnerability and resilience which we share.

Prayer, in its sustained attention, holding the gaze of the contemplated with care and patience, is a model for the way we need to consider climate change, deeply and seriously, without turning away to facile distractions and simplistic non-solutions.

And the concept of sin, so often what makes the Christian faith appear unsympathetic and anachronistic, makes bitter sense in a world broken by human action and inaction.  Francis Spufford’s definition of sin as ‘the human propensity to fuck things up’ describes precisely the unbelievable stupidity of our wreckage of our own planet, our being out of kilter with our own nature and the brokenness, depth and darkness of the world we find ourselves in.

But the Christian faith tells us that sin is not the final word, that there is hope of overcoming the darkness, and that hope is love.  Not the watery sentimental kind co-opted by romance, but the ‘fierce loves’, the maternal, the fraternal (embodied in the figure of Sam in The Lord of the Rings) the loves that will struggle and work and weep and struggle again for those who need them.

We have the power and the duty to speak boldly and strongly – Jonathan sees the divestment movement as a particular source of optimism, and exactly what Christians should be doing.  Every tradition needs to find its own ‘beating heart’ to face the climate challenge. For Christians, perhaps the cross leads the way, in its juxtaposition of community and transcendence. Now we need, honestly, humbly and courageously, to take up that cross.

 

 

10th October

1010A busy day, leaving the house just after seven for the bus and train journey to a long Green Party meeting in Bangor.  I’d planned to join the Belfast manifestation of the Day of Action on Climate Change – Frackdown, Divestment and No to TTIP, demonstrating against Barclays’ ‘investment’ in fracking, but by the time I got there, it was all over. But I shared the train ride between Belfast and Bangor with Aidan (our youngest son, chair of the Young Greens in Northern Ireland) which was lovely.

27th June

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Welcome, especially to anyone who has got here via my new Icelandic domain name, tanya.is – now there’s an invitation to a bit of brutal honesty!

Since the election most of my time has been spent in sorting and packing, in preparation for moving house.  That should be happening very soon now, and once all the associated tribulation is finished with I’ll come back to updating this much more regularly.  There are lots of things that I want to write about, but I know that once I get back in front of the keyboard with a vengeance, the cardboard boxes don’t stand a chance.

On the campaigning front, our main theme has been marriage equality, in response to the breathtaking Irish referendum and U.S. Supreme court decisions.  Yesterday we learned that two same-gender couples have been granted leave to bring judicial review proceedings in relation to Northern Ireland’s unequal marriage laws, so there is hope even here.  Above are a few of the many Green Party NI members who attended a rally on the issue outside Belfast City Hall last month – and there were even more at the big march a couple of weeks later.

I also took part in the #fortheloveof lobby of MPs on 17th June, calling for urgent action on climate change.  Fortunately I didn’t need to get to Westminster, only to the Christian Aid offices in Belfast, where a videolink had been set up.  On behalf of the many concerned people of Fermanagh, I spoke to Tom Elliott and urged him to speak out on behalf of his fellow farmers in the Majority World whose crops, livestock and livelihoods are being devastated by the effects of climate chaos.  I also suggested that the campaign’s calls for domestic action, especially the proper insulation of homes, would be of enormous benefit to the people of Fermanagh, who currently suffer very high levels of fuel poverty.

 

1st March

A few photographs from last night’s celebrations:

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Fermanagh Green Party members Karen and Janie.
Young Greens Claire, Rory, Aidan and Michasia.
Young Greens Claire, Rory, Aidan and Michasia.
Fermanagh and Tyrone frack-free campaigners
Fermanagh and Tyrone frack-free campaigners
Fermanagh farmer John with Greens John and Fiona
Fermanagh farmer John with Greens John and Fiona
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Lots of great conversations. In the centre of the photo are GPNI chair Jenny Muir and West Tyrone Parliamentary candidate Ciaran McClean.

And today:

Martin with climate scientist Ian Totterdell of the Hadley Centre.
Martin with our friend from college days, climate scientist Ian Totterdell of the Hadley Centre.
And lunch at our local, the Horseshoe & Saddlers.
And lunch at our local, the Horseshoe & Saddlers.

7th February

0207Yes, that’s the stereotype of us Greens: tree-huggers, bunny-cuddlers, planet-saviours, polar-bear-and-penguin-advocates, adorers of the woodlouse, the peat bog and those sticky burrs you can’t get out of your jumper.  The ‘environment’ according to this idea, is everything that isn’t human.  Even more, it’s everything that’s opposed to human beings, their development and their economic interests.

This is, as you may have suspected, nonsense.  It’s quite possible to be Green without feeling any desire to embrace an elm, caress a coney, gaze in wonder at the solar system or have any affection whatsoever for things crawly, muddy or incompatible with cashmere.

The word ‘environment’ comes from the Middle English ‘environ’, to surround, itself from an Old French word for circle, related to our modern verb ‘to veer’.  So our environment is everything that surrounds us, the conditions in which we live.  As long as things go well, as long as they suit us, we can largely take these conditions for granted, pretend that they don’t matter and that they’re only of interest to wild-haired naturalists.

But the truth is that our comfortable civilised lives, for those of us who are fortunate enough to have comfortable civilised lives, depend on a complex balance of external factors.  Nature, God, chance, whatever we like to call it, has ensured that the composition of our air, our water, our soil, is finely tuned to allow the growth of the plants and animals we depend upon, and our own continued health.

We don’t think about it, on the whole, until it goes wrong, For millennia there hasn’t been much need to think about it.  Human activity was not powerful enough or widespread enough to make very significant alterations to what happened around us.  Sometimes we would cut down too many trees, and have to move to another part of the forest, but apart from the contamination caused by Roman smelting, we didn’t have the capacity to do very much damage.

Gradually, however, as human weapons, technologies and use of fossil fuels ‘progressed’, we began to make more and more changes to the physical world around us.  At first we didn’t realise what we were doing.  Later, when huge fortunes were being made, we just pretended not to know, or pretended that the same technologies would create a magic fix, wipe the sky clean and let us start again.

Now it’s too late to pretend.  There is one thing that nearly all environmental catastrophes have in common: they hurt human beings.  From the Bhopal disaster through the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to today’s experiments in fracking, the effects on ordinary people’s health, well-being and livelihoods are immediate, severe and long-lasting.

That is the principal reason why I care about ‘the environment’; because I care about people.  It isn’t an either/or: nature or human beings.  Human beings can’t survive unless the natural world around them is safe and healthy. So it is in all our interests to make sure that industrial corporations behave responsibly, that regulations are properly enforced, that serious action is taken to slow the rate of destructive climate change.

Yes, I like trees and penguins and rabbits.  I’m even rather fond of woodlice.  But most of all, I want to see our children and grandchildren grow up in a world where they can breathe the air, drink the water and eat what the soil has nurtured.  Does that sound too crazy?

 

Image by Joel Makower under Creative Commons licence.

1st January

At the borehole site in August

What I’d really like to see in 2015:

1. Climate change being taken seriously.

We don’t have any more time to mess around.  We have to make real and substantial changes now, if our children and grandchildren, and the most vulnerable and blameless of the world’s people, are not to pay a terrible price for our stupidity and greed. The best piece of news recently is the anticipation of Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical. If he speaks out as trenchantly as we hope, it’s possible that millions of Catholics, the other Christians and people of other or no faith who respect his judgment, and global leaders both political and religious, will take notice and act. That is my first prayer and hope for our new year.

 

2. The departure of this cruel and duplicitous coalition government in the UK.

David Cameron and his cronies, facilitated by the spineless LibDems, have succeeded in overseeing a massive shift of resources from the poor to the rich, an increase in fear, suspicion and selfishness, the destruction of hopes for a sustainable future and the worsening of every measure of the common good.  Their friends in the media, fellow beneficiaries of the Tory Robin-Hood-in-reverse, have gone along with every step, setting up only the straw Farage as a pseudo-opposition.  My second hope, therefore, is that the people of the UK will come to their senses before May and choose a genuine alternative.

 

3. The Green surge continuing throughout the British Isles.

This isn’t mere party loyalty.  The growth in membership and support of the Green Party has been the only effective counterbalance to the media-fuelled rise of UKIP and will serve not only to bring more much-needed Green MPs into Parliament but also to remind parties such as Labour that there are people out there who respect principle, know that ‘aspiration’ means more than a fatter wallet and that our children’s futures are not to be gambled for a cheap soundbite.  Without the Greens, I fear we’d only have shades of blue.

 

4. Northern Irish politicians acknowledging their mistakes and seeking a wider vision.

Between Sinn Fein, whose wafer-thin progressive credentials were accidentally exposed by Gerry Adams this year, and the DUP, who increasingly glory in having none, politics in Northern Ireland is increasingly petty, bad-tempered and out of touch with external standards of behaviour.  The results aren’t just embarrassing; they’re positively retrograde and damaging to our hopes of a positive and prosperous future for this beautiful and gifted region.  It is no coincidence that Steven Agnew has won numerous independent awards for his integrity, professionalism and hard work as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.  If other MLAs followed his example, our shared future would be a real prospect instead of a ragged hope.

 

5. An end to the threat of fracking in Fermanagh and beyond.

2014 has brought great successes to the frack-free movement both locally and worldwide, with Tamboran forced to postpone their plans for Belcoo, increasing evidence of the futility and destructive nature of the technique, and bans in the most unexpected places, including New York and the ‘fracking capital’ of Denton, Texas. It would be foolish, though, to think that we have won.  The UK government is more keen than ever to subsidise its friends in the fossil fuel industry, Tamboran are bringing judicial review proceedings to try to recover their licence, and more areas of Northern Ireland are under threat from the experimental process.  Nearly all of our politicians here in Northern Ireland, and especially those standing for election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, claim to be ‘anti-fracking’ but few, apart from the Green Party, have taken any action to stop it (1).  And with political funding still secret here (2), we have no way of knowing what might be in their interests during the months and years to come.

 

There are a few more things on my long wish list, including new brakes for my bike and the loss of the few pounds I’ve put on in mince pies, but these will do for a start.  Very best wishes to you all for a peaceful, happy and hopeful New Year.

 

 Notes:

(1)  At the recent vote on the government’s Infrastructure Bill, which will change the law of trespass to allow fracking under people’s homes against their will, only ten MPs voted No, including Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.  Sinn Fein MPs do not attend the House of Commons and so did not take part in the debate or the vote.

(2) The Green Party does not accept corporate donations, and publishes details of all donations over £500.