Climate Change Protest. The Wave. The Archbishops. London December 2009

December 8, 2009

Reminding myself that this blog aims to focus on “News that doesn’t normally get out” – I travelled down to the ‘Wave’ on Saturday – the Climate Change protest – with the Cafod coach from Chester. Copenhagen and Climate Change are important and ongoing stories. I’m telling some of these stories in blog posts this week. With pictures.

Four Girls. Cafod Coach Number 17 from Chester.

As some of you will know, I was trained by and worked for Greenpeace Germany two decades ago. My own work then focused on the protection of the North Sea. But Climate Change issues were never far away and each week all Greenpeace Germany staff would get an update and discussion on this very central issue in environmental politics. That’s twenty years ago now. There is so much to say about all this. More than could possibly be related in a single blog post as you can imagine.  In passing I’m just noting an important fact here – at least two decades went by before these issues reached mainstream politics in Britain. Some of us (most notably politicians) have been wasting time. 

Not so the activists on the coach, there were some new faces but most had all been engaged in various ways with social justice and climate justice issues for decades already. We had a 4.a.m. start. In the past I’ve organised similar coach trips myself – respect is due and a big thank you to the Cafod coordinator – the organisation is tiring and it can’t be easy having a journalist sit next to you all day.  Most of the people on our coach wanted to attend the ecumenical service in the Central Methodist Hall in London at 11.a.m.   We were making good progress towards London when we hit traffic gridlock. “That’s part of the problem, isn’t it?”, I said, (unhelpfully no doubt).

Eventually we reached our venue but the service had already started and there was “no room left at the inn” for the people on our coach, due to the huge numbers of people queueing up to attend the service. The venue could accomodate 2,000 people comfortably (and with respect for fire regulations) I believe there were another 1,000 people left outside who would have liked to be at the service. Good news as such that so many people wanted to get in but sad for those to whom being there would have meant so much.

On arrival at the Methodist Central hall – I quickly donned my bright yellow press jacket. Ironic. My press pass meant I was the only person from our coach who managed to get into the event. As a convinced Quaker (of merely eight years) – I’d normally be the last person keen to attend an ecumenical service led by two Archbishops…But I did my job, got pictures and I hope these blog posts convey something of what was said for all those people who couldn’t be there in the hall, or at the march itself.

Whilst listening to important leaders of churches in Britain I imagined the scene at Copenhagen right now and recalled Jess Worth’s brilliant article I had read in the ‘New Internationalist’ (December 2009) on the way down to London. Worth said:

“Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Copenhagen, where politicians, bankers and corporations compete for the best campaign slogans, Coca Cola entreats the world to sign its ‘Hopenhagen’ petition, while Shell sponsors glossy magazine pull-outs reminding us we only have ’10 days to save the world’….don’t be dazzled by this extraordinary show…

…because it is clear that the political will just doesn’t exist, either in the U.N. or at national governmental level, the global climate justice movment is re-evaluating its strategy and upping the stakes. If laws become unjust, it is our responsiblity to change them…

Copenhagen is the last chance – for the bloated and corrupt UN circus to deliver genuine action on climate change. WHEN IT FAILS, IT WILL BE TIME FOR THE REST OF US TO TAKE OVER”.

The ‘rest of us’ that Jess Worth is talking about includes faith communities. The first  picture shows the Archbishop of Canterbury addressing the ecumenical congregation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury addresses an assembled ecumenical congregation in London before the 'Wave' the Climate Change March in December 2009

The event was filmed. I emailed the Archbishop’s Press Office yesterday. They have an audio version of this sermon which readers can listen to if they follow this link. A transcription of the sermon will be posted here shortly, so check back in a few days for more details.
There is much substance in this sermon – worth listening to more than once. I particularly liked what Rowan Williams said about the ‘task of believers’. He said:
“The task of believers is to transform the face of the earth” and “there is no choice to be made between looking after human beings and looking after the planet”. This task he said “might mean making ourselves a little less comfortable – but so what – if there is life and good news for others”.

Umme Kulsum, Cafod partner from Bangladesh and delegate to the Copenhagen Climate Change conference sharing her perspectives on Climate Change.

The congregation also heard vital eye-witness testimonies from Bangladesh. No less than 150,000 people had been displaced recently due to worsening climatic conditions.
It wasn’t easy to take photographs whilst the service was going on – but I managed to get up to the balcony to hear the Archbishop Vincent Nichols say the words which appealed to me most: “We must live simply, so that others may simply live”. This photograph gives you some idea of the size of the congregation.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols: "We must live simply so that others may simply live".

In the corridors of the church, thousands of placards lay waiting to be taken up by the congregation as they headed out on the crest of a ‘Wave’ with the hope of saying goodbye to the old ways and welcoming the Good News of change.

Placards. Ecumenical Climate Change Service before the Climate Change March 'The Wave' Methodist Central Hall. December 5th. 2009

Cafod placards. As is often the case, the diversity of placards across the whole of that day’s event shows how broad grassroots support really is. Each different placard representing a secular or faith-based movement, local or national committee, charity, political party or trade union.

Placards. Central Methodist Hall. 'The Wave' Climate Change Ecumenical Service Climate Change March, December 5th. 2009

Placards. Methodist Central Hall. Climate Change March, December 5th. 2009

During the service an ‘Act of Repentance’ was read out. As so many people could not attend I hope no-one objects if I share the text of it here:

Act of Repentance “The Wave” Service, 5th. December, 2009

Loving God, we confess that we have sinned through thoughtlessness and greed. By the destruction we have caused and the actions we have failed to take.

When we look you in the eye, do not forgive us if we excuse ourselves for our ignorance, for our weakness. For our own deliberate fault.

We are truly sorry.

We repent of all that we have wasted and the bounty we have squandered. Knowing that it is the poor who have paid the greater price.

Create a new willingness within us to turn back the tide of impending judgement, to honour international agreements and to play our part in your future.

Grant that we may serve You in newness of life, to the glory of Your name through the wonder of your creation. Amen.

Helen Garton

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