Quakers and sustainability – what now?

By Anna Sharman

Jez has asked if others were considering how to take steps towards being part of a low carbon sustainable community after Yearly Meeting Gathering (YMG).

I find myself feeling all fired up by YMG and the minute committing us to becoming a low carbon sustainable community, but less sure about what happens next. I don’t want to lose the momentum felt by many of us at the gathering. I think the way to keep that momentum is to keep on discussing the issue in our meetings and on blogs like this.

My resolutions for the next month or so coming out of YMG are:

1. To read the book of the Swarthmore Lecture thoroughly and possibly reread it straight away.

2. To get back into some habits that had lapsed, such as switching off the television at the wall every night.

3. To encourage the two meetings I attend to have discussion meetings soon about sustainability to work out what we as a meeting can do.

4. To look into heat exchanging extractor fans for my kitchen and bathroom.

5. To get involved in more political action on green issues.

I’d like to go into more detail on two of these. First, number 4.  I live in a flat without my own roof or garden, so many of the things that those living in houses can do aren’t available to me. But I do have two pathetic little extractor fans in my kitchen and bathroom that need replacing. I have talked to a friend who knows a lot about such things, and he has suggested that instead of just getting better fans I should look into heat exchanging fans. Like normal fans, these let the warm, moist air out and bring cold, drier air in, but unlike normal fans these transfer the heat from the outgoing air to the incoming air. So you don’t lose heat while you are drying the air and ensuring good ventilation. In summer you can turn off the heat exchanging, or perhaps it can be turned off automatically, so that they become simple extractor fans.

This is a change I can make that will benefit me directly, by making my flat less attractive to mould growth. Apparently breathing in mould spores can cause respiratory problems, and of course having less mould on the walls also makes the place look nicer. These fans will cost more than the simple extractor fans, of course. I will have to look into the details more before I go ahead and do this, but it does feel like the right thing to do, and it seems possible to do it in the next six months or so.

On political action (number 5), I am starting by regularly reading the daily emails I have been receiving but ignoring from Friends of the Earth (sign up at http://www.foe.co.uk/living/tips.html and http://www.foe.co.uk/news_events/email_updates_index.html). Sometimes these include links to pages where you can send an email to your MP about an issue. In the last two weeks I have emailed the housing minister to urge him not to delay minimum energy efficiency standards for rented homes (http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/press_for_change/grant_shapps_32267.html) and signed a petition (http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/fairfares/petition?product=TIP) on fairer rail fares. I’ve also started following more people talking about green issues on Twitter and have tweeted ( @annasharman) when I’ve signed a petition or whatever.

Okay, sending standard emails are not as good as a personal letter on paper, but I think it is better to send one (or to talk about green issues on Twitter) than do nothing.

One idea that came to me this week was a ‘thank you’ campaign. We could have flyers, and emails, and a Twitter hashtag, to simply send or give to people when we feel they have done something that is likely to help the environment. Many people are doing a lot of small or big things and don’t always feel appreciated for it. If there was some public thanking of those who are doing the right thing, it would help support those who are going in the right direction and would indirectly encourage others to do the same, in a positive way. Could Quakers initiate something like this?

a drop of water

Are our actions just a drop in the ocean? Photo: laszlo-photo/flickr CC

One thing I hope to continue with is just talking to people about these issues. To not be afraid to ask what they are doing to help the environment and to talk about what I am doing. Last weekend I was with a group of friends who are all very wedded to their cars and had very practical reasons why they needed them (small children, living in an area with little public transport and so on). I’ve no idea whether any of my little comments had any effect or whether I just irritated them, but I tried to ask the questions like “why not get a car with better fuel consumption” or talk about how much I love cycling. Similarly, when I visited my partner’s family in Canada last year I felt that, to partially offset the carbon footprint of the flight, I needed to talk about environmental issues with my hosts. My partner and I now probably have a reputation of “those looney greeny Brits” but I’m glad we went on about energy efficient lightbulbs and car overuse and expressed shock and the rules that forced them to use tumble dryers to avoid ‘unsightly’ hanging of washing on outdoor lines. It made me feel better, anyway!

But there is still the question of what we can do as meetings (number 3) and as a Yearly Meeting. I hope that we will start by having brainstorming sessions to come up with as many ideas as we can of what we could do as a group, and then move towards more traditional Quaker discernment methods, then to narrow down what things might be practical, effective, good fun and good publicity, and finally make a decision to take action on one or a few of these. I am hopeful that corporate action by Quakers as a whole will not only do something to reduce climate change but also make us noticed, act as good outreach, and push others to similar action.

4 thoughts on “Quakers and sustainability – what now?

  1. Thanks Anna, I appreciated hearing what you are up to. I think it’s all about the conversations. I’ve been flirting with being vegan since YMG and it seems to me that’s all about having conversations, not about my lapses into eating camembert!!

  2. Thanks Anna and it was good to have the chance to meet and talk at YMG and you will see your footprints in the first item below.

    As a personal take on the one hand it has inspired some action: some of it is just gestures but gestures matter. I have tried to give a difficulty rating 1 easy 5 hurts a lot. Note that action affects those you live with in different ways.
    1. We have walked or cycled to Meeting for the last three weeks (brave for Helen since she was run over last time she cycled to Meeting)1 for me but 4 for Helen I suspect.
    2. Abandoned thoughts of visiting my brother on October (Azerbaijan)and replaced with sailing holiday on the Broads. 2
    3. Plan to use spare money from 2 to fund water heater on roof. 2
    4. Probably abandoning skiing holiday next year. 4 for me and Nathan probably 1 for Helen.
    5. Starting Environmental Science degree with OU (for whom I work) Anyone want to join me? 1 for me probably 2 or 3 for Helen and Nathan since I will get overworked grumpy and be ‘unavailable’.
    6. Redone my environmental audit and realised we use too much prepared food. Will try to change this. 3 or 4 for me since I do much of the cooking. 2 perhaps for others.
    7. Starting to look at methods of developing a shrinking population that preserve Quaker Testimonies and helping to fund these. Starting to look 1 helping to fund 3 or 4.
    On the other hand my mind is drawn back to a Meeting I was in many decades ago…a 7 year old came in…’Why are you all sat here? deep ponderous silence then a very seasoned Friend replied:
    “We are hoping for peace…we have been doing this for many hundreds of years”
    7 year old: “Well you have not been doing very well have you.”

    We have had concern for the environment for over a quarter of a century. We ‘fiddle whilst Rome burns’

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