I think that many of us will not look back on 2018 with a great deal of affection. Politically, it has been a difficult year globally with the fallout from the election of Donald Trump and the ongoing Brexit woes being but two of the highest profile items. Environmentally, we have had another worrying year. A series of reports and meetings have emphasised what a mess we appear to be in. It is most likely that 2018 will be the 4th warmest on the instrumental record, and carbon dioxide emissions rose again during the year. We could now proceed to catalogue everything that has gone wrong in 2018, but that would all get rather depressing, so what are the positives?
Let us first look at the secular. It seems to me that there is a growing realisation that we have a serious problem with climate change, and people are more willing than before to take action. There is no sign that anti-fracking demonstrations will stop in the UK, and the future of fracking in this country is in doubt. We may not entirely agree with the methods used by Extinction Rebellion, but there is no doubting the integrity and commitment of those involved. They have managed to raise awareness of the environmental crisis in a new way. Those of us who watched the reports from COP24 in Katowice cannot fail to have been impressed by the speech from 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg. Horrified by the reality of climate change, Greta decided to go on strike outside the Swedish parliament building. News spread, principally through Twitter, and there are now children striking in many parts of Europe, and a few have started in the United States. It will be interesting to see how these movements develop in 2019.
What of the Church? In the early part of 2018, we saw unprecedented Church action on plastics. Fuelled by David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet 2”, churches and individuals tried to give up or reduce single-use plastic for Lent. This had much media attention from across the world, and for once the Church was leading rather than following.
But if there is one church movement that summed up 2018 in the UK it is Eco Church, run by A Rocha UK. Recently, the number of churches in England and Wales that had registered passed 1100, and there are more every month. This is really good news and is something that a lot of people have worked for over many years. Finally, the local church is getting involved in the environment. But it does have knock-on effects. Many of those 1100 churches will start requesting speakers and people to help them. A Rocha UK has a small network of volunteers who help in this work. I not infrequently get asked to help, particularly providing more scientific and theological topics. But many of my requests for speaking come either through the JRI office or privately. It has been my busiest ever year! My overall feeling is that the demand for speakers may soon outstrip the supply. But maybe help is on the way…..
In the last couple of years, our Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES) distance learning course has shown remarkable growth, and we now have more students on CRES than ever before. There seem to be two reasons for this growth. The first is that we now have five overseas students from around the world. We were not expecting this, and are making some changes to the course to give our overseas students the best possible experience. The second reason for the growth will not surprise you- Eco Church. Many of our new UK students are from churches on the scheme and want to go deeper. At our residential in September 2018, we had our biggest and best set of student speakers ever. Hopefully, we will soon be providing more speakers for the growing movement.
There are many other UK church initiatives that I could have mentioned, and in nearly 30 years of working in this area, I have never felt so positive about church involvement. So there – it is not all bad news after all!
Looking forward, two things on the political scene may well come to a climax in 2019. By the end of March, Brexit may have been decided. The Trump regime is appearing increasingly unstable and it is quite likely that the Mueller investigation will conclude in 2019, with impeachment following soon after. Both Brexit and Trump have huge implications for environmental policy and we will continue to monitor these as we have over the last few years.
One final thing as we ponder 2019. The vast majority of the JRI work described above is carried out by volunteers. But even JRI needs a little finance to keep our operations going. If you would like to make us a small New Year gift then go here. We will be very grateful.
Dr Martin J Hodson (Operations Director for JRI)
COP24 Image: Doman84 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons