Planet Repair Workshop- October 2018 by Dr Andrew Wright

Dr Andrew Wright

I recently attended the Bath and Wells Diocese ‘Planet Repair Workshop’ in Taunton. This is the second of three events in the diocese. The attendance was good, the event was well run and a lot of positive comments suggest it has motivated people to challenge their Churches. The lead speakers were short and to the point covering the background to the science (Martin Hodson), the theology (Kevin Durrant) and the practical aspects. It was good to see a younger person (Izzy Sibley) talk about the practicalities of enhancing the environmental aspects of a Victorian Church building. Brother Hugh from the Dorset-based Hilfield Friary reviewed the Friary’s actions to get Gold Eco Church status. They had a head start as they farm 50 acres with Creation Care in mind and liaise with the local Wildlife Trust who manage the Nature Reserve that abuts the Friary’s land. The workshops built on the teaching sessions. A good day depends a lot on the planning and Caroline Pomeroy deserves credit for that, but she has to share it with those who attended—they were motivated, informed, thinking, keen to learn and share. Kevin Durrant who covered the theological aspects drew on his excellent book ‘The Earth will speak’. This is a series of stand-alone chapters that take you through aspects of Creation Care but which combine to make a comprehensive book. I read a number of chapters and I recommend you seek it out and read it….slowly and thoughtfully.   This book was reviewed previously by both John Weaver and Jonathan Ingleby on the JRI blog, and you can find their reviews HERE.

The conference was very good, but the views expressed by some participants showed a lack of knowledge. As a scientist, I was not surprised to hear chemicals spoken of pejoratively by one person. This is a common ‘folk’ attitudes. We all consist of about 70% water and drink a good volume of it every day. It is a chemical, without it, we would die. We breathe in air to obtain oxygen—a chemical, necessary to help our cells extract energy from the sugars and fats we eat. Sugar in excess is detrimental to well-being, but mitochondria in our cells produce energy by processing chemicals that are derived from glucose and fructose. Clearly, there is a need for JRI members to help non-scientists to get a proper view of the natural world.

The major concern in discussions was ‘single-use plastics’. But the interest was on plastics in packaging, especially food wrapping and white goods packaging. The need for single-use plastics for medical supplies to ensure sterility was ignored. Whilst alternatives can be found there would need to be thorough testing to ensure whatever replaces plastic used to wrap medical supplies is fit for purpose, durable and ensures sterility over long periods.

Another topic that evinced sweeping generalisation was flying. People spoke of abandoning flying and were evangelical in their fervour to persuade others to follow. Kevin Durrant in his book writes on pages 107/8 raises the issue of ’the common good’. He argues that we need to be sensitive to circumstances. He cites a world environmental expert who flew to South East Asia for a rainforest conference. There is a greater good that comes from sharing experience and educating those at the forefront of rain-forest preservation. I like his statement that we are not called to be ecological Pharisees imposing our views on others. To paraphrase Ecclesiastes:

There is a time not to fly and there is a time to fly.

There is a time to refrain from using single-use plastics and there is a time to use them.

As scientists, we have to take on a role of correcting sweeping statement by non-scientists, for the sake of the common good. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and he showed compassion. He would not condemn someone flying home to visit a seriously ill parent. Zealousness for the environment we live in is an excellent ideal, but we also need to show compassion.  Sensitivity in how we deal with issues is a necessary attitude.

There were a number of people who expressed determination to get their church actively involved in changing energy and plastic usage within the churches own organisation. In the last week our own PCC has agreed to a new initiative to take care for the environment further than it did a decade ago, a lot was achieved then and we have a pre Victorian building so it will be a challenging task.

One of the participants in the conference wrote the poem below and I commend it to you.

Dr Andrew Wright was a medical science lecturer in Hong Kong and Edinburgh. He is now co-chair of JRI. 

Take! Take! Take! by John L Wilson (15th October 2018,  Taunton)

Do we rattle the chains that bind us,

bind us to this earth?

Kevin Durrant speaking at the workshop

Do we look to God in His mercy,

who sees us for our worth?

The beauty he created around us,

he puts it into our hands.

But as sure as the tides in the oceans,

we must watch the moving sands.

These moving sands might one day engulf us,

as sure as the rolling sea.

We cannot stand by and do nothing,

we can’t just let it be.

From shore to shore we have a duty,

to control the things we do.

Our actions must all be measured,

using God’s eternal overall view.

We cannot go on abusing this world!

In simple terms it’s called RAPE!

Let’s turn it around and change things,

instead of this TAKE! TAKE! TAKE!