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Guest editor Laurie Michaelis introduces our special edition and the exciting Living Witness developments across the UK
Last year, a succession of news releases brought home the growing likelihood of serious impacts from climate change. Quakers are increasingly asking what they can do about it. This issue of The Friend focuses on practical action by Friends and Meetings. But it perhaps begs the question, do we have a particular Quaker contribution to make? I believe that we do. Our government has long been committed to action. Its 1997 manifesto promised a twenty per cent reduction in UK CO 2emissions by 2010 but in 2005 emissions were two per cent up on 1997. Its longer term target of a sixty per cent cut by 2050 looks even more unrealistic with current policy approaches based on technology and market instruments. Not surprisingly, many people now believe that climate change is inevitable and we must learn to live with the consequences. Averting climate change looks hard because its causes lie mostly in the food we eat, the way we heat our homes, and our use of transport. Effective responses require a collective will to change the way we live. New strategies are urgently required to engage public hearts and minds and encourage more sustainable lifestyles. The government is beginning to recognise the importance of social groups in shaping behaviour, and
is funding several community projects. However, much of the existing work is limited in the duration of group support and the willingness to tackle deep-seated values and worldviews. Quakers have something to offer in our experience of striving to live our testimony, in a willingness to question our own assumptions, and in processes to develop a collective will while employing the diversity of individuals’ insights, beliefs, creativity and passion. In recent years, the Living Witness Project has built up a network of about forty local Meetings around Britain, developing our corporate witness to sustainable living. It supports the Meetings with regular link group meetings, resources in print and on the internet, facilitated workshops and other events. We have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in changing our lives and taking action together. Some of the most successful local groups: • have shared leadership and an inclusive, listening culture, responsive to the interests of the group rather than trying to persuade people to follow a particular approach • have a mixture of activities – spiritual practice, discussion, learning, practical projects and celebration • work on multiple levels – our own lives, the Meeting, the local community and the wider world • have frequent meetings, often
based on shared food. At the core of all this is the development of stronger spiritual communities as places of listening, discernment, celebration, nurture and practical action. As you’ll see from contributions to this issue, a wide variety of corporate actions have resulted. Some individuals in our groups have been supported to develop lifestyles with greenhouse gas emissions sixty to seventy per cent below the UK average. Now, we are setting up a staffed centre for sustainability to support the network and to offer our approaches, resources and experience to others. Oxford Meeting is providing office space and lots of volunteer effort. Various charitable trusts have offered funding. In 2007 we plan to work especially with young people and with other faith groups. We will also work with university research groups to evaluate our outcomes and develop a body of evidence on what works. This will be the basis for engaging government and seeking to contribute to a wider change. The Living Witness Project link group next meets at Woodbrooke from 29 to 31 March. Would your Meeting like to be involved? Laurie Michaelis coordinates the Living Witness Project and is secretary to the management group for the new Oxford centre. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01865 308306
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