Counting Carbon: a new spiritual path

(Clare Redfern)

(Clare works for the Faraday Institute in media and communications and is part of the Sustainability in Crisis team.)

Last weekend, I went to “Counting Carbon: a new spiritual path” at Woodbrooke House which is a wonderful Quaker retreat centre in Birmingham. The course was led by Laurie Michaelis of the Quakers’ Living Witness Project.

We spent only a short time considering carbon footprints per se and more reflecting on our personal reactions and responses to rising carbon dioxide emissions and the spectre of worsening climate change. Common to most of the participants was a sense of powerlessness and frustration as our society seems bent on ever-increasing consumption, with a marked reluctance to make life-style changes or invest in energy efficiency measures. This is something, of course, in which we are often complicit, maybe always complicit.

We explored the idea of the collective personality and collective responsibility and where our responsibilities begin and end; are we just playing at being individuals making our choices? This brought home how trying to live sustainably as an individual is pointless. As well as providing much needed support and encouragement, it is in community that we can begin to challenge the structures and ideologies that result in environmental degradation. Yet trying to live and work for change without demonizing and alienating is essential: how can we hope to influence those around us if we are not sympathetic to the difficulties of moving towards sustainability.

On a more practical note, we did an exercise looking at the carbon footprint of everyday products. My group looked at milk (covering land use, fertilizer, methane emissions, refrigeration and processing, packaging and so on) and this certainly brought home how we need to rethink what we consider as essentials to normal life in order to reduce our carbon footprint. I noticed that some research mentioned in this week’s New Scientist shows that trying to change milk’s supply chain and make it more localized actually tends to increase the carbon emissions of other dairy products. Anyway, I’ve stopped putting milk in my tea and coffee; I hope this is only the first step in weaning myself off a carbon-intensive diet.

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