On Sunday 26th September, to mark the end of Great Big Green Week, we attended ‘Community Responses to Climate Change’ at the City Retreat on Churchgate. The event was a collaboration between The Race Equality Centre, the City Retreat, Leicester Friends of the Earth and Green Guardians. The aim was to bring together people from different communities in Leicester, to share faith perspectives on looking after the natural world and to start talking about how we can work together. The talks were recorded and you can watch them on Facebook.
Anamaria Garcia from The Race Equality Centre, who had the idea to bring together the four organisations for the event, welcomed everyone before introducing the speakers. She explained that The Race Equality Centre want to be involved in conversations about climate change because they work with newly arrived people in the city, many of whom are now refugees because of the devastating impacts of climate change in their home countries.
Sheikh Shafi Chowdhury, the imam based at the City Retreat, spoke first from the Muslim perspective. He explained that Muslims believe the Earth was given to us as a gift from Allah so it should be treated with sanctity. The Koran says that even on the last day of the world, when the angels are sounding their trumpets, if you have a seed in your hand you should plant it, because God loves creation. He also said that faith has many branches but the lowest branch, or the very least of faith, is to do no harm. If there is broken glass or plastic waste on the pavement, we should remove it. Faith starts with caring for our environment. He finished by saying that we may all be different but the one thing we share is the planet and we have a duty to our children’s children, and those who are already dealing with the worst impacts of climate change, to act on this issue.
The second speaker was George Ballentyne, a member of the Baha’i community. He explained that he grew up in Glasgow, where the international climate talks will be taking place in November, and he carries the shame of his home city’s past links to slavery. He shared some quotes from Baha’i writings, including:
The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.
And he said that we cannot talk about climate change without talking about justice. Those who are suffering the most are those who have the least and are the least able to cope. Racism is at the heart of the climate crisis. He recommended that we all read The Good Ally by Nova Reid, for more information about tackling racism.
Chris Morley spoke from the Quaker perspective. She explained that her faith has Christian roots, with an emphasis on peace, justice, equality and sustainability. Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, which drives them to take action to address injustice and many become activists on environmental issues, or in championing the rights of refugees.
Raj Purohit from Hindu Climate Action pointed out that, whether people pray in a mosque, a mandir or a church, they all pray on the floor, in contact with the Earth. He described the Hindu concept of ahimsa, which means not causing harm to any species. This leads many Hindus to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. He said that greed has led to us taking without giving back and we should all start to ask ourselves, ‘What will I give back to Mother Earth?’ The conversation has to start in ourselves and at home.
Uri Gordon, a Hebrew educator and member of the Jewish community, began by saying that it was clear how much all the faiths have in common: they all have an ethical imperative to protect life and pursue justice. No religion puts humans in a position of mastery over nature. He urged that, at this stage in the climate crisis, faith communities should dedicate the same resource to addressing climate change as they do to solving world hunger. We need to accept that the economy will have to shrink and the military be reduced. We need to work collectively, rather than as individual consumers. Uri finished by urging everyone to ensure that the event becomes a launch pad for a continuing conversation.
Anne Scott from Christian organisation, Greenlight, was the final faith speaker. She explained that the bible says that God created the world and was pleased with his creation. He made humans in his image to care for creation and for a while, in the Garden of Eden, humans lived in complete relationship with God and with creation. However, after the fall, the relationship between humans, God and creation was broken and part of the work of Christians in restoring their relationship to God must also be in restoring their relationship with creation.
There followed some speakers from environmental groups in Leicester. Hannah and Bruce Wakley from Leicester Friends of the Earth presented on the causes and consequences of climate change and some of the work that we have been doing. (If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know a lot about this so I won’t repeat the details here! We used photos from the Climate Visuals library in our presentation, which I highly recommend as a useful resource for all climate activists.)
Erfana Bora spoke about Green Guardians, a Muslim environmental group that was formed during lockdown last year. They aim to add their voices to the clamour calling for change in our homes and lives and holding corporations and governments to account. They have been making use of social media to spread their message, with campaigns like the 30-day green challenge during Ramadan. They have also organised some litter picks in Spinney Hills Park, which inspired gratitude and a positive response from local people.
Alison Skinner from Global Justice Leicester was the final speaker. She explained the organisation’s current campaign, which aims to stop corporate courts blocking action on climate change. Mechanisms in trade deals currently enable corporations to block climate action. You can sign the campaign’s petition on their website.
Before we all went downstairs to share food and look at the stalls, Sheikh Shafi closed by saying that this event will serve as the beginning of a conversation that is long overdue.
Altogether, it was an informative and inspiring afternoon! We were very grateful to be a part of it. We are already starting to talk about how we can continue to work together, so watch this space…