My Green Life

Excerpts from:

Rowan Williams: My Green Life
10th October 2013

Rowan Williams, the new Master of Magdalene College, talks to Sharon Garfinkel of Resurgence Trust.....

What does Nature teach us?
We live within limits, and that's not a frustration and not a tragedy. It's like the experience of a poet writing a sonnet - the limits, the shape, are what give you the vehicle to say what you have to say. One of the dangers for the human mind is supposing that somehow humanity doesn't belong within limits, within an interlocking system.
How can religious faiths lead to a more sustainable future?
Quite often in the past people have had the impression that the point of religion is to get you away from limits and the world and everything in it; but this has never been the mainstream teaching of any of the great religions. To be human is to be embodied spirit. To be embodied means to have a sense of responsibility and interconnection with the whole material universe. And the virtue of humility is not always thinking the worst of yourself: it's thinking the most real of yourself.
People often say humility comes from humus - the ground - so it's down-to-earth thinking. Religion can really engender and foster a sense of connectedness with the stuff of the world and help us to put down roots where we are. Certainly in my own Christian tradition there is the long-standing feeling that the world around you communicates a message - that it speaks.
What one piece of legislation would you introduce to address climate change?
Perhaps two things, if I may be allowed. One would be to see what kind of concessions could be given to businesses that were dramatically improving their environmental performance. How do you incentivise good practice? Then I would ask what national government could do to encourage every local authority to have a clear, serious and monitored environmental policy.

What can we do in our own lives to really make a difference?
More than anything else it's important for us to believe we can make a difference. It's very easy, where environmental issues are concerned, to feel overwhelmed by the scale of it. We mustn't allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed. We must recognise that even a small gesture is worth making - because a small gesture is the honour due to the place we have in creation. It's a truthful gesture. Even if we're only able to turn the tap off when cleaning our teeth, or monitor our light bulbs or whatever it may be, that is all part of learning how to honour the kind of world we live in. So it's worth doing. If it doesn't make all the difference overnight, well OK, so it doesn't. It's that little bit of turning around attitudes or, to borrow a phrase from the philosopher Mary Midgley, it is "changing the myths we live by".
What do you think needs to happen to bring the fragmented environmental movement together speak as one voice?
If I could answer that neatly and briefly, I'd get some sort of global peace prize, but I think we need convergent strategies for the ordinary person. Where environmental bodies can come together most effectively is where they can say we can't solve all the global problems, but we can tell you some things that will definitely make a difference in your context, that are not rocket science, that are based on fundamental respect for the environment you're in and also build the skills you need to help one another. If environmental movements across the world were prepared simply to say, "Look, we have in common this set of practical priorities," that would take us some way forward.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
When I'm asked that question, I always say neither: I'm hopeful. An optimist says it's all going to turn out all right. A pessimist says it's all going to turn out wrong. A hopeful person says it's possible we can make it better. That's a place I'm very happy to talk from, because I believe with all my heart that it's possible we can make things better. The slogan I've often quoted in this respect is from Martin Luther, the great reformer who said that if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow, he would plant a tree - meaning, never mind what's going to happen tomorrow: decide what's a good thing to do today, and the future unfolds out of that.

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