The Green Room ~ being fully human


By the Revd Brian Allen

Looking out to sea one October day on St Mary’s Island, Whitley Bay I noticed small dark specks gradually gaining in size as they approached across the water.

Soon blackbirds began to land, some on the rocks at the water’s edge, some further up the rocks and some even made it onto the roofs of the island’s buildings. Some almost certainly never completed the journey to dry land. These were migrants arriving for the winter in varying states of exhaustion; an influx of blackbirds was noted the next day in nearby Holywell Dene.

AvocetThis Diocese plays unwitting host to many migrant birds the year round. Some come to breed here and winter elsewhere; others winter here and breed elsewhere. To which country do they belong, including those through which they pass on migration? They’re everybody’s and nobody’s. And whose responsibility are they? Everybody’s and, alas, nobody’s.

Animal migration is an amazing phenomenon of the natural world but also one that is probably being affected by climate change and the ways in which we have changed the landscape. Whilst we no longer see some birds once common here, others, like avocets (pictured) for example, have now spread and started to breed in the North East. Changes in land use, farming methods, climate change and population growth elsewhere have probably all contributed to what appears to be happening.

News headlines change so rapidly so it is all too easy to forget things like Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda. This was most violent storm ever recorded anywhere, killing many thousands of people in the Philippines and making many more homeless. This archipelago is home to some of the most vulnerable citizens on planet earth; they are both poor and at risk of their homeland becoming uninhabitable with rising sea levels as global warming continues. Migration would then become a necessity for them just as it has for many who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea seeking asylum in Europe, having survived unimaginable horrors in their homelands. Humans have always been on the move across the planet; there is a growing urgency in cases such as these.

Mike Hume, Professor of Climate Change and Culture, Kings College, University of London, suggests that “when we talk about climate change we should not start with the latest predictions from the climate models, nor whether we have passed some catastrophic tipping point; nor whether or not the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be trusted. We should start by thinking about what it means to be fully human. What is the good life and what therefore is an adequate response to climate change.” (Queen’s University, Belfast Religious Studies Research Forum Annual Lecture 3 “Climate Change and Virtue: An Apologetic” 1 May 2013).

Hume quotes the Australian earth scientist Tim Flannery’s conclusion to his recent book Here on Earth: a New Beginning “… if we do not strive to love one another, and to love our planet as much as we love ourselves, then no further progress is possible here on Earth”. After surveying the deep history of life on Earth and humanity’s increasing influence over it, the solution Flannery arrives at is not more knowledge – more striving after science and technology – but a striving after love.





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