Futures Committee - to act on the 2007 Triennial minute

Futures Committee Up Dated Report for Aotearoa New Zealand YM, July 12 2008
Robert Howell

This Report is in two parts. First, we want to report to you about the Quaker Institute for the Future book project and an international Quaker response. Second, we want to talk with you about how the ANZ RSOF can respond to the threats of ecological disaster. We have not been able to circulate this material in advance because of rapid and recent developments.

First, the book has now been delivered to the publishers and is due out early 2009. Late last year a small group including some of the writers set up a book promotion group. As part of his involvement with the book promotion, QIF have asked Robert to attend the FWCC Asia West Pacific Section meeting this November in India. Late last year Robert argued that in addition to the book promotion, QIF should also be concerned to develop actions that would address the issues in the book. QIF did not adopt this recommendation although the promotion group’s objectives do include identifying key organisations and individuals who could work cooperatively and/or in partnership. Robert has taken on the task of trying with others to find the best way to develop a mechanism for an international Quaker voice to be heard, and whereby Quakers collectively can join with other international groups and individuals in action.

At the Triennial last year a minute was passed on Environment and Sustainability. A minute was also made asking the FWCC Executive Committee and QUNOs to explore ways of increasing attention to environmental matters possibly by appointing a representative to work in this area. A meeting was held last year In Woodbrooke, UK, to look at implementing this minute, but no actions were taken. Nancy Irving, General Secretary of FWCC, said that FWCC could not provide the means for an international voice and means of linking with others in action. She suggested that an informal group be set up based on people at the Triennial with that concern. Robert has followed this up and invited others to join and contribute. Currently this group consists includes Laurie Michaelis (UK), Ruah Swennerfelt and Mary Gilbert (QEW, US), Ed Dreby (Philadelphia, US), Kees Nieuwerth (Netherlands), Julian Stargardt (HK), David Millar (Canada), David Purnell (Australia), David Atwood (QUNO Office in Geneva). Linley Gregory and Elizabeth Duke (NZ), Valerie Joy, Topsy Evans and Dilawar Chetsingh (AWPS) have been sent material as well.

Robert prepared a background paper on the preliminary discussions (copies are available on request) and the various options. In short, the outcome of these discussions are leaning towards a new Quaker organisation that would act as a federation of Quaker YMs, organisations and individuals. There is support for this from such people as Laurie Michaelis of Living Witness in the UK, Kees Nieuwerth in the Netherlands, David Miller in Canada, and David Atwood in Geneva. David Atwood recommended that we go ahead and set something up, and QUNOs in NY and Geneva would then try and work with and support it within existing commitments and funding. The next question is “Where is this Quaker federation best legally based?’

This question was discussed with Kees this week. Robert and Kees talked about the possibility of setting up a Committee under the Netherlands YM that would act as a temporary mechanism to progress these matters while a more permanent solution was decided upon and implemented. Kees recommended that this be set up under ANZYM. He also referred us to the Netherlands YM Epistle recommending that each Netherlands Friend donate 1% of their annual incomes or more to a Quaker Fund for sustainable development. He said that he personally would encourage this Dutch fund being used to support the establishment of an international Quaker voice as outlined.

Our Committee therefore makes the following recommendations.

1. Subject to agreement by members of the consultative group as described above, that a Committee be established by ANZYM to act as transition committee for the establishment of a federation of Quaker YMs (or an appropriate alternative). This Committee would consult about a legal base, constitution, funding and other matters necessary for its establishment and operation. Its governing principles would include how to ensure that whatever governing body is decided upon

  • it has adequate means of representing the geographical spread of Quakers;
  • it has within it the skill set necessary for its effective working;
  • it walks the talk in terms of ecological footprints and respect for the earth;
  • that the rich and poor mix within the international Quaker community of YMs does not favour the rich in terms of involvement;
  • that it uses Quaker decision making and spirit led practices;
  • that it allows for the prophetic voice to be acted upon within the unity building Quaker processes.

2. A New Zealand YM fund be established and that 1% of ANZYM income be annually assigned to that fund, with an invitation to other individual NZ Quakers to contribute, and that this fund be used with other Quaker YM funds overseas, and other funds, for the exploration and establishment of an international Quaker voice along the lines described above.

3. If ANZYM support these intentions, the ANZYM Clerk write to all other Quaker YMs and other relevant Quaker groups and individuals, informing them of ANZYM decisions, and invite them to support, join and fund these initiatives.

Now to the second part. In 2005 Robert brought a concern to YM about the dangers of climate change, oil depletion, ecological degradation and other threats, and the Futures Committee was set up as a YM Committee. He and we believed or hoped at that time that humankind could change so avoid such dangers. We no longer believe this. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the science is very clear: the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Global warming is happening and the temperature will increase to and beyond a level that is dangerous to human life. Avoiding dangerous increases is no longer possible: adaptation is unavoidable. By 2050 between a third and one half of all species will have disappeared or be doomed to extinction, and large parts of the world will be unable to support human life, certainly in its current form.

The IPCC is separate but closely related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is the decision making body for governments to agree on international treaties. But the UNFCCC’s Articles and Principles are not based on sustainable, economic, ethical and governance models that will enable the UNFCCC to achieve the purpose of avoiding dangerous climate change. The IPCC states that new development models to the one humankind has used for the last two to three centuries are needed: this is not about choosing a mapped-out path, but rather about navigating through an uncharted and evolving landscape. Neither science nor economics can resolve the fundamental issues posed by climate change: these are ethical issues.

If humankind is to establish a right relationship with the earth, with development and economic models based on this, it will need to look for guidance from those who have such values. This does not mean that we can just ‘sissor and paste’ into modern societies pre-colonial and pre-industrial cultural values. Instead, current societies need to change their institutions, corporations and cultures to a post-industrial and post-colonial society based on a right relationship with the earth.

Over the next few decades or so, we unfortunately do not see a smooth transition to such a society. Instead we see those people and institutions who control and benefit from the current system continuing to exert domination amidst a world of increasing physical, social, commercial and political disorder. Many people will die, and many more will face poverty and despair.
As crises continue, decision makers will look for radical solutions that today seem unthinkable. People who can provide models and examples, will be sought.

As a Religious Society, can we provide a vision of a culture that intrinsically values the earth? Are we prepared for that occasion to be guides, mentors and leaders in establishing a right relationship with the earth? Are we able to be an example of a transition to such a model? Do we understand our traditional testimonies of integrity, simplicity, peace and equality, primarily as relevant for human and human relationships, rather than human and earth relationships? Many New Zealand Quakers individually are into alternative technologies including energy, housing and transport systems and methods, recycling, etc, - go to the interest groups at Summer Gathering for proof of this. But this still exists within an instrumentalist value system, where non-human entities and systems are not necessarily treated intrinsically. As a YM do we use our collective resources – people (in time, knowledge and skills) and our money and materials – where we listen and decide in unity how best to support each other to move to integrity with the earth? Do we dissipate our money and support within the traditional economic development and aid models? Do we listen to and respect the earth? Do we have a vision for Aotearoa New Zealand where human life is integrated with its beaches and forests, lakes and farms, factories and buildings, offices and cities, beef and sheep, pukekos and possums, and be guides for the transition to this? Let us adapt one of the Society’s very old Advices and Queries.

We are called to live in the virtue of that life and power that respects and values intrinsically each other and all living beings and the earth systems. Do you faithfully maintain that testimony that treating others and the earth purely in instrumental terms is inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of the earth and life’s destruction. Stand firm in that testimony, even when others commit and prepare to commit acts of violence against the earth, yet always remember that they are part of the integrity of life.

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