Sunday, 30 December 2007

The Bible IS easy to understand,...but...

... we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any word in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. "My God" you will say, "if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?" So said Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and religious thinker. 1813 - 1855.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

"I've realized that I can't do it by myself, but the world can't do it without me" - Anna from Australia


A Fact Worth Remembering

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world: indeed it's the only thing that ever has!"-- Margaret Meade


There is a large part of the central Pacific Ocean that no one ever visits and only a few ever pass through. Surprisingly, this is the largest ocean realm on our planet, being about the size of Africa, over ten million square miles. A huge mountain of air, which has been heated at the equator, and then begins descending in a gentle clockwise rotation as it approaches the North Pole, creates this ocean realm. The circular winds produce circular ocean currents which spiral into a center where there is a slight down-welling.

Because of the stability of this gentle maelstrom, the largest uniform climatic feature on earth is also an accumulator of the debris of civilization. Anything that floats, no matter where it comes from on the north Pacific Rim or ocean, ends up here, sometimes after drifting around the periphery for twelve years or more. Historically, this debris did not accumulate because it was eventually broken down by micro organisms into carbon dioxide and water. Now, however, in our battle to store goods against natural deterioration, we have created a class of products that defeats even the most creative and insidious bacteria. They are plastics.

This area is the size of a continent, and it’s filling up with floating plastic waste. This has effected all types of creatures that inhabit this area. Circular ocean currents with contrary rotation create long lines of material, visible from above as streaks on the ocean. Normally these are formed by planktonic organisms or foam, but recently one was discovered made of plastic. Everything from huge hawsers to tiny fragments were formed into a miles long line, hundreds of pounds of netting of all types bailed together in this system along with every type and size of debris imaginable. There is, however, an even darker side to pollution of the ocean by ubiquitous plastic fragments.

As these fragments float around they accumulate the poisons that we manufacture for
various purposes that are not water-soluble. It turns out that plastic polymers are sponges for DDT, PCBs and nonylphenols -oily toxics that don’t dissolve in seawater. Plastic pellets have been found to accumulate up to one million times the level of these poisons that are floating in the water itself. These are not like heavy metal poisons which affect the animal that ingests them directly, rather, they are what might be called second generation toxics. Animals have evolved receptors for elaborate organic molecules called hormones, which regulate brain activity and reproduction. Hormone receptors cannot distinguish these toxics from the natural estrogenic hormone, estradiol, and when the pollutants dock at these receptors instead of the natural hormone, they have been shown to have a number of negative effects in everything from birds and fish and, as if you hadn't guessed, to humans.

We can grow pesticide free organic produce, but can nature still produce a pesticide free organic fish? After what scientists witnessed first hand in the Pacific perhaps not. The battle to change the way we produce and consume plastics has just begun but it is essential that it be fought now. Plastics do have their place in creation, but not in the sea or buried in the ground.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Just to be here...

"The living earth, where Jesus walked, reconciling to God all earth creatures, is itself a grace, an amazing grace. Just to be here, where Jesus walked on this rain watered planet is a gratuitous gift of God." Edward Echlin 'The Cosmic Circle.'

Friday, 30 November 2007

And Jesus compared hell to...

a rubbish tip! In His preaching, Jesus described hell as being like ‘Gehenna.’ Gehenna is a place in the Valley of Hinnon, which was used as Jerusalem’s municipal dump; it’s interesting to note that Jesus idea of hell on earth was an unsustainable rubbish tip.

Jesus vision of the world to come was of a place where things do not disappear from creation, where consumption does not destroy, or, in the words of theologian Bishop James Jones of Liverpool, “The new world is a realm of sustainable consumption.”

The best description of sustainability flowed from the pen of environmental theologian Edward Echlin and I quote it here. “Sustainability means taking from the earth’s resources what is sufficient for today’s needs, for all creatures, without compromising the ability of future generations, of all creatures, to live with sustainable sufficiency.” (Earth Spirituality)

Surely, the only people who could possibly disagree with that are they who believe that those who follow us have no rights whatsoever?

Monday, 19 November 2007

Esso - George Bush's paymaster!

"From those forever shackled to what their wealth can buy, the fear of lost advantage provokes the bitter cry, 'Dont query our position! Don't critise our wealth! Don't mentioned those exploited by politics and stealth!' A verse from the Hymn "Inspired by Love and Anger.

Exxon is the power behind Bush and his blocking of international progress towards an emissions reductions treaty. Exxon runs a cynical campaign of disinformation on climate change and lobbies vigorously against any action to deal with climate change. Bush has not only rejected but continously sought to undermine the Kyoto Protocol and any meaningful action to bring down global emissions of greenhouse gases.

It is no big secret that he has done this in response to the powerful fossil fuel lobby in the United States - and in particular the oil lobby. It is well know that Bush (as one time founder of Arbusto Energy Inc, President of Spectrum 7 Energy Corp and Director of Harken Energy Corp - all oil companies) has close connections with the Texas oil industry. Not to mention the connections of Vice President Dick Cheney as ex-CEO of Haliburton oil company.

Texan-based ExxonMobil (trading under the brand name 'Esso' in the UK) has been at the forefront of the massive lobbying effort by the fossil fuel industry in the US against US acceptance of Kyoto or any international agreement on emissions reductions. Other fossil fuel companies have played an important role - for instance Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, the role of which in the lobbying that pressured Bush into rejecting Kyoto in 2001 was well reported by BBC 2's 'Money Programme". But ExxonMobil has been much the most agressive and influential of all the US fossil fuel companies in the campaign that has been waged against Kyoto and to stop the US government placing any effective curbs on US emissions of greenhouse gases.

Exxon is the largest oil company in the world. It makes more than $ 1,000 a second, and last year made the biggest annual profits of any company ever - $ 36 billion. Exxon uses its incredible wealth to back Bush : 1.376 milion dollars in the 2000 election cycle, with 90% of its political donations going to the Republicans. It expects a 'pay-back'. The fact that it has got its way is suggested by the fact that the Bush adminstration's policies on energy and climate are identical to those put forward by ExxonMobil.

Exxon funds a variety of mainly extreme right wing neo-liberal think tanks which lobby against Kyoto and are influential in shaping Republican Party policy. Most notorious amongst these is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, of which the infamous Myron Ebell is the spokeperson. Ebell famously attacked the British government's chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, in November 2004 - demonstrating a willingness to attempt to discredit even the most prestigous scientists who are vocal about the scale of the climate change threat. To find out more about the organisations Exxon funds go to .

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Ignore the word at your own risk...

The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 24:5, RSV)

Christians have as their head, the one whose spirit moved over the waters of creation. Our God who when in human form owned only the clothes that He stood up in and had, in the words of the hymn, ‘stone as pillow, earth as bed.’ St Thomas Aquinas wrote that, ‘The variety of creation was so that His goodness might be communicated to them, and reflected by them,’ and St Francis words reminding us that we are but a part of God’s creation often appeared ignored as well.

Today the holistic theologies of St Paul, St Francis, Hildegarde of Bingen, Aquinas, Loyola, Benedict and the Celtic saints, based on the creation dimension in Jesus teachings, have been cherry picked in a movement away from the Theology of Creation. Theology, as taught today both in colleges and from the pulpit, is mainly concerned with the redemption of mankind from the present day natural world, with a near fixation upon the world that is to come.

God reminds all Christians of his ownership of creation through the words of Psalm 50. ‘For every animal in the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field are mine.’ We are but part of God’s creation and Christians should proclaim God’s Gospel message of love and concern to all of creation by way of their actions, by the way that they care for the work of His hands, because the earth, with everything that is in and on it was designed by, made by and belongs to God.

Isaiah wrote, of the sounds of ‘trees clapping their hands and mountain and hills bursting into song,’ and for many people, religious or not, they actually do, because their greatest spiritual experience is in the woods, forest, hills and mountains. You are most certainly not nearer to God on a mountaintop in a forest or in the hills; it is just that in these situations you can hardly ignore the fact of His all-pervading presence. The wilderness experience of an environment that is untamed and unsullied by man, sings to the glory of the God that created it.

We read in Genesis The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,’ humanity is then but a physical part of the Earth and so it obviously follows on that Earth is a part of us, and so the unavoidable fact is that in mankind’s wanton destruction of creation, mankind destroys itself.

There can be no doubt that God gave mankind the authority to rule over the Earth, but then God, in the form of Jesus, showed us the perfect example of how that authority should be exercised. Ignore it or not, (and lets face it, most people ignore it) there can also be no doubt about the scale of the environmental crisis that the world is facing due to mankind’s ignoring of Jesus example in the form of living lightly and of servanthood.

Examples of today’s societies strange order of priorities are not hard to find. One that springs to mind is the fact that while in the third world global warming and rising sea levels are bringing starvation, death and the threat of death to millions of people, millions of pounds have been spent in our country and America in trying to find signs of life on Mars, I wonder what Jesus will say about that?

In the Lord’s Prayer, we have Jesus order of priority. Immediately after the salutations to the God who gave us life, He talks of ‘our daily bread.’ The inescapable fact for the Church to come to terms with is that it is impossible to convert those who due to global warming and environmental degradation are starving to death.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday. Many time over the years I have visited the WW1 & WW2 battlefields to pay my respects to the fallen and appreciate the agony of those that survived. When in Ypres early this year I examined the book of names in a WW1 cemetery in that town, against them some had the handwritten words "Shot at dawn." I have added a photo of the headstone of one such victim, please double left click on it to fully read the inscription. These men, although in some cases they were only 16 years old, were usually suffering from shell shock and physical and mental injury, and the legacy of their execution has caused pain and suffering to many of their families ever since, please remember them. In the same way that many families have suffered from man's inhumanity to man the fields around Ypres are still bearing the scars of man's inhumanity to God's creation, littered as they are under the surface with with the razor wire, mustard gas canisters and munitions that kill and injure even today. Thankfully in WW2 no one was treated in the same aweful way.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

There Is None So Blind As Those That Refuse To See...

In July ‘07 I accessed the Reuters news reports to see what was happening to the world’s weather. In Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, temperatures had reached around 44 degrees Centigrade, approximately 113 degrees Fahrenheit. In Romania 30 people were reported to have died due to the heat and deaths had also been reported in the other affected areas. In Bari, Italy thousands of people were reported trapped on beaches by a fire that killed several and in Serbia 10,000 chickens died from the heat in battery farms.

Meanwhile Sudan was experiencing its worst floods in living memory. Heavy rains had already killed 55, destroyed 25,000 homes, and those living near flood plains and rivers were been warned to relocate to higher ground. In China severe flooding affected around half the country, with 800 deaths being attributed to this. Nearly 800 deaths had been attributed to the monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and while all this was going on Tibet was reported as warming up faster than anywhere else on Earth. As the Tibetan glaciers disappeared, and some of China’s major rivers that are fed by them dried, yet another environmental disaster loomed. In the UK we had flooding in the Midlands where some areas experienced a months rain in less than a day for several days, and so it went on.

As I write this, November 2007, flooding has devastated Mexico, and in Africa scientists have predicted that due to Global Warming (Climate Chaos) 30% of the coastal regions would be in peril in the years to come and that many parts of the continent would be uncultivable or uninhabitable. Meanwhile in the UK the cold weather that would have killed off the Bluetongue carrying midges that have devastated many in the sheep farming community has yet to arrive, roses are still blooming as are many of the other plants in our garden and the new grass growth (the UK in November?) is too rich for our friend to put his horse out to meadow.

Meanwhile two students from Gothenburg published a spoof on-line report claiming to be from ‘The Journal of Geoclimatic Studies’ in Japan that stated that bacteria in the Pacific and Atlantic emitted 300 times more C02 than industry. Climate denying scientists jumped on the report and it was circulated and publicised worldwide until someone spotted that it was a hoax!

Isn’t it strange that supposedly intelligent people are as ready to accept the false as they are to ignore the obvious?

Friday, 9 November 2007

The War On Terror, an excuse for torture!

Despite claims by the US and the UK to the contrary, the unadvoidable evidence is that torture is an accepted tool in the War on Terror.

“We pick a suspect up or we arrange for one of our partner countries to do it. Then the suspect is placed on civilian transport to a third country where, lets make no bones about it, they use torture. If you send a prisoner to Jordan you get a better interrogation. So said CIA Middle East Officer Robert Baer in describing ‘extraordinary rendition.’

In Guantanamo Bay where over 350 detainees are held, none charged with any offence recognised in law, the US authorities have created a law free zone. Torture is known to be an accepted way of behaviour yet it is impossible to know if those detained are guilty of any crimes.

In the UK it is a fact that the government have allowed US planes to use UK airports and airspace to move suspects to undisclosed destinations, some believed to be in Europe. Amnesty International believes that over 10,000 people have disappeared in the West’s War On Terror.

Please support Amnesty’s campaign at

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Electricity in the Third World

It is easy for us that live in the 'first world' to become used to energy coming from the flick of a switch, but for many living in the Third World, this is not the case, I attach an email sent to solar engineer Graham Knight's Biodesign charity that may illustrate the situation

Dear Graham,
I received the small kit with the led works fine...and the kids we educate were fascinated. Thank you.

We were recently donated 26 solar garden lamps, so after the lecture the kids installed the lamps around our camp and very proud and happy when we saw them working.

I would like to get the kids to make LED lights exactly the same as the sample you provided, which they can sell for Daktari, or take home. We fitted yours to a pull string switch, extended the twin flex to the solar panel (which is now on the roof) and mounted the single LED in the apex of the thtached roof. It is amazing....even the single LED gives enough light at night to see where we walk. This is exactly what we need - no bigger or better.

I, and the under-privileged children, thank you very much for your help. Ian Merrifield (Director) DAKTARI WILDLIFE ORPHANAGE P.O. Box 1599Hoedspruit 1380SOUTH AFRICA

The photo is of our son Gareth taken in Makele, Etheopia with a group of orphans, when he went as a member of a group to fit solar panels to an orphanage in order to provide lighting.
Matthew 25v40: And Jesus said, "Truely I tell you, just as I did it unto one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it unto me.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Did you know that?

Across Europe, enough mobile phone handsets are discarded each year to make a chain from London in England to Perth in Scotland?

The average person in the UK uses 150 litres of water a day. In the US it's 600 litres a day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it's 10 litres a day? (WDM)

Buying local produce can reduce associated carbon emissions by almost 100 per cent? (National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association)

300 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage are discharged around the UK coastline each day? (Surfers Against Sewage)

In some parts of the world, the bodies of whales and dolphins washed ashore are so highly contaminated they qualify as toxic waste? (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society)

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The FIVE R's


Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Use Your Loaf!

The LOAF Principles
Christian Ecology Link is asking churches to use their ‘loaf’ and follow one or more of the LOAF principles when planning any communal meal like a Harvest Celebration, Alpha Supper or regular church meal.

CEL has produced LOAF ‘placemats’ which can be photocopied to provide A4 sheets to go in each person’s place. We hope these will stimulate discussion and encourage people to think about our responsibility towards the environment.

Decisions on what food we provide can have far reaching effects and can influence the way food is produced and animals are treated. As the Council for the Protection of Rural England says, ‘Changing national and EU farm policy is difficult -- you can make a difference by buying local farm produce.’,Locally produced food means shorter journeys for farm animals to markets and abattoirs, fewer miles travelled from farms to shops and therefore less climate damaging green house gas emissions from lorries, less demand for new roads, support for the local economy and local farmers, and regional variety.

Organically grown food avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides and artificial fertilisers. Organic cultivation leads to a healthier soil with more organic material,micro-organisms and other wildlife,and no genetically engineered organisms released into the countryside. CEL supports the setting of targets for 30% of UK farmland to be farmed organically by 2010. CEL also supports moves for the rest of the land to be farmed in more sustainable ways such as integrated crop management systems.

Animal friendly means that our fellow creatures, under God, are treated humanely. Organically reared animals are subject to strict welfare regulations, as are the animals sold by the Real Meat Company. Free range eggs and meat are now readily available. Fairly traded food and drink such as coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas and honey are labelled as such. The ‘Fairtrade’ label guarantees that when food or drink has to be imported, the overseas workers who produce it get a fair wage. Farmers in the UK also need a fair price for their produce.

A loaf of bread is the staple food for many people. Bread is also full of symbolic meaning for Christians. Jesus blessed and broke bread and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ In St John’s Gospel Jesus is described as ‘The Bread of Life’.

Can you use your LOAF to make a difference? Log onto and see!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

God Rules... OK!

It was in early summer several years ago that I was opening the Church in the morning when I saw what appeared to be a few leaves in the Church porch. As I bent down to pick them up I realised that it was the body of a baby swallow that had fallen from its nest high in the porch. It didn’t stir as I picked it up and first I thought that it was dead, then, as I looked at the limp body, the eyes opened and it regarded me with an unblinking stare. I was all but riveted to the spot as this tiny piece of creation, about half the size of my little finger, held me in its gaze.

I had recently been investigating the latest wonders of miniaturisation in the fields of engineering and science. I had marvelled at the ability of one ‘wire’ to carry thousands of separate communication channels, wondered at the sophistication of the latest Formula 1 cars and been intrigued by the computer that, modelled on the construction of the human brain, ‘dreamt’ when switched off. Here though, I was actually face to face with an example of miniaturisation on a scale well beyond the reach of any scientist or engineer.

This tiny being had the ability to grow, reproduce, fly, eat on the wing, sleep on the wing, navigate over the continent and the strait of Gibraltar to Africa, and then find it’s way back thousands of miles to the Church porch again, as generations of its family had previously, all with a brain, a control system as small as a shrivelled pea.

As it warmed up in my hand it settled down comfortably, yet never took its eyes off me. I went round to the shed in the rectory garden and found a ladder; meanwhile this atom of life regarded my every move. Placing the ladder up high and climbing it, I held the tiny being close to the nest when, for a moment, like the hand of a small child it held on trustingly and then was gone, back into the nest.

After putting the ladder away I went back and watched from a distance as the returning parents fed their offspring and I remembered the articles I had been reading about mankind’s results at miniaturisation, these now appeared feeble and I felt like putting a sign up below the nest saying… “God rules, OK!”

Lord Jesus, without you we are helpless, lift us up, and make us complete… Amen.

The Theory of a 'Just War.'

We have all heard and read over the last few years, particularly in respect of the Iraq conflict, the expression ‘Just War.’ The principles of a theory of a ‘Just War’ are firmly rooted in the Christian Tradition. They were first laid down by St Augustine in 410 AD in a response to the ever-increasing closeness between the Church and the state. As the nature of war has evolved over the years so have the theories and the principles involved, and since 410 AD theologians and philosophers have developed the following eight recognised principles. I will leave it to you to decide if they have been adhered to in any particular situation…

Just cause
: defence against violent and unjustified aggression against the state, or a neighbourhood state unable to defend itself.
Just intention: to restore peace to friend and foe. Revenge and hatred are unacceptable reasons for going to war
Last resort: all other efforts, including international negotiation, would have to have failed.
Proper authority: the decision to go to war must have been at the highest national or international authority level and with an official declaration of hostility.
Limited ends: war must be waged for limited ends, only to repel aggression and redress injustice.
Proportionality: the means to wage war must be proportional to the offence. The evils of the conduct of the war must not exceed the evils of the cause.
Protection of non-combatants: civilians must be protected from intentional attack.
Reasonable chance of success: if a just peace cannot be achieved then war would serve no purpose.

With regard to the last two points and in respect of modern weapons, the Catholic Church, at the second Vatican Council in 1962, declared that ‘they can inflict immense and indiscriminate havoc which goes far beyond the bounds of legitimate defence.’ There has been a suggestion that a ninth principle be added in order to rule out long-term environmental damage and to highlight the ‘need to protect the innocent future.’ Sadly this is still only a suggestion.

Saturday, 13 October 2007


"Sometimes people confuse norms with ethics — exploitation of child labour, bribery and kickbacks may be the norm, but that doesn't mean they're right"
A quote from Joseph Reitz, co-director of the International Centre for Ethics in Business at the University of Kansas.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

So, why are you an environmentalist vicar?

An oft-asked question! Briefly, Adam was put into the garden to tend and care for it; the word used ‘subdue’ also has the dictionary meaning ‘to cultivate.’ The fall of Adam caused God’s curse to fall upon the earth and Adam to return to the earth when he died. Jesus died not only to release from the bondage of sin those that would accept Him, but also to release the earth from the bondage of Adams sin, in Romans 8:22 Paul writes ‘and we know that the whole of creation has been groaning.' Matthew’s Gospel tells of one earthquake when Jesus was laid in the tomb and another at the resurrection; the earth was not mute to these two events. The first person to meet Jesus after the resurrection was Mary Magdalene who mistook Him, the second Adam, for the gardener, and surely there is a message to us all there. While each of us lives creation is Jesus gift to us, but creation does not exist for us it exists for Him. The Bible tells us that the earth is God’s footstall, but the word footstall in the context that it was written meant a resting place. So the earth is where God’s presence is to be found and as far as I am concerned, our respect and care for the earth must follow. We may never know our great grand children, but by what we leave to them, they will certainly know of us, because, in the words of Exodus 20:5 our sins will surely punish them.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

What is Truth?

When at Jesus trial, Pilate asked Jesus the question “What is truth?” Pilate was echoing a sincere point of view that has been heard on every subject over the centuries. For example, had the outcome of WW2 been different then our history of that event would not be the same. The truths that we have taught to us in our every-day lives are, as Pilate understood, the same as the truths of every age, they are written by the victors of the particular situation or circumstance.

This is the collected wisdom of human experience, yet if it were correct, then under no circumstances should there be a Christian Religion. Jesus was born over 2000 years ago into a situation of poverty. He possessed no goods, nor owned no property, wrote no books, did not travel far, held no public office and was executed 32 years later as a criminal. This should not have been a victory, so why through the centuries has Jesus been such an influence upon the lives of millions?

The truth, as Pilate perhaps suspected, is that Jesus is the Son of God.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The human cost of Palm Oil and Bio Fuels

If anyone ever thought that it was just biscuits that Oil Palm production is used for, then this is wrong, in fact Palm Oil is present in one out of every ten supermarket products. The development of palm Oil plantations has been responsible for nearly 90% of deforestation in malaysia, in Sumatra and Borneo four million hectares of rainforest are being cleared and in Indonesia sixteen million hectares are being cleared. (All the above are Friends Of The earth figures.)
Prior to the planting of the Oil Palms, the felled trees are often burnt, releasing carbon and usually covering the areas in smog. The dryer lands in the regions are rapidly being used up, and so the swamp areas are being drained and cleared. these swamp areas are mainly peat, and as they dry they release the carbon locked into them.
As the clearing of the Rainforests occurs the thousands of indigenous people that live there are evicted and in Indonesia some five hundred people have been imprisoned and tortured when they tried to resist the clearances. In addition to this many of the animals that live in these areas are facing extinction. (Green Peace info.)
Biodiesel is being produced from Palm Oil, and the main Palm Oil refineries will be making Biodiesel from Palm Oil sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia, but there is yet another problem lurking in the wings when this happens. The GM companies are reinventing themselves on the back of Palm Oil 'development.' The worry is that the GM Biodiesel Palm Oil plants will either cross over to the food palm by accident or perhaps, by design!
I often have mentioned to me that the production of Diesel fuel from recycled vegetable cooking oil could be an answer. This is, sadly, not the case. If all the vegetable cooking oil in the Uk was recycled and use as fuel for Diesel cars them it would provide only one 380th (.26%) of our transport needs. (The Guardian.)
Another alternative fuel (for petrol cars) is Bioethanol E85. This is mainly produced by corn distilation providing alcohol. This has resulted in a world corn price increase and the problem of ever increasing starvation for many Third World countries as due to crop shortages because of Global Warming they rely on imported grain to feed their populations.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Information Poverty In The Information Age

It is an illusion that we live in a world overflowing with information. Instant information like supermarket shelves packed full of cheap food is a developed world phenomenon.

In Ghana research has concluded that if mothers start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, then 22% of babies who die in the first 28 days could be saved. “What is so exiting about this research is that the solution does not need costly medicines, we just need to get across the simple message,” said Secretary of State Hillary Benn. AIDS education is also of enormous importance in the Third World, but often the problem is again in getting that ‘simple message’ across to those that need it.

After the earthquake that hit Pakistan last October, many in remote areas died due to lack of knowledge of where aid was available. Perhaps you remember the TV crews that managed to reach these victims when by contrast, the aid didn’t.

In 2004 the island of Hispaniola was hit by hurricane Jeanne, warnings were issued on the Dominican Republic side the day before the storm struck and fatalities were kept down to 23. In the neighbouring Haitian side there was no way to effectively spread the warning, and over 2,000 died.

It would be easy to carry on with other examples of information poverty; the tragedy is that it would cost so little to rectify this situation. To give one example an airdrop of cheap solar powered single station transistor radios in the remote regions of Pakistan, after the 2005 earthquake, broadcasting the information regarding available aid, would have saved many lives.

We in the developed world exist on a diet of electrical power and information, yet for us it is not usually the matter of daily survival or life and death it often is for those in the Third World. The sad fact is that the technology to rectify this problem is both cheap and readily available for the people of Third World, what is lacking is the will in the Western World to deliver it.

In Ashford Kent, engineer Graham Knight heads a small charity called BioDesign. Their concern is to rectify this situation, mainly with the supply and distribution of small solar electrical panel kits to the Third world. Sunlight, the source of solar power, is one commodity that the Third World usually has an excess of, yet power is a commodity that is a scarce resource. BioDesign supplies the basic solar panel parts required that enable people to use their energy and local available materials, e.g. plywood backing and wire, in order to build completed units to the required size and power output. In doing this they gain the skills and education that will lift them out of the poverty trap, as well as having job satisfaction and the knowledge that the finished articles will have many applications. They are used to recharge mobile phones, power radios, charge batteries for lighting and run fans, in addition to other applications.

The BioDesign ethos is to help people out of poverty by giving them access to the life saving educational information and skills that all of us in the developed world have at our fingertips. Unless the situation changes quickly, you are now more aware of the information regarding breastfeeding in Ghana than most of the Ghanaian mothers to be and no doubt you are also more aware of AIDS than the many of those living in the third world.

Battery transistor radios are universal throughout the Third World, but rely on batteries that are expensive, and of uncertain quality. The means of mass communication for news, entertainment and most importantly, education, are potentially there but as the African nations become even poorer, the numbers able to access these radio broadcasts are falling.

The photo shows a BioDesign solar panel. In Africa this would be assembled by one of the small local companies that receive the solar panels and then fitted to the owner’s radio, the cost being the equivalent of two sets of batteries. The solar panel users are soon financially better off, and in addition the problems regarding environmental pollution caused by the batteries disposal is solved, as they are no longer used!

Mobile phone coverage, due to satellite operation, is good in much of the Third World and the opportunities provided by this coverage are many. In one Bangladesh village there was no power and no phone until a loan scheme provided a mobile phone and a solar panel for charging. These were rented out to a woman in the village who makes a minimal charge for calls, so covering her overheads and making a small profit. The village now has a lifeline to and from the world beyond.

Solar lighting also enables hospitals, homes and businesses to operate in safer conditions when it gets dark, as often the only other available source of light is from paraffin lamps which are fire hazards and give off toxic fumes. In India alone the average household without access to electricity uses around 120 litres of expensive paraffin a year, which equates to around 310 kg of carbon released into the atmosphere, multiply this by millions and I am sure you will get the picture. In the poorest and remotest areas of the world, where paraffin is not available, the inhabitants have to use wood for lighting as well as cooking and these are usually the areas where wood is a now a scarce resource. Were you aware of the fact that inhaling smoke from indoor fires is the fourth greatest cause of death and disease in the third world?

In the use of solar energy we have a win, win situation. I have wondered why governments do not support 100% companies such as BioDesign, but I am sure that if sunbeams could be turned into weapons of war then we would have had solar power long ago…

Jesus ministry was to the poor the sick and the neglected, and His followers were commanded to follow Him and He told us that as much as we have done it for them, we have done it for Him. To see just what is being achieved for the disadvantaged by the small-scale solar power in Africa described above, please log on to go to the video section and run ‘Power to the people-part 1.’

The World's Great faiths

There has been much talked and written about in the media regarding the ‘Great Faiths’ recently, assuming it seems that we all know what they are. I suspect that most know as much as I did before I went to theological college, i.e. very little indeed. So if you are in the same boat as I was, here is a potted introduction.
Began in India, believe there is a God behind everything, so 300 million gods would not be considered too many. Colourful temples with a very relaxed atmosphere, very tolerant and welcoming as any other faith is regarded as another form of Hinduism.
Began with one man, Siddharta Gautama, born in India in 560BC. He became the enlightened one, The Buddha, a teacher who refused to be worshiped as a God. Colourful temples with statues, calm meditation and prayer, but often discipline can be austere.
Began in the Punjab by Guru Nanak around 1500 AD. Nine successive Gurus have succeeded him since then. The Sikhs holy book is read and hymns are sung in colourful temples called gurdwaras; the men wear turbans as an outward sign of their religion.
Began in the Eastern Mediterranean with the patriarchs, Abraham and his descendents. Belief is of a covenant between God and the Jews; worship is in word and songs in synagogues…the Hebrew Bible is written on scrolls and comprises of teaching, in addition to The Old Testament, of collections of writing called the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Began in Arabia with Muhammad (c570-632 AD) the final prophet or messenger of God. Allah inspired him to write the Qur’an, which completed the final revelation to the Jews and Christians. Worship is in mosques, full of space and empty of images.
Began with one man, Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew in the Eastern Mediterranean, a teacher who was crucified as a criminal and was revered as God in human form when he rose from the dead. His story is recorded in The New Testament, worship is through word and hymn in church buildings.

You can see just how much has been left out of the Christian faith by just giving a short description. Likewise each other faith has as many varieties within it as Christianity, some have more! However, it is only Christianity that teaches of how God came down from Heaven to Earth and took on our humanity in order to show us, by His example, how to live our lives.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Fairtrade - Some useful facts

It would be hard not to have heard about Fairtrade recently, just as hard to have failed to notice that food prices in the supermarkets are usually falling while, despite rising overheads, the profits of the big three; Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Asda are enormous and rising. Obviously, somewhere in the food chain, there is an imbalance. The purchasing powers of the supermarkets are enormous and the competition between them, for a market that is limited in its overall size, is immense. The supermarkets are in a position to dictate to the growers and producers, especially those in the Third World, what they will pay for their goods and this is often at a level that reduces them to poverty and debt. The Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean has warned that that Wal-Mart’s take over of Asda has already had detrimental effects on the islands’ economy.

It was in order to counteract this type of situation that Fairtrade was founded in 1994 by Christian Aid, CAFOD, (The Catholic Agency For Overseas Development) Oxfam, the World Development Movement, the WI (never underestimate the WI!) and Traidcraft Exchange. From the start the concept was successful as in that year Green and Black’s Chocolate rescued growers in the South of Belize from total disaster, when the world Coco prices fell, by purchasing their produce and making from it the first product to bear the Fairtrade label. Green and Black’s still buy coco from the same growers and as Justino Peck, the chairman of the growers association said, “The difference Fairtrade has made for me is that I can make plans.” One of the plans he mentioned is to buy books for his children’s studies.

In Malawi, sugar cane grower and unpaid minister The Rev’d Jameson Mabviko is a member of the local growers committee. They recently received their first Fairtrade order and with the extra income they are planning to supply water to their villages, as the local river is both dirty and crocodile infested. On a personal level Fr. Jameson will now be able to afford the bus ride to the remote villages in order to preside at services on a regular basis.

In the Dominican Republic, 75-year-old farmer Manuel works an eight and a half hour day and is hoping, with the Fairtrade premium, to be able to replace the wooden walls on his house with concrete walls as these will stand up to the hurricanes. Hurricane George all but destroyed his house in 1998.

The Fairtrade Premium can mean that products that carry the Fairtrade Label are, at times, more expensive than the basic products that are on offer, Fairtrade products are however usually of a better quality than those they directly compete with. Consumer pressure should never be underestimated, and those consumers that have purchased Fairtrade products have sent a message to the supermarkets and many now stock Fairtrade items.

Where at all possible we should look for and buy Fairtrade as an expression of our life together and concern for the worlds poor and exploited. The price of our coffee and bananas and biscuits, for example may rise a little, if it does then Jesus comment that, ‘as much as you have done it unto them you have done it unto me’ should encourage us.