Cambridge conference considers 'sustainability in crisis'

By staff writers
September 30, 2011

Environmentalists scientists, educators and representatives of charities, NGOs and faith groups came together at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge 26-28 September for a conference organised by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics .

The goals of 'Sustainability in Crisis' were to identify key sustainable and realisable policy changes for the coming decade at the levels of consumption, production and governance, and to consider means of enlisting the critical support of religious communities for these changes.

The conference sought to identify and reflect critically on the socio-economic, cultural and spiritual challenges of making sustainability possible post-Copenhagen.

A key issue was the possibility of specifying a credible meaning for 'sustainability' – for example does this presume continuing economic growth or a no-growth economy? The particular insights of various religious faiths were drawn upon, as was their potential to mobilise people behind the changes needed to address the crisis of sustainability.

The two organisations presenting the conference have close links with the Christian community, but the three day programme included representatives from other world religions and from none. The intention was not to seek a consensus across religious boundaries, or between religious and secular perceptions, but rather to engage in an honest and informed conversation about mutual challenges and the contribution religions might make in meeting them,

Drawing on the knowledge of British and international academics and expert practitioners, the conference sought to identify the policy priorities of facing a 'crisis of sustainability' and considered key issues in the following areas:

* Consumption: identifying the challenges, environmental and social costs arising from the current commitment to an ever increasing standard of living. Examining the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce environmental damage and produce a better quality of life. Exploring means of enabling consumers to become environmentally responsible citizens and voters.

*Production: identifying promising sustainable practices and examining means of communicating these throughout the business sector. Seeking to nurture sustainability among business leaders and to integrate sustainable criteria into decision making. Examining the insights religious communities can bring to the flourishing of communities and of creation.

*Governance: Identifying sustainability priorities for the UK government's domestic and international policies and the obstacles to those priorities. Seeking means by which grass-roots and civil society support may be marshalled behind these policies. Persuading governments and other agencies to consider other measures of well-being than GDP.

The conference organisers pointed out that communities generated by religious faith can generate substantial resources for educating and mobilising millions of people throughout the world to address these issues.

They also emphasised that while religions have been, and still are, often complicit in environmentally damaging behaviour, they have the capacity to inspire the vision of a better quality of life than that offered by the consumerism and materialism of the West.

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