Prayers for the Climate and Ecological Emergency

Over the past few months I have been encouraged, challenged, inspired and refreshed by a series of prayers written by Rev. Jon Swales – Prayers for the Climate and Ecological Emergency.

I first met Jon a few years ago. I spent a few days with him as part of a training placement I did, which I loved. Several years later, while I was starting to wake up to the seriousness and urgency of the Climate and Ecological Crisis, it was exciting to see Jon making the same journey. He has been a few steps ahead of me along the way, and his passion, courage and clarity have been a real inspiration.

As a Christian one of the ways that Jon has responded to the Climate and Ecological Crisis has been in prayer. I’m sure that he, like many others, has prayed about this on his own and with others in many quiet and private ways – but alongside his personal prayer Jon has also written a fantastic collection of prayers that he has shared with others. You can read them here. As well as writing the prayers, Jon has also recorded many of them – producing videos and recently a podcast of the prayers spoken aloud. Jon has asked if I will record myself reading one of his prayers – what a privilege to be able to add my voice to this outpouring of grief and love, pain and hope.

Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. It is not just delivering a shopping list of requests, but a precious practice of connection – of slowing down to share in conversation with the Presence that fills all of everything: speaking, listening, silence. Prayer is to sit with Jesus, and to bring the people, places, creatures and concerns of the world to sit beside Jesus with me.

Prayer has been at the heart of much of the protest and campaigning around the Climate and Ecological Crisis – from private tears to public prayer vigils, Christians celebrating Holy Communion in blocked streets to Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Solemn Intention Statement’ (often read before/during/after an action, and something I find deeply prayerful):

“Let’s take a moment, this moment, to consider why we are here.

Let’s remember our love, for this beautiful planet that feeds, nourishes and sustains us. Let’s remember our love for the whole world of humanity in all corners of the world.

Let’s recollect our sincere desire to protect all this, for ourselves, for all living beings, and for generations to come.

As we act today, may we find the courage to bring a sense of peace, love and appreciation to everyone we encounter, to every word we speak and to every action we make. We are here for all of us.”

Not all climate activism includes prayer (Christian or otherwise), but as a Christian this has been a key way for me to engage – with my head, heart, hands and spirit. Prayer in this context is not just about what I think will happen – what it will do – but also because of what it will do to me and in me. As one recommendation from someone who Jon works with says:

Jon enables us to connect our deep fears and anxieties about the environment with the loving and listening presence of God. They are born out of a deep conviction that the Living God can hear and will act, but they also call us to a lifestyle of ongoing repentance

(Rev. Canon Dr Mark Cowley)

Amen.

#TeamKip Cycling Challenge

Bit late posting this week – it was a very busy weekend, and I’m trying to take things a bit more spaciously (another element of oikos living – slowing down for deep connection).

Exciting news in the last 24 hours though… I am going to join with my good friend Ed and a group of heroes (/fools?) to take on a cycling challenge this June. It will be a 4 day ride as a group, covering approx 216 miles from Cardiff to Holyhead (the length of Wales), aiming to raise £10,000 for the India based children’s health charity ‘Love the One‘. You can read this post on the #TeamKip blog to find out more.

Ed and Sarah tragically lost their son Kip to leukaemia last year after a 4 year battle. Hearts broken all round. It has been really tough to see (and share in) their grief, but also really inspiring to watch how they have stayed conscious of others through this – especially being aware of how blessed they were to be living in the UK and having free access to the best healthcare available. They have already done some amazing fundraising to enable others to have support and good healthcare too, and I’m really excited to be able to join in with this big effort.

It is going to take some training to be ready for such a long ride – I’m not used to more than a few miles at a time at the moment! But a great cause, and it will be good to get out for some longer distance rides in the beautiful East Yorkshire Coast and wolds – especially when the weather warms up a little bit (still quite icy some mornings…).

Watch this space for a link to a fundraising page, would be great if anyone is able to support hitting the goal.

This links in with a poem that I was reminded of just yesterday. I only remembered one line, but a quick google search brought it up in full. Quite well known in parts I think, but a beautiful reminder of our inherent connectedness – not even just with the people we know and love, but as members of humanity (even as part of creation). John Donne, For whom the bell tolls:

No man is an island, 

Entire of itself. 

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main; 

If a clod be washed away by the sea, 

Europe is the less, 

As well as if a promontory were, 

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s 

Or of thine own were. 

Any man’s death diminishes me, 

Because I am involved in mankind. 

Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 

It tolls for thee.

Though this poem is framed in a bit of a morbid way (focussing on how the death of any diminishes us all), and is slightly problematic in its use of ‘man/mankind’ (of its time) I love Donne’s observation of how connected we all are. What a powerful image it is that Europe is less if a single clod of earth is washed away…

This shift in thinking has been key to our ongoing journey of caring for creation: learning to notice, appreciate and treasure the world around us – for it’s own sake, and also because we are connected. What blesses the world around me blesses me. What harms the world around me harms me. The loss of Kip, of the sparrow I found in the garden, of the trees that have been snapped down in the local park – not all equal, but all losses that resonate out. Equally, the opportunity to share in an adventure with a group of others who love Ed and Sarah (and Kip), to do this by cycling and using public transport (so caring for the world around me), and to raise money to bless and support others to be able to access healthcare – these gifts resonate out too.

I want to start ripples of blessing in the pond of life.

1,000 hours outside

Happy New Year!

I sat down to catch up on emails on 1st Jan, and in among the junk there were a few gems. One link in particular, in the monthly email update from Wild Christian (part of A Rocha UK – highly recommend – you can find out more and sign up here), caught my eye. In amongst a list of suggestions…

Nurture connections offline. A digital detox at any age can help us pause, reduce stress and improve focus and sleep quality.  Purposefully explore technology-free times or areas of the house, switch to ‘airplane mode’ for the first hour in the morning and the last hour at night, reach for your Bible over your device(s) and write a list of outdoor things that you enjoy. Try ‘1000 hours outside’ to help re-wild your daily life and find a more harmonious balance.”

I clicked through, and found this brilliant website: 1,000 hours outside. It’s a bit advert heavy, but they are offering some pretty good content for free so I was prepared to put up with it. The point of the site is right there in the name – aspiring to spend 1,000 hours outside over the course of the year. It is aimed at children/parents, but it strikes me that this could be an ambitious and healthy aim for anyone.

A quick bit of mental maths told me that 1,000 hours outside in 2022 would mean around 3 hours per day (it is actually slightly less than 3 per day, but in that ball park). We are a pretty outdoors kind of family, but I don’t think we normally hit 3 hours outside each day… Feels a bit daunting in the middle of winter! But I love the ambition, and the more I read the more I think they are on to something.

Why 1,000 hours? The website (which clearly has a USA context, but probably not too wide of the mark for UK) claims that the average American child spends an average of 5-7 minutes per day in free play outside (only about 43 hours over a whole year), but around 1,200 hours per year watching screens (over 3 hours per day). Wow. Refreshingly they don’t just take pot shots at screen time, but instead aim to match time spent on screens with time outside. I’m in! And I love how Wild Christian are selling this as a way to nurture connections offline.

Is this anything more than a hippy idea about just being outside more? Much more. Sarah Wilson in her book This one wild and precious life (on our Links and recommendations page) talks about disconnection – which she identifies as being the main source of dis-ease in our world today, and at the heart of the climate crisis. Disconnection from others because we are constantly connected by technology, but only at a superficial level. Disconnected from nature by our walls, supermarket shopping, and neatly efficient lives of concrete and plastic. And even disconnected from ourselves – distracted to death. (I would add disconnected from God – the source of life and love and wholeness: shalom). This lack of deep connection hurts us in all kinds of ways – eating away at our humanity – and leads directly to a lack of care for nature and others. Just being outside – putting hands in the soil, breathing deeply, noticing and learning to treasure the everyday beauty and wonder all around – this is where care for creation, and a deeper and fuller humanity, begins. Mary Oliver puts it brilliantly:

Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

Upstream – Mary Oliver

So though ‘1,000 hours outside’ might sound gimmicky, and though I normally veer away from any sort of New Years resolutions, I think we will give this a go. I’ve printed out a couple of progress tracker sheets from the 1,000 hours website – you colour in one block for each hour spent outside. The first is just for the first 100 hours (achievable!), and the second is for the full 1,000. Will let you know how it works out! We’ve already made a pretty good start I reckon – 7 hours in 3 days (not quite on track, but wait for those long summer days!).

Finally, if you haven’t spotted it yet then don’t forget Veganuary. I’ve been vegan for 3 years now, and love it. Whether you are already working towards a more plant based diet, or reckon yourself to be a blood red carnivore (!), this is a great chance to have a go with plant based food. There are LOADS of resources to help you out the Veganuary website, and I will be blogging on vegan food in the next few weeks… For now, to inspire you, here is what I rustled up for our vegan Christmas dinner – including Yorkshire puddings (recipe here), ‘no pigs in blankets’ (thanks Aldi), and a cracking nut roast (from a packet, not fresh – vegan doesn’t have to mean super complicated!). Bam.

Sarx

“The Word [Logos] became flesh [sarx] and lived among us”

If you make it to a carol service this year then there is a good chance that you will hear these words read.

This phrase is from the opening paragraphs of John’s Gospel – a dense and glorious piece of theological, philosophical, ancient-but-living literature. Whether you are a Christian or not the opening of John’s Gospel is well worth a read. Reading this bit of John feels to me a bit like this scene from the first Dr Who with Chris Eccleston: taking a moment to feel the spin of the Earth, falling around the sun…

Anyway, back to John’s Gospel!

I don’t want to get too heavy with Greek words, but there is something important happening here that I don’t want to miss. And I can’t get to my point without introducing you to my two Greek friends Logos and sarx.

Logos [The Word] is a great, grand, sweeping idea in first century philosophy: it literally means ‘the Word’, but as an idea it is talking about the Meaning, the Purpose, the Organising Power of the universe (all capitalised). Sarx [flesh] is a word with much less developed thinking around it. When it pops up in other passages in the Bible it is translated variously as ‘flesh’, ‘body’, ‘animal nature’ (sometimes with a negative tone – i.e. ‘human nature/sinful nature’). God-ness and body-ness. The big word we use for this is ‘incarnation’ – enfleshment, being bodied, God with skin on. (Check out This post for a bit more on this). John 1 captures an essential, and radical, part of the Christian understanding of Christmas: how the birth of Jesus was a world shaking meeting of the Logos and the sarx.

The idea that God became human in Jesus is massive. But I actually want to press this a little harder, because I think the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Because there is much more to sarx [flesh] than just being human. John doesn’t just say that the Word became human – he says sarx. There were words that he could have used to say ‘human’ but he didn’t, he says ‘flesh’. Why?

Partly he is making a point about the humility of the incarnation. The stepping down, the incredible and outrageous descent from glory. Sarx is a gritty word, an earthy word. John is pairing it with Logos for the juxtaposition – he wants you to do a double-take.

But sarx is also there because the incarnation is about more than just humanity. John uses sarx [flesh] because The Word became matter. Flesh and blood – a living creature – molecules and chemistry. Atoms. For Christians – for me – celebrating Christmas is about standing in awe and wonder at the moment when the Purpose, the Meaning, the Light, the Reason and Order and Source – the One who was there ‘in the beginning’, and ‘through whom all things were created’ stepped down and became part of the creation. The incarnation doesn’t debase Jesus, it lifts all of creation up. This is why we don’t just see shepherds and Wise Men in the manger scene – the animals are there too, not as incidental extras but because they are part of the action!

This quiet, humble moment when a young woman gave birth in Bethlehem was when God was at work to reconcile (re-connect) all of creation through Jesus. Humans and animals, plants and planets, rocks and water. In Jesus, the Divine and the material meet – and nothing is the same again.

The renewing and redeeming of the oikos of all Creation is begun.

Merry Christmas!

Tree planting

At the moment we are blessed to have a wonderful, big garden. We’ve been working hard since we moved in (just over a year ago) to manage the space with an oikos approach – thinking of our local wildlife (our feathered neighbours), pollinators, biodiversity, soil health, growing our own food, making a space where many can find joy and life. I will probably share more about this in future blog posts – particularly our wildflower meadow, which we are especially thrilled with [this ‘meadow’ isn’t as big as the name suggests – only about 100 square metres – but it is every bit as beautiful and exciting as the name suggests].

But for today I want to share about our trees.

When we moved in there were already a few mature trees in the garden – an apple tree, plum tree, ash, hawthorn and cherry. There is also a good chunk of dense hedgerow, which the sparrows love. We had a leylandii hedge removed – it had grown far too tall, was blocking light and water from a big patch of the garden, and was only really much good for a couple of pigeons. In it’s place we planted a mixed native hedgerow, which is still growing in (will probably take 3-5 years) but once it has matured it will offer much more to the local wildlife – berries, flowers, nesting sites and cover. We love it already.

Just last week we added 3 more trees to our garden: a willow (for beauty, and for the bees – a Kilmarnock Willow so it won’t grow too big), a Pear (to add to our fruit tree orchard), and a Sorbus Glendoick Spire (like a Rowan – the garden centre label describes this as ‘a natural bird feeder’). It was SO exciting!

We started the day with a tape measure in the garden, checking once more just how many trees we could fit in and where they would go. We have been talking about what trees we would like to add to the space for a while – dreaming and scheming and researching. On the walk down to the garden centre we still hadn’t fully decided, and kept changing our minds even while we were there – had to take a break for a cuppa to finalise the plan. Then we picked them out, paid for them, and left them in the hands of the friendly delivery person (free local deliveries when you spend enough – we certainly did!). I hadn’t planned to plant them out that afternoon, but the delivery man got here in good time and the sun was shining so… My first time planting trees, and a very satisfying afternoon! I put two of them in while Joanne went to get the children from school/nursery, but saved the third for when they got back. It was such a precious moment to carefully tease out the roots of our plum tree together, settle it into the hole, fill the soil in and press it down. We all joined in with this moment of deep connection – blessing our small piece of land with new life, and being deeply blessed in return. We even named our tree: Alan (as in Alan Partridge, because it is a pear tree – you follow?).

While bedding our new trees in I also cut back the grass around a little plum sapling that has self-seeded in the lawn, and put some wood chip around it to keep the weeds down. A brand new tree growing for free, all on its own – and all I had to do to make this happen was let part of the lawn grow up for the year (not just laziness, part of the wilding plan). Sheer grace.

[images – left the plum sapling earlier this year, and right now in it’s winter attire with the parent tree in the background]

The Woodland Trust says that “Trees are essential for people, wildlife and the environment.” Our small contribution won’t fix the climate crisis, but it will help. It won’t patch up the gaps in habitat for insects, birds and other small animals, but it will help. It won’t create a forest, but it will add to our small grove. Perhaps you don’t have space to plant a tree – perhaps not even enough room (or permission!) to grow a tree in a pot. But I bet you have room for a window box… What could you grow, and be grown by, as you press your finger tips into the good earth? David Benjamin Blower encourages us all to “Put your hands in the soil” in his song The Soil – you won’t regret taking 4 minutes to listen.

If all goes well then even by next summer the bees will be visiting new flowers, the birds settling on growing branches, insects will be exploring new territory, and we will be sitting under the shade of green leaves. Peace is when we can all thrive together.

Ice and snow

When we chose to go car free I wasn’t really thinking ahead to when it would snow… It doesn’t snow often here, and back then it was early Autumn. But last week it snowed. Twice.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to ride in the snow. I hadn’t tried before last week, and probably wouldn’t have if we still had a car – my instinct was that it was a bit risky (SPOILER – I was right). I thought about walking – we could have set off earlier to go to school and taken time for a winter expedition: all wrapped up, making steady careful progress, maybe with a sledge in hand for tired legs (or for when there was a slope to slide down!). But last Monday I wasn’t feeling patient – I was feeling daring.

Long story short, don’t do it – or at least think twice. In my experiments with bikes on snow last week I found that:

  • on deep, fresh snow cycling is edgy but manageable – just go steady;
  • on slushy, half melted snow it is hard going – lots of resistance and very slippery;
  • if the slush has re-frozen into sheet ice the next morning you should leave your bike at home.

I fell off. Hard. On a road. With child 2 in the seat on the back. Child 1 was just ahead of us, she had slipped off just a second before me.

Thankfully we are all ok. We all had helmets on, and weren’t going fast. In my defence, it had been going really very well up until that point! We had started off very cautiously – pushing the bikes down the road, taking the path over the field so we could ride where it was grass and muddy path (not so slippy). By the time we got back to the road we were at a section that had been gritted – it was wet but totally fine. We still rode cautiously, keeping clear of the piles of slush and gunk in the gutters and keeping more distance from cars than normal. Down the road, round the roundabout, up the hill over the railway bridge and down the other side – we were doing great! Through one set of traffic lights and then there was just one more turn before we got to the school – almost there. But this time as the light went green and we made the turn I looked ahead and saw that this road was obviously not on the gritting list… I started to slow down, but it was too late. Down went child 1, and then me straight after. We fell hard – a real crack. I have never been more grateful for bike helmets. Thankfully none of us were badly hurt, and there were no cars anywhere near us. A handful of good Samaritans came over to help us up and off the road and to check that we were ok. I had bumped my leg (got a nasty bruise on the back of my calf), and child 1 had hurt a knee. Incredibly child 2 was just shocked but no physical damage done! We all had a cuddle and rubbed sore legs, then pushed our bikes the last few hundred yards. The thing most damaged was my pride, though in the days that followed my neck was very sore – mild whiplash I think. There is a book of proverbs in the Bible (called Proverbs – not the most original, but at least you know what to expect) – one that is quite well known says:

Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.

I hadn’t really thought before about how cycling might help me to grow in humility and patience, but there you go. Life lessons! I am learning that sometimes slowing down and taking things steadier is not just one option, it is the only way. I’ve just started listening to The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, and can see there is going to be some of this kind of wisdom in there too.

As I said at the beginning, it snowed twice last week. We fell off the first time, and by the second time we were much more cautious. We still rode to school, but this time we got off and walked for the sections that hadn’t been gritted. It took a bit longer but it was worth it.

Sharing

We teach our children to share from a young age. Just this morning I was sat in a toddler play group where we sang a song about taking turns! But it seems like we normally sort of grow out of sharing… Why?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week because over the weekend we borrowed a car from a lovely couple at church. We had been invited to gather with a group of good friends at one of their houses in Bradford – to stop over a night and get some quick but quality time in. We really wanted to go but couldn’t see a way the journey would work: with the combination of awkward trains and young children, not leaving until 3:30pm on Friday would put a difficult journey right in the tiredness danger zone (which for child 2 [and me] means grumpiness and not being our best selves). Just relying on public transport would mean we couldn’t go. We needed some help.

I remembered an offer from the lovely couple at church: when we first went car free they said that we could borrow their car if we needed to. We weren’t sure at first about borrowing a car – was this a cop-out on our new car free family life? We really want to press into car free living as much as possible. But having looked at the train times again we decided it was the only way to do this trip, and that it would be worth it. (In carbon footprint terms a small car with all the seats filled can actually be as efficient as train travel, sometimes even more efficient – see How Bad are Bananas).

The lovely couple were true to their word and so kind and helpful about it – sorting out putting me on their insurance and getting everything ready. Arranging to pick the car up took a few messages – at first they were out of town, then I was busy with the kids, but eventually we sorted it. As I walked down to their house I realised that this was the first time I had been round (we haven’t lived here for long, and with covid restrictions there hadn’t been opportunity). We were getting to know one another better and deepening our relationship, as well as lending and borrowing a vehicle. A quick introduction to the idiosyncrasies of this car later and I was on the road… It felt quite odd. And when did petrol start costing £1.50 a litre?!

The trip itself was great. We had so much fun, and having the car meant that we were able to make good time on the Friday evening (arriving before tiredness switched child 2 into manic mode) and didn’t leave until after tea on Saturday – kids in pyjamas, quiet and peaceful journey home. It was very convenient (more thoughts on convenience coming soon), and we were really grateful.

The act of sharing wasn’t quite as convenient (compared to owning a vehicle that lives outside the house!) – getting me added to their insurance, picking up the car, learning a new car, being very aware while driving that the vehicle didn’t belong to me (and feeling a bit nervous about that – especially when the snow started falling!), and then working out how to drop the car back with all the rest of a busy Sunday going on. It wasn’t impossible by any stretch, but it was inconvenient at times. But beyond convenience or inconvenience, in the quiet moments on the drive home I was struck by how sharing just feels better than owning.

I thought about how sharing is different to giving. If I give you something then it was mine, but now it is yours. This can be good – generosity is a virtue, and sometimes this is what is needed – but it means that the interaction can be quite short, and sometimes at a distance. Giving can create and build up relationships, but it can also be done at arms length – it doesn’t build community. But sharing – this is where we sort of both hold a thing at once – it isn’t mine, but it isn’t just yours. We both have a part of this, and so we are in direct relationship. I wonder if perhaps sharing is more oikos than giving…? It is certainly more connected, and a fairer way to handle limited resources.

But in some ways sharing is more costly than giving. Obviously in financial terms it is more costly to give someone your car than it is to share it with them! But our lives are made up of much more than money. Sharing requires emotional investment (ongoing), it calls us to work on a relationship and bear with one another, it can lead to some complication and awkwardness – how do we share costs, etc? It can often save both parties money, and when done well means that both parties gain deeper relationship and connectedness, but to work well this is going to take more work.

For our household there is a faith connection here too. I had a very oikos conversation today with a local community work friend, in which he observed that sharing is quite relevant to Christian faith – I agreed, it’s kind of central! There is an assumption in the Bible that the best way to be human is to be in caring community – to watch out for each other, to give to those who are in need, and to make space with our resources. A beautiful instance of this is the ancient law of ‘gleaning’ – in a book of laws called Leviticus (chapter 19 verse 9-10) you can find this:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

The field and its crops belong to the individual, but God commands that they leave space at the edges for others in need. Sharing – with other people, and also presumably with the birds and wild animals. This is about recognising that the things I have are all a gift from God – gratitude leads me to generosity, and peaceful trust leads me to open sharing. The first Christians in the months and years after the death and resurrection of Jesus clicked into this as a way of life: the book of Acts says that (among other things), “All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  (Acts chapter 2, verse 44-45). It clearly isn’t the case that this radical way of living is exactly how every church is today, but there are plenty of people who carry this DNA. I have seen plenty of examples of quiet faithfulness in this kind of sharing (with me and with others), and I’m sure that there are many more that are never seen – humble, gracious, kind, open handed living. Oikos in action.

I wonder what else our household could share with others? Or what things we could do without owning so that we can share with our friends and neighbours instead… I would love to be part of a library of things but there isn’t one nearby. Perhaps we could start one?

Child 1 has been sitting with me while I write this. I asked what she thinks about sharing. She says…

Sharing is a good way to make new friends and to get along.

From the mouths of babes.

Oikos Christmas

Merry nearly Christmas everyone! There are now just under 5 weeks left until Christmas Day, and with the busyness of the coming season we have already started our celebrations with some family and friends. I had my first mince pie of the season last week, and yesterday I even dug out my Christmas jumper for a first showing!

We love Christmas, but for a few years have also found it a bit of a tense time – finding the excesses of the season more than a bit uncomfortable. Vast amounts of money spent, often on things that are not needed (and sometimes not even really wanted). More food bought and cooked than can possibly be eaten. Plastic plastic everywhere. I don’t want to be a humbug, but rather than making me excited the Christmas excesses just make me feel queasy. This year we decided to do things differently.

Like lots of oikos things, we’ve been working on this stuff for a while but have taken some more intentional steps this year. One big step was writing a letter to our family about changes that we are making for Christmas this year, and suggesting changes that they could make.

Writing this was genuinely a family effort – though Mummy did do most (all) of the actual writing. We all sat down and talked about what kind of things we could do differently this year – making presents or finding them in charity shops, reusing wrapping paper (tied together with ribbons and string). Even before we were car free we had decided to be more intentional with our travel plans – slowing down, not trying to bounce around seeing everyone, making the most of when we did travel – why not relax and save the world at the same time?! And of course, just buying less stuff.

We copied out this letter for each of our family members. We tried to be gentle and clear, to offer practical suggestions as well as explaining why. Everyone took it really well, and we have had some great conversations since about all things oikos!

As with most things we are still working this out, and would love to hear what this journey looks like for you and your oikos too. If you would like some more hints and tips this page from Wildlife Trusts is really helpful.

Merry Christmas!

Cycling and Justice

“The richest 10%… emit nine times more carbon than their share.”

This was reported in a recent BBC News article, highlighting the great disparity between the richest and poorest around the world – I know, nothing new. But it played into something I’ve been mulling for a while: that the way our transport systems are structured increases disadvantage and injustice.

The BBC article starts by looking at the lifestyle of an apparently ‘normal’ American woman, who has 3 cars in her household – probably like many people in the UK. One per adult. It then draws attention to an English teacher called Togonin Severin Togo in Kati, Mali. Togonin’s life is quite different – “Like 80% of people in the world he doesn’t have a car – he travels to work on his moped.”  “like 90% of people around the world – he’s never been on an aeroplane.” Let that sink in. 80% of people don’t have a car. 90% have never been on an aeroplane.

A ‘normal’ Western person, with one car per adult. Compared to 80% or people in the world who own zero cars.

In the UK that figure flips on its head. An RAC Foundation report from 2008 (a bit old I know, so if you have more recent figures then do share in the comments) reckoned that Over 77% of households in Great Britain have a car and because car-owning households tend to have more than one person (most non- car owning households are single person households) the number of people with access to a car in the house is 81% of the total population.”

Running a vehicle is a major contributor to the carbon emissions from most households – not just the exhaust fumes, but also the emissions at the point of manufacture. Electric cars are making this better, but even with this technological advance our love affair with convenience and personal freedom comes at a cost. The fact that some people are wealthy enough to pollute in this way (to their benefit) while others have to manage without is the first level of injustice – everybody breathes dirty air, but only some people get to travel with comfort, convenience and ease. I feel this every day when I’m cycling down our relatively quiet roads, breathing in the exhaust fumes of the cars around me – I add nothing to air pollution in Bridlington, and probably get a bigger dose of it than most drivers. It tastes yucky.

The second level of injustice is what has been bothering me more though. It is about how our whole transport system is structured. In the UK for years – decades – our transport planning has been based on the assumption that everybody will be driving. Distances have been stretched, supermarkets and shops moved out of town centres to places often only accessible by road – a world designed for cars. In Bridlington the hospital has been cut back again and again so now for most things you have to travel to Scarborough, Hull or York – at least 40 minutes by car, far longer without. And public transport has been starved of resources and consistently mismanaged.

If the RAC report figures are right (or even close) then for 81% of people this isn’t a major problem – but that means that 19% of people are at a big disadvantage.

This is where I enter assumption and guess work – feel free to disagree or correct me! But I assume that for most people in the UK who don’t have access to a car that is probably not a choice, and that for many people it is because of limited finances. I also strongly suspect that many people who do own cars can’t really afford it – that the expense of running a vehicle is a very heavy burden. But what choice do they have? Even in a small town like Bridlington the roads are not friendly to cyclists, travelling by foot is hard work or not possible. Bus services are better in bigger towns and cities, but here they are sporadic and expensive.

And once you try to go out of town you find that trains are often prohibitively expensive and not especially convenient. Some friends recently shared that they have had to decline an invitation to a wedding because they couldn’t afford the several hundred pounds it was going to cost for return tickets to London… In our household we can afford it (largely because until recently we were paying for a car!), but the network connections are a total pain.

Structuring our towns, cities and connecting transport networks to prioritise car travel is an injustice – it favours the wealthy and directly restricts those who are not, increasing disadvantage and social exclusion. Restructuring our transport networks to prioritise cycling and public transport is a justice issue which everyone – car owners or not – should get behind.

(10minutes on Google later…)

And OH MY GOODNESS LOOK WHAT I JUST FOUND. A Government Office for Science report from 2019 called Inequalities in Mobility and Access in the UK Transport System, which says:

“There is an urgent need for policies to more explicitly recognise the important social value of transport. Public transport service limitations, combined with largely unregulated land-use development are driving a mobility culture that most advantages already highly-mobile and well-off sections of the population, while worsening the mobility and accessibility opportunities of the most socially disadvantaged in the UK.”

It’s hard being right sometimes.

Wet and Cold

Rain. It was obviously going to come sooner or later, especially in the North of England: our first time when we needed to get somewhere while it was raining. On Sunday morning the heavens opened at the same time that I was getting child1 and child2 ready to go out to church – a cycle ride of just over a mile.

This is normally a very pleasant ride, but until the other Sunday we had never tried it in this level of precipitation. “This is where the car would have been really useful”, child1 observed, dryly. I had to agree with her.

But with no car, and with “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing” ringing in my ears we got all togged up in waterproof jackets and trousers (child2 was in a full splash suit), put our best boots on, and set out into the storm. I pause here to offer you a little ditty: sing ‘If you’re cycling you’ll need, water-proofs’ to the tune of ‘Bulletproof‘ by La Roux – this kept us entertained for a bit 🙂

Child2 was safely tucked in the bike trailer and having a great time (I later discovered that the rain had been coming through the sides and he had essentially been sat in a puddle for half the time – he didn’t seem to mind). But poor child1 was riding next to me, being blown sideways by the strong gusts and with so much rain in her eyes that she said she couldn’t see ahead… “Maybe we should just go home” she said as we turned the corner at the bottom of the hill. But I was meant to be leading a service in 40minutes, so there was no going back now. Lashed by the wind and driving rain we pressed on. Within minutes I could feel the rain running down the waterproof trousers and into my boots.

Thankfully church was nice and warm when we arrived, so feeling a little bit damp (though only our socks and faces I think) wasn’t too bad. We quickly found a drink and a biscuit, and had a pretty good time with our church family while the bikes and water proofs dripped little puddles on the floor of the back room (don’t tell the church wardens).

Putting my helmet on to head home again was grim – soaking wet, and now cold too! The rain had kept up the whole time, so now we were riding back through flood waters – not just little puddles, but inches deep water that sometimes stretched over the whole road! Homeward bound, I knew that we just needed to get there – and the kids seemed to quite enjoy the adventure of it. We laughed and sang songs to each other, and since we were so wet already we didn’t bother about going round most of the puddles – what’s a little bit more water when you’re already dripping?!

Verdict. We tried our best to dress up in ‘the right clothing’ but still got wet and cold – there definitely is such a thing as ‘bad weather’ for cycling. But in the end, it was nothing that a dry towel, a fresh pair of socks (and more for the kids), and a cup of (vegan) hot chocolate couldn’t fix and we genuinely had quite a lot of fun.