22nd April 2020 saw the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and Footsteps marked the occasion with an online gathering: Our Cities and Climate.
There were nearly 150 participants in total over three sessions – from Birmingham; across the UK; India; Armenia and elsewhere. Each session consisted of five blocks of pre-recorded contributions: faith community; music, art and poetry; around the world; cities taking the lead; and lessons for Birmingham. There were short periods for reflection between blocks and a 20 minute moderated discussion at the end. Links between the need for climate action and the present Covid-19 emergency emerged as strong themes throughout the gathering.
You can view the pre-recorded contributions, and read more about the contributors on our Earth Day Resources page. The following summary picks up on the ideas that emerged throughout the event, from contributors and participants.
We began with Faith Community contributions reflecting on the twin crises we face, of Covid-19, and Climate Change. Above all, our hearts go out to all those who are suffering and bereaved in these challenging times. The pause for reflection that the more privileged of us are experiencing gives us time to appreciate the Earth, and to consider the damage we are creating. Our interdependent relationship with the Earth and responsibility towards the vulnerable are common themes across all the faith traditions. We hope and believe that we will emerge stronger, more resilient and wiser from the Covid-19 pandemic, with shared values of justice and inclusion for all. This can help us in moving forward in a just transition to net-zero carbon. As we experience a Sabbath for the Earth, how can inaction translate into climate action?
Having grounded ourselves in faith, we drew on Music, Arts & Poetry as a source of strength. Finding joy and connection in the artistic contributions, we are reminded that climate messages need to appeal to the heart and emotions as well as head. When faced with overwhelming challenges, involving the whole person and imagination are both sorely needed. The powerful contributions of two young poets highlighted the need to genuinely bring in youth voices, involving them in creating fresh approaches that appeal and engage. Young people have something to say: are we ready to listen?
Linking the ‘strengthening our spirit’ and ‘cities taking the lead’ sections of the programme, we heard reflections from Around the World. Birmingham faith communities are part of global movements linking rural / urban communities and Global North / South communities. Partly, this connection comes through partnership with organisations such as Jai Jagat 2020 and Climate Action Network. Some Brummies also have personal connections to people around the world being affected by climate change now: losing their homes, livelihoods or being displaced. We witnessed video documentaries that evidence the traumas to rural communities and those that are forced to migrate to cities. Alongside the gradual erosion of traditional rural ways of life, it is clear that trauma to communities post natural-disaster continues for years: in Zimbabwe, 600 families are still in temporary tent shelters one year on from a devastating cyclone. All of this makes clear that a just transition is important in global, as well as local, terms. How can we create a new model of development that supports people and planet?
Following a short break, we reconvened to consider Cities taking the Lead. Cities around the world with devolved powers and the ability to respond locally are taking the lead on climate action, often ahead of national governments. Joined up thinking and intersectional approaches are needed that take into account gender, BAME, socio-economic, and other inequalities to provide real and just solutions. It is important that the transition to net-zero carbon emissions does not leave any communities behind, not forgetting the economic disparity between regions. Living in cities makes it easier to share resources such as housing, transport and amenities, but the issue of food production means we must nurture relationships with rural areas. Could reimagining ‘the city’ as we know it help us to find more sustainable and community-focussed ways of living?
Taking in everything we had heard, we considered Lessons for Birmingham. There is popular support for infrastructure that could help shift our city from its current car-focus to walking, cycling & public transport. There are opportunities to work in partnership with other cities (e.g. Geneva) to develop strategies and measures that can shift cities away from fossil fuels. We have wasted much time in recent decades, but Climate Emergency Declarations by Birmingham and other cities have given a new impetus to make the big changes needed. Climate change will affect everyone, and all parts of the community need to feel part of the effort to adjust to a new future. Following the lead shown by the youth climate strikers, how can we genuinely listen to and include our city’s diverse population?
The concluding discussion drew out and expanded upon many of the themes above, with participants offering suggestions for further reading and for organisations to get involved in. A Final Reflection brought together the threads of sabbath and solidarity, awe and action.
We hope that this event helps spark further reflection, discussion and action, and that you can make use of the resources that have been generated and collated. The key themes that emerged have been fed into Birmingham’s Route to Zero Taskforce, developing plans for the city.
Image: ‘Floella’s Future’ flower display by Birmingham City Council: highlighting the need for action on climate change, at the Chelsea Flower Show 2019.