By Robert Howell, Canberra Regional Meeting.
It was really great to hear the strong affirmation from Friends at Yearly Meeting (YM) that they wanted the Peace and Earth-care Office to continue, and learn of the pledges from individual Friends who made the financial position secure for the next year. I am glad to say that a successful performance appraisal has now been carried out, and the contract has been signed. I can reassure Friends who may be concerned about Australian Yearly Meeting (AYM) acting responsibly as an employer, that from my viewpoint this has been done properly.
Letters sent to Parliamentary leaders, the press release, and the submission to the Senate Inquiry in recent trends in, and preparedness for extreme weather events, were for me highlights of YM. I unwittingly played a part in this at various key stages. It was at times chaotic trying to keep track on which version was approved by whom for whom, but also rewarding in that eventually the widespread concern of Friends about climate warming had found some public outlets.
There has been a wide range of feedback to the document ‘A Vision for a Peaceable and Sustainable Australia’; Quaker Voices, distributed by email in 2012.Comments range from “amazing and inspiring “ to “looking backwards nostalgically towards a rural idyll which never really existed”.
There was also the issue of how Regional Meetings were going to support and use it, if there was not wholehearted agreement about it all. This had to be balanced against not wanting large amounts of time to be spent in revising it throughout 2013, and regarding it separately from a This We Can Say document that took a long time for everyone to be in complete agreement with.
There are some areas in the December version of the Vision document that need review, but can be done relatively quickly. Some need more discussion and thought throughout our meetings. One of the most significant comments was from a non-Quaker personal friend of mine whose comment I cite with permission:
Energy descent – we are already on the decline and this will accelerate over coming decades. The peaking of fossil fuels means we will have considerably lower energy available per capita (even with a population decline). In my view the Vision document does not take this reality into sufficient consideration – renewables cannot replace fossil fuels, and we should not confuse “renewable” with “sustainable” – most renewable technologies are in fact not sustainable because they continue to rely on mining and the fossil fuels needed for mining. The sun and wind will always be there – but concentrating them requires quite sophisticated and largely unsustainable technologies.
This factor needs to come out much more clearly in the Vision document because some of the feedback assumed that humankind can have access to sustainable energy at current levels and above. This factor has major implications for how we see the future of Australia around such issues as manufacturing, food production, building, transport, and electronic communications. For our Australian centralised decision-making processes and business-as-usual global economy, we are dependent on levels of unsustainable energy.
The Peace and Earth-care Committee and the Peace and Legislation Committee met on the 8-9 February for a planning weekend. Coming out of this was the decision that we should aim to have the revisions done quickly (without implying that we had all the answers) and get the Vision document onto the AYM website for discussion by Quakers and non-Quakers.
Also from that planning session was the aim to have background papers on specific topics (like the Peace Committee Alerts) that could form the basis for discussion at local meetings. Energy is obviously one that should get priority, but there are some, such as water, that could be done without large research effort. I am in the process of developing a work-plan to include these elements for discussion with the two Committees.
A report on the Summer School held during YM has been prepared by the YM Planning Committee, as part of an evaluation of YM, and this should be available soon in Documents in Retrospect on the AYM website. In the report there are summaries of four Summer School sessions of especial relevance:
· Responding to the Footprint Challenge: Transformational Change (Bob Douglas);
· Structured Workshop on Niki Harré’s book (Jill Sutton and Christine Larkin);
· The Open Space Workshop (John Michaelis and Vidya);
· Peace Initiatives (Margaret Clark, David Purnell and Harold Wilkinson).
These summaries prompt the questions:
§ What changes in Australian life do the Committees want to promote over the next three years?
§ What are the most active organisations/institutions/individuals working on similar goals?
§ Are there any threats to peace and sustainability that are not actively or adequately being addressed?
§ Where can Quakers, both individually and corporately, throughout Australia, best put their efforts to add value in supporting others, and/or making some new initiatives?
§ How can this effort be Spirit led?
The Committees have begun dealing with these questions. It is a work in progress, and as the details become more focused they will be communicated to Friends around Australia so to enable engagement and feedback.