In 2012 some 900 Quakers from around the world met in Kabarak, Kenya for the Sixth World Conference of Friends. The gathering had been organised by the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC), with the theme ‘salt and light’. How could Quakers collectively and individually, despite their small numbers, ‘season’ wider debate and actions? What light could Quakers shed on the problems of mankind?
Sustainability was a particular focus, and the conference issued the Kabarak Call for Peace and Ecojustice, which said:
…Now humanity dominates, our growing population consuming more resources than nature can replace. We have heard of forests cut down, seasons disrupted, wildlife dying, of land hunger in Africa, of new diseases, droughts, floods, fires, famine and desperate migrations…. There are wars and rumours of wars, job loss, inequality and violence. We fear our neighbours. We waste our children’s heritage.
All these are driven by our dominant economic systems –by greed, not need…
Is this how Jesus showed us to live? ....
The Kabarak Call was the culmination of FWCC’s worldwide consultation process on ‘global change’. It reflected thinking and action long before 2012, and challenged Friends to intensified effort in the years to come.
In 2016 300 Quakers from across the Quaker world met in Pisac, Peru, where a key theme was ‘living sustainably, and sustaining life on Earth’. The group focusing on this theme noted that:
We see that our misuse of the Earth’s resources creates inequality, destroys community, affects health and well-being, leads to war and erodes our integrity…
We are at a historical turning point. Internationally, the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals oblige governments to take action. Faith groups and other civil society are playing a major role. As Quakers, we are part of this movement. …
We recognise that the environmental crisis is a symptom of a wider crisis in our political and economic systems. Our loving and well-informed environmental actions as Friends, consistent with our spiritual values, must therefore work to transform these systems.
Many of us all over the Quaker world are taking practical actions as individuals and communities…. We must redouble our efforts right now. We must move beyond our individual and collective comfort zones and involve the worldwide Quaker community and others of like mind. Just as Jesus showed us, real change requires us to challenge ourselves to be effective instruments of change. We can do more.
A broad concept of sustainability permeates all of this. It recognises that sustaining a world that works for all of humanity requires addressing the underlying social and economic factors as well as the physical environment itself. Phrases like ‘right-sharing’ of the earth’s resources, and ‘right-relationship’ with each other and our planet try to express the moral imperative of this concern. Quakers increasingly see this understanding of sustainability as a testimony in its own right. This poses a deep spiritual challenge – how to live, what to do? How can we live in right relationship with the Earth and with each other? What might right sharing look like?
Quakers globally and locally continue to wrestle with these issues.
Some undertake research, so that the implications are better understood, and so that Friends can speak from a sound knowledge base. There is educational work to disseminate information and learning materials through conferences, workshops, newsletters, study packs and social media. There is work on influencing political processes through lobbying, issuing comments/statements on policy issues, through quiet processes of non-formal diplomacy, and/or through nonviolent direct action.
There is a strand of activity around economic justice: working to understand the current economic system and to propose sustainable alternatives. Deep concern about climate change continues to permeate current work. Another closely related focus is Earthcare - environmental sustainability more generally, encompassing climate change and much else, such as the effects of economic activity on the earth and use of non-renewable resources, and the implications for the way we live. Related to this is work on sustainable energy and on food security.
There are many individuals and groups trying to make their personal lifestyles as sustainable as they can. They can be examples to others and show what is possible. In Quaker language, they are letting their lives speak on these matters.