Back in February 2007 on the day that the physical science section of the 4th IPCC report came out I was teaching environmental ethics at Oxford Brookes University. My wife, Margot, was then Chaplain of Jesus College, Oxford. She had been asked by the BBC to take a special service to coincide with the publication of the 4th report for BBC Sunday Worship on Radio 4. The theme was "Creation held together in Christ" and the preacher was Sir John Houghton. We all gathered early Sunday morning in the Jesus College Chapel. The choir were amazing, with wonderful hymns, and the message was crystal clear. We even had a special recording from Rev Rich Cizik, then Vice-President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and a tireless worker in the churches in the United States for action on climate change. Margot had bags of appreciative post after the service. We wrote up this story and the background to it in our 2008 book "Cherishing the Earth." The 4th IPCC report made it very clear that we had a lot to do, and that the time available was short.
It turned out that 2009 was a significant year for us as Margot began a new job in charge of the Haddenham benefice in Buckinghamshire. We soon found ourselves involved in the local Transition group, and I answered the questions after several showings of "The Age of Stupid" the climate change documentary drama film. Late in 2009 activity on climate change ramped up in all sorts of ways. We saw "Climategate" come and go, we went on "The Wave" climate change march in London. And then there was the huge disappointment that was Copenhagen United Nations climate change meeting. It is fair to say that before Copenhagen many environmentalists were hopeful that we could "solve" the climate change problem, and that afterwards hope tended to evaporate.
Some things happen by chance, or maybe you could say God plans them rather well. In the autumn of 2010, Margot attended the "Society for the Study of Christian Ethics" meeting in Cambridge, which was on the theme of "Climate Change". She got talking with Ruth Valerio of A Rocha UK. Both had been theological speakers on the "Hope for Planet Earth" tours and elsewhere. They often follow scientists like myself with the idea of providing "Christian hope" after the rather dour environmental message. As time had gone on, and particularly following Copenhagen, that hope had become less proximate and more eschatological. In other words it had changed from "we can fix it" to "it will all work out OK in the end". So hope was running a little thin. Thus began the "Environment and Hope" project which filled a lot of my time from 2011 to 2013. The first thing Ruth and Margot did was to gather a small meeting of theologians, scientists and activists in Oxford in October 2011 to thrash out some ideas. I did a short talk on the present environmental situation to stimulate the thinking. After that we decided to go for a bigger meeting at High Leigh Conference Centre in May 2012. There we had 60 people, many of whom are involved in communicating the news about climate change and other environmental problems to Christian audiences. Again I did a talk, and this time I was joined by the theologian, Richard Bauckham, and Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth in the UK. We really felt that we needed to publish all this material, and it was Richard Bauckham who suggested that it could go into a special issue of Anvil, the theological journal.
We had deliberately kept the "Environment and Hope" project broad in its remit. So climate change was in there, but it was not the only environmental issue we covered. However, whilst we were in the middle of the project an opportunity came up to really focus on climate change. Andy Kingston-Smith and his colleagues from Redcliffe College in Gloucester were planning their "Carnival Kingdom" book and they asked us to look at "Climate Justice". So quite a lot of the summer of 2012 went on that. I covered the science, the policy and the action, and Margot contributed some theology. The book appeared in early 2013. Almost as soon as I had finished "Climate Justice" I moved on to helping Margot, who was guest editor of the Anvil edition, get it all together. We just made the deadline, getting it in on 31st December 2012 in time to go to a New Year party! But then Anvil hit some delays. We did some updating in the summer of 2013 though, and the whole volume went live on 5th September 2013 around three years after Ruth and Margot kicked off the whole process. Crucially it was out in time for the release of the 5th IPCC report.
On Monday 23rd September 2013 the scientists from the IPCC gathered in Stockholm to deliberate on the final version of the Physical Science component of the 5th report. Meanwhile on the evening of the same day we were holding a rather different gathering, the official launch of the "Environment and Hope" issue of Anvil, at Ripon College Cuddesdon, nr. Oxford. We knew that the summary for policy makers for the 5th report would come out on the following Friday. Where were we on that Friday? Well six months before I had booked to see Fleetwood Mac at the O2 stadium in London. Rather a different musical style to that in Jesus College Chapel at the time of the 4th report in 2007! It was a brilliant, brilliant concert. The highlight for me, and for many others, was the appearance of Christine McVie to play with her former band, for only the second time in fifteen years (she had also played the previous Wednesday). She only played one song, her famous "Don't Stop". The lyrics of the chorus go like this:
Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.
Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow. Throughout Friday 27th I had been picking up the news on my phone about the 5th IPCC report. Once I heard "Don't stop", I just could not get the words out of my mind. I should explain that the song is actually about the breakup of Christine's marriage many years before, but those words, "Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow", just kept nagging at me. It just seemed an incredible thing for me to hear on that particular day. And they are the reason I wrote this blog. The day after the concert we returned home, and my first job was to edit the comments that Sir John had sent me concerning the 5th report and to get them out on the web. And the following Thursday I was in Aylesbury speaking about the 5th IPCC report. I don't think I will stop, well not anytime soon! And I would encourage anyone who reads this to "Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow."
Martin Hodson (8th October 2013)