Rishi Sunak’s proposal to grant more licenses for oil and gas development, in the light of all the debate about Global Warming and Fossil Fuels, was our first topic of discussion. The world demand for oil and gas is higher now than it was half a century ago- production was nearly 2.5 million tons in 1971 and over 4 and a quarter million by 2020, with reductions only in years of economic slowdown.
The UK’s demand is less now because much of our manufacturing industry has been “exported” to developing countries, in search of cheaper labour. There is a question of whether renewables can cover existing demand, or whether demand can be reduced (and if that is by rising prices the impact will be felt most by the poorest). Britain’s “windfall” of North Sea oil in the 1970s could have been put into a sovereign wealth fund (Tony Benn’s preferred option) enabling some to be sold at less than world market prices to selected users (which is what Russia does today for those it wishes to help). Instead it was privatised, so prices are set by the world market.
Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest is working to develop “green” hydrogen, with the aim of providing a quarter of the world’s energy needs by 2025. China is also moving fast to renewables, but is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
The debate about Climate Change is only one of the subjects that polarises society these days. Matthew Goodwin’s 2023 book “Values, Voice and Virtue” (published by Penguin) describes the growing divergence in UK society between a university-educated, politically “left” leaning “elite” (Goodwin’s word) based in London and the South-East, large cities and university towns; and a far more “conservative” population, whose manufacturing jobs and Trades Unions were destroyed in the 1980s, and who now face a globalised economy and feel themselves looked down on as uneducated, racist and sexist by the same “elite”. One important caveat is that universities themselves are changing, with much less emphasis today on residential communities away from home, which can mould attitudes at a crucial point in students’ lives.
Our reading was from the letter of James chapter 4, where the writer warns against “the conflicts and disputes among you”, which stem from “the cravings that are at war within you”. “Who are you to judge your neighbour?” he says. In today’s society, with social media magnifying our differences, such rivalries can easily become “tribal” and structural antagonisms which conflict with the essential inter-dependence of people. How do we put the genie back in the bottle?
Perhaps one clue is the development of small alternative communities, such as was done by the Early Church in Acts chapters 2 and 4. They seemed puny and insignificant in the face of the Empire, but held the seeds of a new society. The Spanish anarchist communes are another example, though destroyed in the Civil War and the Fascism which followed.
Craig Gardner’s 2018 book “Melodies of a New Monasticism: Bonhoeffer’s Vision, Iona’s Witness” (published by SCM Press) explores this theme, describing “the interplay between discipleship, doctrine and ethics”. A book some of us should perhaps read and share its insights.