Thursday, March 10, 2011


A major focus of SAFCEI's work in 2010 will be raising awareness and understanding of the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Durban in December.

We should not think that these conferences, left to themselves, will save us from deadly global warming. In Cancun, Mexico, in December, the world's representatives applauded a deal that in fact leaves Southern Africa on track for lethal warming within the next 50 years.

So it is vital that we in Southern Africa work to get our own house in order, by absolutely rejecting further expansion of coal power, and ensuring that South Africa's new national electricity plan (the IRP 2010) is truly progressive. Warning signs are accelerating:unprecedented floods in Queensland, Australia as this is written; also last year, 16% of hard corals around the world were destroyed by ocean acidification, caused by the increased amounts of carbon dioxide absorbed by sea water.

SAFCEI working with South African civil society, is planning two conferences of African faith leaders and a possible end-of-year summit of world faith leaders. Our aim is to mobilise faith leaders and communities across Africa to increase the pressure on our governments to act decisively.

What do we do locally? Our latest Eco-Congregations News, hot off the press, is available on the SAFCEI website (pdf).

We should not fall into the trap of thinking that the picture is entirely bleak (articles from UNEP's Achim Steiner and New Scientist give hope). Around the world, people are beginning to make extraordinary efforts to reverse climate change and other ecological catastrophes. On our own continent, Ethiopia is planning to be carbon neutral by 2025.

But technology alone will not save us. We need to find the compassion and courage to take responsibility for the suffering that is already being visited on people far away from us, often poor and indigenous people, as a consequence of our all too often wasteful and excessive consumption.

Urgent action is needed: please read's Bill McKibben, who makes a call for civil disobedience on climate change, here:

"Having been given this earth to keep and protect—dominion over a living planet—we're on the verge of wiping away much of creation. In the process we're already making life impossible for millions of our poorest brothers and sisters. This is ... a kind of blasphemy. Global warming shouldn't be a moral question, but because of our inaction it's become the greatest moral challenge of our time."

Theological reflection

From Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the international lay Buddhist organisation, Soka Gakkai International:

If we pay careful attention to the particular characteristics present in even a tiny patch of land, observing and analyzing them within the processes of living there, we can develop the ability to grasp the characteristics of the entire country or even the world.

[The 1930s Japanese lay Buddhist leader Tsunesaburo] Makiguchi introduces the following story about the early Edo-period politician Doi Toshikatsu (1573-1644) to illustrate how the extension and expansion of our awareness can lead from and be based on concrete examples. One day, Doi picked up a discarded scrap of Chinese silk and handed it to one of his samurai retainers. Many laughed at this seemingly insignificant gesture. Several years later, when Doi asked the samurai about the piece of silk, he produced it, having carefully stored it. Doi praised the samurai and increased his annual stipend by 300 koku (the standard unit of wealth in Japan at the time). Doi then explained his actions:

"This fabric was produced by Chinese farmers who plucked mulberry leaves to raise silkworms and spin thread. It came into the hands of Chinese traders, crossed over the great distance of sea to reach Japan, passed through the hands of the people of Nagasaki, was purchased by merchants in Kyoto or Osaka, and finally reached Edo [present-day Tokyo]. One cannot but be struck by the enormous human effort by which it reached us, and thus to discard it as a worthless scrap is a fearful thing inviting the rebuke of heaven.""

To empathetically connect, through a scrap of fabric, with the lives of farmers working in mulberry fields in distant China – this is precisely what I am referring to as inner universality.

In other words, rather than making the great leap to the vast and complex phenomena of life, we should start from the concrete realities of the tiny patch of land where we are now. It is only by paying relentless attention to those realities that we can freely direct our thoughts and associations to the larger dimension. If we develop such fresh and vital imagination, a keen sensitivity to daily life and to life itself, we will be able to experience not only close friends but even the inhabitants of distant lands whom we have never met – and even the cultures and products of those lands – as neighbors.

For a person who has developed these capacities, war, which ravages the land and lays waste to life, is something only to be abhorred.

We will offer reflections from different faith traditions on environmental responsibility in all future newsletters. Your suggestions are welcome.

Other news

Our latest Eco-congregations News, hot off the press, is available on the SAFCEI website (pdf).

• For Capetonians: We invite you to see the movie Carbon Nation, a documentary about climate change solutions, that will be screened at the Labia on Orange cinema on Saturday 15 January (6:15 pm), on Sunday 16 January (6:15 pm), and on Monday 17 January (8:30 pm). “Even if you doubt the severity of the impact of climate change or just don’t buy it at all, this is a compelling and relevant film that illustrates how solutions to climate change also address other social, economic and security issues.”

We urge SAFCEI members and supporters to organise screenings of this film in other regions.

• An Avaaz petition that is currently doing the rounds – and which we are supporting – is against insecticides that appear to be (partly) responsible for the dwindling of bee populations globally. Please consider joining us and adding your voice!

SAFCEI people

A bit of news related to our Management Committee (Manco) is that the Orthodox Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria, Metropolitan Seraphim Kykkotis – a member of our Manco – has been appointed as ecumenical representative of the Patriarchate of Alexandria on various bodies, including the World Council of Churches (WCC), All-Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), the European Union (EU) and the United Nations. Because these duties will require him to travel a great deal, he has been transferred to the smaller Archdiocese of Zimbabwe. We congratulate Archbishop Seraphim on this appointment and are pleased that he is able nevertheless to continue serving on Manco.

Membership renewals

Our members may have noticed that we have not been sending out membership renewal reminders these past few months. We are changing our system so that memberships will be linked to the calendar year rather than to the anniversary of your joining. This is a much simpler and more manageable system. We will therefore be sending out membership/renewal notices to everyone soon for 2011.

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