Earth Summits

Often what we learn in Religious Studies interweaves with other school subjects.  For me that’s the best bit about Religious Studies: you can be considering evil and suffering and link it to the Holocaust which you’ve just been learning about in history, or you question how the world was created and remember about science and geography knowledge about rock formations and tectonic plates to support your arguments.

In the old AQA GCSE we have the topic of Planet Earth which is hugely influenced by science and geography learning. We have to know how the international community tries to deal with climate change and other environmental concerns. So we start with Rio…

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At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 countries of the world met to discuss how we could promote sustainable development, that is develop our industry that doesn’t ruin the environment.

Rio earth summit stage shot

An earth summit is a conference of 100 or more world leaders debating global environmental and development issues, and specifically refers to that first big summit which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Since then though the term has also been applied to similar events…
history of countries meeting to save the planet
 We don’t need to know all of these but it is useful to see that every year or so world leaders have been meeting to discuss and agree on how we should treat the environment. Now in most teenagers’ memories there should be 2015. The year that Uptown Funk, Cheerleader and Take Me To Church dominate the airwaves, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was all anybody wanted to see at the cinema. Well 2015 was also the year of the Paris World Climate Summit.
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Whereas the common folk love a selfie, the politicians just love an official line up at the start or end of big conferences. Here most of them were in 2015:
leaders at paris
A lot of people were really excited about the Paris World Climate Summit because it gave the world the chance to agree on how they would reduce climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The world had an agreement but it was running out in 2020 so time was of the essence to agree on something new. Discussions were heated but eventually the world’s countries came up with  a “historic, durable and ambitious” plan:
  • Developed and developing countries alike are required to limit their emissions to relatively safe levels, of 2C with an aspiration of 1.5C, with regular reviews to ensure these commitments can be increased in line with scientific advice.
  • Finance will be provided to poor nations to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather.
  • Countries affected by climate-related disasters will gain urgent aid.

So people start shouting,”Three cheers for the world”, “Hip hip hooray”, but you should rarely celebrate when world leaders keep on changing and the new man in town isn’t a huge believer in climate change.

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Already Trump has started to tear away pollution laws put in place by the previous US president, and the big fear is that President Trump will pull out of the Paris agreement.

If world politicians aren’t saving the planet, what might religious believers be doing? Perhaps they are donating money to or supporting groups such as the Christian Operation Noah, Christian Aid, and the Global Muslim Climate Network. Or they are out protesting, writing letter to MPs, joining pressure groups like Greenpeace, voting for the Green Party, recycling more, fitting solar panels to their houses, driving electric cars, walking and cycling more often, and praying.

Or maybe they think like President Trump and don’t see climate change as being real at all.

Turning Rubbish Into Fuel

They are environmental debates which rage on: how should we dispose of our rubbish and how should we create electricity?

The Italian city of Rome is currently sending its rubbish to a waste-to-energy plant near the the Austrian city of Vienna. The rubbish is travelling by train up through Italy and across the Alps through Austria. The special deal came about because the EVN thermal waste utilisation plant in Austria has spare capacity, as in it is not being worked at 100% capacity and needed some extra rubbish. Rome was looking for somewhere to get rid of its rubbish in a greener way which lead to this special deal.

The Science Channel has a short video which explains how rubbish can be turned into energy using the example of trash from New York’s St Patrick’s Day being burnt and turned into electricity.  Going back to those trains of rubbish it may seem counter-intuitive to carry rubbish over 1,000km (620 miles) before disposing of it, but it is part of efforts in the European Union to make cities reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. “It is not crazy,” insists Gernot Alfons, head of the EVN thermal waste plant. For him it is an environmentally friendly solution and the rubbish trains are key. “The other alternative would be to put this rubbish into landfill, which creates a lot of methane emissions that create a lot of impact in terms of CO2 emissions. It is much better to transport this waste to a plant which has a high energy efficiency like ours.”

In Norway they developed another clever use of rubbish landfill sites by collecting the dangerous methane which is emitted from the rubbish and turning it into electricity. Even some British cities sent their rubbish over to Norway to be dealt with in their incinerator plants.

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There are green, environmental issues which should not be forgotten with this energy source: byproducts include bottom ash, which is sorted for metals and then recycled as fill for road construction or other projects, and fly ash, which is toxic and deposited in a landfill certified to handle hazardous materials. Meanwhile air emissions are cleaned through a series of scrubbers and filters and come out “far under what’s actually permitted,” in terms of air quality laws.

The journal Scientific Reports shows that human caused climate change is affecting extreme weather

The 2016 AQA Religion and Life paper asked what problems were caused by climate change and today’s article in the Guardian underlines the way that weather patterns such as heatwaves, droughts and floods across the world had the fingerprint of climate change on them.

Large scale wind patterns are largely driven by the temperature difference between the poles and the tropics. But global warming is altering this difference because the Arctic is heating up faster than lower latitudes and because land areas are heating up faster than the oceans.

“It is not just a problem of nature conservation or polar bears, it is about a threat to human society that comes from these rapid changes,” he said. “This is because it hits us with increasing extreme events in the highly populated centres in the mid-latitudes. It also affects us through sea level rise, which is hitting shores globally. So these changes that are going on in the Arctic should concern everyone.”

Extreme-Weather-and-Climate-Change-Infographic

Linking climate change to extreme weather in a Religious Studies exam is a canny move, as you can then refer to its impact on people. Christians might be concerned as we’re born in God’s image; that the Parable of the Good Samaritan showed to Love thy Neighbour; that the Golden Rule wants us to do unto others as we would have them do to you; and that we should protect life as all life is sacred and holy (sanctity of life). Buddhists might be worried too about the extreme weather’s impact on people because the first precept is to not harm; they are concerned about metta (kindness); as well as compassion to others.

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Are animals safe in zoos?

In the UK zoo inspectors will go and check on zoos incase they are mistreating animals. There are numerous laws to protect animals:

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Recently zoo inspectors said they had found “significant problems caused by overcrowding, poor hygiene, poor nutrition, lack of suitable animal husbandry and a lack of any sort of developed veterinary care” at South Lakes Safari Zoo.

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The Guardian reports that one African spurred tortoise named Goliath died after being electrocuted by electric fencing, while the decomposing body of a squirrel monkey was discovered behind a radiator. The zoo had a death rate of about 12% of its animals a year. Can you think of any more pros and cons of keeping animals in zoos?

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Religions have an opinion on zoos too: how do their teachings affect what they think of zoos?

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Recycling – it’s a mess nationally

The charity Keep Britain Tidy has called for a more uniform method of recycling nationwide after exposing that there are almost 300 different schemes happening across Britain. The average waste that is recycled across England is 42% (EU targets by 2020 is 50%) but some authorities have as low as 15%. This is compared to somewhere like south Oxfordshire that has over 60%.

When Keep Britain Tidy started as a charity in 1954 its first focus was on reducing litter and trying to get people to put litter into bins. Since then it has transformed into an important pressure group which tries to influence government policy on local spaces and waste reduction.

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A pressure group can be described as an organised group that does not put up candidates for election, but seeks to influence government policy or legislation. They can also be described as ‘interest groups‘, ‘lobby groups‘ or ‘protest groups‘.

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Oral contraceptive hidden in Nutella the plan to reduce the number of grey squirrels in UK

Contraception: the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.

Oral contraceptive (the pill): are hormonally active pills which are usually taken by women on a daily basis.

Currently there are almost 3.5 millions grey squirrels in the UK. They are not indigenous to the island, instead brought to the UK by US landowners in Victorian times. Over hundreds of years they have dominated over the domestic red squirrel and attacked broadleaf trees. Moreover the most significant threat associated with grey squirrels is the spread and transmission of a disease called squirrelpox virus (SQPV). It can take only one grey squirrel to introduce this virus to a local population of red squirrels and then the virus can spread throughout the reds with devastating effect.

The number of red squirrels is down at 140,000 and the hope with this oral contraceptive plan is to humanely limit the reproduction of grey squirrels so over the next five years their numbers drop to 300,000. The plan has made the headlines because of Prince Charles’ support of it. A tongue in cheek article by the Guardian reports on these sterilisation plans.

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Should humans be meddling so much in animal numbers or should they leave nature to run its course? Do the grey squirrels have rights to be able to reproduce or should humans be intervening to save the red squirrels in the UK?

Laws to reduce pollution might be less likely in USA

How might someone (possibly a person of faith  if we’re thinking GCSE RS but in reality anybody) reduce the effects of global warming; put a stop to climate change; conserve the environment; protect our world for the next generation?

In list form: pray, protest, sign a petition, give speeches, attend Earth Summits; join a political party, join an environmental pressure group such as Greenpeace, join a charity which cares for the environment like Christian Aid, give sermons in a place of worship reminding people of the importance of our earth… and try to get governments to make laws protecting the environment.

This might be less likely in the USA now that the US President has cut the funding of the Environmental Protection Agency and a Republican politician is contacting colleagues with the idea of getting rid of the Agency completely! It was President Nixon all the way back in 1970 who created the Environmental Protection Agency with the mission of: making sure the US “plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment”.