It’s November and I’m sad. Over the years I have come to dread November, because if anything goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong in November. Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps it’s SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but it always seemed to become easier to feel more cheerful in December with its Christmas lights. This year is no exception and I’ve found that recently my optimism has evaporated somewhat. The Covid virus is surging again, and I doubt if we’ll adjust our lifestyles enough to learn to live with it. Initial enthusiasm for, and commitment to, a green recovery, which emerged when we saw how the natural world, and ourselves too, benefitted from lockdown, has all but disappeared under concern for looking after the economy.
The recent CiS Ireland Walton lecture by Prof Katharine Hayhoe on ‘Climate change: Facts, fictions and our faith’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNGioY10blE) encouraged us to talk our way into action on climate change. However, just now in darkest November, I’m not hopeful that we will be sufficiently motivated to sacrifice some of our material comforts and some of our consumerist habits to help the planet, or even help our fellow-human-beings both near and far who are already being unfairly affected by both Covid and climate change.
So can I find reasons to be hopeful? TearFund, David Attenborough, WWF, and many others, make us aware and suggest what we can do to help combat climate change and loss of biodiversity. But who tugs at our heart-strings, or more importantly, our purse-strings? Many of us contribute to food banks through our churches. We’ve learned the habit of buying and giving away to help others. Many of us have made significant lifestyle changes to curtail our carbon consumption, but right now I want to do something creative for the natural world. After all, we have a God who is extravagantly generous to the whole of humanity with His provision for our needs through the natural world (Acts 14:17).
It’s about discipleship, how Jesus is Lord of my purse. The penny dropped when I came across two news items recently. The first, on urban greening, https://theconversation.com/urban-greening-can-save-species-cool-warming-cities-and-make-us-happy-116000, was actually published in May 2019. Northern Ireland is often criticised for its lack of woods, but we have lots of trees in our countryside – in the hedges. Check it out next time you have a view across the rural landscape. There are also lots of trees in our towns and cities. So I invite you to notice, admire and celebrate the trees you walk, drive, run and cycle past. Trees are in the parks and along the greenways and also in our streets. I love that we now recognise these trees by calling them ‘street trees’. There are some wonderful street trees around Belfast and I’m sure there are notable trees in all the villages and towns across Northern Ireland. There are trees in our gardens too. These are the ones we are most likely to notice and to care for.
This leads me to the second article, https://markavery.info/2020/10/29/press-release-rewilding/, which introduced me to a new organisation, Rewilding Britain. In their report, they call for local action to rewild Britain. Even though they don’t give details it stirred me to dream. What if our efforts at gardening overflowed into our streets and neighbourhoods so that we created continuous habitats for e.g. hedgehogs? What if we became guerrilla gardeners? They do exist, just like guerrilla knitters. I came across a guerrilla gardener a few years ago, he had worked on an area in East Belfast. We know of communities who’ve adopted road verges and roundabouts to plant wild flowers. One now famous community street garden is Wildflower Alley in South Belfast: https://keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.etinu.net/keepnorthernirelandbeautiful/documents/007112.pdf. So we are beginning to feel more comfortable with ‘wild’ areas on our farms and around our urban areas. Urban greening shouldn’t just be left to our Councils, let’s do it as communities, as churches, as neighbours, ….
It is now the season for Christmas shopping, so let’s think about buying seeds, plants, anything that will grow and give them as presents to each other and to our places - those spaces we own and those spaces we drive along, walk along, run along, cycle along. Let’s put plants everywhere to make our towns and countryside even greener. With wild flowers we need to be careful to use locally-adapted seeds as their genetic constitutions are unique to this island. These are available – see https://trueharvestseeds.org/. A side-effect/benefit from buying lots of seeds and plants is that we’ll have the satisfaction of being consumers. More importantly, every little green plant we put somewhere will help tackle climate change and every little green area created will help biodiversity.
Ethel White is a research scientist in agriculture. Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.