Marion Shoard | Writer : Broadcaster : Speaker

Thought for the Day

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Thought for the Day given by Marion Shoard on BBC Radio Kent’s Sunday Breakfast programme, 14 April, 2019

As we recall Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday one aspect of the story which makes it so easy to picture is Christ’s mode of transport – on a donkey. The means by which we choose to move around the world is perhaps the most visible signal of our underlying values. 

This choice of transport reflects the degree to which we wish to engage with other human beings. On a donkey, on foot or on a bicycle, you can stop and talk. The same is true on buses and trains. Nothing cuts you off from the people around you. By contrast, motor cars keep us in our own personal cocoon, denying us the chance to reach out one-to-one or hear the concerns and feelings of those around us. 

Cars also bring real harm to other people and to the environment. They inflict noise, danger, injury and even death. They replace woods and fields with roads, roundabouts and car parks. They emit fumes which are so poisonous that 36,000 premature deaths are linked every year in the UK to air pollution. Here in Kent, where air pollution kills more people than road accidents, dangerously polluted sites across the county have increased by a quarter the past year. So we see that Deal suffers worse air pollution than central London and Gillingham has the fourth worst air quality in the UK.

Pollution from car exhausts but also from planes and cruise liners cause huge problems for people in far away places too. Carbon dioxide is the leading gas causing climate change and emissions from cars and other forms of transport are one of the main sources. As increasing amounts of CO2 are emitted, weather-related hazards increase in size and number. Land people once used for growing crops becomes an arid, dusty desert, while other croplands are inundated by floods and others by wildfires. The Environment Justice Network calculates that since 2008 weather events resulting from climate change have been displacing more than 21 million people worldwide every year. That’s equivalent to nearly 60,000 each day. 

Tomorrow marks the start of a fortnight’s protests on this issue by Extinction Rebellion. Their numbers will no doubt include many individual people of faith, including members of Christian Climate Action, who joined protesting schoolchildren last month. One of them reported that many wept as children spoke out on all they stood to lose through climate change. She wrote: “I spent most of today with my arms around people sobbing. The reality of the situation and what it is doing to the next generation and the world’s poorest people is just crippling”.

Let’s hope that over the next fortnight faith groups will be out marching too. Better still that individual churches, mosques, temples and synagogues convene meetings to discuss what action they should take, not least in the forms of transport individual woshippers choose to use. 

Two Swedish women, Maja Rosen and Lotta Hammar, have persuaded 10,000 people to commit to not taking any flights this year through a social media initiative called No-fly 2019, according to the campaigning group Airportwatch. Could a majority of the members of your local faith group pledge publicly to avoid planes, cruise ships and petrol and diesel cars at least for this year? If Jesus were entering Jerusalem today would He be in a Range Rover or on a bicycle? I think we all know the answer to that question, even if we’d rather not confront it.