Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Time to apply Isaac Newton's third law more widely

Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton was dealing with the world of physics but the law has application to almost every element of our daily lives.

The law came to mind recently when Apostleship of the Sea chaplain Sister Marian Davey told how seafarers working on ships bringing food into the UK and Ireland are being forced to live in such appalling conditions simply so that people here can have cheap goods.

They are working in a totally unregulated market where the ship owners get away with paying as little as possible and provide poor working conditions. It is these “savings” that allow the big companies to sell their goods so cheaply in the UK and other European countries.

Sister Davey predicted that prices would leap up in the supermarkets if goods were being brought in by a British or European fleet operating under European labour law. “Our ignorance of the role these people play in our lives amounts to acting as though they don’t exist,” said Sister Davey.

The Newton law has resonance in the area of finance as well. Whilst, the banking industry has been rightly castigated over recent times for its corrupt activity, the benefits from the industry have been mentioned less often. For many years the tax returns from the banking sector helped provide the funding for the NHS, education and welfare state. No one should forget that. Yet, only recently have some of the nefarious activities of these organisations come to light. It has only been as eyes have been opened to the banks directly ripping people off in this country that the anger has mounted. Whilst they were exploiting the poor of the developing world via unjust debt deals, many just turned a blind eye but it was another case of an action having a consequence.

It was the injustice of the way that world markets operate that led to the birth of the fair trade movement. Fair trade seeks to ensure that those producing the goods are not ripped off. They produce the food, the middle man or woman is cut out, so that a just return is received.

The fair trade movement has grown incredibly over recent years showing what a difference consumer power can make. It also shows the real goodwill of people, once an injustice is exposed.

Ethical investment is something else that has grown over recent years, with people investing in what are considered ethically viable areas. This can vary from putting money into funds that do not invest in areas like the arms trade and tobacco or companies that produce carbon neutral energy sources.

The substance of the Newton Law has helped inform the thinking that has led to the Live Simply movement namely living simply in order that others may simply live. This has particular resonance in the area of combating climate change. As knowledge has grown so more and more people have become aware that human beings cannot go on living in such a reckless way, destroying the planet. The human being may very well be the most advanced form of life but it is also the most destructive. There is the power for great good or huge destruction in the human being.

Ideas like stewardship of the earth link to living responsibly, with respect for all of God’s creatures. This belief grows stronger but the economic system still encourages greed and selfishness.

There is a growing realisation that the whole world cannot live like Europe and North America. The world does not have the resources to sustain such a lifestyle, indeed it is thought such development would require five planets like earth.

There is an increasing awareness of Newton’s law and the need to have greater respect for every form of human life that shares this planet with us. The destructive capacity of human kind though remains. It would truly take some revolutionary change for humanity to really start living within its sustainable means. It would require that those living lavish lifestyles of the type referred to by Sister Davey agreeing to have less, whilst the billion plus living on less than a dollar a day in the world saw their lifestyles improve. All this would have to happen in a context that countered climate change. Living simply would have to become the rite for all.

As Christians it is something that we should all be endeavouring to do in our individual lives and as part of communities. Living ethically and sustainably with true concern for the consequences of our actions makes up a real Christian way of life. The Church as made up by its people must act in this joined up and holistic way. It is not good enough to simply nod toward ethical sustainable behaviour with an occasional act in support of charity. Christianity demands more, namely that we all live just lives with true concern for the equal and opposite consequences of our every action.

1 comment:

  1. Paul,

    Thanks for this, especially the opening. I had little awareness of this issue, but constantly questioned how goods produced the other side of the world could possibly be cheaper than ones produced locally.

    In terms of Christian response, you are absolutely right. But the mandate requiring us to change and live sustainably goes far deeper. Bulgakov, the great Russian Orthodox theologian of the last century, used to speak of humanity as 'living earth' - that spirit-filled part of creation called to resonate creation's response of love and praise to God. This goes way beyond concepts of stewardship. Our calling is to be God's blessing on creation. Not its curse.

    We are endeavouring, up here on the English borders, to develop a praying community as part of the Church, that integrates this response, drawing on the deep well of Anglo-Saxon monasticism, re-scribed for today. See www.bewcastleminster.org.uk