Environmental activists convened on Sweden's capital city, Stockholm, last week for Stockholm+50, a two-day United Nations event marking 50 years since the foundation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1972 in Stockholm. The Faith Plans team was there too. Trish Groves reflects on a very busy and engaging event.
Stockholm+50 exceeded our expectations. Not the official event itself, because that was reserved for accredited bodies and government actors, but all the other events that we hosted and attended.
With the world re-opening following two years of coronavirus lockdowns, the Faith Plans team headed off to Stockholm to meet partners and friends of the programme, and to connect with other faith actors working in the faith and environment space.
Meeting partners in person for the first time was a humbling experience. It was refreshing to greet each other without the online personas of Zoom, and to move into the real world of shaking hands (where appropriate), informal meetings over coffee, and shared experiences of travel in a city unfamiliar to many of us.
We arrived on the evening of Tuesday 31 May, with a series of in-person and online events planned for the following three days, returning home on Saturday afternoon 4 June. My primary role was as Communications Officer, taking photographs, recording video interviews and photographs with partners, and sharing images to use on social media.
I also helped a lot with practical tasks such as transportation and route planning; technical issues, of which there were many throughout the week; and finally assisting on Friday evening with the Zoom webinar setup and buffet for the closing reception at the Catholic cathedral building.
A chilling reminder of war
On the evening of Thursday 2 June, as we arrived back in central Stockholm after a day of meetings and events, so did the American aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge. She was moored near to our hotel, looking gargantuan and oversized in the small harbour area.
She towered over the colourful cruise ships and pleasure craft moored nearby, her matt grey exterior imposing and hostile, attack helicopters lined up, ready for action. She was the first of a flotilla of other American military ships was on its way to Stockholm, in preparation for naval exercises in the Baltic Sea.
It was a chilling reminder that there is war on the borders between Russia and the European Union. Sweden and her neighbour Finland are concerned that the conflict may reach them too.
There is debate within both countries as to whether joining NATO would improve or exacerbate the risk. The presence of NATO ships in a neutral harbour may have made that point moot.
Fridays for Future
The Stockholm branch of Fridays for Future organised a climate march on the afternoon of 3 June. While protesters were there because of climate issues, some wore ‘No to NATO’ badges on their jackets and bags. The march was partially blocked by a sit-down anti-war protest, which the police directed the marchers around.
Given that Stockholm+50 was taking place in her hometown, we had hoped to see Greta Thunberg on the march, but had to leave after two hours to get to our next destination. Greta was there, and she tweeted about it later, but we didn’t get to see her in person.
A message of hope
As we left for the airport on Saturday morning, other warships had joined the USS Kearsarge in Stockholm harbour. The celebratory summertime vibe of the harbour was gone, replaced with dark grey reminders of the conflict in Ukraine. With the threat of war adding a new layer of fear to climate anxiety, is there cause for hope? I would argue that yes, there is.
If there is one takeaway that I will bring home with me from Stockholm, it’s that there really is a message of hope. And that message is that faiths have been and will continue to work in partnership and collaboration to protect both people and planet.
I was astonished to discover the breadth of work being carried out by faiths through genuine grassroots action. Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning that if a person is clear about their ‘why’, they can tolerate any ‘what’ or ‘how’. People of faith have an incredibly strong ‘why’, rooted in their faith tradition and their sense of responsibility to steward creation.
I was equally astonished to discover that this amazing breadth of work by faiths had been barely acknowledged by the climate movement or by governments. Perhaps it is because this work does not take place at the intersection of public money, aid budgets and accountability, but at the intersection of faith and justice, where people of faith simply do what their faith guides them to do, without attaching it to a funding framework.
This struck me as being similar in many ways to the ‘invisible economy’ which comprises the unpaid work of women as carers and in the home. Whereas wages paid to, for example, childcare workers, cooks, cleaners, eldercare workers and housekeepers can be quantified in terms of GDP, this same work delivered by mothers, daughters and grandmothers is discounted in terms of its value to the economy. But, without this unpaid army of support workers, the economy would not function.
The same is true of work taking place at the coal face – pardon the pun – of climate justice. Around the world, quietly and without fuss, and often without any budget, armies of people of faith are writing plans, and implementing them. A quiet army who are taking practical action to tackle the key global issues of our time.
This all starts with their Faith Plan. For more information, visit www.FaithPlans.org.