Report – Housing and Energy, ecocell conference January 2015
ecocell ‘Intergenerational Justice’ workshop – the themes were housing, social justice and climate.
More pictures of the event.
Introduction by Paul Bodenham, GC Chair.
Paul described the themes – housing, social justice and climate – as ‘a collision of issues’ of great spiritual relevance. Also mentioned was – these ‘Big Questions’ regarding ‘social spirituality’ are increasingly seen as areas where spirituality has relevance for the secular world. The story of Jesus calling Zaccheus out of the tree to offer him hospitality, was read: can we imagine being Zaccheus? What would Jesus think of our houses and our attitudes to how we use them, furnish them, let others in or keep them out? Later, Ann Morisy asked a similar challenging question about the values embodied in our homes: ‘What would it look like if our homes embodied ‘meaning in life’?’
Ann Morisy ‘The anatomy of a housing crisis’
Anny Morisy, who describes herself as a community theologian, began with a confession that she is contributing to the housing crisis, now living in a large house with unused bedroom having benefitted from the inflation in the housing market over the last 30 years. She called this ‘cheap grace’ and feels guilty and conflicted. In our housing situations personal sin and structural sin are wedded together.
Shelter estimate that the average single person will have to save for 14 years to afford a home (and in London, much, much longer).
She contrasted her situation to her parents. Her mother was born and died in the same rented 2-up-2-down in Bootle.
Things that contribute to the situation: hypermobility of our population – but what is it that keeps us moving?
Renting is seen as a second class option (unlike on the continent)
Lodgers used to be normal but our personal space has become so precious.
Increased life expectancy plays a huge role too.
In small groups we discussed out own ‘housing stories’: people commented how we get sucked into the housing market, and have got used to having more and more space. Some commented that their grown-up children liked renting and saw it as carefree.
Rent control: this was a subsidy that used to be given by law. We used to have mortgage interest tax relief: a different kind of free market – gov intervention has changed to favour older home owners. Why is no political party calling for ‘rent control’ again?
Angus Hanton, co-founder of Intergenerational Justice Foundation
Angus, our second speaker – economist, businessman and parent of 4 teenagers, called us to discuss the challenges of using housing stock better. Currently there are many large houses owned by an ageing population with spare rooms (25 million spare bedrooms in UK) often unable to downsize because of the difficulties involved, whilst whole families can be squashed into 1 bedroom in rented accommodation which is generally poorly maintained. Yet more people sharing a house does mean more efficient fuel use and a lower carbon footprint.
He said we need to keep asking questions about why it was so difficult to do things differently like house sharing, downsizing to a flat (fear of noisy neighbours) and realise that government policies are weighted towards buy-to-let, and giving tax breaks for older people rather than first time buyers. 130,000 homes per year were moving into the private rented sector leading to unaffordability of housing for the younger generation. We have created intergenerational injustice with an inflationary housing market and it isn’t a ‘free market’; these conditions have been created by government policies.
There could be changes to stamp duty, increased capital gains tax, for example; politicians go for the grey vote rather than trying to incentivize and enthuse the younger generation to play a political role. The older generation are living off the younger at the moment and the younger generation are far too good-natured about it in Angus’s opinion. Can we somehow encourage young people to stand up for their rights and voice these concerns? We need to re-think policies as if young people mattered. Perhaps the debate needs to be reframed in terms of benefitting grandchildren.
What could be the role of the church in this? He recommended Ann Morisy’s book ‘Borrowing from the future’ as giving useful insights.
Angus also asked us to think about how we can reduce carbon emissions in our current housing stock.
In our discussions, amongst other things, shared ownership through housing associations was mooted as a way ahead, though there are problems with uncertainty over what happens when one party decide to move out.
The psychological issues around home ownership were aired: ‘the Englishman’s home is his castle’. Ann Morisy said we had a presumed right to pass on the value of house to our heirs (was this right?) …but as families become smaller this inheritance increased. This gives additional momentum to inequality. As Wilkinson and Pickett have demonstrated, any society where gap between rich and poor increases, the level of wellbeing diminishes. And even the more affluent start to lose well-being (there really are diseases of affluence!).
She pointed out that politicians were reluctant to consider policies based on justice. However, democracy is challenged when people vote on self-interest, though this is considered normal. A role for Christians and churches in challenging this?
This dynamic of keeping up with neighbours can drive us, or as anthropologists label it ‘mimetic rivalry’. Christians can also be guilty of an alternative miming of being ‘holier than thou’. Can we escape this ingrained dynamic? We seem to have an assumption that possessions bring security and allows us to relax and enjoy them. However wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness; increasing property can lead to more anxiety, need for maintenance and endless status anxiety- we can’t resist comparing ourselves with others and our houses have become repositories of landfill!
However Ann pointed to anthropologist Rene Giraud’s analysis of Christianity and how he saw Jesus as the scapegoat, in whom these destructive cycles can be banished.
In the New Testament, with Jesus as scapegoat, it’s the first time that a story is written on the side of the loser. Jesus had a profound understanding of the dynamics of blame and saw his death as not the final act; in rising again triumphantly, the scapegoat will return and keep returning in Eucharistic celebration. So the church in its faith has the mechanism to overcome the mimetics of desire and possessiveness.
What would it mean if our houses embodied ‘meaning in life’? this discussion centred around the home as a place of sharing life and conviviality, and not about privacy and solitude. Do we live in the present in our houses?
Shared meals in a house makes it into a home and builds up memories. Nowadays people go out for a meal – lots of people don’t even have tables.
We expect more bathrooms and have moved away from sharing rooms; yet this makes homes less hospitable. We habituate to new things/possessions/space.
With hypermobility we fail to honour place: if we don’t recognize place, we are rootless. Changing of our view of home to a wealth-producing product and the focus of envy.
We played an Intergenerational Game called ‘Born Again’ where we had to imagine we were able to choose when we were born – anytime – past; future and thinking about the implications: life expectancy; benefits of welfare state, pension, education.
Times varied from:
2000BC – a rich sense of community was hoped for, and ancient Egypt got a mention too I think.
AD 200 peace and prosperity; one system of law (Roman) didn’t have to worry about climate change and Christianity was popular if not quite respectable.
One person gave a strong case for 1660 – the beginning of democracy and women had some opportunities.
Many in fact wanted to live in a time without the anxiety of climate change and a few wanted to go into the future in the hope that all the decisions about carbon would finally have been made, some thinking this might happen as soon as 2030!
The aim of the game was to help us to reflect on what’s fair for each generation and how we could avoid the problems we’re facing
Angus then told us about his carbon cutting measures in his home. He had managed in under three years to install a huge range of technologies (money seemed to be no object!) and had cut the home’s overall emissions for gas and electricity from 24,000kWh to a quarter of that and improving all the time. They were now almost self-sufficient in energy having installed solar panels, solar water heating, an efficient boiler, a wood-burning stove, underfloor insulation and draught excluding, low energy bulbs and appliances and behavioural changes. What I found encouraging was that his children had been inspired to think about their carbon footprint too; it’s inspired me to not give up in this area and getting an energy monitor to show electricity usage moment by moment seems a good motivational tool for this.
He stressed the importance of measuring all their energy use and doing this had brought the family closer together. He finished by reminding us that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” Lao-Tzu, 550 BC.
Discussion around obstacles to energy saving and energy generation
Green deal: good intentions but not working – very few people seem eligible..interest rate (7%) is prohibitive 7%..you borrow from the energy company and pay back at interest so no one will do that.
Social class a big factor –the rich can do a lot more, but what is done makes more difference to carbon emissions because richer people use much more fuel. However it is clearly humanly important for people in poverty to be able to heat their accommodation efficiently
Human importance for– different issues.
Must encourage new government to be green..
Community power generation: community cohesion….he got a group from church trying to find roofs on churches and schools – not just reducing C footprint but building community cohesion.
We then split into 2 workshops:
Ann Morisy in hers, presented 3 ways where older people owe something to future generations: past, present and future equal
1) Commitment to be alert to political decisions and lobby for political decisions to be favourable to younger people.
2) Be alert to how we drift into selfishness and self-preoccupation especially in older life.
3) Diligent in pursuing human strengths: developing virtues that help us to age well that can be offered to community.
We are older for longer now so worries we create go on for a very long time; also families smaller. We mentioned making a will, advanced directives for end of life care, giving power of attorney to families and the need to prepare for a time when roles and responsibities can be relinquished in ‘the fourth age of life’. Doing these things signifies a boldness of spirit says Ann! We also must not forget the gift that older people give, and that there is a need for accompaniment and spiritual direction through this phase, as in all phases of life.
The ‘Methodist class’ – a kind of home group – was mentioned, where you could talk about your own vulnerability and brokenness, and lean on other people’s thoughts. We have lost the ability to hear ourselves speak to some extent.
The idea of generativity, mutuality in a household from lifestyle psychologist Erik Erikson has now moved beyond the individual households to grand-generativity, the household being ties into the local community. The example was given of an older woman taking in lodgers and finding their presence refreshing and reassuring. A rather idealistic example of the traditional Japanese custom whereby an older woman without dependents can adopt a younger couple who look after her in return for her giving all her worldly possessions to them was given.
In the UK: there is ‘Homeshare’ run by Age UK but there is a lot of suspicion and anxiety about abuse and exploitation.
Workshop Two by Sibylle Mansour’s workshop.
Panel discussion with Sibylle, Ann, Angus, chaired by Barbara
Question 1. Recommendations for groups that offer research, action in field of fuel poverty.
Sybille recommends her own group Fuel Poverty Action; affordable, clean energy for everybody. Church Action on Poverty have done a lot challenging energy providers e.g. about meter payment extra expenses.
Qu 2. Decentralization of power/energy generation – how widespread is it? Angus: battery technology is coming on; but government are fixated on large power stations; the grid needs re-organizing; for example, Barbara was limited (by her electricity company) in how many solar panels she can put on her roof.
Sybille: we need to get energy back into public hands: lot of money is being siphoned off by energy companies but this could be used locally cf. Germany : cities buying back power grids. Quentin reminded us that 30 years ago it was illegal to generate your own energy so there has been improvement!
Qu 3 This was about learning from past generations in the realm of nature connection: learning ‘the wisdom of nature’ ….the stuff we are talking about won’t take root until we are much more connected with nature and teach our children this.
Ann M said the evolution of Homo sapiens was remarkable: only one of few species where female survives beyond fertility; why? Task of childbirth arduous – needs help; ecology relies on the fact that one group could gather more than they could consume (older woman). We think differently in old age: dialectical logic – energised by paradox rather than right answers. Our culture is getting obsessed by right answers/logic.
Qu.4 What can we say to the first generation not to have enjoyed what parents enjoyed: addressing the politics of disappointment.
Comments: Culture of expectation: we can’t sustain the narrative we have now….need to prick the bubble…how to convey/grapple with this.
Angus: stop tricking the younger generation; always keen to keep pensions, health service; overly respectful; they have been short-changed.ask them to question these things? E.g. pensioner bond; because pensioners living with low interest rates; but first time buyers have this problem too.
Alison Gelder who runs a housing charity said: there is scope to reform housing: cooperatives, shared housing, self build, need to be exploring these things and being positive about these things. Angus: try to move away from private rented being for private individuals.
Bernard from Cambridge Carbon Footprint mentioned Cambridge Ecohomes showcasing retrofitting of green technology: getting green architect and builders involved.
The final word was from Paul and we returned to the story of Zaccheus who as he took Jesus into his home, promised to change, pay back the money he had extorted and give to the poor. ‘Truly salvation has come to this house!’ said Jesus. May we say it of our own homes too.