Short-termism could be the end of us…

Guest post by Green Christian member, Edward Gildea

When our ancestors built their churches, they could have had little idea of how long their creations would last. They worked for the glory of God for a future they couldn’t possibly imagine. Many of the stone masons and labourers in cathedrals around the world never saw their work completed. There is a delightful phrase for such long-term perspectives: “Cathedral Thinking”.

Sadly, society in this country and around the world is lacking in “Cathedral Thinking”.  Great civilizations build for great time frames, way beyond the economic or pragmatic needs of the present. Thank goodness the Victorians, building our sewage systems and railways, also built for posterity. Our politicians, however, think in very short time frames, specifically the desire to get re-elected in 3 or 4 years’ time.

Such short-termism is reflected in promises of tax cuts, which will no doubt intensify as we approach the General Election, as politicians try to win popularity regardless of the consequences. Those costs and consequences will become the liability of future generations.

It seems that such short-termism is an inevitable component of democracy. Long term interests are necessarily side-lined in favour of vote-winning. To get elected you have to court popularity which means that democracy struggles to address the climate crisis. It seems that international collaboration is equally incapable of mandating effective action to address the crisis: national self-interests result in loopholes being built into most agreed statements.

So if neither democracy nor international collaboration are well placed to ensure the future of humanity, where should we place our trust? The Church is doing its best to show leadership, with its target of reaching carbon zero by 2030, but compared to the immense financial resources of multi-national corporations, its influence is peripheral…

Unless we can really change hearts and minds.

It is not going to be the carbon footprint of heating and lighting our beautiful churches that make the difference, but the changed mindsets and lifestyles of our congregations, their families and friends and the friends of those friends in ever-widening circles. Because let’s face it: politicians don’t actually lead. They tune in to what seems to be a popular in the press and in the polls and then follow those trends, pretending that they have taken the “difficult decisions”.

So how about becoming a trend-setter?

For those struggling on tight budgets, and a recent report says that there are 6 million people in in the UK living in “very deep poverty”*, the short-termism of surviving from day to day is the only option. But those of us who are more comfortably off can perhaps give more consideration to our legacy. As we enjoy the benefits of those who bequeathed our churches, perhaps we should ask, “What will future generations think of the legacy we leave?”

*Joseph Rowntree Foundation UK Poverty Report 2024

Edward Gildea writes magazine articles for his local church, St Mary’s, Saffron Walden in north west Essex, each month. He has kindly given permission to anyone to re-edit for your own parish newsletters. Please credit him and his church website.

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Author: Ruth Jarman | Date: 7 February, 2024 | Category: Climate Emergency Opinion | Comments: 0

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