Epistle: “A Quaker Response to Collapse” from Friends at Woodbrooke

To Friends and Seekers of Truth everywhere,

from a group of Friends from both sides of the Atlantic as we gather in worship to discern ‘A Quaker response to climate collapse’ on Zoom in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is an epistle agreed with participants of a Woodbrooke course led by Jackie Carpenter in May 2021.

The subject of climate collapse (the title we started with) or societal collapse in a time of climate breakdown (the title we developed together) is of such overwhelming importance, that we wish to share our findings.

Our understandings are diverse. Some of us feel that collapse is now inevitable with a real possibility of the end of life, at least the end of life for human beings and many other species, while others believe that moving forward to a sustainable future is still possible and even likely. Our differing viewpoints do not prevent us from experiencing a sense of relief in the discussion itself.

As Quakers, we believe in speaking the truth as we understand it, even when that truth is unpopular or unpleasant. We cannot know what the future holds and ‘The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI)’, may or may not be inevitable, but it seems clear that our lifestyle of driving, flying, and denial of the spiritual nature of this finite Earth and its eco-systems cannot continue. Humanity is facing a time of extreme challenge and holding onto hope for a miraculous turn-around may be avoiding the truth. We recognise that many people are already facing challenges and disrupted lives. Perhaps the time has come for more people to speak about this, and for Quakers to help them.

Studying the fear of death and hearing about terror management we find that death- anxiety drives people to adopt worldviews that protect their self-esteem and worthiness so they feel they play an important role in a meaningful world. This may be an illusion, but we know it is hard for human beings to change from deeply embedded belief systems. We find that helping each other cope with a change of attitude, grief tending to include helping children face their grief, and new ways of thinking about the future are becoming increasingly important practices.

In sharing ideas about ?hope? we discern that for some of us, moving from feeling hopeful (possibly as a form of denial of an unpalatable truth) to a state of acceptance can leave us hope-free, not hope-less.  Reframing the future enables us to reach an understanding that the end might be nigh but that life and love goes on. We discover this reframing to be a powerful even joyful process of unburdening, finding it helpful to be free to discuss what living well and dying well might really mean. Giving up expectations of having to rescue the future personally is enormously liberating, and allows us to focus on living simply, staying local and building community in the present.

Once we accept that climate collapse may be an imminent possibility that could happen suddenly, like snow sliding off a roof, we may choose to change the actions we currently take to reduce our damage to the world. As we become more aware of the loss of habitat for people and wildlife and the anguish of inequality, we are inspired to work to reduce harm. Whatever the future may hold, we believe that it is important to walk forward with a sense of joy, love, and compassion for ourselves and for all of creation, working to reduce inequality and injustice in all places.

In our discernment, we find an acceptance of the real possibility of collapse to be liberating. It becomes a relief and pleasure to talk about how to live with what is. It may lead us to listen with greater compassion to those around us struggling to come to terms with their fears and difficulties, and to take steps to help them live and die better, helping one another up with a tender hand. We consider that Quakers could be poised to become midwives and comforters of the challenging times ahead of us.

You may contact the group through jackie@friendshipcohousing.org.uk