the friend online
02 October 2009


Are Quakers friends of the earth? asks Laurie Michaelis

Quakers have been deeply involved in the green movement in Britain since its emergence around fifty years ago. Friends have tended to join with others in their political engagement rather than work within Quaker projects. For example, Meeting for Sufferings, our guiding body, recently agreed a statement on climate change as part of an initiative by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation to introduce a faith perspective at the Copenhagen climate talks.

For me there is a distinctive Quaker green contribution based in:

  • Our spirituality, grounded in experience and in answering that of God in others. I believe that this is the key to the kind of learning and transformation that is needed for sustainability.
  • Our core values and our commitment to living them, expressed in particular in our testimonies on truth, equality, simplicity and peace, which seem a close fit with the sustainability agenda.
  • Our approach to community – embracing diversity, working with conflict, finding ways forward together through worship and through the Quaker business method.

Living our values is particularly challenging in the context of climate change. With increasingly worrying messages from climate scientists, it is clear that we in the rich world should be striving for zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Most people cannot imagine making the radical changes needed but disproportionate numbers of Quakers are vegans, do not drive or fly and put on sweaters rather than turn on the heating.

In Living Witness Project, we work with Friends and Meetings in developing their green witness. A large part of this is developing Local Meetings as communities – through shared meals, discussion and worship to explore our Quaker response and support individual action. Many Meetings have made decisions to cut their carbon emissions, for instance by insulating their buildings and installing solar panels or heat pumps. Some have taken political action on environmental issues, campaigning locally and meeting with their political representatives. A few have undertaken ambitious practical projects – for instance Birmingham Friends have established an Eco-Centre as a service to the local community in Northfield, providing advice on energy saving and renewables and selling fair trade products.

But it is the Quaker approach to community that has especially drawn me to work with Friends over the last eight years. I feel it is particularly needed in mainstream approaches to sustainability. It finds resonance within the green movement, especially with two organisations that started in 2006. Transition Towns aim to support local communities in becoming resilient in the face of climate change and peak oil. They try to be inclusive (‘everyone is needed’) in developing positive local solutions. Many Friends are involved on the steering committees of their local Transition groups.

A growing number of Quakers are also involved in Climate Camp. Each summer since 2006 the camps have combined building a consensus-based, learning community with taking direct action against companies responsible for some of the major sources of CO2 emissions.

People differ widely in the approaches and activities that work for them. Some love going on demonstrations, others focus on living frugally and others may need to do something practical and constructive. The Quaker strength is in having our different approaches coexist in a corporate witness, providing supportive and reflective spaces where Friends share their experience and encourage each other to live and work closer to the Light. In Living Witness Project we hold twice-yearly ‘Link Group’ gatherings and provide workshops for Local Meetings on request. You may not be sure how your contribution forms part of our Quaker witness, but I am sure it does, so why not get involved?

Laurie co-ordinates Living Witness Project, supporting Quakers in developing a witness to sustainable living. For more information, visit

Laurie Michaelis


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A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

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