The Age of Sustainable Development – Review

The Age of Sustainable Development, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, April 2015. Columbia University Press, 160 pages, ISBN 978-0-23117-315-5. RRP £23.95 (paperback)

The Sustainable Development Goals were agreed at a UN Summit in New York in September 2015. There are 17 major goals, expanded into 169 targets. In briefest summary, the heads of state and government representatives set an agenda for “transforming the world” by ending poverty and hunger, protecting the planet from degradation, ensuring all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives, and fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies free from fear and violence. Their intention is that this be fully implemented by 2030.

No one is better qualified to engage with the complexity of this than Jeffrey Sachs, economics professor, advisor to governments around the world and especially to Kofi Annan and now Ban Ki-moon (who wrote the book’s foreword).

The 540 pages of The Age of Sustainable Development are beautifully produced. The style is brilliantly clear and accessible; the scope is broad, the scholarship deep, the importance huge. Sachs argues that sustainable development is the greatest, most complicated challenge humanity has ever faced. The world is uncertain, complex and confusing, faced with powerful vested interests, and with long lead times in building infrastructure. The problems are multi-generational. We have little time left to face up to the challenge of moving economies and societies on to sustainable development. If we do not make this change peacefully, equitably and urgently, it will be forced on us by ecological disruptions in coming decades.

What is needed is, first, a careful analysis of the complex interaction between the three primary factors of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability – to which Sachs adds a fourth: the need for good governance; and, second, proposals for practical action at local, governmental and international levels. Sachs offers both in what is one of the most important books published in 2015. He notes that the first clear diagnosis of the challenges of facing global limits to growth was in 1972, challenges that were reaffirmed by the Earth Summit in Rio (1992), and then “we have frittered away the last 22 years”. “This is not exactly a world standing on the precipice and acting with due urgency!” “For a species that depends on the beneficence of nature … we are doing a poor job of protecting the physical basis of our very survival”.

Sachs describes the analysis that is needed as a “science of complex systems”, namely the interconnectedness of the ecological and human systems on which we depend. This involves the global economy (and the scourge of extreme poverty), social systems and institutions (inequality, social mobility, discrimination, social cohesion), our environmental life-support (living within planetary boundaries – the safe operating limits of the earth’s carrying capacity for a growing human population), and the problems of governance (including the implications for democracy of the huge lobbying power of multinational companies).

The success of the Millennium Development Goals (2000 – 2015) in reducing extreme poverty give weight to Keynes’ insight that technological progress can bring an end to extreme poverty. The greatest challenges are in Africa (with high fertility rates) and South Asia (with high population density). Is it possible to reconcile the continued growth of the world economy with the sustainability of earth’s ecosystems, growing population and diminishing biodiversity? Many environmentalists argue that we must cease the quest for limitless growth, at least in the Western world. Controversially Sachs believes that choosing the right technologies and radically reshaping the world’s economic institutions will enable us to achieve continued growth while honouring planetary boundaries. This is the hope of political and business leaders, but there must be serious doubt about the feasibility of indefinite growth in the “safe space” of the planet’s ecological limits. Whether Sachs takes human sin and selfishness seriously enough is a question. He does not give as much attention as Joseph Stiglitz (The Price of Inequality) to the failure of political institutions in reshaping our current damaging economic structures.

Much of the book is given to practical policy proposals. Sachs aims for a broad-based prosperity, eliminating discrimination, empowering women in the work force and in their reproductive health. He argues for investment in education (human capital), at all levels- particularly in the poorest countries. He is scathing about the social and educational policies of the US (and the UK) that contribute to growing inequality and low social mobility in what used to be “the land of opportunity”. Good health is at the centre of well-being, and Sachs has a ten-point plan for investment in health in the poorest countries. How a world of 9-11 billion people will feed itself is a major question, requiring changes to industrial agricultural practice and creating a sustainable farm system. We need to abandon turning corn into ethanol for cars. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, Sachs provides pointers in planning, water supply, waste management etc. for creating more resilient cities. Sachs has major chapters on climate change and the urgency – despite powerful lobbies to the contrary – of ceasing our dependence on fossil fuels; and on biodiversity, including deforestation, in the face of major species extinctions.

Sachs concludes with a look forward to the Sustainable Development Goals, of which he was a major architect, having headed the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. If – as is greatly to be hoped – these goals truly represent the political will of the world’s leaders, what is needed now is action.

Dr David Atkinson (Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Southwark)

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The Economics of Hope, 7 Nov 2015 speech by Paul Bodenham

Paul Bodenham, Green Christian’s Chair, was the introductory speaker at the Economics of Hope conference on 7 November at Bristol (seen on the left of the panel)eoh

Download Paul’s talk in pdf format.

See also: The web editor’s Report of “Economics of Hope” with links and photos

Powerpoint by Molly Scott-Cato the second speaker


Apparently there is no patron saint of economists. Perhaps it is time there was – whom would you nominate? We could go for the patron saint of bankers – any guesses who that might be? (No, not Judas Iscariot)

Matthew 9.9: Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

It must be the shortest conversion story in the Bible, but what a lot is packed in to that encounter. Of all the people milling around that Jesus could have called, he spotted Matthew and chose him. Here was someone in thrall to the economic system of his time, who had sold his soul to the Empire. So too had his tax-collecting colleagues – together they had become a byword for rapacious and treacherous self-interest.

But we don’t escape Matthew’s challenge. There is an empire in our midst today bent on eternal expansion. More than we are Jesus in this encounter, we are Matthew, exacting the empire’s toll day in, day out, from the world in which we live, and of course taking our own commission, both in ways we are aware of, and in ways we are not.

But the foundations of this empire are beginning to crack and subside, even as Rome’s were in Matthew’s time (even if he little knew it). Since 2007 observers of the global economy seem to be living in permanent anxiety. As a society we are becoming increasingly aware of the compromises in which we are enmeshed. We, here today, are among the many who are uneasy that the economic powers and principalities care little or nothing for true humanity or the Earth’s precious matrix. It’s not just us – look at the Corbyn phenomenon, or read the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’. We know it can’t go on, and yet we go on, seemingly entranced by the social conventions of late consumerism, and captive to its most insidious strategem, peer pressure.

The call to the Matthew in us today is, as an Irish friend of mine would say, to catch yerself on’, to discover that we are the ones busy at the tax-booth of empire, to realise that the empire has us just where it wants us. But then also it’s an invitation to look up and be locked by Jesus’ arresting eye, and hear him say ‘follow me’. Even then, that’s not all – we then must do the simplest and hardest thing, precisely as Matthew did – to get up and follow him.

Matthew the tax gatherer just ‘got up and followed him’. But where? And how? Not much sign of a managed transition there. Matthew the evangelist – possibly the same Matthew, possibly not – leaves us to work it out for ourselves.

Welcome to this second conference for Joy in Enough. Some of us met in Birmingham 18 months ago, for an event which was sold out two months in advance. Some of us, before and since have been contributing to working groups to scout the terrain for a just and truly sustainable economics.

We have been learning that justice does not have to be merely about mitigating the harms being inflicted on planet, people and other species by a relentless and implacable economic machine. We are not content with merely adorning the dismal science with social graces. We have discovered something far more exciting: that economics can be a joyful art and a sacred enterprise. And we have learnt that for us and for our society, it can be, and indeed must be, the theatre of spiritual renewal, both in the churches and in society at large. Good economics can unleash a culture of hope, for humanity and the earth. That is our subject today.

Our intention is that today will be very far from just a one-off event, but only a milestone on a longer journey, a lifetime’s journey, towards a world that finds Joy in Enough.

There has been a prophetic strand of witness for economic justice from the church’s very earliest times, despite many compromises, but the churches have yet to fully recognise the implications of limits to growth, let alone use those limits as a starting point for creative advocacy and salvific story-telling. There is work to do that is both theological and political, but above all it is a task that is humane. And unless we do that work faith-led activism for economic justice will continue to collude with a system addicted to toxic growth and debt. Our campaigns may bring justice to the excluded of today, but it will be justice at the cost of violence to future generations. The communion of saints deserves better than that.

The first aim of Joy in Enough is therefore to build acceptance that faith-based economic advocacy must acknowledge and respond creatively to environmental limits. In fact it is within those limits, framed if you like by the margins in the book of creation, that the good news of our true humanity is written.

Secondly we need your help today to clarify long-term aims for a nationwide spirited movement to build a just economy within the ecological limits of the Earth. We envisage it as a movement energised by faith, wherever it is found, but it need not be the sole property of any faith or group. What we can do today is harness the transformative renewable energy laid down over centuries of Christian tradition, and the prophetic impulse which rouses us in divine discontent.

As well as clarifying the aims for a movement we need to conceive what such a movement will look like in practice. How do you campaign for a one-planet economy? What can we learn from experience, for instance from the Occupy movement. By many accounts that was a noble failure. Why? … Was it because it framed the struggle as between good (us, the
99%) and evil (them, the 1%), with a narrative of self-righteous victimhood, when in fact the same impulses are on manoeuvres in us all? If that is the case the problem is not people or vested interests but cultural values and relationships, and the campaign objective must be that social awakening which Christians call repentance.

Campaigners generally endeavour to craft bite-size asks which can be put to politicians to act on within the parliamentary timetable. But whom do we tackle to shift values, and what do we ask? How do we campaign FOR positive values, rather than simply denounce an ethical demon? How do we own our own hypocrisy in a way that does not just wound us but empowers us? Are we just biting off more than we can chew?

Well, I’m here to look for answers, but I suspect we will need new approaches to finding them. Let’s start today, by breaking the silence on growth and debt (or is it a taboo?). Let’s conceive the possibility of change and help other people conceive of it, let’s map the co-ordinates of an alternative in terms which will excite and inspire, and perhaps, if we get that far in one day, let’s trace a common journey towards its realisation.  All this will come down to real things being done with real funding by real people, like the real people here today. So one of the things we hope for from today is to conceive the organisational infrastructure to build, sustain and co-operate in the movement, and identify individuals and groups who are ready to contribute actively.

So we hope that ‘you’ will join the ‘us’ so that together we build a spirited movement for a just economy within the limits of the Earth’s capacity. The most important piece of paper you have been given today is not the programme. It is the feedback form which asks you how that movement should take shape, and what part you might play.

Crucially we need to make strategic choices, quite quickly, of the interests and actors, both friendly and hostile, with which Joy in Enough will engage and the policies and practices which we will advocate. That is why we have the wide range of workshops on offer this afternoon. They are not just for your entertainment – please tell us what you have learned from them for our next steps.

So let us work together to find how to form a culture for good lives. This ties us back to our point of origin today, the transformative role of spirituality, but it will be a spirituality rescued from its current captivity to individualism, and recognised as a public good, indeed the greatest conceivable force for public good.

We will review everything you tell us in our sessions and on your feedback forms. Having absorbed what you tell us, we will consult early next year on how we propose to might rally our churches to answer the call of the gospel.

The foundation will be a new theological  framework, one which proposes not only that we believe in one God, but that we believe in one Earth, and that we become truly human only at its scale and in its embrace. The road to joy draws us, intimately, into the incarnation, by which God surrendered Godhead, took on the limits of God’s own creation, and showed the way to true flourishing for ourselves and the whole creation.

The meeting at Matthew’s cash till is a meeting not only of human beings, but of cosmic antitheses. One is an agent of the Roman Empire’s relentless logic of expansion and growth, driven by extrinsic goals, striving on the upward path of supremacy and wealth at any cost. The other is sent on God’s downward way, spending himself in the gift of creation, drawn by intrinsic values, seeking a home in the Earth he had given himself to make, and scarcely finding one. These two trajectories, upward and downward, accumulating and letting go, crossed paths at the tax booth, and the rest is history. Those two same trajectories meet in us who are here today, in each of us. Which one will you follow? And where?

To help you find an answer, and to help you help us, we have two wonderful and important speakers. I am delighted that Molly and Jonathan accepted our invitation, themselves coming from two very divergent disciplines. The road between economics and spirituality has been little travelled. Few go that way, and those who do are still pioneers. But the road between economics and spirituality should be one of the richest intellectual trade routes a culture can have. We have work to do, Molly and Jonathan, and we look forward to the help you can give us.

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The London Peoples’ March for Climate, 29 Nov 2015

GC members at Downing Street

Green Christian members at the entrance to Downing Street

A good number of Green Christian members were able to join this march, quite a few travelling some distance to be there. A dozen of us joined the Interfaith Gathering at Westminster Synagogue which was standing room only. There were six speakers representing Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism together with Voltaire Alvarez a former co-ordinator for climate change in the Philippines.
Dr Ruth Valerio from ARocha cited an Environment Agency Report from a few years back which listed 50 things to save the planet. The second most important item on the list was a mandate to religious leaders to make this a top priority within their faiths. Describing her own faith, she talked about the Trinitarian God who is a God of relationships, which can be seen in the context of us and God, and also the myriad of inter-relationships with the natural world which we might also describe as ecosystems. Put very simply Climate Change is evidence that those relationships are going wrong and we should do everything we can to tread gently on the earth and rebuild what is broken.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg talked about the Creator God and Nature, and how the desecration wrought by mankind means the earth is crying out for healing. He cited Hans Jonas’ ‘The Outcry of Mute Things’ as a revelation for our generation and more recently Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ which calls the world together with our voices raised in both joy and pain.
Voltaire Alvarez from the Philippines explained how their thousand plus islands were suffering the effects of climate change – since 2010 there had been around 25 typhoons a year – equivalent to two every month and getting so much stronger. He thanked groups worldwide for the solidarity that had been shown with the Philippines and strongly urged that the Philippino voice needed to be heard in governmental debates here in parliament and elsewhere.
After all the speakers there was  some mediation time, an Interfaith Prayer that we said together and even a discussion with our neighbours about our next personal action for Climate Change. This amazingly fitted into about 50 minutes.

We then set off to join the main march, walking first through the leafly parts of Knightbridge and Hyde Park, before joining the main march on Park Lane. It was estimated about 70,000 of us marched.
Jo Greenwood reports: The rally I thought went well. I thought the talks by the Children of Conservation group and Friends of the Earth were particularly good. The Children of Conservation group talk was simple but got the message across – that in the past nothing much has been done about Climate Change despite marches all over the world, this year that has to change. They asked everyone to sign their petition. Charlotte Church also sang a song about Climate Change and changing attitudes.


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Action at Leeds- Climate Service, March and Rally 28 Nov

Many Climate events have been taking place up and down the country today. Judith Allinson took the train into Leeds and braved the cold rain on Sat 28 November


FLeeds Minsterour small groups walked in 3 miles from the four corners of Leeds on Saturday morning to Leeds Minster in central Leeds. Well over 100 people (130?) met inside this large church with its dark woodwork for a service. Bishop Paul Slater gave a few words and a blessing. (No photos allowed in the service)







Jemima the Diocese Environment Officer gave some instructions about the upcoming march





After the service we were joined by all the others going on the march (maybe 300 or 600- I lleeds-climate-reep-by-j-allinsonook forward tleeds-climate-20151128-by-j-allinson-11o an official report) .






We marched through Leeds









leeds-climate-20151128-by-j-allinson-24to a place near the Railway Station outside the Unitarian Church. We were going to hold the rally and speeches outside, but with the extremely cold rain we were very grateful when the church let us hold the meeting inside.



Where it was warm and the acoustics better. We learned that there are 3000 similar meetings taking place round the world today  and tomorrow. Some of the people who spoke to us will be going to Pairs.



Here are more notes about the more about the speakers at the church and the rally..

leeds-climate-20151128-by-j-allinson-03Three talks were given at the church by the speakers on the right: the meaning of “Climate change” was widened, I think, to include “Environmental effects of our exploitation of the natural world and other people”

George from Tanzania told how his family and ancestors had fished from Lake Victoria – and that it used to have 400 different species of fish – by 1995 it only had 200 species of fish. and since about that time the locals had mostly stopped eating the fish because they were caught and exported – meaning that they were too expensive for local people to buy. He said that David Livingstone  (and co)  had brought the three Cs – “Christianity”, “Civilisation” and “Commerce” but that biodiversity was disappearing.


Peter Bloodsworth told us about San Salvador where he has worked. And how the local people have noticed the climate has been changing over the last 10 years – They can no longer predict when (or if) the rains will come, and instead of heavy thunder storms they get drizzle.

Daisy (aged 11) was a brilliant speaker and talked about now and the future.

It is the future that we are doing this march for!!!



More pictures:


Leeds  Councillor -told us about some of Leeds City’s greener plans – though some are now thwarted by central government cutbacks.  80% of people in UK live in cities and by 2050 80% of the world will live in cities. A motion has been passes by Leeds council 2 weeks ago opposing fracking.

Leeds is a bad city for clean air.


This lady talked about how women are affected by climate change.


David Midgley from Shumacher North talked about the “For the love of Yorkshire” festival,and we signed a petition which is being taken to Paris.










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Green Christian Editor arrives at Paris by bike

Clare Redfern has just arrived in Paris by bicycle and writes:

We had a wonderful time cycling through beautiful woods, quaint villages, past farming both small scale (initially) and large scale.

Into the industrial landscape around the canals of Northern Paris and had to negotiate the heavy traffic of the centre of Paris. Finally to the Seine and Notre Dame shining in the sunshine and only a few armed policeman around who seemed amiable.

A very convivial welcome at the aptly named St Merry – an ancient church close to Notre Dame – for all pilgrims. I spoke to a Korean Buddhist, a man who had cycled from Vietnam with his wife (only took 10 months), a woman from Hamburg who had been walking over 5 weeks, also The Tearfund walkers pilgrimage but only two people from Africa (Congo and Senegal). But I couldn’t see Euan McPhee!

Our small group had only cycled for 3 days in great comfort, however we joined in, offering our tattered Stop Climate Chaos flag, we also performed a song ( a recycled version of Widecombe Fair).

We also all sang a Phillipino song, Taize chants and prayed.

Now it’s Saturday and we have come to the huge basilica of Saint Denis for a multifaith ‘spiritual moment’. Very cold in the basilica but we are warmed by the music and meditations. Bishop Graham Usher gives an inspiring message about Christ’s arms spread wide on the cross to heal all of Creation.

Now nearby handing in a petition to be given to Christina Figueras along with petitions from groups around the world. Stirring words about the spiritual dimension of COP21 and the need for climate justice. Moving words from the leader of pan-African Congress for Climate Justice and the need for deep decarbonisation, a concerted and sustained effort. Then Christina Figueras spoke, the French environment minister and more religious leaders from around the world. Finally there was a singer and (hilariously) Madame Figueras, a German Lutheran pastor, a catholic bishop started spontaneously dancing up on the stage!

Thinking of all those marching and dancing for climate justice around the world today and tomorrow.


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A GC member writes to her MP before London, and later Paris

Ruth Jarman from Hartley Wintney writes to her MP:

Dear Ranil,

As you know, for the next two weeks world leaders will be meeting in Paris to try to reach an international agreement to keep global warming below 2°C.

I just wanted to let you know what my community is doing to show our support for an ambitious and just global agreement.

  1. You received a petition calling for action at Paris with nearly 300 signatures from Churches Together in Fleet & Crookham last week.
  2. Our church, St John’s, Hartley Wintney, has its prayer room set up to pray for Paris – both for the atrocities and for the climate talks, and is participating in Pray and Fast for the Climate.
  3. On Sunday, a group of Christians from Hartley Wintney and Fleet are attending the Interfaith Event at the Westminster Synagogue before joining the London People’s March for the Climate.  Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world will be marching for this weekend calling for radical and fair action on climate change at the conference.
  4. On Friday 11th December I am travelling with my daughter and a friend to Paris for the last weekend of the conference.  We understand the march has been cancelled.  But we feel that we still want to be there to witness to the moral imperative that sufficient action is taken by the end of the talks.

After the Paris atrocities, action on climate change seems even more important.  Even moderate climate change will cause further droughts, famines and suffering that will fuel conflict and terrorism.  One clear response to the Paris attacks is for people of all faiths and none to work together for a urgent and just agreement at the Paris climate conference.

You know how shocked I have been by the Government’s dismantling of low carbon policies, while top scientists and economists call for firming-up climate commitments, both for investor confidence and to give impetus to the Paris talks.  And just today I learn that DECC has slashed its forecasts for new renewable power capacity by more than a third over the next decade – hardly surprising, but terribly disappointing and laying bare the consequences of policy changes introduced since the May general election.

I hope that you also will be following the negotiations closely and will be doing all you can to support the very best outcome possible.

I hope and pray that the outcome of the Paris negotiations will bring some hope and that, as my MP, you will join me in taking strong action on this issue.

I would be very grateful if you could pass on this letter to Amber Rudd at DECC.

With best wishes,


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Pope Francis visits Africa – points raised in Kenya

Mark Boulton picks out some key points:
(including riding in a gray honda, climate change and ivory poaching)
in the CNN report on Pope Francis visiting Kenya : 


Pope Francis speaks out for Paris talks and against illegal trade in ivory

 Francis’ arrival in Nairobi, Kenya was itself a lesson in humility. He rode from the airport in a small gray Honda, dwarfed by a convoy of shiny SUVs and sleek Mercedes carrying Kenyan officials.

Pope Francis celebrated a historic Mass in Kenya on Thursday before delivering a stern environmental warning just days ahead of a key climate change conference in Paris.

“It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects,” the Pope said, urging nations to reach an agreement over curbing fossil fuel emissions.

He urged politicians to work together with the corporate and scientific worlds, and civil society leaders in finding solutions to stop environmental degradation.

No country, he said, “can act independently of a common responsibility. If we truly desire positive change, we have to humbly accept our interdependence.”

But it was Francis’ comments on the pillaging of African resources that drew a louder response from the crowd.

He said Africans cannot afford to remain silent on the illegal trade in precious stones and the poaching of elephants for ivory, which “fuels political instability, organized crime and terrorism.”

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Green Christian Magazine editor sets off for Paris by bike

Clare at the GC stall at the Reconciling a Wounded Planet conference in Coventry

Clare at the GC stall at the Reconciling a Wounded Planet conference in Coventry

Clare Redfern wrote this afternoon:

I can write something a bit longer when I get back

Today I’m off to Paris by bike (well cycling the French bit, then back on Eurostar). The  demonstration before the COP21 is cancelled but I’m going along with 10 others as a pilgrimage to show our concern about climate change and to pray for a binding and effective agreement amongst the nations gathered there. It’s very cold now since I agreed to do this in a balmy September but I have my thermal gear packed and in the light of recent events, that’s a side issue. We also go in solidarity with all those whose lives have been and are being devastated by terrorism.

You might like to read some recent blog posts of Caroline (who got me interested in doing this). She’s been highly organised and got a letter and petition to hand in; I haven’t managed that but please do look at her suggestions of what you could do instead:



Editor: We’ll be thinking of you – cycling-

and Caroline of Climate Stewards

and Euan McPhee and Dave Barton and John Fogarty

and Jean Leston (walking)

and Paul Kelly Eurostarring..

Other Green Christian members – do tell me if you are going.


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