By Cath Sutherland
Cath is a retired humanist celebrant and a former Humanist Climate Action committee member. In this article, she states her belief that Humanists UK should provide guidance to humanists about how to react to the existential threat to the future of humanity posed by the climate crisis.
The leading Dutch humanist Jaap van Praag (1911-1981) made a distinction between ‘little fights’ and ‘big fights’ in humanist campaigning. ‘Little fights’ may include, for example, campaigns for humanist marriage and abolishing dead letter laws concerning blasphemy. Big fights, on the other hand, relate to those issues affecting the whole of humanity such as existential threats to our continued existence. At the Humanists UK Annual General Meeting in Liverpool last month, I submitted the following motion to put pressure on Humanists UK to give greater prominence to the ‘big fights’ on their website, and in its publications, publicity and campaigns. Setting up Humanist Climate Action was a good start, but mention of the initiative is tucked away in a corner of the website. It’s not listed under ‘Campaigns’, and you are unlikely to come across it unless you already know what you’re looking for.
This is the text of the motion I submitted:
Humanists UK is to be congratulated for setting up Humanist Climate Action as one of its sections, and for the progress HCA has made so far. HCA should continue to follow the policy of Humanists International, of which Humanists UK is a member, to 'foster a social and political commitment to urgent action and long-term policymaking to mitigate and prevent climate change'.
In addition, Humanists UK will adopt the following:
Humanists UK recognises that the climate crisis along with other damage that humans are inflicting on the natural world, as described by scientists, are an existential threat to the future of humanity. Humanists UK should provide guidance to humanists about how to react to this threat. This guidance should be prominent and frequent in Humanist UK communications.
Humanists UK should add a fourth tenet to the three tenets of humanism as displayed on its website. The fourth tenet should read that Humanism recognises that humans are part of the natural world and totally dependent upon it, and therefore should protect and nurture it.
Humanists UK should encourage humanists to make their voices heard about the climate crisis and other threats to wildlife, individually or as part of international or local campaigns, organisations or movements, or by actively supporting Humanist Climate Action.
Humanists UK should encourage humanists to adapt their lifestyles to reflect the need to lower carbon emissions and protect the natural world.
Humanists UK will commit to an environmental audit of its work and activities, and take into account environmental impacts in all of its future policies and campaigns, just as Equal Opportunities or Human Rights impacts are already taken into account.
Clauses 2, 3, and 4 were passed by the AGM. Clauses 1 and 5 were not passed but they were referred back to the Trustees for further consideration. I strongly believe that Humanists UK should provide guidance to humanists about how to react to the existential threat to the future of humanity posed by the climate crisis and other damage that humans are inflicting on the natural world. If it chooses not to, I think there’s a serious risk of humanism being seen as less and less relevant to people. I sincerely hope that the Trustees of Humanists UK will agree and I look forward to hearing the outcome of their deliberations.
In February, Humanistically Speaking published a two page Manifesto on the Future of Humanism making the case for humanist campaign priorities to be reviewed so that a coherent humanist position can be formulated on the climate crisis and other pressing issues.