by Marilyn Mason
It’s now more than three years since the BHA decided to join the Stop Climate Chaos coalition (now The Climate Coalition or TCC) and asked me to be their volunteer representative. This inspired the creation of a new humanist interest group, Humanists for Better World (H4BW), with the broad aim of ‘putting humanist values into action - because the whole world is in our hands.’ Since then, the BHA has also joined the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Anti-Slavery International, and my fellow organiser and volunteer Richard Norman and I have attended the meetings and conferences of TCC, JDC and Anti-Slavery, as well as the occasional demonstration where we have been joined by the occasional humanist.
We set up the H4BW website, which passes on actions and news from these and other campaigns on global issues such as poverty, justice, human rights, the environment – and later moved it to become more accessible as a section of the BHA website alongside other humanist interest groups. And very recently we set up a Twitter account, @humanists4bw as a quick way for humanists who tweet to keep in touch with our news and campaigns. We have grown in numbers and hope to continue that growth, as we know that many, perhaps most, humanists are interested in the global issues that we cover, and that humanists probably think longer term than the average politician or businessman and see only too well the many connections between the various issues. It has been interesting to observe, alongside our expansion, the expansion of The Climate Coalition which now includes organisations as diverse as the RSPB, Population Matters, Greenpeace, CAFOD, Frack Off, the Woodland Trust, Oxfam, WWF, the WI, and many more groups large and small, national and local, that accept the scientific consensus on climate change and understand the potential negative impacts on their causes. (Humanists who support any of these organisations are thus already part of TCC.)
H4BW’s basic principles, interests and aims and have not changed much in the three years we have existed. The world is no more peaceful than it was then (rather the contrary); human rights are still under threat in many places; poverty, hunger, and exploitation of the poor still exist; and, despite our ‘greenest government ever,’ climate change and environmental sustainability remain low priorities for most UK politicians. The articles that Richard Norman and I wrote then explaining H4BW for HumanistLife, which disappeared when the website was hacked into and vanished, still represent our perspectives and have just been republished here. We know that all the causes that H4BW promotes don’t all appeal to all humanists, and there was hostility from a few members to the BHA getting involved with causes that are not central to its remit. But we firmly believe that humanists should not stand aside from the big moral issues of the day, letting the religious take all the credit for being ethical, and that we shouldn’t talk a lot about being good without religion while ignoring opportunities to act for the common good. (One of the names we considered for our group was “Humanist Action” – still my favourite – but we were told it was already taken.) And in any case, to borrow and adapt a Muslim tenet, “There is no compulsion in Humanism”. Right from the start we have seen it as our task to pass the requests for action on global causes that come our way, but to leave it to individual humanists to sign up via the website to receive these requests and then to choose which ones to support.
As Lord Deben (formerly Conservative MP John Gummer) reminded those of us at the recent Climate Coalition AGM, anyone can write a letter or email – and letters have a disproportionate effect. The BBC responds when they receive just 25 letters of complaint on the same theme (as they did recently to well over 25 complaints about the inclusion of climate change deniers like Nigel Lawson to ‘balance’ discussions on global warming). MPs assume that for every letter they receive, there are 40 or 50 voters who think the same but didn’t bother to write. Lord Deben’s extra insight and advice was that it is worth getting to know your MP and what makes him or her tick, and to use that knowledge in your correspondence, be it protecting the countryside, energy or food security, jobs, concerns about refugees and immigration… He also reminded us that ‘Puritans never win!’ – it’s useless urging everyone to give up all the things they value and enjoy, even if that could lead to a better world. Somehow we have to move towards a better, fairer, more sustainable world without making the journey seem too painful – a challenge for humanists and everyone else.
Marilyn Mason runs Humanists for a Better World (H4BW), a network of UK humanists with interests in ethical and global sustainability issues. She is a former Education Officer of the British Humanist Association.