Welcome to the blog of Martin and Margot Hodson! You can find out a lot about us by visiting our web site at www.hodsons.org We do not think we will use this blog very often, but we will use it to let people have details of some of our publications our speaking engagements and conferences. Some of these things seem better on a blog than on a web page, and this looks a bit easier to do as well.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Christmas Letter 2020 Martin and Margot Hodson

Martin and Margot Hodson's Christmas Letter for 2020

Dear All,

Everyone in the world will say that 2020 was a different year to normal, and we are no exception! We began the year extremely busy with numerous in-person speaking events (remember those?). The highlight was Martin’s weekend trip to Guernsey in early March supporting our friends from A Rocha UK with two speaking events on Saturday and three sermons on Sunday! But then quite suddenly everything changed, and words like coronavirus, lockdown, and social distancing dominated our lives. We have been very blessed by living in such a wonderful part of the world, The Cotswolds, and we can just walk out of our Vicarage into the amazing countryside. We also have a massive garden, and actually managed to grow quite a lot of food this year, a first for us.

Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice

Alvescot Open-Air

Margot’s parish work rapidly switched from quite formal services to online film making. And when we were allowed to we had some great open-air services at Alvescot where they have a large area of church land under a huge old oak tree next to a car park- a perfect setting. Towards the end of the year there have been tentative, very careful indoor services once more. Perhaps best of all though has been the development of a fellowship group from a Lent Course, and that now operates on Zoom.


But with travels much reduced writing continued or even accelerated. Martin published three academic journal articles in 2020 and completed a two and a half year project as lead editor for “Frontiers in Phytolith Research”. That was a major job! 

Not long into the pandemic the Grove Ethics committee decided that they needed a COVID booklet. They needed it quickly- just three weeks. Working with our friends, Ruth Valerio and Tim Howles we made it with a day to spare, and “Covid-19: Environment, Justice and the Future” was published in July. 

We published our “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues” back in 2015, and it sold fairly well, but was getting a little dated. So we approached our publishers, BRF, about a second edition, and they agreed. It needed a lot of work to update it, but the 2nd edition should be published in April next year. Finally, at the same time, BRF will publish “Green Reflections”, a collection of the Bible reflections we have written over the last few years, and some new ones.


Holidays? Well, we were very grateful to fit in one at a cottage in mid-Wales in October, in between various lockdowns. We did lots of walking, saw friends in a socially distanced way, and even watched a few films!

It has, of course, been a very sad year for many people, and we have shared in that sadness. In April the President and founder of JRI, Sir John Houghton, sadly died of COVID. He was a truly great man and we were fortunate to have known him. We know of many other cases, and the pandemic is very far from over. Let us hope that the vaccines really click in next year and that 2021 can be a big improvement on 2020.

Have a good Christmas and stay safe everyone!

Martin and Margot

Sunday, 1 November 2020

IPBES, Zoonoses and Biodiversity

On 29th October 2020 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a major report entitled “IPBES Workshop on Biodiversity and Pandemics”. This looked at the links between environmental degradation and biodiversity loss and the incidence of pandemics. These links have been known about for many years, but COVID-19 has really focused attention on the problem.

Ruth Valerio posted a link to the report on Twitter on 30th October and Justin Thacker responded with three tweets:

What we're doing to the environment is atrocious, but we should be careful about linking everything to it. The evidence linking flu pandemics to environmental behaviour is not as strong as this report suggests. It is true that urbanisation and international travel increased the speed of transmission, but it's entirely possible it would have spread globally just at a slower rate without such factors. Flu pandemics are not the same as other zoonoses, and can occur without environmental degradation. The so-called Spanish Flu is evidence of that.

Ruth and I were co-authors of the recent Grove Booklet, “COVID-19: Environment, Justice and the Future”, and I wrote the section on the origins of COVID-19. So Ruth asked if I could reply. I pondered a few tweets, and decided it was too complex for that! So a short blog.

One thing to say is that the report is really good, bringing together a huge amount of literature in a logical way. So any criticisms should be seen in that light, and are certainly not intended to undermine the main thrust of the report (I am mindful of minute criticisms of the IPCC reports which were used by sceptics to try to say that the whole reports were rubbish). But Justin has a medical background and I am a scientist, and there is a place for discussion of these issues in a fair and open-minded way.

Firstly, I totally agree with Justin that we should not attempt to link everything to environmental degradation if the links are tenuous or do not exist. I have similar worries.

What does the report have to say specifically about influenza (flu)? There are 52 mentions of influenza in the report. It begins by stating, “The majority (70%) of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis), and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19), are zoonoses – i.e. are caused by microbes of animal origin. These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people.”

It is the case that the origin of most influenza outbreaks, including the so-called Spanish Flu, seems tied to zoonosis, but in most of these events it is more likely that it was domesticated animals that were the source of the virus (particularly birds and pigs). I think if I were writing something with the title “Biodiversity and Pandemics” I would want to be clear about this. I would perhaps have a brief mention of influenza pandemics and outbreaks and then concentrate on the epidemics and pandemics that were caused by interactions with wild animals. In fact, that was the approach I took in our Grove booklet. The argument is strong enough without invoking influenza examples and muddying the water.

I would agree with Justin on his urbanisation point. COVID-19 would have spread more slowly with less urbanisation, and we can even see this at the moment in the UK where rural areas have lower infection rates than urban. I disagree though on international travel. The snag there is that a virus can spread around the world before it is properly recognised and a local lockdown can be arranged. Wuhan was probably an example of this.

So largely I find myself in agreement with Justin, but again I want to emphasise that the report is an important and useful piece of work. We can quibble about the details, but we should certainly not deny the main message.

Dr Martin Hodson

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Book Sale 2020!


The Good News

We are pleased to say that the first edition of “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues”, published in 2015, has almost sold out, and we will have a new edition in 2021. Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) have agreed to us publishing a completely updated second edition in the spring of 2021. At the same time, they will be publishing a collection of our Bible reflections on environmental issues to be titled “Green Reflections”. We are very grateful to BRF for this opportunity.


The Books Under The Bed!

The Not Such Good News

The first edition of “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues” was selling really well. Martin sold 30 copies on a visit to Guernsey at the end of February, and we were easily on target to completely sell out of our personal copies. I think you can guess what happened! Lockdown and then a whole lot of restrictions which meant all our face to face events were canceled. Soon people discovered Zoom, but selling books at Zoom meetings was much less possible. So we are left with a stock of about 80 of the first edition under our bed! What to do?


The Potentially Good News

After consultation with BRF, we have decided to sell off our remaining stock at £3 each plus post and package (they are currently £8.19 on Amazon). They will be great for you to give away to friends at church or maybe as stocking fillers at Christmas. Contact us at martinjhodson@yahoo.co.uk to make an order.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Christmas Letter 2019 Martin and Margot Hodson

St Mary's, Haddenham

Happy Christmas for 2019 and 2018 – here is our news:

In February we celebrated ten years in Haddenham! It has been a great ten years and so much has happened. We are taking many happy memories with us and especially many friends. We also celebrated ten years of Haddenham in Transition. Thank you everyone for giving us such a special time in Wychert Vale Benefice. We miss you lots!

Moving house
In August this year we moved house to Filkins in West Oxfordshire. This came was a result of a change of roles for Margot (see below). We are enjoying our new home – though we still have unpacking to do and all those jobs needed with a new house The garden is huge and the house is big enough to have space to have people to stay, space to work, and to set up a study-library for people studying environment and faith to make use of. We still find it a bit of a surprise that we are living in the Cotswolds and it is a great place to be.

Swapping one job for two
St Peter & St Paul's, Broadwell-
one of Margot's new churches.
Last year we realised that we needed to explore a change of role for Margot. She was loving her role as Rector of the team in Wychert Vale but the environmental education work was growing well beyond a spare time activity and the John Ray Initiative (JRI) board asked Margot if she would take on an even more up-front role in speaking and teaching. We needed to find a different way of doing things. We found ourselves exploring a half-time vicar-post for Sundays and two days midweek. Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice has lots of small parishes and the Rector, Harry MacInnes, leads the benefice as an integrated team.
The JRI Board made Margot half-time Director of Theology and Education on a self-supporting basis. Margot is really enjoying both new roles and they are keeping her busy!!

Christmas in bed!
We spent Christmas 2018 in bed with one of the worst illnesses that we could remember – we have recently concluded that it might have been whooping cough and it knocked us out for weeks. Hence no Christmas cards. The folk in Haddenham were wonderful and brought food, including Christmas dinners and lots of love. The team covered all the Christmas services, Radio 3 gave us lovely music and we emerged in January to find the Christmas tree looking all dressed up with nowhere to go!

Environment and JRI
This has been getting really busy! Our distance learning course, CRES has grown considerably, and we are now taking some overseas students. We have been speaking at evening events and day conferences and writing resources. Margot continues to do some teaching at Ripon CollegeCuddesdon and we have been running training courses for Oxford Diocese. We both continue to mentor for the IFES Graduate Impact Programme – we have a fantastic group of environmental post-grads from all over Europe and beyond.

Martin’s News
Wheat Phytolith
Martin’s work is now about 30% secular science and about 70% with the Christian environmental movement. He still teaches at both universities in Oxford, although not as much as before. Martin’s research on plant silica has suddenly taken off in quite a major way! After nearly 40 years working on it, everyone is interested. He published a major paper on carbonsequestration in phytoliths in July, which has had a lot of interest. While in the midst of the move Martin wrote three more papers which should be out next year. He has a very good collaboration with a couple of archaeologists in Brussels. That promises to make 2020 quite interesting!
During 2019, Martin passed ten years as Operations Director of JRI. Basically, he does his best to keep the whole show on the road and to supervise his wonderful administrative team, Karen and Lynda. He also leads the CRES course. Possibly the biggest change in the last year has been a considerable increase in speaking engagements. These come from many directions: JRI, A Rocha, Christians in Science, Oxford Diocese, U3A and our personal contacts. Martin’s biggest engagement this year was to speak at the Harvest Supper and two morning services at Bath Abbey! The diary is already filling up next year. Definitely not slowing down towards retirement…….

Chough on Newquay walk
We had a super holiday in Mid-Wales in May, partly at Llanarth near the coast and partly in the mountains where we had a wonderful time staying with John and Maya Bimson. It was also great to visit John and Sheila Houghton.

In November we had a very special holiday with Greg and Pam and family for a Hodsons Thanksgiving. It was wonderful to be with the family again. The grandchildren are growing up fast!

That’s all our news! Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Love from Margot and Martin

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Can Phytoliths Save the World?

Can Phytoliths Save the World?
Or: Plants do Carbon Capture and Storage Quite Naturally

Can Phytoliths….. Can what?? Many people have never heard of phytoliths, but I have worked on them for nearly 40 years, so let me tell you a little about them, and then I will describe some of my recent research. Yes, these unheard of phytoliths might help in the fight against climate change. But read on.
Pampas grass
Have you ever cut your hand pulling up grass? Have you noticed how sharp the edges of Pampas grass are? Have you ever been stung by a stinging nettle? This is all due to phytoliths! Soluble silica is taken up by the plants and is deposited in some of the cells as hard, solid phytoliths. If you know a little Greek you will know phyton is plant and lithos is stone or rock, so phytoliths are plant stones. They take the shape of the cells they are deposited in. So if you had a microscope you would be able to see that the edges of Pampas grass had razor sharp prickles made of silica. If you looked at the lower surface of nettle leaves you would see silica hairs which act like minute hypodermic syringes to inject poison into your skin.
When a plant dies the leaves, stems and flowers fall into the soil and are incorporated into the soil organic matter (humus). But the phytoliths are much more resistant to breakdown in the soil and can persist for hundreds or thousands of years. Because they last a long time, and have shapes and sizes that are characteristic for the plants they come from, phytoliths are used by archaeologists and palaeoecologists to work out what people grew and ate, and past environments and climates.
There is increasing interest in carbon sequestration in soils. It is recognised that the soil is a huge carbon store and that if we could find ways of increasing that storage then it could really help to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But one of the big problems with this idea is that carbon sequestration in the soil is reversible. So once plant materials enter the soil and form humus it is susceptible to breakdown, releasing the carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere.
Back in 2005 some Australian phytolith experts, Parr and Sullivan, had a brilliant idea. They realised that phytoliths encapsulate carbon within their structures. According to their calculations, phytoliths store a lot of carbon in the soil and potentially sequester it within the silica for a very long time. Their paper and their idea created a whole new area of phytolith research. The idea has not been without controversy, particularly over how much carbon can be stored in phytoliths. Nonetheless, the area remains a major focus for phytolith research.
In the 1980s I spent a long time looking at how phytoliths developed within the plant, and I have kept up this interest, publishing a major review on the topic in 2016. Plants have two main types of phytolith: those developing in the cell lumen; and those that form in the cell wall on a carbohydrate (largely cellulose) matrix. If you did biology at school you might remember the cell wall as a kind of box around the lumen. The lumen contains the cytoplasm and all of the organelles, including the chloroplasts, nucleus etc.
I was invited by the Frontiers journal organisation in 2017 to be a guest associate editor for a special collection of papers, "Frontiers in Phytolith Research". I assembled an editorial team of experts from around the world and started to invite potential authors. But what would I write my own paper on? I decided that I wanted to look at one aspect of the carbon sequestration in phytoliths story that I felt had been neglected. Which types of phytolith are most important in storing carbon in the soil? Is it the cell lumen or the cell wall types?
Wheat inflorescence phytolith
To answer this question I needed to consult a wide range of literature. I began by outlining the history of carbon sequestration in phytoliths and discussing the major methodological controversy over how much carbon they contain. Next, I wanted to determine exactly which phytoliths were cell wall phytoliths. In most cases, it is pretty obvious, but there is one important type where we lack clarity. Then I looked at what is known about carbon concentrations in the two types of phytolith, and not surprisingly the cell wall types have much more carbon than the lumen types.
I then needed to find out what happened to the two types of phytolith in the soil. The received wisdom is that cell wall phytoliths break down faster in soil than lumen types. But I carried out a major literature survey looking for evidence to support this contention, and I couldn't find any! Moreover, when I investigated the archaeological and palaeoecological literature I found that cell wall phytoliths were present in a wide range of contexts and could be found in samples that were thousands of years old. Having done all this, I then constructed two hypotheses: one to consider what happens to phytoliths when they are prepared in the laboratory (this also addressed the question of how much carbon is stored in phytoliths); and the second concerned what happens in the soil.
Can phytoliths save the world? Probably not! But I think we need to look far more carefully at the rather neglected cell wall phytoliths. As I say in my paper, phytoliths are unlikely to be a "silver bullet" for climate change, but they may have a role to play. We are spending large amounts of time, money and energy on trying to get carbon capture and storage to work on power stations. Why not see if plants can do it naturally? Can we find ways to increase carbon sequestration in phytoliths and in soils? In my paper, I have outlined a whole lot of work that we need to do over the next few years. Let's get on and do it!

Martin J. Hodson
(July 2019)

1) Pampas grass image- Shirley Hirst on Pixabay:
2) Wheat inflorescence phytolith- MJH

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Hodsons on the Move

Margot and Martin Hodson
Margot and Martin Hodson will be moving in the summer to West Oxfordshire to take up a new ministry. The Hodsons have been looking for a way to give more time to their environmental work while keeping their roots in local parish ministry. They are delighted to announce their move to the Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice, where Margot will be licensed as half-time Associate Minister in early September. Alongside this post, she will be taking up the part-time (self-supporting) role of Theology and Education Director for the John Ray Initiative (JRI).

St Matthew's Church Langford

Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice covers a group of parishes south of Burford and is led by the full-time Rector, Revd Harry MacInnes. Margot is delighted to join Harry on his team and will be looking forward to meeting everyone in the benefice. The Hodsons will be moving to the vicarage in the village of Filkins in the summer.

Margot will continue to support JRI, A Rocha and the wider church with her environmental work in theology and education across the UK and beyond. She plans to help to develop courses and educational initiatives to resource church leaders and wider church members in caring for God’s earth as part of Christian mission and discipleship. The JRI office is in Gloucester and much of the Hodson’s teaching is in and around Oxford. So the new location will be very positive.

St Mary's, Haddenham
Margot is currently Rector of Wychert Vale Benefice, leading a team serving parishes between Thame and Aylesbury. She has been in ministry there for ten years and in that time has overseen a major benefice merger. Each church has a special identity and she has loved seeing each one flourish in its own way. Margot has also appreciated getting to know the wider communities. The Hodson’s home has been in the village of Haddenham and they have enjoyed being involved in many aspects of village life, including local environmental initiatives. They will really miss Haddenham, Kingsey, Cuddington, Aston Sandford, Stone, Dinton and the other villages!

Wheat Phytolith
Martin’s work will not change very much. He will carry on teaching for both universities in Oxford, and with his academic research. Martin works one day a week for JRI as their Operations Director, is Principal Tutor for Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES), a distance learning course that is based at Ripon College Cuddesdon, and speaks and writes widely about faith and environment. He may also continue with a little preaching.

About JRI: The John Ray Initiative is an educational charity with a vision to bring together scientific and Christian understandings of the environment in a way that can be widely communicated and lead to effective action. JRI's mission is to promote responsible environmental stewardship in accordance with Christian principles and the wise use of science and technology. Much of the environmental work the Hodsons intend to pursue will be carried out through JRI, and if you would like to support the work of JRI please go HERE.

This is the start of a new venture and the Hodsons will value the good wishes of all who know them and prayers from those of faith as they embark on a new stage of life and ministry.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

An Interview with Martin and Margot Hodson

In preparation for the publication of a series of reflections, “The Wisdom of Trees” in Bible Reflections for Older People (BRF, September-December 2018) the editor, Eley McAinsh, came to interview us. A shortened and edited version appears in the booklet, but here is the full version, also slightly edited.

Introduction: Margot
My name is Margot Hodson and I’m Rector of six churches in Buckinghamshire, quite near the Oxfordshire border. I’ve been involved in environmental things since I was a student. I went to university to study geography and to go into nature conversation. I had a call to Christian ministry there and the rest is history really, but I spend my time trying to combine the two.

Introduction: Martin
My name is Martin Hodson. I’m married to Margot and I’m a scientist, originally a plant scientist. I did a degree in botany and then a doctorate in plant physiology, but I’ve worked on environment and faith for round about 25 years. Now I’m the Operations Director with the John Ray Initiative, which is a charity looking at combining faith and the environment. I’m also the Principal Tutor of Christian Rural and Environmental Studies, which is a distance learning course based at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

You’ve both written for BRF before and now you’re collaborating on a series for Bible Readings for Older People. Why did you decide to write about trees?
Margot: Trees are very important to the natural world – they’re whole little ecologies in their own right and lots of other things live on them. They’re important in the Bible – there are lots of places in the Bible where particular trees are mentioned and they also illustrate all sorts of spiritual truths. If you look at the way trees are used in the Bible you can find ways in which God is teaching us through them, so you can definitely learn from God through trees.
I’ve always loved trees and it was probably Dutch Elm Disease that really got me thinking about ecological problems back in the 1970s when I was at school. That’s something that has always stayed with me.
Martin: I actually wrote my first academic paper on trees, or a tree to be precise. It was a poor beech tree in mid-Wales that had a pile of salt dumped under it. Since then I’ve written a lot of scientific papers on trees.

Can you give me some examples of the ‘spiritual truths’ we can learn from trees?
Margot: We’ve written about the willow in Psalm 1, putting down deep roots to find water and putting roots deep down into faith; the almond tree in Jeremiah talks about ‘watching’; date palms are about ‘fruitfulness’ and the oak is about ‘righteousness’, so there are many different examples and we really can learn from them.
Martin: And I’ve just been writing about the mustard seed – is that a tree or not? – faith and the mustard seed.

On your various websites there’s quite a distinct division of labour: you, Martin, are the scientist and you’re the theologian Margot. But in reality, your work is much more closely integrated isn’t it? How has your collaboration evolved over the years?
Martin: As a scientist, obviously I specialize in the science, so when Margot and I work together, very often I will lead with the science. I’ll talk about climate change and other environmental issues, and then Margot will come in and talk about ethics and theology. But we both have enough knowledge of the other area to be able to both on our own. So, for example, on a recent trip to Sweden, I did whole lectures on theology as well as on the science and on what we can do, practically. I’ve had quite a lot of training in theology as well. I’ve done a lot of courses and I do a lot of reading on the subject. So we can switch around and we can take each other’s areas. But when we’re working together (as we did on ‘A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues’ (BRF, 2015)) I tend to write the first bit on the science and then Margot writes the theological reflection.
Margot: I came to committed Christian faith at university where I was studying in the geography department. We had a little Christian group which used to meet for lunch once a week and we talked about all sorts of things to do with global issues and tried to work out what the Bible, what the Christian faith, was saying about them. That was my foundation for thinking about both environmental questions and also theological and Christian responses. So although I’m more the theological lead these days, Martin has a lot of theological training behind him. Although he’s the science lead, I do have a science-based environmental degree, so we’re able to do each other’s thing. Occasionally if we’re doing something together we do the whole lot together, but usually Martin does the science and I do the theology.

So for both of you: how would you describe the way in which your faith drives and shapes your environmental work?
Martin and Margot with a copy of Bible Reflections for
Older People in Cornerstone Christian Centre, Grove
Martin: For me, of course, one of my main work roles is in the field of faith and environment. The John Ray Initiative is an organisation which was set up to look at the interaction between Christianity and the environment and environmental issues, so for me it’s a central part of my work. I do still do some secular work, teaching at Oxford University and at Oxford Brookes University, but a major part of my work is now directly to do with faith and the environment.
Margot: For me, my faith is very much informed by my understanding of the environment and my understanding of the environment is very much informed by my faith. It’s believing in God who is Creator, and who sees his creation as good. It is believing in the Holy Spirit who is Sustainer, and sustains this beautiful world that God has created. It is believing in Jesus who is Redeemer, who has redeemed the whole world through all that he did for us on the cross. We will one day see that redemption fully as we look towards a remade heaven and earth when all things will be renewed and creation will no longer be groaning, as it talks about in Romans 8. The leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations, as it talks about in Revelation 22. The idea that the whole Gospel is for the whole world, the whole universe, is something I find quite mind-blowing and that drives my understanding of nature. It also drives my understanding of the Gospel when I see the world that God has made.

So do you find that there are still arguments that have to be won in certain quarters?
Margot: Yes!
Martin: Very definitely!
Margot: We’ve just had the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and are now able to read the Bible for ourselves and find out about our faith. It’s so mind-blowing to know that it’s by God’s grace that we are saved; that it’s not of ourselves but it’s God initiative. He longs for people to know him and give their lives to him, but I think it’s been very easy for Christians over the years to miss a wider picture of God’s redemption and that sense that God had something for the whole universe. God so loved the cosmos that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him… There is the sense that this is a much bigger thing than we ever imagined. But I think for many people that is such a new concept and for some people that can be quite a worrying concept. They might think it means that we don’t need to trust in God for ourselves any more, and what we do no longer matters if the whole world is going to be saved regardless. So what we’re saying is not that, but that in some sense God is going to renew and redeem the whole universe. It is something very big, and for some people it just seems too big. And in many places, the church is struggling with this. Something as new as that is hard for people to get their heads around.
 Martin: I’d agree with all of that. I think things have improved, and improved very markedly, certainly in the time I’ve been involved in this whole area. When I started about 25 years ago, we set up a small group in St Aldate's, Oxford – the St Aldate's Group for the Environment, which became ‘SAGE’ – there were real worries about this group. People feared we were going the wrong way and chucking out evangelism, and there were all those kinds of arguments. Actually, things have improved across large parts of the church. Then there was hardly anybody in the churches who would speak about the environment but now there are quite a lot of the bishops, for example, who are speaking up about the environment and it has become more mainstream. It’s not enough, but it is a lot better than it was, say, 25 years ago.

You both have experience working across a wide range of age groups – with students in universities and across the whole gamut of church life. Can you generalise at all about how the different generations are dealing with environmental issues?
Margot: I think it’s not as straightforward as some people might say. Some people seem to have this stereotype that older people are carbon-guzzling, lets-forget-about-the-planet dinosaurs and young people are deep green, vegan, carrot-eaters. And it’s not like that at all. It’s much more of a broad range across the board. Just as post-modernism affected all age groups, not just the young, I think all age groups have been affected by the things people see happening in the environment. In this country, and in mainland Europe, there’s grown a general understanding that there are environmental problems, that climate change is real, and there are challenges in the environmental area. All generations are responding to that, sometimes in different ways. For example, on diet, we came across this expression ‘flexitarian’ which means you don’t give up meat altogether but you reduce your consumption. That’s an easier approach for older people to adopt, whereas I’ve got a nephew who has gone vegan and is absolutely passionate about that. So people deal with it in different ways: again, there are a few, not many, younger people who were perhaps a bit overcooked on the environmental message as they were growing up. They had it every year at school, and they get to 18 and say just give me a fast car and a burger. People are people, and people respond in different ways, in different age groups and different socio-economic groups, but the general pattern in this country is towards increasing awareness. There’s huge variation but I don’t think it’s necessarily age-related, though I do think the younger generations will take many more things as read, so they’ll expect housing to be sustainable, for example, and expect cars to be greener, but in general it’s mixed right across the age range.
Martin: When I did ‘The Hope for Planet Earth’ tours with Tearfund and A Rocha UK some years ago they were largely with 16-year-olds. A lot of them were really committed, but there was also quite a lot of apathy, and sadly, there were some, as Margot says, who seem to have been ‘over-cooked’ and were just saying ‘we’re all going to die, it’s too late to do anything about it, so let’s just live and be merry and all that’. So in my experience, it isn’t as clear-cut as saying older people aren’t environmentally friendly and young people are. It’s doesn’t work like that.

More institutionally, what do you see going on at local church level, diocesan level?
Margot: I think in our churches we’ve had some really good goes at doing some green things. In our biggest church, St Mary’s, Haddenham, a few years back we needed to change the boiler and a group got together to look at sustainable options. We were really committed to a renewable energy option, but one by one each option fell by the wayside for a Grade 1 listed building. We wanted solar panels on the back of the church, the south side, which wouldn’t have been seen from the front but at that time the advice from the diocese was that we would not be given permission. It wasn’t even worth trying. I think that might be different now. We looked into a wood pellet boiler and that led us down a crazy road of potentially having to underpin the Grade 1 listed tower if we did it because we would have had to build an extra big boiler house. Eventually, we found a very, very efficient gas boiler, but we are thinking of trying again in the 2020s, and we might try again for solar power in the not-too-distant future because we’ve been told there has been a change of thinking on that.
We once had a great time when some of our secular friends thermal imaged the church on a very cold carol service night. It did show up the main problems, which are the windows because the building is medieval and you can’t put additional glazing onto medieval glass because it causes condensation and that damages the glass.
Martin: When we arrived here in Haddenham we thought we shouldn’t go too heavy on the green thing, because that’s what we were known for and the last thing you want is for the new vicar to bang on every week about the same topic – their favourite topic. But the write-up in the local Thame newspaper when we arrived had the headline ‘Green Vicar Appointed’ and within a couple of weeks we were contacted by this couple who said ‘We’re thinking about setting up a ‘Transition’ group in the village, can we come round and talk to you?’ We had a really good conversation and I think they were genuinely amazed that the church was interested. ‘Transition’ is a secular organisation which started down in the south-west. Totnes was the first but it’s now spread out from there and become international: it’s basically about making communities more sustainable. So they were wanting to start up a Transition group and we said ‘Yes, we’ll help you.’ They started by putting on showings of the film ‘The Age of Stupid’, the climate change disaster movie. When they realised I was a scientist got me to take the questions-and-answers after the showings. Because I’d been on these tours with Tearfund and A Rocha, basically nowadays people can fire almost anything they like at me and I can give them some kind of answer. Then after the film shows we did all kinds of things, like a campaign around the village with the thermal imaging camera.
Margot: We borrowed a camera first and then we got a grant to buy our own for the village.
Martin: Then we did something called ‘airtightness testing’, where you put a fan on the front door and you extract air out of the house. That produces a slight vacuum in the house and you can work out where all the drafts are.
Margot: We got a grant for that as well!
Martin: We’ve done lots on local food …
Margot: And the community orchard which has just had its official opening.
Martin: So all kinds of initiatives. It’s not all to do with the church, but as it happens, quite a few people from the church have been involved in Transition. We did have one event in the church when they had a bicycle-powered film so they had people cycling like mad to keep the power going.
Margot: They did it in relays…
Martin: So it’s all been very good in itself but it’s also been very good for church/community relations.
Margot: And one thing leads to another so we used the money we raised from ‘The Age of Stupid’ to buy an apple press and pressed all these apples, but at that point we hadn’t got the pasteuriser so the only thing we could do with the apple juice was inevitable: we made cider! When it came to the New Year’s Eve party they decided to have a cider competition and because I come from Somerset they thought I ought to be the judge – not because I was the vicar but because I came from Somerset. So I’ve been landed with this every year since: it’s a real ‘Vicar of Dibley role’ – I judge the village cider competition. It’s actually very good cider and for us it’s been a really nice way of making friends in the wider community.

In one of your publications, you explore the twin themes of interconnectedness and (eschatological) hope. I wonder how you would unpack those concepts, particularly for an older reader?
Margot: I think interconnectedness is something you recognise more as you get older. You realise more and more that everything is interconnected. You see the generations pass, the younger generations grow up and your connection to those generations and to the generations who have passed on or who are passing on. That sense of being part of a living planet is something that people become more and more aware of, simply through being part of their own families.
I started The Hope project with Ruth Valerio, a friend of mine, because at the beginning of the century we were both often brought in to be the platform speaker after a scientist. So the scientist would give the climate change Armageddon talk and then Ruth or I would be brought on to say ‘It’s alright, we have hope.’ Early on we felt that hope was about saying ‘It’s OK, we’ve got time to put things right. There’s still time to do something about climate change.’ But as time wore on, and particularly after the Copenhagen Agreement, which failed, we were less hopeful in the present and we each found ourselves moving more into the future and saying, ‘Don’t worry, Jesus will be coming back again. It’s all going to be alright.’ But that wasn’t a very realistic hope – it’s more of a fatalistic hope and it didn’t give hope to people when that was all you were offering. And yet I think for many older people that is the nature of their hope; they know that eventually they’ll be going to heaven, and that they’re a bit nearer to heaven than they may have been 30 years ago, but actually it doesn’t give them anything for the present. Somehow it paralyses them rather than resources them.
 So as Ruth and I worked on the project we brought people together to think about it and pray about it and we came up with the concept of what we called a ‘robust’ hope or a ‘resilient’ hope, which was a hope that gave us hope in the present because of that hope for the future. It is best summed up probably in Romans 5, where Paul says that suffering brings perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. That sense of persevering, perhaps when things aren’t so easy, and that hope is there in the present and not just out there in the future, almost like a deposit, if you like, given to us through the spirit. It’s a concept that has given us a lot of hope in relation to environmental things, but I think it also offers hope to older people as they think through their lives because it has something for today, not just tomorrow.

Anything else either of you would like to add?
Margot: We have a U3A in the village and also some older clubs which are much more traditional, the kind of clubs that people in their 60s used to join. Things have changed enormously since those sort of clubs were set up and people in their 60s and 70s and even into their 80s are very much more active even than they used to be even a generation ago. They join cycling clubs rather than lunch clubs, and we joke that there’s probably a U3A whitewater rafting group. We’ve seen a huge change in the activity levels and energy levels of older people.
Martin: I’m on the U3A speaker circuit and I speak quite often to them. In Haddenham, there are so many people attached to U3A that there’s nowhere big enough to hold them all so they have to run all the meetings twice. The questions you get after a talk are always very sharp: thoughtful and well-informed.

Margot: And we hear similar stories from all over the area.