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.

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.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Margot R Hodson Publication List

Margot R Hodson Publication List


Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2017) An Introduction to Environmental Ethics, E184, Cambridge: Grove Books Ltd.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2016) Climate, Soils and God: Stewardship and the future of rural Britain, Country Way, Issue 73, p.12-13.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2015) A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues, Oxford: BRF.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2015) The Ethics of Climatic Scepticism, E177, Cambridge: Grove Books Ltd.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2015) 'Is it ethical to invest in fossil fuels? How can environmental ethics inform our decision-making?' in N. Bull, Ed. Is it ethical for the Church to invest in fossil fuels? Reflections from Christian theologians, scientists and environmentalists. Operation Noah, p.5. http://brightnow.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Is-it-ethical-for-the-Church-to-invest-in-fossil-fuels-reflections-from-Christian-theologians-scientists-and-environmentalists.pdf
Hodson, M.R. (2015) Preaching for the planet – key Bible passages. Preach Magazine (Spring 2015), p.20-24.
Hodson, M.R. (2014) Developing a network benefice, Country Way, Issue 67, p.24.
Hodson, M.R. (2014) ‘Why I Care about the Environment’, Christian Concern for One World, http://www.ccow.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Why-I-Care-about-the-Environment.pdf
Hodson, M.R. and Hodson, M.J. Eds. (2013) Environment and Hope, Anvil, 29:1 (Guest Editors of this issue).
Hodson, M.R. (2013) Editorial: Discovering a Robust Hope for Life on a Fragile Planet, Anvil, 29:1, 1-6.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2013) ‘Climate justice: contemporary developments in science, policy, action and theology’ in M. Hoek, J. Ingleby, C. Kingston-Smith and A. Kingston-Smith Eds. Carnival Kingdom - biblical justice for global communities. Gloucester: Wide Margin Publishers. pp. 125-143.
Hodson M R (2013) 'Multiple Growth: Haddenham Benefice, Oxford Diocese', Catalyst, CPAS (April - September 2012, p6)
Hodson, M.R. (2013) ‘Environment’ in L. Cherrett Ed. Guidelines, Bible study for today’s ministry and mission, Oxford: BRF, Vol 29 part 1.
Hodson, M.R. (2011) Uncovering Isaiah’s Environmental Ethics, E161, Cambridge: Grove Books Ltd.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2011) Climate Change, Faith and Rural Communities, Northampton: Agriculture and Theology Project.
Hodson, M.J. and Hodson, M.R. (2011) ‘Community’ Carbon Fast Lent Course, week 3, Teddington: Tearfund.
Hodson, M.R. (2010) ‘Storm clouds and mission: creation care and environmental crisis’ in B. Woolnough and W. Ma Eds. Holistic Mission. God's Plan for God's People. Oxford: Regnum Books International.
Hodson, M.R. and Hodson, M.J. (2010) ‘Integral mission in a groaning creation’ Go Magazine (Interserve), 4th quarter, 3-4.
Hodson, M. J. and Hodson, M. R. (2008) Cherishing the Earth, How to care for God’s Creation, Oxford: Monarch.
Weaver, J. and Hodson, M.R. Eds. (2007) The Place of Environmental Theology: a guide for seminaries, colleges and universities, Oxford: Whitley Trust, and Prague: IBTS.
Hodson, M.R. (2007) ‘Creative harmony: Isaiah’s vision of a sustainable future’, in R. J. Berry, Ed. When Enough is Enough, A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Leicester: IVP, pp. 169-177.
Hodson, M.R. (2004) Environmental Christianity: insights from our Jewish Heritage, JRI Briefing Papers, No. 13, Cheltenham: The John Ray Initiative.
Hodson, M.R. (2000) A Feast of Seasons, Celebrate the Bible's festivals with your family and friends, London: Monarch.
Hodson, M.R. (1998) Jerusalem’s Story: A Series of Bible Studies for Individuals or Groups, St Albans: Olive Press.

Media

Premier Radio (2017) Climate change and us, hosted by Martyn Eden, 11 May 2017
Hodson, M. R. (2015) Hope for the world: The Journey from Paris to Bethlehem, A Rocha, Advent Calendar, door 13: http://advent.arocha.org.uk/
BBC, Radio 4 (2007) Held together in Christ, a Christian response to Climate Change, Live broadcast for 8.10am Radio 4 Sunday Morning Worship, from the Chapel of Jesus College Oxford, led by the Revd Margot Hodson, with Sir John Houghton and the Choir and students of Jesus College, 11 February 2007.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Fourth Edition


The Four Editions!
I first arrived in Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) in September 1989, and for the first few years I shared an office with ecologist, Peter Morris. I was hired to teach plant physiology, but I soon found myself teaching soils as well. Not long after I arrived, Peter started working on a new Master's course in Environmental Assessment and Management. This was to be a joint course with the Department of Planning, and I remember Peter had lots of meetings with Riki Therivel who was his joint course leader from Planning. In September 1990 the first cohort were recruited, and Peter, Riki and I all taught on the first day (28th September). I was involved in quite a bit of the course in the early days, but specialised in soils. Basically, what students needed to know were the likely impacts of developments on soils and how to mitigate them. The course was a great success. Fairly soon the idea for a textbook arose with chapters from many of those teaching on the course. Naturally, Peter and Riki were the co-editors, and they asked me to write the chapter on “Soils and Geology”. The first edition of “Methods of Environmental Impact Assessment” came out in 1995 (white cover) and my chapter was 18 pages long. The book seemed to fill a niche in the market, and soon there was talk of a second edition. Peter and Riki were keen to give the second edition a more applied feel and asked the authors to recruit some environmental impact assessment practitioners as co-authors. Peter recruited a friend of his, Roy Emberton, to help me with contaminated land issues. I recruited Chris Stapleton, a soils consultant who specialised in the assessment of agricultural land. Chris had taken a Planning course at Brookes including an option with my soils classes, and I asked him to come and teach with me (he still is!). So with such expertise available, I mainly concentrated on the more introductory soils material and on getting the whole chapter into shape, a role that I have continued to play in subsequent editions. The second edition was published in 2001 (blue cover), and the Hodson, Stapleton and Emberton chapter was now quite a lot longer (26 pages) and was entitled “Soils, Geology and Geomorphology.” Time moved on and I left the full-time staff at Oxford Brookes, but I continued to teach an annual soils session in tandem with Chris Stapleton for the Master's course. Chris and I were asked to take part in a third edition of the book. Roy Emberton moved to help Peter Morris with his Ecology chapter, so we needed someone to look after contaminated land issues. Chris found Kevin Hawkins of WSP Environmental, and we went to meet him in Reading. I suggested that Chris should be first author on the third edition, and I settled into the “senior author” position (last), which I felt was appropriate as my main role was one of coordination. In 2009 the third edition (brown cover) came out, including the Stapleton, Hawkins and Hodson chapter on “Soils, Geology and Geomorphology” (34 pages). Chris and I kept going with our annual session and whenever we met we wondered whether there would be a fourth edition. Then in 2015 we had the sad news that Peter Morris had died. I felt that would be the end of any hope for another edition. But Riki Therivel had other ideas and teamed up with Graham Wood in Built Environment to tackle quite an ambitious project. The publisher, Routledge, wanted the fourth edition to be rather different to the previous three. We had always concentrated on the UK and Europe, but now the book was to be international in scope. But no greater length than the third edition! This time Chris and I were joined by Hugh Masters-Williams of Jacobs UK who took on the contaminated land brief. Revising the chapter proved quite a challenge. I set it now in the context of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and managed to include coverage of all the soil types in the world. And so the fourth edition (green cover) now sits on my coffee table. It has a somewhat expanded title: “Methods of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment”. The book is dated 2018 and is dedicated to Peter Morris. Without him there would have been no course and no book. The chapter on “Soils, Land and Geology” by Stapleton, Masters-Williams and Hodson is now 39 pages long, over double the length of my original 1995 effort. I would like to thank my co-authors, Chris, Roy, Kevin and Hugh for their contributions to the project over the years, and our editors Peter, Riki and Graham for their endless patience.
Now let's see. The average time between editions is about seven years. That makes 2024 for the fifth edition. Should just about be functional by then……

Martin Hodson

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dr Dafydd Wynn Parry- his Contribution to Phytolith Research

Martin Hodson with Dafydd Wynn Parry and his wife Gwenno (22 July 2003)
Dr Dafydd Wynn Parry died on Saturday 22nd August 2015, aged 96. He had not been well for some time.

Wynn Parry was a pioneering figure in the field of phytolith research. He first began work on phytoliths in Bangor, North Wales in the mid 1950’s. The soil scientist, Frank Smithson, who had worked on phytoliths in British soils, enlisted his help to investigate grass phytoliths. As far as I can determine their first joint papers on the subject were published in 1958, with two in Nature and one in the Annals of Botany. They continued a fruitful collaboration, publishing their last paper together in 1966. But Wynn Parry did not stop there, and he had a whole series of Ph.D. students and research assistants until the mid-1980’s when he retired. Of these, two went on to build their research careers around plant silicon: Allan Sangster and myself.

I first met Dafydd Wynn Parry on the 20th October 1980, and spent five happy years in Bangor working for him. Our first project was a collaboration with Dr. Charles O’Neill of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Could plant silica be involved in human cancer? Allan Sangster came over for a year on sabbatical during my time in Bangor, and we did a lot of work on the development of phytoliths. Much of this was a collaboration with Carole Perry, Steve Mann and Bob (R.J.P.) Williams at Oxford University. Sadly, Bob Williams, one of the foremost inorganic chemists of his day, also died earlier this year. Towards the end of my time in Bangor we started trying to locate soluble silicon on its way to the phytoliths, and I continued that work later with Allan Sangster in Canada. Wynn Parry retired from paid work in the mid 1980’s and published his last paper, appropriately in his beloved Annals of Botany, in 1986. But he retained his interest in plant silicon for very much longer, and used to really appreciate the reprints we sent him. He was a great enthusiast.

In 2012 I sent him a copy of my plant science text book Functional Biology of Plants. I dedicated it  to my Ph.D. supervisor in Swansea, Helgi Öpik, to Allan Sangster and to Dafydd Wynn Parry as the three plant biologists who had the most influence on my career. For Dafydd I wrote: "Dr. Dafydd Wynn Parry (Bangor University, Wales), who first introduced me to the delights of studying silicon in plants." For all three I concluded, "Without their guidance and friendship, I would never have got as far as writing this book." I got a very warm note back.

It is difficult for someone who worked with Dafydd Wynn Parry as closely as I did to assess his contribution to phytolith work in an unbiased way. Fortunately, Alix Powers (1992) did that job for me when she reviewed the history of European phytolith research. She devoted two whole sections to the work in Bangor. Powers wrote, “The extensive botanical studies by a number of Welsh analysts provided a valuable source-base of information on the processes of cell wall silicification and the formation of phytoliths in grass species. Without these studies on which to build, many of the archaeological and “applied” botanical studies of ancient and modern phytoliths sources would have been hindered by a lack of basic information.” Wynn Parry was very much the leader of this work.  Amusingly, the next section Powers wrote in her chapter was entitled “Non-Bangor Botanists”, and began, “There were a number (admittedly small) of botanical phytolith studies from British institutions outside Bangor.” This shows very clearly just how much of a pioneer Wynn Parry was. He ploughed his own furrow, and kept going on research he felt to be important, even when few others seemed interested. Now phytolith research is very much better developed, and hundreds of papers come out every year, particularly those using phytoliths in archaeology and palaeoecology. Dafydd Wynn Parry gave major impetus to phytolith research from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, and was one of the reasons we are where we are. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Dr Martin J. Hodson
31 August 2015


Powers, A.H. (1992) Great Expectations: A Short Historical Review of European Phytolith Systematics. Phytolith Systematics. (eds G. Rapp Jr. and S.C. Mulholland) Advances in Archaeological and Museum Science 1, 15-35.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

From one IPCC report to the next, a personal reflection

Back in February 2007 on the day that the physical science section of the 4th IPCC report came out I was teaching environmental ethics at Oxford Brookes University. My wife, Margot, was then Chaplain of  Jesus College, Oxford. She had been asked by the BBC to take a special service to coincide with the publication of the 4th report for BBC Sunday Worship on Radio 4. The theme was "Creation held together in Christ" and the preacher was Sir John Houghton. We all gathered early Sunday morning in the Jesus College Chapel. The choir were amazing, with wonderful hymns, and the message was crystal clear. We even had a special recording from Rev Rich Cizik, then Vice-President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and a tireless worker in the churches in the United States for action on climate change. Margot had bags of appreciative post after the service. We wrote up this story and the background to it in our 2008 book "Cherishing the Earth." The 4th IPCC report made it very clear that we had a lot to do, and that the time available was short.

Hope for Planet Earth team 2008. Sir John Houghton is to the left of the poster and I am on the far right
I had been fairly active on climate change before the 4th IPCC report, but I don't think I had quite envisaged how much the topic would dominate my next few years. In the summer of 2007, I became involved in the planning for a large UK wide tour on climate change aimed partly at Christian audiences. The consortium behind the "Hope for Planet Earth" tour was the John Ray Initiative (JRI), A Rocha UK, Tearfund and Share Jesus International (SJI). In the end I became the tour scientist, and put together the science section of the overall presentation with Sir John. In February and March of 2008 we spent four weeks on the road around England with schools presentations in the day and church groups in the evenings. It was exhausting, but very worthwhile. We repeated the whole thing again early in 2009, and by the end I had clocked up around a hundred climate change presentations over the two years.
It turned out that 2009 was a significant year for us as Margot began a new job in charge of the Haddenham benefice in Buckinghamshire. We soon found ourselves involved in the local Transition group, and I answered the questions after several showings of "The Age of Stupid" the climate change documentary drama film. Late in 2009 activity on climate change ramped up in all sorts of ways. We saw "Climategate" come and go, we went on "The Wave" climate change march in London. And then there was the huge disappointment that was Copenhagen United Nations climate change meeting. It is fair to say that before Copenhagen many environmentalists were hopeful that we could "solve" the climate change problem, and that afterwards hope tended to evaporate.
Some things happen by chance, or maybe you could say God plans them rather well. In the autumn of 2010, Margot attended the "Society for the Study of Christian Ethics" meeting in Cambridge, which was on the theme of "Climate Change". She got talking with Ruth Valerio of A Rocha UK. Both had been theological speakers on the "Hope for Planet Earth" tours and elsewhere. They often follow scientists like myself with the idea of providing "Christian hope" after the rather dour environmental message. As time had gone on, and particularly following Copenhagen, that hope had become less proximate and more eschatological. In other words it had changed from "we can fix it" to "it will all work out OK in the end". So hope was running a little thin. Thus began the "Environment and Hope" project which filled a lot of my time from 2011 to 2013. The first thing Ruth and Margot did was to gather a small meeting of theologians, scientists and activists in Oxford in October 2011 to thrash out some ideas. I did a short talk on the present environmental situation to stimulate the thinking. After that we decided to go for a bigger meeting at High Leigh Conference Centre in May 2012. There we had 60 people, many of whom are involved in communicating the news about climate change and other environmental problems to Christian audiences. Again I did a talk, and this time I was joined by the theologian, Richard Bauckham, and Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth in the UK. We really felt that we needed to publish all this material, and it was Richard Bauckham who suggested that it could go into a special issue of Anvil, the theological journal.
We had deliberately kept the "Environment and Hope" project broad in its remit. So climate change was in there, but it was not the only environmental issue we covered. However, whilst we were in the middle of the project an opportunity came up to really focus on climate change. Andy Kingston-Smith and his colleagues from Redcliffe College in Gloucester were planning their "Carnival Kingdom" book and they asked us to look at "Climate Justice". So quite a lot of the summer of 2012 went on that. I covered the science, the policy and the action, and Margot contributed some theology. The book appeared in early 2013. Almost as soon as I had finished "Climate Justice" I moved on to helping Margot, who was guest editor of the Anvil edition, get it all together. We just made the deadline, getting it in on 31st December 2012 in time to go to a New Year party! But then Anvil hit some delays. We did some updating in the summer of 2013 though, and the whole volume went live on 5th September 2013 around three years after Ruth and Margot kicked off the whole process. Crucially it was out in time for the release of the 5th IPCC report.
On Monday 23rd September 2013 the scientists from the IPCC gathered in Stockholm to deliberate on the final version of the Physical Science component of the 5th report. Meanwhile on the evening of the same day we were holding a rather different gathering, the official launch of the "Environment and Hope" issue of Anvil, at Ripon College Cuddesdon, nr. Oxford. We knew that the summary for policy makers for the 5th report would come out on the following Friday. Where were we on that Friday? Well six months before I had booked to see Fleetwood Mac at the O2 stadium in London. Rather a different musical style to that in Jesus College Chapel at the time of the 4th report in 2007! It was a brilliant, brilliant concert. The highlight for me, and for many others, was the appearance of Christine McVie to play with her former band, for only the second time in fifteen years (she had also played the previous Wednesday). She only played one song, her famous "Don't Stop". The lyrics of the chorus go like this:
Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.


Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow. Throughout Friday 27th I had been picking up the news on my phone about the 5th IPCC report. Once I heard "Don't stop", I just could not get the words out of my mind. I should explain that the song is actually about the breakup of Christine's marriage many years before, but those words, "Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow", just kept nagging at me. It just seemed an incredible thing for me to hear on that particular day. And they are the reason I wrote this blog. The day after the concert we returned home, and my first job was to edit the comments that Sir John had sent me concerning the 5th report and to get them out on the web. And the following Thursday I was in Aylesbury speaking about the 5th IPCC report. I don't think I will stop, well not anytime soon! And I would encourage anyone who reads this to "Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow."

Martin Hodson (8th October 2013)

 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Our Publications on Christianity and the Environment

Martin and Margot in Austria
Our Publications on Christianity and the Environment
For the past few years we have been writing and publishing quite a range of publications in the general area of "Christianity and the Environment". From the more academic to the more popular, and from books, booklets, and briefings to Bible studies and even a DVD! We thought it might be useful for people to have one spot which collects them all together and gives some details of how you can obtain each one if you want it (some are not easy to find!). We will arrange the publications by date:

2004
Margot started by linking her former work on the Jewish Roots of Christianity (e.g. A Feast of Seasons) with thinking about the environment:
Margot R. Hodson (2004) Environmental Christianity: insights from our Jewish Heritage. JRI Briefing Papers, No. 13, Cheltenham: The John Ray Initiative.
This briefing can be downloaded from the JRI web site and paper copies can be ordered from the JRI Office. A reasonable level of theological knowledge would be an advantage in reading this briefing.

2007
Margot was asked by Prof. Sam Berry to write a short epilogue article for his latest book:
Margot R. Hodson  (2007) Creative harmony: Isaiah’s vision of a sustainable future. in R. J. Berry, ed. When Enough is Enough, A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability. Leicester: IVP. p.169-177.
This book can be purchased from Amazon UK. A reasonable level of theological knowledge would be an advantage in reading this chapter.

In 2006 we both attended an important meeting at the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) in Prague where the aim was to consider what might go into the syllabus of a Bible College in terms of environmental theology.  John Weaver and Margot edited the resulting volume:
John Weaver and Margot R. Hodson eds. (2007) The Place of Environmental Theology: a guide for seminaries, colleges and universities. Oxford: Whitley Trust, & Prague: IBTS. The book can be downloaded HERE. Within this book Martin wrote a chapter:
Martin J. Hodson (2007) Environmental theology courses in Europe- Where are we now? in John Weaver and Margot R. Hodson eds. The Place of Environmental Theology: a guide for seminaries, colleges and universities. Oxford: Whitley Trust, & Prague: IBTS. pp. 107-120. Download HERE.
The book can be ordered from the JRI Office. The book is at a fairly academic level and would not be recommended for the general reader.

2008
The pinnacle of our work so far in this whole area. Many years brewing, but worth it, was our book:
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson (2008) Cherishing the Earth. How to care for God’s Creation. Oxford: Monarch.
The book can be ordered from the JRI Office, from Amazon (States) and Amazon UK  Intended for the general Christian reader. We gathered all the reviews we could find onto one page.

2009
Late in 2008 we both spoke at the annual Agricultural Christian Fellowship meeting. Margot gave the following paper which was written up for a Rusource Briefing:
Margot R. Hodson (2009) Theology of the Land. Rusource Briefing 776.
If you would like a copy of Margot's paper Contact Us.

In the spring of 2008 and 2009, Martin went on two national "Hope for Planet Earth" tours of the UK with JRI, A Rocha UK, Tearfund and SJI. We visited schools in the days and churches and Christian groups in the evenings, and covered a total of 35 towns and cities. Martin was the tour scientist and did all of the science presentations on the tours. As a spin-off from the tours we made two DVDs, one intended for churches (with Bible studies and theology) and one intended for schools (with lesson plans and ethics). Martin contributed the section on "The Problem", basically a brief look at the science of climate change.
Martin J. Hodson (2009) The Problem. In Hope for Planet Earth. A Christian Response to Climate Change. A multimedia DVD resource for churches. (eds E. Morrice & F. Moffat). SJI, London.
The DVDs can be ordered from the JRI Office. The Church DVD is intended for the general Christian public, and the schools DVD is aimed at 15/16 years and above.

2010
Margot was asked by the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) to write a chapter on environmental mission for their book on holistic mission:
Margot R. Hodson (2010) Storm clouds and mission: creation care and environmental crisis. in B.E, Woolnough and W. Ma eds. Holistic Mission. God's Plan for God's People. Oxford: Regnum Books International. pp. 212-226.
The book can be purchased from OCMS or downloaded for free HERE. If you would like a copy of Margot's paper Contact Us. Not a difficult read, but intended mostly for those interested in missiology.

2011
Margot studied geography for her first degree, and has has long had an interest in Isaiah. These factors came together in her Grove Booklet:
Margot R. Hodson (2011) Uncovering Isaiah’s Environmental Ethics. Grove Booklet, Ethics series, E161. Cambridge: Grove Publications.
More details about this booklet and how to get a copy can be found HERE. The booklet is set at a fairly high theological level.

Martin and Margot spoke at the big "Faith and the Future of the Countryside" in 2010, and this booklet came out of this work:
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson  (2011) Climate Change, Faith and Rural Communities. Agriculture and Theology Project, Northampton.
The booklet can be ordered from the JRI Office or downloaded for free HERE. Not a difficult read, but note that it is very definitely focused on the rural areas of the United Kingdom.

2012
Martin helped supervise Lizzie Rushton's undergraduate thesis and the briefing arose from this work:
Elizabeth A.C. Rushton and Martin J. Hodson (2012) Faith, environmental values and understanding: a case study involving Church of England ordinands. JRI Briefing Papers No. 25, Cheltenham: The John Ray Initiative.
This briefing can be downloaded from the JRI web site and paper copies can be ordered from the JRI Office. This is more like a social science research paper, and has quite a lot of statistical analysis. But you can avoid all that if you wish to get an idea of the overall conclusions! Obviously set in a UK context.

2013
Margot was asked by Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) to contribute 12 Bible Studies on the Environment and Bible for their booklet covering the early part of 2013:
Margot R. Hodson (2013) Environment and the Bible. in L.Cherrett ed. Guidelines, Bible study for today’s ministry and mission, Vol 29 part 1.
Fortunately, BRF decided to release Margot's studies as a FREE SAMPLE in PDF format. If that does not work Contact Us. These studies are intended as an introductory set  for people who are new to thinking about this area, but could be a valuable resource for anyone.

Our friends from Redcliffe College, Gloucester, UK asked if we would write a chapter for them on Climate Justice, and this was the result:
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson (2013) Climate Justice: contemporary developments in science, policy, action and theology. In Carnival Kingdom - biblical justice for global communities. Eds. M. Hoek, J. Ingleby, C. Kingston-Smith, & A. Kingston-Smith. 125-143. Wide Margin Publishers.
Our chapter can be downloaded for free and details of how to order the whole book are HERE.The book is intended for those interested in mission/justice, but our chapter has a useful summary of the science and policy on climate change up to August 2012, which may have wider use.


Margot started a project on "Environment and Hope" with Ruth Valerio in 2010. This led to a small consultation and then a larger conference. After the conference we were approached by Anvil theological journal, who asked if we could produce a special edition on the topic. So in September 2013 the edition we co-edited appeared HERE. This is written at a fairly academic level.
Margot wrote an editorial for the volume: Margot R. Hodson (2013) Discovering a robust hope for life on a fragile planet. Anvil 29(1), 1-6. Free download HERE
Martin also had a paper in the journal looking at our current environmental situation, that was the "setup" paper for the following papers on theology and action: Martin J. Hodson (2013) Losing hope? The environmental crisis today. Anvil 29(1), 7-23. Free download HERE.

2014
Sierra Nevada, Spain
On paper this was not quite as productive as in some previous years, but we had a three month sabbatical from August to October (mostly in Spain and Portugal), and the fruits of that will be apparent in 2015. However, we did produce a few short blog articles which appeared in 2014.
Martin wrote several posts for the John Ray Initiative blog:
1) Genetically Modified Animals HERE
2) Meat, Climate Change and all that HERE
3) Review of "The Collapse of Western Civilization": Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway HERE

Margot was asked by Christian Concern for One World to write an article for them:
Margot R. Hodson (2014) Why I Care about the Environment. Download HERE.

2015
In the last few years there has been a growing campaign suggesting that institutions should get rid of their investments in fossil fuels. This started in the States, but has spread worldwide. Many churches and denominations have divested, but some have still to decide (notably the Church of England). Operation Noah have led the campaign in the United Kingdom for churches to divest. We were very pleased to be asked to contribute a short article on the ethics of divestment to join a distinguished group of authors looking at this topic. Links to the articles coming out of this can be found HERE. Our own article is: Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson (2015) Is it ethical to invest in fossil fuels? How can environmental ethics inform our decision making? HERE


Margot was asked to write an article for Preach Magazine which was producing a special edition on "Preaching for the Planet" in Spring 2015. The whole magazine is HERE.
Margot's contribution is: Margot R. Hodson (2015) Preaching for the planet- key Bible passages. Preach Magazine (Spring 2015), 20-24. HERE

Martin was asked to review Michael Northcott's "A Political Theology of Climate Change" for Anvil Journal (March 2015), and the result is on p. 76 of the book reviews section. HERE

We had been working on the whole area of climate scepticism really since the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009. But we finally managed to finish off the work on our 2014 sabbatical and here it is:
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson (2015) The Ethics of Climatic Scepticism. Grove Books Ltd., Cambridge.
Details of the contents, where you can purchase a copy, and the formats that it is available in are HERE.

Coming in September 2015: "A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues".


Monday, 15 April 2013

Bible Reading Fellowship studies on Environment

BRF Bible Studies

 Last year Margot Hodson was asked to write twelve Bible Studies on Environment for the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) in the UK. The studies were published in a booklet intended for use in January-April 2013. But the advantage of these studies is that they are not fixed to particular dates. We have now found that BRF are using the Environment studies as a FREE sample which can be downloaded in PDF format (you need to register, but there is no charge!). The studies are:


Old Testament
1 A good creation
2 Humans and nature
3 Rest and relationship
4 Called to the land and called to justice
5 Going beyond limits
6 The earth mourns

New Testament
1 Born into his own creation
2 The miraculous catch of fish
3 Creation groaning
4 Held together in Christ
5 Creation made new
6 Our gospel hope

These are intended as an introductory set of studies for people who have little or no previous experience in this topic area, but even "experts" will find something new!