The climate emergency is too big. As just two individuals, it overwhelms us and we feel paralysed. Why then do we feel compelled to do something despite the enormity of the challenge? After all we are optimists, and the most destructive effects will probably not be felt in the UK in our lifetime. It is complex. Wanting to do the best for our children, wanting to be able to look young people in the eye and say we tried. These are some of the things that help counter the feeling of insignificance. We want to be able to make a difference.
Our 'Journey to COP26' was born out of the need to raise awareness that time is running out and this year's United Nations climate talks (COP26) in Glasgow need to produce concrete results. We invited people of all faiths and none to join us in a celebration of the living Earth by making a journey to any place that is sacred to them.
A sense of awe and wonder
So which sacred place? For us, a journey into the caves under the Yorkshire Dales seemed appropriate. Their very existence is intimately tied up with the carbon cycles of the Earth. The limestone rock is made from the shells of ancient marine creatures that lived and breathed. It is carbon captured from the atmosphere. The passages and galleries were dissolved out over eons by atmospheric CO₂ dissolving in rain to produce a weak carbolic acid. The underground world has personal significance too. A shared love of such wild places drew us together half a lifetime ago.
Journey to COP26 is an inner journey as well as a physical journey. That inner journey can start with a sense of awe and wonder. Caving gives this sense. You enter another kind of world, a world of rock and water, an echoey, lifeless world of darkness. Caving is an exploration of the unfamiliar, an opening of the senses, a team effort, a journey like no other.
We settled on a trip through Great Douk, beneath the western slopes of Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales.
Finding the right hole in the fissures of the limestone pavement is always a challenge. After a false start we find a hole that gets bigger rather than smaller and we are away. The light dims as move deeper. The sunlight fades to nothing and we wait to let our eyes to adjust to the lamp light from our helmets. Droplets of water on the stalactites above our heads catch the light and shine like jewels.
We clamber above a small stream that soon disappears beneath the rock, so it is suddenly quiet. To be still, here in this underground passage and contemplate our surroundings brings a deep sense of connection.
Wriggling onwards we hear flowing water ahead as we approach the main streamway. We drop through a slot in the roof into the water. It's cold! The passage is still low, so the challenge is to semi-crawl along keeping as much of your body out of the running water as possible. Gradually the passage gets bigger, and we can alternate crawling with a stooping walk. We pause in a chamber near to the surface and look up to a slot of sky, edged by green ferns. Where there's light there's life.
Emerging from the darkness
Next, an awkward scramble down by the water or an ignominious muddy crawl? We choose the crawl and emerge into the sunlight in the bottom of a large shake hole. We empty the water from our wellies and walk back to car for dry clothes and a welcome flask of tea, ever grateful for the comforts of our modern way of life.
As you emerge from darkness, you smell the soil and growing plants, hear the birds, feel the wind and see the sky. These are all elements of our living world that are sacred, precious and under threat from climate change. We want our leaders to sense their vulnerability and to make decisions that will prevent further damage.
Continue your journey by joining the Relay to COP26. The Young Christian Climate Network is coordinating this relay walk to call on the UK government to commit to providing fair climate finance to the world's poorest countries. Anyone of any age can participate by walking part of the route, helping to organise logistics, supporting with communications and social media or helping to run one of the ten residencies in cities around the country.
You can also join our Spiritual Preparation for COP26 zoom sessions, facilitated by staff from Quakers in Britain and Woodbrooke, the Quaker learning organisation. These monthly sessions offer a space for spiritual grounding and reflection, as well as for networking and sharing plans for climate action.