The Church of England mustn’t waste this opportunity to address the ravages of climate change

Porthleven Storm WavesOne word you wouldn’t use to describe the weather in our country at the moment is ‘boring’. Just when we decide that the havoc wreaked by the latest storm is the worst weather of the winter, along comes the next one and raises the bar on devastation levels again. It might be producing some incredible photography displaying the raw power of nature, but it’s not wonderful if your house is being wrecked by floodwater or you’ve had days without power to it.

We’re having a pretty tough time right now, but is this freak weather becoming less freakish, i.e. should we accept that we will be expecting more of this extreme weather year on year? It certainly feels that our climate is increasingly unpredictable and bad tempered, both locally and globally, and the credible science that analyses our climate continues to put much of the blame on global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently published the first instalment of its Fifth Report. It details the physical evidence, explaining that on the ground, in the air, in the oceans, global warming is ‘unequivocal’, adding that it is extremely likely [95% confidence] that human influence has been the ‘dominant cause’ for global warming since the 1950s.

As Dr Ruth Valerio, Churches and Theology Director at Christian conservation charity, A Rocha, wrote on her blog yesterday, according to a poll of 25 experts carried out by the currently hard pressed Environment Agency, the most important thing that will ‘save the planet’ after using less energy is the actions of religious leaders. The experts, who came from a range of backgrounds, had this to say:

‘The appeal comes through loud and clear from our panel – religious leaders need to make the planet their priority. ‘The world’s faith groups have been silent for too long on the environment,’ says Nick Reeves. ‘It is time they fulfilled their rightful collective role in reminding us that we have a duty to restore and maintain the ecological balance of the planet.’

‘Penney Poyzer puts it rather more graphically. ‘Organised religion of all denominations, PLEASE get your congregations to make caring our rapidly decomposing, landfill site of a planet the utmost priority,’ she says.’

Many Christians, Christian organisations and churches are already taking this issue seriously. From a Biblical perspective, Genesis 1 and John 1 place humanity at the pinnacle of creation, with the responsibility for stewardship of our world. As humans – part of the created order – we have a responsibility to live out the love of God for God’s creation.

The Church of England has five marks of mission of which the fifth is ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth’ and next week its General Synod will debate and vote on a motion proposed by the Diocese of Southwark covering a variety of environmental issues, asking the Church’s national investing bodies to ensure their investment policy is ‘aligned with the theological, moral and social priorities of the Church’.

Christian Aid has given its full backing to the motion, which among other things calls on the General Synod to establish a Working Group on the Environment to monitor the Church’s ethical investment policies and ensure its commitment to caring for creation.

Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Adviser, Dr Alison Doig, said there were both ethical and practical reasons to act now.

‘It is time for the Church of England to speak with a united voice on climate change which affects Christians and non-Christians all over the world. The Church has an opportunity to show real leadership on this issue, to make a prophetic statement in support of those on the front line of climate change.

‘The Church of England wields not only moral clout but also significant financial power in the form of its £8 billion of investments. By establishing a Working Group on the Environment and encouraging the national investing bodies to review their policies the Church can make a powerful statement for climate justice.’

Joe Ware who is the Church and campaigns journalist at Christian Aid wrote this while attending the UN climate summit last year:

What is particularly troubling for many about climate change is that this is an issue of injustice. Those suffering its worst effects are mostly the world’s poor, who have done the least to cause the current crisis. The Africans forced to flee their homelands, and the Bangladeshis and Filipinos swamped by frequent floods are the least culpable for their plight.

Wealthy polluters have not only caused the problem: they also have the power to do something about it – but, in many cases, show scant desire to do so. Like slavery, it is a question of morality and injustice, and, like slavery, it could be Christians who step in to make it right.

The Evangelical MP William Wilberforce helped to end the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. Now the Church must speak up with a prophetic voice for those who have no voice. As with Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights in the United States, and the ending of apartheid in South Africa, Christians have a proud record of standing up to and overcoming oppression. Such breakthroughs have been the result of Christians’ getting their hands dirty with the messy business of politics. Now it is up to us to call on our politicians to implement just policies, which reflect the urgent need to respond to what scientists are telling us is taking place.

This is where the Church can speak the truth to power. Unlike self-interested governments, the Church has a body that spreads to all corners of the globe. We speak often of the persecuted Church, but what of our brothers and sisters suffering persecution by an inhospitable climate? It’s time for us to heed the words of 1 Corinthians 12.26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.”

The General Synod has a chance to move the Church of England’s approach to climate change forward considerably, supporting initiatives that help reduce the threat and impact of climate change, and engaging with large UK companies which demonstrate poor carbon emissions management to encourage improvements.

If passed, the motion will enable the Church of England to have a more coherent and stronger voice in the run-up to the next major climate conference in Paris in 2015, and we will also be a clear encouragement to local churches and congregations to take action.

This is one small piece in a very large jigsaw, but if churches are going to be lecturing others on the poor treatment of God’s world, it is imperative that they have their own houses in order. The former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, put this in strong words when he  addressed a Vatican sponsored climate change conference:

‘To say that creation is there for us to take advantage of is in the end to dethrone Christ “through whom and for whom all things came into being”. Putting ourselves in the place of Christ is a blasphemy and leads to the desecration of creation itself. This is indeed what we are witnessing through the ravages of climate change. Destroying the planet through the destabilising of the climate is not just bad stewardship, is not just a crime against humanity, it is to undo God’s creative and sustaining work in and through Christ. That is a blasphemy.’

Update: The motion was passed at General Synod on Wednesday 12th February. The details can be found here.

Categories: Christian organisations, Church, Environment, Justice

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15 replies

  1. It is encouraging that environmental issues are to be debated by General Synod, and Background note GS 1942B from the Ethical Investment Advisory Group sets out the several initiatives currently in progress within the Church.

    With regard to the Church’s national carbon reduction programme, this has been promoted on a ‘top down’ basis, with Shrinking the Footprint, (StF), as ‘a cross-divisional campaign involving both the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division and Mission and Public Affairs’,‘aimed at helping the Church’s 44 dioceses and 16,200 churches reduce their carbon footprint’. The problem, therefore, is that its delivery is primarily a regional and local issue, as are other improvements in environmental areas.

    It is unlikely that ‘the establishment of a General Synod Working Group on the Environment, to monitor this [ethical investment &c] and other environmental issues’ would be effective unless, as GS 1942 points out, ‘the Synod debate suggests new dimensions and stronger authority for a new Working Group, and if such a group is created it should replace the StF Steering Group, not duplicate it. The issue should be addressed by managers, not by bean-counters.

    It is time to escape the “badgers and bunnies” mentality when considering the environment, and a first step would be acknowledgement that: global warming is a serious problem with global impacts, requiring urgent global and local action; there is an ever-narrowing window of opportunity for effective mitigation. It is not generally appreciated the world’s first “climate change refugees”, i.e. people who are forced to move from their homes as a consequence of global warming and rising sea-levels, will not be in small tropical islands in the Pacific or of a low-lying delta like in Bangladesh, but in Alaska, and this is likely in only a couple of years’ time.

  2. Thank you David. Incredibly helpful as always.

  3. As one measure, among many, I hope the church vigorously and vocally opposes fracking. Professor Tony Ingraffea – foremost fracking expert- says that ground water contamination is 100% certain given sufficient time – in the order of 10’s of decades. While Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre says,”

    “Shale gas is the same as natural gas – it is a high-carbon fuel,
    with around 75% of its mass made of carbon. For the UK and other
    wealthy nations, shale gas cannot be a transition fuel to a low-
    carbon future. Anyone who says differently does not understand
    our explicit international commitments under the Copenhagen
    Accord, the Cancun Agreements – or, alternatively, is bad at maths.”

    • Hi Nim,

      Actually, I quite enjoyed my recent read of Professor Tony Ingraffea. He makes some good points and does so with humour.

      But picking up your point on transition. Professor Tony has himself said the following…

      “You can’t turn off the use of fossil fuels today and turn on renewables tomorrow. But we must today start diminishing the use of fossil fuels and accelerating the use of renewable fuels. And that’s where the complications come in, of politics, economics and sociology.”**

      And equally you acknowledge that transition is required. So maybe a few questions for you if you have time to answer.

      1. How would you transition to renewable fuels? More coal? More oil? More gas? Which would you pick and why?
      2. How would you ensure constancy of energy supply and sufficiency of supply?
      3. How would you prevent accelerating rising prices. In many quarters we have a rising poverty problem – would you add fuel poverty to that?

      In addition is Professor Tony’s further statement.

      “Fracking per se presents little risk to air quality, but the air pollutants from diesel engine exhaust and methane emissions associated with the processes of excavation, drilling, dehumidification, compression, processing and pipeline transport do present serious problems with air quality and global warming.”**

      It is a good point and he further points out that regulation is key.

      “The Ten Commandments are “regulations,” but as words alone where do they leave us?”**

      Indeed, I would add that good regulation is absolutely integral to good mining practice. That is why the latest EU recommendations are so encouraging because they are so stringent and would force the industry to adhere to the highest standards – including gas capture, which is obviously salient to Professor Tony’s statement above. (Personally, the crux for me is not whether to frack but in moving from recommendations to legally binding requirements).

      **The quotes from Prof Tony Ingraffea are taken from

      • I think you may have slightly misunderstood the idea of ‘transition’. The fracking industry is keen to push the idea that we need to switch to a new energy system (reliant on gas), before then building a zero-carbon system. This is clearly imcompatible with our moral (and legal) obligations on climate change. I would challenge you to find a way in which we can ‘transition’ in that way and not exceed 2 degrees celsius.

        Instead, your quote simply says that we cannot immediately stop using fossil fuels. But that does not mean that we cannot immediately move towards a low-carbon system: by requiring all new investment to go to low-carbon sources. There is no need to switch from coal->gas->renewables when we can just go from coal->renewables. It’s a PR trick.

        Obviously we’ll still need energy until we’re fossil free (although a concerted efficiency effort would diminish that need). So we should do some rather sensible things like giving gas grid priority over coal. But this does not mean that we should divert money from renewables to build an infrastructure based on gas.

  4. I’m hugely encouraged to see this. It’s long been a frustration of mine that churches, and individual christians aren’t doing more about this. I hope the Synod debate will be the start of a bigger push – a push that reaches down into parishes and starts organising congregations.

    Gillan – you’d be more than welcome to join us in Operation Noah: the campaign behind the investment motion!

  5. Reblogged this on thedangerouscurve and commented:
    Powerful stuff.

  6. This story brings to mind a book coming out next month called “Religion, Space, and the Environment”,-Space,%20and%20the%20Environment-978-1-4128-5257-9.html?srchprod=1

  7. Climate change is one the important issues, this should be dealt in accordance with all the contemporary and needs of future generations as we have not inherited this world from our ancestors but we have borrowed it from generations to come.

  8. Sir, you and your church clearly have delusions of relevance; 99.99% of mankind couldn’t care less what the C of E thinks about anything.

    • Leaving aside the basis of the “99.99% of mankind” assertion, the underlying issue here is not what the General Synod thinks, but what the CofE does in relation to climate change and the environment, which are of importance to a significant percentage of mankind.


  1. Fracking and the Church of England | Law & Religion UK
  2. The Church and the Environment | Law & Religion UK
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