News and Views
Articles and letters about climate change
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Ring out for Climate! - October 2021
When this edition of the Parish News gets published, the UN Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow will be about to start, and I will be in a state of extreme nervousness!
Back in the summer I was appointed as a Christian Aid Climate Campaign Organiser, with a brief to raise awareness and mobilise local churches as much as possible in the run-up to COP 26. It has been a great pleasure to address several Climate Sunday services and, by organising Great Big Green Week in Saffron Walden, to hope that I have had some impact on people’s hearts and minds.
In August I thought how great it would be if every church and cathedral bell in the country were to ring out a warning on the eve of COP 26. It's what church bells have traditionally been used for and the warning couldn't be more urgent! So I set about writing to every diocese in the United Kingdom and suggested that the bells ring for 30 minutes from 6pm on Saturday 30th October to sound ‘Code Red for Humanity’.
I was delighted when the idea was endorsed by Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich and Lead Bishop for the Environment, who included the idea in his C of E Environment Bulletin. The Central Council for Church Bell Ringers were more circumspect, being worried that the bell ringing for COP 26 constituted a political campaign. That raises all sorts of questions about what politics is and the role of the church in it.
Politics is simply what happens when people gather together in communities or cities and organise themselves (polis is Latin for city and gives us cosmopolitan etc). So when the future of humanity is at stake, and nation states have to come together to negotiate, it can’t help but be political.
But the threat of the climate crisis and the fate of all humanity surely takes us onto a whole new level. One which far transcends party politics to a realm where Christians, and people of all faiths, must surely exert all their influence as stewards of God’s creation and as living examples of God’s love for his children.
Having emailed every diocese twice, a bell ringer from Cornwall wrote to say she’d had the idea of ringing bells around the world, and soon I was getting messages from the US. So why not invite Australia and New Zealand too?
Soon I had a heart-warming reply from Bishop Matt Brain of Bendigo, full of enthusiasm for the idea, but describing ‘the sad political reality in Australia where we are enmeshed in harmful policies which are being used to score political points. Coal mining has become something of a shibboleth which has then avoided the actions which can be made.’ In such a toxic atmosphere I can well understand bishops being nervous of following in the footsteps of Thomas à Becket!
Earlier this summer I visited Rev’d John Goddard, our Baptist minister, to encourage him to hold a Climate Sunday service or embark on the Eco Church journey. Towards the end he told me that God had clearly placed the burden of environmental activism on me. I had never thought of it that way, but his words sank in and it certainly does feel to have become a burden, and sometimes a very frightening one.
I would much rather not be an activist! I’d love to get on with a contented retirement, but first I would like to hear the bells of St Mary’s ring out on 30th October. Then, in response to voices around the world, to learn that serious, hope-giving actions were being pledged and taken in Glasgow. Perhaps when the world starts to dramatically reduce its emissions and devise an economic system that works in harmony with nature, I will be able to relax.
Church Eco Team Leader
The Great Big Green Week 18-26 September 2021
As the UN conference on Climate Change in Glasgow draws near, join us to celebrate the delicate balance of nature and learn what we need to do to preserve it ending with a Climate Sunday service at St Mary's.
As ye sow, so shall ye reap - September 2021
Edward Gildea scything the wildflower areas of the churchyard
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I have greatly enjoyed acquiring a new skill this year: that of scything. Indeed, the first thing I learned is that you don’t ‘scythe’ with a scythe; you Mow. The ‘One man (who) went to mow, went to mow a meadow…’ went with his scythe and the four, five, six or more of them mowed in a staggered line across that meadow.
Another verse, as I mowed the wildflowers I planted in the churchyard, has also echoed in my mind: ‘As ye sow, so shall you reap’. The full line in Galatians has some added fierceness: ‘God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’.
As we have faced a summer of extreme weather events across the globe, the line acquires an even stronger relevance: are we now reaping the consequences of our accelerating abuse of the planet over the last couple of centuries?
The suffering caused by extreme weather events has been appalling. The widespread destruction in the USA, with Hurricane Ida spreading devastation from Louisiana to New York while record wildfires scorched California, prompted Joe Biden to admit it was, ‘yet another reminder that the climate crisis is here’.
The massive storms battered states on the Gulf coast and all the way up the north-east, killing at least 48 in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the Caldor wildfire in California has burned over 200,000 acres, threatened over 35,000 structures and become one of few wildfires to rage from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other.
Day after day, throughout our rather disappointing summer, we heard of devastating events in Germany, China, Greece, Spain and even London, until ‘extreme’ started to become the new norm.
Indeed, extreme weather events are now five times more likely than in 1990. A Met Office study has shown that an extended period of extreme winter rainfall in the UK is now about seven times more likely due to human-induced climate change and the chances of this year’s record-breaking heatwave in France have increased 100 fold since 1900,
The bad news is that it can only get worse. Since we are still releasing 50 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and things will only start to subside after we reach net zero and then become dramatically carbon negative.
We are leaving an appalling legacy. Our children will reap the most of what we have sown, but the immediate injustice is that the poor of the global south are already the ones reaping the consequences of our selfish addiction to fossil fuels.
This year’s IPCC report, after being quite reserved for decades, pulled no punches. ‘Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,’ said Co-Chair Panmao Zhai.
And the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the IPCC report was nothing less than ‘a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable’.
Have we ‘Mocked God’? I’ll leave you to decide. But I know that the planet can only ever be in perfect balance with itself, and that distorting the heat of the oceans and the atmosphere in one side of the scales can only result in consequences on the other.
Let us hope that COP 26 brings this self destruction to an end.
Church Eco Team Leader
Talk on Adventure, Activism and COP 26’ in the Parish Rooms at 7.30pm on Wednesday 22nd September.
As part of Saffron Walden’s Great Big Green Week Edward Gildea will talk about ‘Adventure, Activism and COP 26’ in the Parish Rooms at 7.30pm on Wednesday 22nd September. Spiced with first-hand experiences of the effects of global warming on oceans and mountains, this illustrated session will explore the importance of COP26 in Glasgow this year for the future of humanity. Come and discuss your own thoughts and and ideas about what we should each be doing about it.
Photo on right: Monta Rosa glacier in the Alps. If you look at the change in the texture and colour of the rock in the valley, you can see the massive loss of depth of the glacier. My talk will include reference to the billions of people whose food supply depends totally on the slow melting of tropical glaciers.
It’s time to get excited! - July 2021
It is time to get excited about the possibilities of a life lived in harmony with God’s creation!
The possibilities for happiness, social justice, economic and emotional fulfilment are still available on our precious and delicate planet, if we are only prepared to change now.
A few weeks ago, four graduates from Cambridge were tasked by our district council to produce a report on ‘A Green Economy for Uttlesford’. Their presentation was inspirational. In a very short space of time, they researched the scope for new, sustainable technologies, industries and jobs. They discovered that in Thaxted there is a new business developing hemp as a building material. It is amazing! As an insulator, as a rigid board, as building blocks and as a green form of concrete. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our farmers started farming it, our workforce started manufacturing it and our builders started building warm, affordable, carbon-absorbing homes with it!
Wild flowers in our churchyard - thanks to our Eco Group
They had ideas for a ‘technology incubator’ where research scientists collaborate across a vast range of sciences, networking with entrepreneurs who can see commercial applications, financiers who are looking to invest in the future, green economy and finally transferring to local production sites around Uttlesford. Wow!
We just need to open our eyes and transform our mindset to see that the frightening challenges we face are, in fact, golden, God given opportunities!
‘But who will pay for it all?’ you ask. Firstly, we are realising that the cost of failing to transfer to a fossil free economy is going to cost many times more in financial terms (fire and hurricane destruction, flooded towns and cities and food shortages) and infinitely more in human lives, de-stabilised societies, mass migration and war.
Secondly, governments can achieve massive change simply by regulation. They just need the courage to upset their lobbyists and big donors! Simply by legislating the cessation of petrol and diesel car production has sparked a massive transition in research, development and investment in the car industry. It was, I imagine, instrumental in Nissan’s decision to locate a major battery manufacturing base in Sunderland, creating 6,000 jobs.
Such courage to legislate stimulates industry by providing a new, level playing field on which to compete. The first to change wins the market, whereas without such legislation, the first to change loses… Imagine what such changes could do to the construction industry!
Thirdly, talking to an old college friend of mine, who made an embarrassing fortune in the City, said that ‘a massive wall of money’ hits the City every month from pension contributions. They have to invest it somewhere and at long last, pension fund managers (Larry Fink included) have woken up to the fact that their old portfolios have led us into a scenario of ever-increasing disasters and that they should actually be looking towards long term investment in the future: a green future. One Planet Economics.
And in our own lives, especially for time-rich baby boomers, wouldn’t it be nice to learn to travel again? I mean properly travel. To feel the change in landscape as we pass through it; to observe the changes in culture; to connect with the people we meet; to learn from and enjoy experiences of otherness. Living more slowly, more deeply, more respectfully in an exciting new world! I can’t wait!
Church Eco Team Leader
What does Climate Justice actually mean? - June 2021
When I take to the streets to protest about the destruction of the planetary balance we depend on, the most popular chant is:
“What do we want?” “Climate Justice!”
“When do we want it?” “Now!!!” … repeat until your throat is sore…
I wonder, though, what passers-by make of it. What does it actually mean?
In essence it is about the fact that the poor of the world will suffer, and are already suffering, the effects of the climate crisis long before the wealthy who have created the problem. We who have benefited from 250 years of coal and oil powered industries are in a better position to mitigate the effects than those who are only just beginning to emerge from poverty.
Our position on the globe, in relatively high latitudes and cooled by surrounding seas, mean that our climate will remain relatively benign, despite the extreme weather events we have experienced. However, it is still the poor of the UK who will suffer first: when failed harvests drive up food prices or old carbon-based industries are closed down, with no new industries planned to replace it.
Photo - Edward Gildea
Ocean warming, however, is already costing lives on a terrible scale. An international team of 14 scientists examined data going back to the 1950s, looking at temperatures from the ocean surface to 2,000 meters deep. They discovered that the world’s oceans are now heating at the rate of five Hiroshima atomic bombs dropped into the water every second. Mind boggling!
That energy has to go somewhere, and it goes up into the sky forming the vast cloud formations I sailed through in the Coral and Solomon Seas, which start to spin, gathering more and more energy as they turn into hurricanes and cyclones.
The effects of Cyclone Idai, for example, which swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March 2019, were still being felt a year later. Idai destroyed crops, ruined lives and left millions without food. At least 900 people were killed and around 2.5 million more were affected and face a grave hunger crisis as crop failures, drought and food shortages continue.
Hurricane Iota struck Nicaragua in November last year, just two weeks after Hurricane Eta caused devastation across Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. It was the country’s strongest hurricane on record and hit the poorest and most vulnerable people hardest. Landslides and floods caused mass destruction. Homes and crops were flattened. Some 160,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Hondurans were forced to flee, leaving everything behind to seek safety.
Despite tragedies such as these, I still hear people claiming that the problem is not driven by fossil fuels but by overpopulation. ‘We need to reduce the world’s population’. I asked where they would like to start that reduction. In North America, Australia and Western Europe, where the carbon footprint per person is by far the greatest? Or focus on the mega rich and their growing fleet of private jets? Ahhh…. That is not quite what they had in mind. They were thinking more of sub Saharan Africa and India. Starting their policy there would generate neglible reductions in CO2. The solution over population lies in the education of women and the elimination of corruption so that people have a chance of saving for a pension.
Sadly, however, the pattern of injustice is emerging clearly: our environmental crises will provide the ‘solution’ to the over-population of our planet, starting with the poor and most innocent. So what do we want? Climate Justice!!
Church Eco Team Leader
Congratulations to Edward who has been appointed as a Christian Aid Climate Action Organiser during the summer and up to COP26.
What is COP 26 and why does it matter? - May 2021
COP is the ‘Conference of the Parties’ and the 2021 meeting in Glasgow this November will be the 26th meeting. They started following UN treaty agreed in 1994.
We are all aware of the Paris Agreement in 2015, COP 21, at which countries agreed to try to keep global warming down to 2ºC. They then set up a commission to look at whether 1.5º C would make a significant difference, which of course it does. Massively.
Think of global temperature in the way you think about your own body. A one degree rise above 37°C and you feel sweaty and uncomfortable; at 39°C you’d go to bed; at 40°C you’d call the doctor. The Arctic has already risen by 6ºC. We are at serious risk of becoming a hospital case!
At the last conference in Madrid each nation agreed to devise a plan to cut their carbon emissions, committing to ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’. The hope is that these specific and measured contributions will replace the vague promises and commitments of previous conferences and be something that can be fed into climate models to see if they have a chance of delivering net zero by 2050 and just 1.5° of warming.
Sadly, however, a study this year concluded that the rates of emissions reductions need to increase by 80% beyond NDCs to meet the 2°C upper target range of the Paris Agreement, and that the probabilities of major emitters meeting their NDCs is very low, estimating that with current trends the probability of staying below 2 °C of warming is only 5%, which leaves us on a swift course to catastrophe.
To have a chance of surviving on this planet we are going to need to change more than our boilers, cars and holidays. We need fundamental changes in global economics and politics.
A frequent area of contention is between the developed and developing countries. Europe and America have had the benefit of 250 years of fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas have transformed our lives and raised our standards of living. Developing countries are still have a long way to catch up and don’t have the resources to invest in clean energy technology. How much help are developed countries prepared to give them? Cutting our own overseas aid budget is not going to help.
Meanwhile China, which as a ‘developing country’ at COP 21, was exempt from the commitments of Europe and America, stated in January that it planned to peak its emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2060. This is a massive step forward, especially if they under-promise and over-deliver, as they often do.
It is worth bearing in mind that we have outsourced many of our emissions to China. Our politicians often claim that we are leading the world and quote 40% as our reduction in emissions. Switching from coal to gas made a big difference, but if we count the carbon embedded in all our imports from China, our reduction is a mere 15%. We still need to get our own house in order!
The UK government declared 2020 a "Year of Climate Action" and has recently committed to slash emissions by 78% by 2035. Even more impressively, this figure includes international aviation and shipping. This is an impressive and welcome ambition, and I can’t wait to see what measures are going to be proposed to achieve it!
Setting a target of 2030 for the banning of fossil fuel car manufacture shows how, at no expense to the tax payer, a new industry can be stimulated. All businesses want is a level playing field and such legal action gives them that.
Boris Johnson has said he wanted fighting climate change to be one of his government's biggest priorities and in November launched a ‘ten point plan for a green industrial revolution’ with £12 billion to support it over the next 10 years.
Meanwhile our global emissions continue to rise. From 5 billion tonnes in 1950, 18 billion in 1980, 23 billion in 2000 and 33 billion In 2020. We are still heading in the wrong direction.
COP 26 in Glasgow really is the ‘make or break’ conference that will determine humanity’s survival.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
The effect of climate change on the Arctic 1979 -2050 (Photos taken by Edward Gildea at the British Museum)
Meditations on the Birth of a Grandson - April 2021
A few weeks ago, I raised a solitary glass of champagne to toast the birth of my fourth grandson. What an amazingly blessed man I am! But within seconds I was choking back tears to think of the appalling legacy I will be leaving him.
Even if we manage to reach global carbon zero by 2050, and hold warming to just 1.5 degrees, the planet will be far less hospitable than the one I inherited. Bush and permafrost fires will still be raging, hurricanes will be more frequent, floods common place, prolonged droughts will impact food production and sea level rise will be destabilising vast cities.
It will only be after we reach carbon zero that we will start to remove the trillions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere (we dumped 37 billion tonnes last year alone) and centuries later, the ice sheets might start to reform and the glaciers to recover, delivering their steady meltwater to billions of farmers. Carbon zero is just the starting block for the race our children must run!
Even as we prepare to host COP 26, Rishi Sunak didn’t even mention the climate or ecological crises in his budget. While President Biden has earmarked $2 trillion to finally address climate change, the chancellor prided himself on his £27 billion roadbuilding programme: ‘the biggest ever investment in new roads’ putting the £3-4bn to support the prime minister’s 10-point climate plan totally in the shade.
The government is now only reluctantly reviewing the proposed coal mine in Cumbria, instead of stimulating sustainable jobs there in, for example, Cross Laminated Timber manufacture for a new, green building industry. Or investing in clean hydrogen or electric arc manufacture of green steel, like Germany, to create new jobs in that forlorn industry.
So many exciting possibilities are being ignored!
So what can anyone do that will actually put pressure on a government to take sufficient and imaginative action? The School Strike has been brilliant. It had unarguable logic: What is the point of me educating myself for a planet that will be uninhabitable? It is essentially a protest of self-harm. Historically such actions have been very effective: the Suffragettes’ and IRA hunger strikes, throwing yourself under the king’s horse, the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi which launched the Arab Spring…
It would seem that such actions are going to be all that are left to those of us who want to protest. The proposed Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill will allow police to simply claim any protest is a “public nuisance” or “too “noisy” or “hindering people from getting on with their daily lives” before arresting people and making them liable to a 10 year prison sentence. That leaves precious little scope for protests that will secure news coverage! Did our precious democracy and freedoms evolve without any disruption to people’s lives?
Still, for the sake of my grandsons, it’s a risk I’ll have to take.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Being ethical isn’t easy - March 2021
Being ethical isn’t easy, but as Christians, we should try harder than most.
Last month, Uttlesford District Council were put on the spot by their investment in a property that is going to be leased by an American Company with a wide variety of technical products, a significant proportion of which have applications in the arms trade. Did that constitute an ethical investment?
The Investment Board were strongly in favour, as were most councillors, but they were hampered by not having an ethical investment policy. It was certainly an interesting debate and is worth watching on-line. One of the more shocking contributions was from a councillor who said ‘We all buy stuff from China and Amazon every day, who have no ethics…’ and while his argument petered out, the implication was clear: We are all unethical anyway, so why worry about connections with the defence industry?
This statement was particularly ironic because the council had just unanimously signed up to the seven Nolan principles of public life, the last of which is leadership. To my mind leaders hold themselves to the highest possible standards in order to set an example that is worth following.
A great many of us actually do try to be ethical. We avoid using Amazon and think twice about the origins of the products we buy. I was once invited to a dinner with friends at Ask. I agreed enthusiastically but wanted a moment to check Ask out on Ethical Consumer. Ethical consumer is an organisation that rates businesses against dozens of criteria covering Environmental issues, Human and workers’ rights, Humane concern for animals and Politics: their use of tax avoidance strategies. Out of a possible 15 points, (with 5 a possible bonus points for sustainability) Ask, or at least their parent company, scored just 4 points, so I called my friends back and asked if we could go somewhere else! We had a delightful evening in a local, independent restaurant which I suspected did not use an offshore bank account!
Some decisions can easily become habitual. It’s easy to avoid Amazon because we have a great, friendly bookshop here. Waitrose (4.5) and Aldi (3) beat ASDA which scores 0/20 and Tesco which only just gets off the ground at 1/20. That suits us in Saffron Walden! Being ethical about coffee shops is also easy: we have so many characterful independent coffee shops! Costa coffee (0.5/20) and Starbucks (1.5/20) don’t get a look in from me. Caffe Nero is better at 5.5.
I’m afraid that I use an Apple computer and phone, because they teach you how to use their products and help out remotely when I am stuck. They have appalling ratings for tax avoidance and environmental reporting, but do well in not sourcing conflict minerals and have a good toxics policy. Overall they score 6.5, which isn’t bad.
In terms of our climate and biodiversity crises, the ethics are now very clear. Diet plays a huge part. I call myself an ‘antelopian’: I eat meat about as often as I could have caught an antelope, in true hunter-gatherer style! Nuts, fruit, roots and berries in season (from Liz’s local veg stall near Market Row), with meat as a very special treat. As I get older the antelope seem to be getting harder to catch! They certainly don’t come from Texan factory cattle ranches and I don’t want to be complicit in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for ranching or soya animal feed.
It’s harder to be sure that your pension fund is ethical. It is likely to include investments in oil and gas industries and others, like Rolls Royce, with connections to defence. But if you can switch to a fossil free and ethical pension, now is probably a good time. I divested my pension about 5 years ago, and it feels as if I am riding a bow wave of ethical, carbon free investment!
We have immense power as consumers. We effectively cast a vote with every purchase. So as Covid restrictions are eased, the shops re-open and we re-discover the joy of meeting friends in our local shops, or plan our longed-for holiday, we all have the opportunity, as Christians, to show true, ethical leadership and send a message around the world.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Article by the Bishop of Norwich - Graham Usher on the C of E website - 25 February 2021
Nobody can deny that climate change awareness has grown significantly over the past years. It is now no longer a niche interest, but everybody’s issue, writes The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, following his appointment as Lead Bishop for Environmental Affairs. Courageous decision-making is needed to tackle climate change he says.
Left - Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich, who has just been appointed as lead bishop for Environmental affairs. Click here to read his article on the Church of England's website.
One Planet Economics - February 2021
They kept coming, witness after witness, to tell the inquiry that the economy of our region depends on the growth of Stansted Airport. As if Uttlesford District Council were trying to close the airport, rather than put a cautious limit on its growth to 35 million passengers each year rather than allow the 43 million that the airport wants.
No one was asking for job cuts. No one was trying to reduce the economy. In 2019 there were 28 million passengers, so there was existing permission for 21% growth even after we have recovered from Covid!
But there is a deeper question here. Do we need … can we afford, constant, unlimited growth? Our current economy seems to require 2.5% growth in GDP every year. It sounds modest but means a doubling of production and consumption by 2050 and a quadrupling by 2077. Since CO2 emissions, material consumption and waste go up at the same rate, that means our planet will have to double and quadruple likewise!
Sadly, we don’t have an infinite planet that can support infinite growth and absorb infinite pollution. We have just one, perfect, delicate and very small planet. We need to adjust our economic model to one that accepts that we have only one home, one planet: One Planet Economics.
Mark Carney’s Reith lectures pointed out the vast gulf between our Values and the monetary value we put on things. We value our nurses, care workers, midwives and refuse collectors, but we pay them very little compared to our footballers, celebrities, city bankers and CEOs. Why do we do that? Maybe we have been measuring the wrong thing.
Gross Domestic Product is ‘the monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services that are bought by the final user’. It is NOT a measure of any increase in jobs, of any reduction in poverty, of social justice, of any improvements in health or any business success. Indeed, it seems to correlate much more closely with the growing inequalities of rich and poor, monopolies that swallow smaller businesses, the pressure to drive down wages and over consumption.
We thought economic growth would ensure that things would be better for our children, but we now have a generation who, even before the pandemic struck, were struggling to get decent jobs, to hope for a secure future, let alone buy a home! Social mobility has ground to a halt and life expectancy is beginning to fall for the first time in some parts of the country!
Social inequalities are increasing at break-neck speed in fact. Oxfam’s report, The Inequality Virus, tells us that the combined wealth of the world's 10 richest people rose by £540 billion during the coronavirus pandemic; Jeff Bezos made a record $13bn in just one day and FTSE 100 chief executives after the first 3 days’ work in January had earned above the average wage of £29,559. I wonder how they will get through the eye of a needle!
At the other end of the scale, those working in the gig economy or on zero hours contracts are struggling to feed their families. The ‘trickle down’ effect just doesn’t seem to be working.
Maybe our economy would function better if we started measuring the things we have learned to value during lockdown: our health, happiness and wellbeing; the people who care for us and teach our children; the beauty of nature and of clear skies; community. The Sustainable Development Index does roughly that: it measures income, health and education within the scope of a single planet.
I think Jesus would approve.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Hope versus Optimism - January 2021
As a new year dawns, I wonder how hopeful we all feel about the future….
The vaccine programme is underway, but we must still wait and see how Brexit works out! Sadly, though, I don’t hold out much hope for our future on this beautiful planet. When Prince William said that ‘We should leave the world in a better condition than we found it,’ he was being hopelessly optimistic. There is absolutely no way that, when I die, I will be leaving the world in anything like as good a condition as I found it.
Talking to a group of coppicers in November, I was asked whether I felt hopeful and I had to admit that I don’t. Mankind has set in train a series of vast ‘positive feedback loops’ which we have no means of reversing in the course of this century. Nature normally works with negative feedback loops which balance each other out: The number of wildebeest in a herd grow, so the pride of lions succeeds in killing more and the pride grows until the wildebeest start to diminish, so the pride of lions makes fewer kills, gets smaller, allowing the herd to grow again, and so on.
However, the frightening bush and forest fires in California and Australia, caused by rising temperatures, simply put immense tonnages of CO2 into the atmosphere making those fires ever more likely. The vast fires in Siberia, where summer temperatures were 10 degrees above average, are melting the permafrost, releasing huge amounts of methane. At 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas for twenty years this makes the fires expand further and further. The rapid melting of the polar ice cap means that far fewer of the sun’s rays are reflected; instead they are readily absorbed by the deep blue arctic ocean which warms far faster and causes even more ice to melt.
Photo Edward Gildea Blackfriars Bridge 2018
None of these positive feedback loops will begin to be reversed until we reach carbon zero in 2050 and then start removing some of the 30 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere every year. Sadly, I am not the only one losing hope. A survey conducted by Yale-NUS college found that 92% of those surveyed had a negative view of the future. One woman said, ‘I can’t in good conscience bring a child into this world and force them to try to survive in what might be apocalyptic conditions.’ Another said, ‘I regret having my kids because I am terrified that they will be facing the end of the world due to climate change.’
These are heart-rending sentiments. But there is a paradox here: for all my lack of hope, I am still optimistic. These immense disasters are man-made and man is beginning to take steps to avert the catastrophe. The Reith lectures by Mark Carney demonstrated how the financial world has begun to take note, shifting its investments into more sustainable businesses and devising ways of promoting ecological responsibility in the ways markets work.
The outcome of the US elections is a game-changer and China’s decision to become carbon neutral by 2060 is momentous. Agreed, they are still investing massively in coal in order to produce all the consumer goods the western world wants at the prices we want to pay, but they are world leaders in clean energy technology manufacture, and one benefit of a dictatorship is that change doesn’t get slowed down by democracy!
At home, our Prime Minister has just budgeted £14bn to fund his ten point plan, and while that is dwarfed by the £43bn being spent to cut journey times from London to Birmingham by 20 minutes, it is a very welcome beginning. The radical new Agriculture Bill also gives hope that we can begin to transform unsustainable farming practices, and maybe even Europe will follow!
So there is room for optimism, even for the hopeless!
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
The Answer Lies in the Soil! November 2020
St Mary’s Church have been awarded the ECO Church Bronze award for helping to preserve the environment in practical ways.
Recycling, twinning toilets to support sanitation in Africa and investing church savings in carbon free, ethical funds had their role to play, but much of our work during lockdown has been focused on encouraging biodiversity, pollinators and wildlife in the churchyard.
Eco Church is one way in which the church shows leadership in the world, but we have much more to do if we are to reach the General Synod’s ambitious target to become carbon neutral by 2030!
Our aim must be to transform lifestyles to something cleaner, more connected to nature and healthier. Biodiversity mustn’t stop in our churchyards and gardens; it must extend to the food we buy and the sort of agriculture we choose to support.
Last month the UN summit on biodiversity called upon leaders to make a 10 point pledge. It included commitments to:
Move towards a resource-efficient, circular economy, nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches;
Shift land use and agricultural policies away from environmentally harmful practices and promoting sustainable land and forest management to reduce habitat loss;
Mainstream biodiversity into cross-sectoral policies at all levels, including food production, agriculture, fisheries, energy, tourism, infrastructure and extractive industries.
Sadly the US, Russia, Brazil and Australia did not sign up, and I question whether we should enter into trade deals with them until they do. Not least because our farmers need a level playing field.
Boris Johnson, however, took the pledge saying: ’The British Government is absolutely committed to tackling biodiversity loss.’ He called for ‘ambitious goals and binding targets ….Not just good intentions but real action.… Right now. We can’t afford dither and delay.’
Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash
We must hold him to that! We have a great opportunity in the Agriculture Bill to support Regenerative Agriculture and Permaculture, but it needs to include serious goals and targets on:
soil health, carbon sequestration and water retention
regenerating the micro-organic life in our increasingly barren soils
closing the loop of massive food waste into compost returning organic matter to the soil.
If you used to listen to Round the Horne in the sixties, you will remember Kenneth William’s colourful rendition of Rambling Sid Rumpo with his constant refrain: ‘The Answer Lies in the Soil!’ We are about to discover that he was absolutely right!
Thanks to conventional farming practices, nearly half of the world’s most productive soil has disappeared in the last 150 years. In the US alone, soil on cropland is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished. If we continue to degrade the soil at the rate we are now, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years, and with it our ability to filter water, absorb carbon, and feed people.
Our economic model of intensive tilling, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have stripped the soil of the miraculous complexity of nutrients, minerals and micro-organisms that support healthy plant life. We lie at the heart of an agricultural community. Let’s encourage the change here.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team leader
Bronze Eco Church Award - October 2020
St Mary’s Church are thrilled to have been awarded the Bronze Eco Church award. Eco team leader Edward said, “We are particularly pleased that, in a time of Covid and lockdown, we have been able to stay active, particularly in the churchyard and with local environmental organisations. We can’t wait to get stuck into the Silver Award, taking steps that are vital to us all!"
The People have Spoken! October 2020 - By Edward Gildea - Eco team leader
In September the UK’s first ever People’s Assembly on Climate change published a ground breaking report. In response to pressure from Extinction Rebellion, six Parliamentary Select Committees joined together to set up the assembly. It included people from all walks of life, balanced in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, where they lived and their level of concern about climate change. It even included climate sceptics.
Their task was to determine how the UK should meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. They discussed the topics with experts and each other before reaching their conclusions. You can read the full report on https://www.climateassembly.uk/report/
London’s Extinction Rebellion Protest photo: Edward Gildea
Their recommendations included a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030–2035 while more quickly ending the sale of the most polluting vehicles, with grants enabling businesses and people to buy low carbon cars.
They wanted better public transport, with government investment in low carbon buses and trains, adding new bus routes, more frequent services and making public transport cheaper. 80% of assembly members ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that aviation taxes should increase as people fly more often and as they fly further with the airline industry required to invest in greenhouse gas removals.
In homes, they suggested a ban on sales of new gas boilers from 2030 or 2035 with reductions in VAT on energy efficiency and zero carbon heating products.
They wanted labelling food and drink products as well as other products and services providing information about the carbon emissions involved in each product, so that we can each take responsibility as consumers.
In agriculture they suggested the introduction of low carbon farming regulations, making farm subsidies conditional on low carbon practices and biodiversity, with farmers paid to use their land to absorb and store carbon by restoring peatland, planting trees and improving soil health.
Despite this achievement, the reputation of Extinction Rebellion fluctuates. They were bitterly criticised for attacking the freedom of the press when they frustrated publication of the Sun and the Daily Mail for 12 hours on 5th September, with some politicians feeling that they should be regarded as a terrorist organisation.
I don’t agree with everything XR do, but I thought it was a pretty well targeted action. Ever since reading Milton’s Areopagitica, I have regarded freedom of the press as being fundamentally about the freedom to ‘speak truth to power’. But what should you do when the press is owned by the powerful? There is an immediate conflict of interest and with powerful men, such as Rupert Murdoch, who is a climate change denier.
The majority of our media is amassed in the hands of five people with powerful vested interests and deep connections to fossil fuel industries, and all too often their freedom includes the freedom to print stories that bear little relationship to the truth. Milton’s argument was about freedom of the Truth. We are sometimes hard-pressed to find it!
The BBC Sounds podcast ‘How they made us Doubt Everything’ is well worth listening to!
Update on our Churchyard initiatives - 24 Sept 2020
The Town Council have set up two notices to explain what is happening in our churchyard.
The sign says ‘ Working in partnership as part of our journey to become an Eco Church, loving and caring for God’s creation, we are encouraging bio-diversity and pollinators in this churchyard through a reduced mowing regime and the planting of wild flowers. We hope you will enjoy the beauty of nature here!
Pictured are Eco team leader Edward Gildea and passionate environmentalist, Jackie Damary Holman.
Homes for Hedgehogs
Last week we enjoyed a visit by Sheena Capon, who runs the Hedgehog Hospital at Shepreth Wildlife Park who advised us on the siting of our two new hedgehog homes. Here she is filling them with hay. They like their homes to be quite densely packed with hay, apparently! We look forward to some residents when the cold weather comes and maybe some babies in the Spring!
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