News and Views
Articles and letters about climate change
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Carbon Budget December 2022
While Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt grapple with balancing the UK budget, with all the implications for our taxes and the balancing of our domestic finances, a much bigger and more dangerous budget is ticking away.
We are living on a ‘Carbon Budget’: the amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere and still reasonably maintain human life on earth. At the moment we have used up 90% of the budget which would give us a 67% chance of staying within the 1.5°C of warming. UN reports published in November warn that there is no longer a ‘credible pathway to 1.5°C’. Indeed, the trajectory of our current policies is driving us to 3.2°C of warming by the end of this century.
I don’t believe the human race and the eco systems we depend on can possibly survive that, and yet it is within the lifetime of the children in our nurseries and primary schools.
Antonio Guterres, secretary-general to the United Nations has said: “We have dramatic situations in Ukraine, but this is the crisis of this moment. It is the crisis of our lifetime. The defining issue of today’s world. Climate change must be a central priority for all governments, all companies, all cities… civil society everywhere. If we are not able to reverse the present trend that is leading to the greatest catastrophe in the world, we will be doomed.”
Science tells us that Greenhouse Gas emissions must be halved by 2030 if we are to avoid the worst effects of Climate Crisis. Yet the latest pledges from governments around the world suggest that in 2030 emissions will still be increasing by 10% each year. We are still heading at breakneck speed in the wrong direction. “So what I do can make no difference.”
In many ways I agree. Massive changes are needed on a global scale to make a real difference. There needs to be a carbon tax, applying the ‘polluter pays’ principle and providing the dividend for new, fossil-free technologies to take off at scale. We need to reassess how our economies work so that we only aspire to growth that can be accommodated on one planet. Massive fossil fuel multinational companies need to be held accountable and to change direction. The trillions of dollars in the private sector need to be set to work in effecting a swift and radical transition, rather than in applying greenwash.
The extent and the depth of the changes needed is almost unimaginable and certainly puts my daily efforts to reduce my carbon footprint into the shade.
But the alternative is to ‘rubber stamp’ the direction in which we are headed. To wash our hands of it and the consequences for our children. We are the global north. Three billion of the world’s population have an annual carbon footprint smaller than that of our refrigerators. We should shoulder our responsibility and speak out!
Since the summer I have been working to re-launch ‘Ring out for Climate!’, encouraging church bells around the world to ring out their warning about the crisis and to speak up for Climate Justice on the eve of COP 27. In addition to writing to all the bishops and deans in England, Scotland and Wales, I wrote individually to over 100 Episcopalian bishops in the USA and all the Anglican bishops in Australia in an attempt to develop the global reach of the initiative. I just hope it achieves something.
We are part of a vast global community and together surely our voice can make a difference!
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Let’s bust a couple of myths! - October 2022
In my discussions with people about the environmental crises we face, certain arguments come up again and again:
‘The problem isn’t CO2 emissions it is population growth. The more people; the more emissions we will get. We need to reduce the world population.’
Population is indeed a problem, but it is not directly related to climate change. Indeed, for most parts of the world, the problem is population implosion, not explosion. In developing countries and acutely in China, birth rates and populations are falling while life expectancy is increasing. We already have a shortage of staff caring for the elderly; that shortage is going to become acute. That is why in China and Japan they are developing ‘Carebots’ so that the old and infirm can be cared for by robots. That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?
Although global population has increased massively since 1950, The population growth rate has now declined to 1.1% and is set to fall further, but there are some countries with rising populations, such as Oman, Niger, the Congo and Uganda. There are three key solutions: education of girls, better health care and getting rid of corrupt dictatorships. If only! It is corruption that means that people have no spare earnings to put in a pension, or a safe, inflation-proof place to keep it if they do. Without a pension, you have to rely on children to support you in old age.
Health care would reduce rates of childhood morbidity, but until those rates are reduced, people will tend to have more children, calculating that some will die. Meanwhile empowering women would lead to a whole host of benefits to humanity!
No. The real driver of Climate Change is affluence. People who own private jets, are frequent fliers or who own SUV’s, the people who regard themselves as ‘exceptional’, have far greater carbon footprints than whole towns or villages in Africa and the global south. The affluent really should not be blaming the poor. Our role should be helping countries such as India, who quite legitimately want to reduce poverty, to do so using clean energy and clean technologies.
Tragically of course the Climate Crisis will solve any problems of overpopulation in developing countries in the most cruel and unjust way: they are the ones losing their crops, lives and livelihoods already. They are already paying the price for a problem they did not create.
‘With the rising price of gas, increased mortgage rates and people having to choose between heating and eating, we simply can’t afford sustainable lifestyles.’
Florida Hurricane damage
It is quite frequently argued that a Green Transition would cost too much and would bankrupt us. I wonder if such people have added up the spiralling costs of not addressing the climate crisis. The hurricane damage in Florida is set to cost insurers $27-36bn and will wipe out the savings of all those without insurance. The cost of the massive floods in Pakistan are estimated at $10bn. I suspect that cost will have to be borne by the government, individuals and the poor rather than insurers. It will be crippling for a country already struggling with debt.
Here, so far, our floods are more localised and our storms rarely reach hurricane force, but harvest failures around the world are already driving up food prices making the stark choices for the poor even more difficult.
Plans to insulate homes, schools and hospitals were abandoned in the years following the banking crisis on the grounds that we couldn’t afford them. Had we done so, our homes would be warmer and our gas bills would be lower already. Every delay in addressing climate change racks up the cost of action and makes life harder for the poorest.
Somehow, we have to address ALL the tough issues that we face simultaneously; not play one off against the other as if it were a zero-sum game.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
What the Summer taught us - September 2022
The drought and record-breaking temperatures of summer brought home to us all the harsh reality of the climate crisis. The heat was almost unbearable. Farmers struggled. Gardens were scorched. Then the skies broke and the rains came flooding down.
Our experience was just a microcosm of the catastrophic impacts of climate change around the world: floods and droughts acting in tandem to destroy lives and livelihoods.
The Horn of Africa, and Somalia in particular, is suffering an unprecedented drought. Large areas have had no rain for two years; 20 million people are at risk of starvation; cattle and livestock are dying by countless thousands and children, of course, are at the greatest risk of malnourishment.
At the same time the floods in Pakistan have affected 33 million people - half the population of the UK. This is devastation on an unimaginable scale. The current count is 1,100 people dead; 250,000 km2, a third of the country, lies under water, with millions of acres of agricultural land ruined; 700,000 cattle drowned and the damage already put at over $10 billion.
The poorest of the poor are suffering the injustice of the climate crisis, while the costs of our failure to transition away from fossil fuels are going to far outweigh the costs of the transition itself. Massive crop failures, combined with the war in Ukraine, will drive up food prices here, affecting the poorest most acutely.
We have put 2.4 trillion tonnes of CO2 into our delicate atmosphere. When you add methane into the mix, the warming influence of the whole basket of greenhouse gases has climbed a staggering 47% since 1990.
In his recent book Hothouse Earth, Bill McGuire says, ‘If world leaders had taken purposeful avoiding action in 1990 when the IPCC published its first report, we could be well on top of the problem now, with fossil fuels largely confined to the dustbin, renewables dominant and emissions under control and on the way down.’
‘We have been put on notice time and time again about the potentially catastrophic impact of rising greenhouse gas levels, but we have repeatedly refused to listen and chosen not to act.’
‘None of the world’s biggest economies are on target to keep the promises they made in Paris and current estimates put the global average temperature rise at 2.7? when anything over 2? will seriously threaten the stability of global society.
In the face of this we are all likely to feel powerless. ‘What can I do?’ ‘How will anything I do make a difference?’ And indeed, I am haunted by the same sense of futility. But there are reasons why we should all take action:
• For the sake of our integrity. We will be able to look our children in the eye and they will know we did our best.
• Because we should ALL tread more lightly on the planet, and as members of affluent western society, we tread far more heavily than most of the world’s population.
• Because this is how movements grow. Do it. Talk about it. Get others to do it too.
• Because we live in a democracy with freedom of speech, so ultimately we can push, pull or drag our politicians into taking action.
Unfortunately, far too many people feel that they are exceptional. That their wealth entitles them to live differently. But that is certainly not what Christ taught us. He taught us to open our hearts.
If our hearts are not weeping now, there is something wrong with our hearts.
If our politicians are not moved to action, there is something wrong with our politicians.
Suggestions on what we can all do can be found on our website here.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Paying the Price - July 2022
Let’s be in no doubt about it. Humanity is beginning to pay the price for our negligence about the Climate Crisis, and that price is only going to increase.
India and Pakistan have been suffering from exceptionally high temperatures since March this year. The hot season arrived unusually early, affecting north-western India and Pakistan, setting a record as the hottest March since records began 122 years ago. It has also been combined with a drought, with rainfall being only a quarter to a third of normal.
Several cities across India had high temperatures over 42.8 °C (109 °F), reaching 45 °C in some cities and while in Pakistan the city of Nawabshah recorded an unimaginably high temperature of 121 °F. Birds were seen falling from the sky in Gujarat.
The rich have the option of retreating to air-conditioned homes and offices, but for the poor there is little escape. Imagine, then, being a peasant or labourer who has to work in such temperatures.
“It’s become impossible to work after 10 o’clock in the morning,” said Sunil Das, a rickshaw puller in Noida on the outskirts of Delhi. “I head back home after 10 and resume in the evening when the heat has subsided a bit,” Das said. “It has reduced my earnings but what alternative do I have?”
Imagine, too, the consequences of your well or water hole going dry in such heat and drought… Human life ceases to be sustainable.
‘But that is India. Thousands of miles away.’ There will be some that consciously or unconsciously diminish the enormity of the event in such ways. ‘Things like that often happen in India or Africa. They must be used to it.’ ‘They’ve brought it on themselves with their coal mines.’
It is true that India is resorting to coal to generate the energy needed to empower an economy that will lead people out of poverty. But over 95% of the gases in our atmosphere that are causing these heatwaves are the product of 200 years of the fossil fuel powered economies of the developed world. It is our legacy.
We will come across arguments and blame games that are, at their heart, racist at worst or demonstrate a lurking post imperial mindset. They are certainly not Christian.
And despite the thousands of miles, we will feel the impact here ourselves, because of the impact on harvests. The heatwave is increasing local prices in India and reducing supply having occurred during the final weeks of the wheat growing season, killing the plants shortly before harvest.
We have become acutely aware of how dependent we are on Ukraine and Russia for wheat, fertilizer and sunflower oil. Together they account for 25% of the world’s wheat exports, an amazing 80% of sunflower oil exports and 15% of global fertilizer. Our food supply chains have never looked so vulnerable. Reductions in harvests anywhere else in the world will have even greater impacts on the affordability of food.
So that bad news is compounded by another record-breaking heat wave which hit parts of the US in June, with some states hitting triple digit temperatures. More than 100 million Americans were issued with heat and ‘excessive heat’ warnings while in Kansas at least 2,000 cattle died due to the heat and humidity. More than 100 high temperature records are expected to be broken during July, mainly across the southern and eastern regions of the US.
UN secretary general António Guterres has warned that humanity is facing a “perfect storm” and that the crises are widening inequality between the north and south. “Inequalities are still growing inside countries, but they are now growing in a morally unacceptable way between north and south and this is creating a divide which can be very dangerous from the point of view of peace and security.”
Meanwhile at home, our own Climate Change Committee, led by former Conservative environment secretary, Lord Debden, voiced fears that ministers may renege on the legally binding commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, noting “major policy failures” and “scant evidence of delivery”. Now more than ever we need to pray and exert whatever influence we have.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
The Queen has kept her pledges. It’s time to keep ours - June 2022
During the Platinum Jubilee, we celebrated and gave thanks to the Queen for keeping the vow she made over 70 years ago to serve the nation and Commonwealth. She has been faultless in keeping that vow.
At the Jubilee service in St Paul’s Cathedral, representatives of young people from around the Commonwealth asked the 2,000 strong congregation of political and spiritual leaders: “Will you hallow life in all its richness and diversity?” and “Rejoicing in the beauty of this earth, will you protect and care for our environment?” To which the replies came back resoundingly, “We will!”
However, such vows and promises do not have a track record of being kept.
At COP 26 there was an agreement and pledge by world leaders to reduce methane emissions. Those emissions have since spiked. The International Energy Agency has calculated that methane emissions from the energy sector are about 70% greater than the sum of estimates submitted by national governments. This is of massive concern.
Moreover, three former UN climate heads say that the gaps between government promises and actions will lead to “catastrophic” climate breakdown, as governments have failed to implement the actions needed to fulfil their promises.
The policies and measures actually passed by governments could lead to temperature rises of 3.6C, which would have irreversible changes to the global climate and “catastrophic” impacts for humanity. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/02/current-policies-will-bring-catastrophic-climate-breakdown-warn-former-un-leaders
It was heartening that Prince William’s speech at the Platinum Party at the Palace had such a strong focus on the environment, reflecting the findings of successive IPCC reports, saying that, “the pressing need to protect and preserve our planet has never been more urgent.”
While applauding this message, I try to avoid the phrase ‘save the planet.’ The planet will be fine for a few more billion years spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun. It is arrogant to think that anything we do can ‘save the planet’. What we need to do is have the humility to recognise that our lives totally depend on the fragile ecosystems of the earth, and that man-made climate change and biodiversity loss are already massively affecting those systems.
For me it’s not just the wildlife of polar bears, albatrosses and tigers that we must save, but the micro-organisms of the soil and the oceans, on which we and all wildlife depend. The damage we have done to our soils, seas and skies has placed us in a precarious position. The war in Ukraine is showing how vulnerable our food supply chains are. Food prices are rising sharply already. Repeated harvest failures in India, China the USA and Canada will have an even greater impact.
Prince William spoke of hope and optimism. On such an occasion that was indeed the right note to strike. But it is an optimism I am unable to share. Extreme weather conditions will become ever more frequent as we head to carbon zero. It is only after that that future generations will slowly turn the world carbon negative, extracting the emissions that we continue to pump into our fragile world, and slowly bring temperatures back down.
But it is not for children and grandchildren to bear that burden yet. It is for us, the adult generations, to do everything within our power, personally, locally, nationally and internationally to start the long overdue transformation of global economies and politics that are needed to change our global trajectory.
Failing to keep the pledges made at St Paul’s Cathedral would be unforgivable.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Can democracy save us? May 2022
Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash
I am getting increasingly concerned that democracy is incapable of addressing climate change. It has a spectacularly long record of failing to do so!
It is 30 years since 154 states at the United Nations signed an international treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system,” and 33 years since Margaret Thatcher delivered her famous speech to the UN on Climate Change 1:
“What we are now doing to the world, by degrading the land surfaces, by polluting the waters and by adding greenhouse gases to the air at an unprecedented rate—all this is new in the experience of the earth. It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways.
Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world's environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community,” she said. “We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.... so that we do not live at the expense of future generations,”
It was a brilliant speech, informed by her scientific background and clear grasp of what the evidence was telling us. But nothing happened. A third of a century later we are still pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a rate of over 36 billion tonnes a year 2 and holding conferences where there is much posturing but negligible substantive agreement.
Rather than blame the negligence of successive political leaders, though, shouldn’t we recognise that there is something inherent in democracy itself that is incapable of effective action?
Politics around the world is totally lacking in ‘Cathedral Thinking’. Great civilizations build for great time frames, way beyond the economic or pragmatic needs of the present. Our church is an example. Elected politicians, however, are compelled to think in very short time frames; specifically, the desire to get re-elected in 4-5 years’ time. They prioritise the issues they hear on the doorstep, and climate change doesn’t feature there.
This leaves the interests of future generations unrepresented, neglected and abused. Successive governments have kicked the challenge into ‘the long grass’ rather than take actions that might prejudice their electability, during which time the crises have become deeper, more dangerous and far more expensive to fix.
Professor Rebecca Willis has interviewed MPs extensively as part of her research 3. She found that although they accepted the science of climate change, most showed a reluctance to discuss the far-reaching implications for human society. ‘Taking an active role on climate doesn’t fit current institutional norms.’ ‘If you are too forthright you may not be seen as a suitable candidate for ministerial office.’ Politicians appear to be presenting climate change as ‘a relatively unthreatening, manageable problem,’ and although their position is not supported by science, ‘climate change deniers have a solid foothold in mainstream politics.’ A form of ‘socially organised denial’ is operating, where politicians play down the depth and extent of the crisis, so their electorate assume that the crisis cannot therefore be very real.
To effectively address the Climate and Environmental Crises we are going to need deep seated reform to the way our system of government operates. There is very little chance of that, but since the House of Lords is long overdue to complete its reform, maybe we could make a start there?
Wouldn’t it be great if the House of Lords were a more democratic institution? But if it were, how could we avoid introducing the short-term
mindset that has hitherto prevented effective action on Climate Change?
I have a cunning plan for that....
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
3 Rebecca Willis, Too Hot to Handle, Bristol University Press 2020
Easter was a Zeitenwende too! April 2022
Germany, 50% of whose gas comes from Russia, is facing a massive energy crisis. Its other primary sources of energy are lignite, a particularly polluting form of fossilised peat, and coal. Austria imports 65% of its gas from Russia and Poland: 70%. They are major contributors to the £217 million that Europe sends to Russia every day which funds their appalling war in Ukraine. Something has got to change.
Germans have a word for this sort of change: Zeitenwende. The changing of eras. The turning from one epoch and entering another. Just as Easter was.
The Resurrection of Christ was a Zeitenwende for the whole world. But in many ways, the change is still a ‘work in progress’. There are still the mighty who need to be put down from their seats; the hungry still need to be fed with good things and the proud still need to be scattered in the imagination of their hearts.
Europe has learned its mistake in thinking that trading with Putin might help bring Russia into the democratic fold of nations. It merely empowered him and gave him licence to behave with ever greater narcissistic megalomania. So now European leaders find themselves going cap in hand to the leaders of Qatar, which has been repeatedly accused of sponsoring terrorism or turning a blind eye to terrorist finance; to Saudi Arabia, whose leader was responsible for 81 executions in March, in complete defiance of international standards of justice and humanity and was responsible for the grotesque murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to Dubai, whose princess Latifa was abducted in the Arabian Sea in 2018, and whose first daughter, Shamsa, was abducted from Cambridge in 2000. Neither of them has been seen since.
There seems to me to be a pattern here between immense fossil fuel wealth and frighteningly unethical, if not corrupt, behaviour. But herein lies the opportunity of our Zeitenwende:
We could turn to a world in which every country is self-sufficient in clean, renewable energy and we no longer have to trade with dictators and kleptocrats. A world where we don’t have to sell them armaments in order to balance our immense spending on oil. A world where most energy is generated locally is and owned by communities, especially in Africa and India, where they can leap-frog the need for massive electricity and gas grid systems owned by faceless multinationals and derive direct benefits from God’s gifts of sunlight and wind.
It almost sounds like Eden! The problem is getting there.
For now, the race is on to get Liquified Natural Gas shipped unsustainably from the US, Venezuela (another corrupt state) and the Middle East. But LNG terminals will have to be built first. Germany will increase its levels of coal and lignite extraction, with the consequent increases in Greenhouse Gas emissions. This crisis is set against the backdrop of the calamity described in this year’s IPPC report, which painted an ever more vivid and urgent picture of the damage we are doing to our own prospects of survival on this planet. The frightening announcement of temperature rises of 30-40 °C at the poles is a stark warning that the emergency is accelerating and that there is no instant ‘OFF’ switch available once we finally decide to take the threat seriously.
I only hope that we take the right turning at this Zeitenwende, and that the terrible suffering in Ukraine forces governments to take the decisions they have been avoiding for decades.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
It’s a Gas, gas, gas! March 2022
With gas prices soaring even before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, National Insurance about to go up and inflation on the rise, some are claiming that now is not the time to make the switch to clean energy or to worry about the climate crisis.
It has seemed to me unarguable that, in order to fund the transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy, we need to stop subsidising fossil fuels and embark on a low, but escalating carbon tax, which would fund the switch to clean energy and fully insulated homes, creating green jobs and leaving nobody out of pocket.
But how can we possibly embark on such a tax with gas prices soaring as they are?
On the other hand, we have just suffered four extreme storms in quick succession: Corrie, Dudley, Eunice and Franklin, each causing suffering, loss of life and livelihoods and bringing their own costs in damage. The three storms of the winter of 2019-20 cost the insurance industry £800 million; probably a fraction of the uninsured losses people have had to fund from their own pockets!
As I write, the latest IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has stated with high confidence that ‘The rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.’ The report makes very grim reading indeed as it describes levels of species extinctions, mass mortality events and irreversible changes to permafrost and ice sheets. https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg2/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGII_SummaryForPolicymakers.pdf
Of course the appalling and tragic war in Ukraine is preoccupying our thoughts and prayers most, filling us with horror and sympathy for the Ukranian people, while bracing ourselves for the sacrifice of further increases in gas and petrol prices.
As increased fuel bills land on our doorsteps, those in fuel poverty will have a very hard time, not least because three initiatives designed to help them over the last decade have been abandoned. In 2015 the Government terminated its flagship Green Deal for Home insulation because it said take-up had been too low. It had been hailed as “transformational” and the “biggest home improvement programme since the second world war” by ministers when it was launched in 2013.
Also in 2015, the government scrapped plans to make all new UK homes carbon neutral. The Zero Carbon Homes policy, first announced in 2006, was due to come into effect in 2016.
It would have ensured that all new dwellings would generate as much energy through renewable sources, such as wind or solar power as they would use in heating, hot water, lighting and ventilation. Hundreds of thousands of homes would have been completely free of gas and electricity bills!
Then in 2021, just over six months after its launch, the Government scrapped the Green Homes Grant scheme, which had been the centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘build back greener’.
The abandonment of this £1.5bn programme, which would have offered poorer households grants of up to £10,000 for insulation or low-carbon heating, leaves the UK without a plan for tackling one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas.
We are now very exposed to the current rises in gas prices as Germany and all Europe finally tries to extricate itself from dependence on Russian gas.
My fervent hope is that this will provide a massive stimulus to clean energy production. Further delay would mean that the cost of mitigation gets higher; we will have to pay more to adapt to extreme weather conditions and the costs of loss and damage mount ever higher. Delay has cost us dear, with the poorest in the UK and around the world suffering most.
Despite the horrors and suffering unfolding in Ukraine, I hang on grimly to my vision of a world where we no longer have to wage war to secure oil and gas supplies. Every country in the world has the opportunity to be self-sufficient in clean, sustainable energy, whether from solar, wind, hydro, tidal or ground source energy. We don’t need to be beholden to inhumane autocrats and kleptocrats. We are blessed with a sun which every hour gives us enough energy to satisfy global demands for a whole year!
God has created a world in which peace and freedom from fuel poverty are perfectly possible. We just need the faith and the political will to get there.
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
Ditch Desperate Dan for Lent! - February 2022
Photograph: Erik Odiin on Unsplash
Arguably the single biggest thing you can do for the environment is eat less meat. Here are a few facts:*
The carbon footprint of a beefburger is fifty times greater than the carbon footprint of a similar amount of protein derived from pulses, beans or lentils.
80-85% of all agricultural land is dedicated to growing feedstuffs for animals or for animal grazing.
A typical meat eater requires 10,000m² of agricultural land to support his or her diet; the equivalent of 1.5 football pitches, while a vegetarian requires just 3 penalty boxes.
If we all stopped eating animal products, we would save 3.1 billion hectares of agricultural land – the area of the USA, Europe, Australia and China combined!
Meat has become a huge indulgence during my lifetime. It has also been long associated with machismo. Remember Desperate Dan and his cow pies? Just as many cars are designed with male ego in mind, and Top Gear massively played on that laddish culture, addressing our environmental crises is going to require new memes of masculinity!
I’m not quite a vegetarian. I’m an antelopian. That is, I eat meat as often as I think I could have caught an antelope – which is getting less frequent as I get older!
I devised my diet decades ago, on the assumption that a healthy diet would be whatever we were eating as our digestive system evolved. My primary school memory recalled the caveman diet of nuts, fruit, roots and berries, until the men decided to get up off their backsides and hunt an antelope. Returning victorious, they would light the fire, strike the drum, max out on meat, before crashing down under the jacaranda tree for another week or two, eating whatever the women gathered. Men, eh?
My antelopianism seems to be keeping me fit and is very affordable! My treat of the week is fish on Sunday evenings, whatever is sustainable from Saffron Fish, reserving meat for moments of celebration. That way I can afford something local and humane. I think we should all know where our meat has come from and how it was reared.
I don’t want happy Herefords to stop grazing in Welsh valleys or sheep to cease populating the Lake District. There is a very real role for freely grazing animals in good Permaculture or Agricology. They stimulate micro-organic activity in the soil. But we really should not be eating cheap, factory-produced meat, whether from the UK, Texas or Argentina – from a humanitarian point of view, let alone to preserve our future on this planet.
Eating less meat would mean all those billions of hectares could start sequestering carbon; there would be reductions in acid rain, water use, pesticides and the use of antibiotics, 80% of which goes into animal production. The alarming rate of extinction of species who have lost their habitats to feed our appetites, would also slow dramatically. Don’t we owe it to God’s creation?
So with Lent upon us, how about giving up meat for 3 or 4 days a week. Or entirely? Explore the wonderful variety of vegetables. Ditch Desperate Dan. Become an Antelopian!
Edward Gildea, Eco Team Leader
*Mike Berners Lee ‘How Bad are Bananas?’ and BBC New Year Solutions Ep 1
Edward Gildea's interview on Pod Barber
Our Eco Church team leader Edward Gildea's interview on Saffron Walden’s Pod Barber's Wellbeing Project went live on 14th January 2022.
In it Edward Gildea talks candidly about the dangers we face, why politics has failed us, how our the basis of our economic system needs to change and how we can all make a difference.
Click on the link below to have a listen!
What did you do about Climate Change? - January 2022
We are probably all familiar with the First World War recruitment poster of the little girl asking her father, ‘What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?’ and the look of shame and guilt on the face of the father who has clearly not yet enlisted.
So what would be the expression on your face if your daughter, son, grandson or granddaughter were to ask you, ‘What did you do to limit global warming?’ Would you be able to reply with a clear conscience and a comprehensive list of the actions you took?
Just before Christmas I went with two of my grandsons to the Audley End Santa Railway. It was a magical experience, but it was heart-breaking to see so many families arriving in large petrol and diesel SUVs. Taking your children to see Santa is an act of love. How can that possibly be reconciled with driving an SUV? They accounted for 544 megatonnes of CO2 emissions between 2010-2018, far ahead of the emissions of heavy industry, HGVs, aviation and shipping. Indeed, SUVs were second only to power generation as emitters of greenhouse gases.
How is it that people aren’t making the connection between their choices and their children’s future on this small and fragile planet?
COP 26 is now several months behind us and no one is cheering with much enthusiasm. Commentators talked about ‘keeping 1.5 degrees alive,’ but it is very much on life support, with no nurses in sight. We are currently heading for 4.4 degrees of warming by the end of the century. If we include the promises of reductions by member states, we still reach 3.6 degrees. Both outcomes will be utterly catastrophic for human life. (See the UN Emissions Gap Report https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2021)
On the plus side, there was, for the very first time in 26 years, an explicit reference to ‘phasing down unabated coal power and phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.’ Apart from wondering how it is that it has taken world leaders a quarter of century to name the elephant in the room, this statement leaves the doors of self-destruction wide open: ‘down’ could be merely fractional, and no one has defined what an ‘inefficient’ subsidy is. Presumably we are free to continue with ‘efficient’ fossil fuel subsidies!
There was agreement on methane, but it made no mention of the massive amounts of methane emitted by our meat and dairy industries. Its focus was on inefficient practices of the oil industry that should never have been allowed in the first place.
One thing had changed though: Politicians were under more pressure than ever before from the public, from activists, from civil society, the Church, aboriginal groups and the nations of the Global South. It is clear that there is no more long grass into which the ball can be kicked.
But democracy is clearly failing us, and I will explore the reasons for that next time....
Church Eco Team Leader
A Toilet for Christmas - November 2021
Fresh from singing ‘Enough is Enough’ (with thanks to Oli King for teaching us so well!) many minds in the congregation must have pondered once again how sad it is to see Christmas so commercialised and wondered what they could do about it.
Politicians have completed their negotiations at COP 26, and maybe provided some reassurance that their actions will limit global warming to the critical 1.5 degrees. So let us see if we can now play our part in ‘treading more lightly on the planet’.
Over my toilet at home hangs a picture of the toilet it is twinned with in Zambia. A present from my daughters, I couldn’t be more proud of it! Apart from bringing the benefits of sanitation to schools and villages, proper toilets contribute enormously to the safety of girls and women.
My bins are also twinned in support of a rubbish collection and recycling enterprise in Pakistan. Another low carbon present which makes a small but significant difference somewhere else
You can buy goats, beehives, piglets, blankets, period kits, water, school bags and uniforms at Action Aid. Meanwhile, buying Traidcraft presents, while shipping will be involved, your purchases will support small cottage industries and craftspeople using local materials and little energy other than their own.
One of the lessons of our Covid world was to realise how dependent we are on complex supply chains and ‘just in time’ logistics. What an opportunity then to support local shops and businesses, local stall holders and craftspeople to buy produce without air or shipping miles attached, and enjoy the pleasure of a smile over the counter when you make that purchase!
It is always worth checking out the environmental impact of the things we buy. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. More if they are pre-washed, and their life is massively reduced if they are stressed with tears and slashes at the knees and thighs. Fashion can come at a terrible price!
So an alternative to the ‘stuff’ of Christmas is to buy experiences. Having children and grandchildren is a wonderful blessing, not least because it gives you the chance to go to pantomimes and enjoy family events such as Santa train rides or gardens lit at night. Christmas provides us with a wonderful excuse to support the musical and theatrical creativity of the town. The gift of shared pleasures and true enrichment!
The biggest gift of all to give to your family, however, is the gift of an inhabitable planet. With luck I have a decade or so of life left, but the thought of my legacy already haunts me. I know it will not be a good one. Extreme weather events will increase every year until we reach carbon zero in 2050, if indeed we manage to achieve that! And that will not be the end. It will be the beginning: the beginning of the race our grandchildren will have to run to remove all our CO2 pollution from the atmosphere and slowly, slowly, over many decades, start to cool the oceans and reduce the rates of flooding, drought and wildfires. Reducing the enormity of the task they will face may be the greatest gift of all.
Church Eco Team Leader
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
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Edward Gildea scything the wildflower areas of the churchyard
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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