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Articles and letters about climate change
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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!
Let’s grasp the scale of the Challenge. September 2020 - By Edward Gildea - Eco team leader
532 billion tonnes of ice were lost from Greenland in 2019 – the most since records began. It is an incomprehensibly huge figure.
That equates to about a million tonnes per minute; enough to fill seven Olympic-sized swimming pools per second. Mind boggling!
Just a year ago it was predicted that land that is currently home to 300 million people will flood at least once a year by 2050 unless carbon emissions are cut significantly and although this figure was a revision of the previous estimate of 80 million, it looks as though it will have to be revised upwards yet again.
Mankind has set something in motion over the last 200 years which seems unstoppably immense, but stop it we must! I imagine that when such vast populations lose their homes, livelihoods and lands, societies will become extremely unstable, politics polarized, migration will accelerate and conflicts for resources will become intense.
Meanwhile the crisis is accelerating. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at double the rate of lower latitudes and the 2019 loss of Greenland ice was double the previous annual average of 255 billion tonnes. Almost that amount was lost in July 2019 alone.
A meltwater canyon on the Greenland ice sheet. Photograph: Ian Joughin - University of Washington/PA
It is scientific data like this that often brings me to the point of despair. Greta Thunberg criticized world leaders for failing to achieve any progress during the two years since she started her school strike. But things have started to change. A UDC working party zoom meeting I attended in August discussed the issues of the climate and biodiversity crises in terms that would have been unthinkable two years ago. The BBC is now covering the issue without feeling that they have to wheel out a climate change denier for the sake of ‘balance’ and even Google has stopped funding organizations that deny or work to block action on the climate crisis.
Most of all, each and every one of us is directly experiencing the effects of extreme weather events, even in our most benign and temperate location on the planet. The trouble is that we keep getting distracted by issues that seem more immediate and acute: whether by Brexit or the coronavirus, which has set the COP 26 Climate conference in Glasgow back a year.
It would help if we started to see the interconnectedness of all these things. At a UN summit on biodiversity, scheduled to be held in New York in September, scientists are to warn world leaders that increasing numbers of deadly new pandemics will afflict the planet if levels of deforestation and biodiversity loss continue at their current catastrophic rates.
There is apparently now clear evidence of strong links between environmental destruction and the increased emergence of deadly new diseases such as Covid-19. Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of farming and the building of mines in remote regions are creating a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.
Our behaviours are creating these problems, so it must equally lie in our power to put things right.
Let’s not save the Planet. July 2020
By Edward Gildea - Eco team leader
I disagree with the concept of ‘Saving the planet’. It is dangerously misleading.
It implies that we are greater than the planet and that, if we are altruistic and generous, we might just condescend to save it, as we might try to save giant pandas or greater crested newts.
I imagine the mindset stems from Genesis when God conferred on man ‘dominion… over all the earth… to replenish the earth and subdue it.‘ I have always felt uncomfortable about that dominion until it was pointed out to me that a more accurate translation from the Hebrew would be that God conferred ‘responsibility for the earth’. For surely any good ruler thinks not in terms of power, but responsibility?
The fact is that the planet will be fine. It will continue spinning on its axis every 24 hours and around the sun every year and it will stay perfectly in balance with itself. The problem is that man’s impact in this era, the anthropocene, is changing that balance dramatically and making the planet inhospitable to us.
What we should be doing is attempting to save ourselves… save ourselves by paying more attention to our only home so that it is maintained in the favourable balance that gave us life in the first place.
So why hasn’t self interest kicked in by now? Why are we so reluctant to preserve ourselves and protect our children? Isn’t that our primary instinct?
In 2019 Oxfam reported that just the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population and the number is falling steadily, from 43 billionaires in 2017.
Meanwhile just 100 companies in the world have been responsible for 71% of the global GHG emissions since 1998, and a mere 20 fossil fuel companies can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.
So it looks as though a very small handful of very powerful people are working according to their own self-interest and taking the rest of the population of the world along with them. Presumably they are the billionaires and corporations who own most of the media outlets, contribute most to politicians’ election expenses, lobby most effectively and stimulate economies based on endless consumption through their advertising and entertainment operations.
So how do we break out of our servitude to these billionaires and corporations? At what point are we going to create a sustainable economy based on social justice and humanitarian equity?
An inspirational Oxford economist, Kate Raworth has a thrilling vision of a sustainable, universally beneficial economy. It will look like a doughnut! A creative, regenerative, distributive economy that works within the planet's ecological limits. Do listen to her TED talk and find out more about the doughnut! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rhcrbcg8HBw&feature=youtu.be
Our Eco Churchyard
The Eco Church has been working in the churchyard for several months, planting wild flowers and encouraging biodiversity. They have cut over 100 circular turfs and sowed wildflower seeds which are coming along very well. Many thanks to Edward Gildea for watering the new seedlings during our dry spells. Below are some photos of flowers currently growing in the churchyard. Not the new seedlings yet, but the flowers that have been thriving because of our new reduced mowing regime which the Eco Group had requested. June 2020
Carpe Diem! June 2020
By Edward Gildea - Eco team leader
It has been a joy to see clear, unpolluted blue skies; to hear birdsong rise above the traffic noise and to connect with the beauty of nature on our own doorsteps. And while we’ve been doing that, daily greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) dropped 17% in April!
They may well end the year 8% lower, but sadly this just goes to show that the abandonment of cars and air travel is not going to be enough to solve the climate crisis. Even if we continued this painful limit on our lifestyles, we will still have more than 90% of the carbon reduction to achieve to be on track to our Paris target.
Nevertheless, this is a unique, once-in-a-pandemic opportunity for governments to steer their economies away from carbon dependency at a lower financial and social cost than ever before. As they spend trillions getting their economies going again, they have the opportunity to invest in climate friendly infrastructures and sustainable businesses for the future.
There is a historic precedent for this. Amazingly, it was while WW2 was still raging that a new world was being mapped out. There had been a resolve to make ‘a world fit for heroes’ after the Great War, but it never happened. This time things would be different. In 1942, William Beveridge published a report describing ‘universal provision’, which was to become our welfare state and beloved National Health Service.
In 1944 our own MP, Rab Butler passed the Education Act, which abolished fees for all state secondary education and introduced grammar school which offered social mobility to the children of factory workers and miners for the first time.
It’s not as if we could afford it then. The war had bankrupted us and the USA was reluctant to extend us continuing peacetime aid. They gave the Atlee government a hard time of it, but there was a powerful conviction that we couldn’t afford not to invest in a better future.
It has shocked us that global finances, economies and businesses turned out to be defenceless against one microscopic virus. Our hubris has led us to believe that science and technology would prevent such catastrophes, and no doubt they will eventually, but not before irreparable damage has been done and lives lost.
Both the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have warned that “global warming will likely accelerate the emergence of new viruses.” There is a connection between this pandemic, biodiversity loss and our relationship with the whole of natural world. If we are to prevent more pandemics, we need to “tilt to green”.
The question facing us all now is whether there is the political will for that. Do we want the extremes of wealth and poverty that have been exposed by this crisis to continue? Do we want rush back to the same levels of pollution and fossil fuel dependency?
Or are we ready now for the fundamental changes in our economy that will give our children some hope of an inhabitable planet? It is our children who will be footing the bill for this pandemic for the rest of their lives, after all.
So this is what an emergency looks like May 2020
By Edward Gildea - Eco team leader
So now we know what an emergency looks like. Government takes swift and decisive action; they listen to the scientists, basing their policies and strategies entirely on the science; they pass swift laws that compel the public to radically change their lifestyles; they scrap the budget they had planned and break all their fiscal discipline, spending countless billions of pounds in the attempt to save lives and safeguard a future economy.
Yet in May 2019, after passing a motion of Climate Emergency, none of these things happened.
After decades of equivocation, lip service is being paid to the scientists, but the few policies set out in their manifesto do little to enable us to reach our carbon zero target; the budget offered little incentive to clean energy and nothing to promote any changes of lifestyle amongst the electorate; there are no daily, weekly, or even annual briefings to inform the public of what progress we are making towards our targets; no charts, no graphs, no ministers held accountable on prime time television…
So what is the difference? The pandemic is sudden, acute and threatens life over a period of days and months. A vaccine is likely within a year or a few months, after which we can return to normal.
Global heating develops over years and decades; the lives lost are mostly a long way away and we feel insulated from them, but there is no technological quick fix and there will be no ‘normal’ to return to if we don’t take far reaching actions now.
The secret of beating the coronavirus was listening to the science from the outset; taking swift and dramatic action; showing leadership to persuade the public to make immense sacrifices in the short term. The costs in lives, money, wrecked businesses and unemployment are far greater if our leaders fail in this.
The secret of halting the destruction of our environment would have been to listen to the science 25 years ago; to have taken steady, incremental action from that time, led by the science; and to have incentivised the public to switch to more sustainable lifestyles for the benefit of their children.
So why has there been this massive difference? Maybe because there is no powerful lobby speaking up for the virus, while there has been a very powerful lobby, deeply invested in fossil fuels, that has manipulated our politicians and controlled much of our media.
The one thing both the virus and environmental catastrophe have in common, though, is that our children will be paying the cost.
All things bright and beautiful - April 2020
By Jackie Damary-Homan from our Eco team
"All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful the lord God made them all."
This famous hymn written by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1848 shows how she appreciated our natural world. We too must learn to love and care for the special world God created.
We are all taking time to stop and wonder at God’s creation in its amazing diversity. Our gardens have become a joyful sanctuary and a welcome relief from our anxiety. Prayer and contemplation in natural spaces is good therapy, helping reduce our fears and bewilderment of Covid 19 which has altered our world as we know it. We marvel at the amount of blossom, buzzing with bees and unfurling vibrant green leaves bursting forth from the tree branches. Our hearts joyfully see the mauve haze of masses of bluebells carpeting the ground. Miraculously these flowers return faithfully each spring, reminding us of God’s faithfulness to us. His love is constant whatever is happening in the world. We in return must have faith, trust and love in him.
As humankind is in this strange lockdown world, nature has taken this opportunity to flourish. This is uplifting to see. The birds appear to be singing more loudly, or is it that their sweet tunes are more noticeable as we take time to listen? As fewer cars are on the road, air pollution levels have dropped. Fewer planes flying across the skies have already proved what climate change scientists have been saying about carbon emissions and have noted that air quality has improved. Strange sightings of nature breaking into communities have been seen around the country, including sheep roaming down once busy streets in Oxford! I myself had a surprise with a grass snake, never seen before, taking up residence in my pond.
We do not know why flood, fires and now pestilence have been sent to the world. Is it a warning for man to repent for the evils, greed, materialism, corruption and immorality of recent years? When this uncertain time passes can we move forward to being a fairer, kinder, more thoughtful, compassionate society? A less selfish future in all aspects of our lives, our community, our country and the world? We have to hope for a positive future with the Lord at the centre of everything.
If you wander into our churchyard we hope you’ll see changes too. Our newly planted primrose and cowslip bank, like us, might be struggling to survive but the cowslips are seeding so this cheerful yellow bank should come up again next year. Whilst socially isolating, pockets of wild flower seeds have been planted in the corners of the front lawn. We are hoping for a colourful show this summer. This is part of the plan for creating greater biodiversity, encouraging more insects and pollinators, small mammals and birds to bring more life into St Mary’s grounds. Why not let part of your own lawn grow tall, allowing nature free reign too?
I believe all this is a sign that we must respect God’s world, that our natural world is God’s creation to be remembered as such and be cherished. Humans are mere custodians of the planet and we are surely being shown that man is not invincible and certainly not in control. Our world is God’s world, he is in control and his WILL be done.
The hymn ends “He gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell, how great is God almighty who has made all things well.”
From St Mary's Parish News - May 2020
Sharing a platform with Bishop Stephen
At the start of Lent, before the coronavirus put paid to everything, I was invited to speak at St John’s church, Colchester, alongside Bishop Stephen, the next Archbishop of York, and the Rev James Gilder.
It was part of the diocesan Lent talks on the Environment and the theme on this occasion was Water.
Edward Gildea and Bishop Stephen
The Bishop spoke most powerfully and movingly of his experiences in our sister diocese in Kenya; of the drought there: the failing crops, the dead and dying animals and the children holding out plastic bottles, begging for water. He asked: ‘Have you ever been thirsty? I mean, REALLY thirsty?’ The nearest he had come to it was walking with his wife in southern Spain. They had set off on a six hour walk, each thinking that the other had packed the water bottle. At a point of no return they realized that neither had, and after ‘a bit of a matrimonial’ reconciled themselves to completing the walk without water.
They were comforted, of course, but the knowledge that there would be fresh, cold water – even beer – at the end of their walk. But what must it feel like if there was no such prospect day after day, and any water there was would be stagnant and disease ridden? It was a sobering thought.
James Gilder spoke of his aquaponics project: of how fish and crops can be grown in an enclosed system in which water and waste is circulated in a condensed ‘circle of life’ to ensure food while using minimal supplies of water and fertilizer. He is taking his project out to Africa to help alleviate the lives of those who are suffering the worst effects of climate change.
My own contribution was very different: it was about salt water and vast oceans of it!
The trouble with it, though, is that it is too hot! Having sailed across almost all the oceans of the world, I have ended with a paradoxical sense of how very small the planet is, even though it feels huge and frightening at times; and how very delicate it is, even though its power is quite awesome.
At first hand, I have felt the heat of the oceans. Once, hitting a big wave in the Coral Sea while waiting on the foredeck to bring down a sail, I braced myself for the vast deluge of water and found that it was….Hot! Comfortably hot enough for a bath! And then, heading up toward the equator through the zone where hurricanes are born, witnessing the vast, threatening cloud formations that rise miles into the air from these warm seas and than start to spin…
It is these clouds and hurricanes which, thousands of miles later, cool down and gave us the storms and floods that we experienced this winter: Dennis, Ciara and Jorge. Our small world is very much interconnected: from our climate to the way that a virus in a Chinese market we had never heard of, brings all our lives and economies to a crashing standstill.
Bishop Stephen, offered some closing thoughts, interpreting the lines of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ as meaning ‘give us what we need for today, but no more… no more than we actually need.’ He was thinking of the importance of not squandering the world’s resources through ego or vanity, but he could not have been more prophetic about the panic stricken bulk buying that was about to hit our supermarkets!
Archdeacon Robin ended the meeting with prayers and then invited me to offer one of the poems I had written while sailing down the Pacific coast of Central America nearly 6 years ago. It was an enormous privilege:
Listen to this poem here
Woken by jerking bunks
And renewed gush of our hull homesong
We exchange thick, saturated air
For the warm rush of doldrum wind.
Cradling two pale stars between mast and shroud
I nurse the tilting of our sail,
Head lifted to the masthead
Wind on throat and cheek,
Gentle roar in my ear,
Foam rushes on our beam,
Welling gush behind
Responding to each gust.
Our limp, hopeless hours of tortured daylight fade,
Futile tacks forgiven,
Memories of sweat coursing down temple and back
Evaporate in the dry caress.
A breathing splash!
Two dolphins grab a slice of air
And plaits of phosphorescence
Streak to our bows.
We heel, rush, star led. . .
Eco team leader
From St Mary's Parish News - April 2020
Is it already too late?
For someone living on the banks of the River Severn, who has been flooded several times and can no longer get insurance; for an Australian whose home has been burned down and for the 80 million animals who died in the fires; for the farmers of Kenya or the Sudan whose crops have failed and whose cattle have died…. it is already too late.
Maybe when people ask that question, they are asking from a perspective in which relative wealth, privilege and education will provide some sort of buffer against the crisis. The climate emergency will affect the poorest nations most profoundly first. That’s what made the Australian fires so shocking: a wealthy, developed nation was suffering the impact of climate change and was powerless to stop it.
The Climate Emergency is not a hypothetical future; it is here now. These are the effects of just 1 degree of warming. Imagine how much worse 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming will be, which are the best scenarios.
Is there a moment, though, that might really constitute ‘too late’ for the bulk of humanity? The thing to watch is sea level. We know that glaciers and ice shelves are melting fast. The Thwaites glacier alone, now melting at an alarming rate, would raise sea levels by 0.5 metres, but is holding back other glaciers of the western Antarctic ice sheet that could raise sea levels by 3 meters.
Vast cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata (Calcutta), Shenzen, Shanghai, Osaka, Bankok Alexandria and Rio de Janiero are some of the most vulnerable to sea level rise, which will result in massive migration movements and political destabilization. I think that is when the real ‘too late’ scenario kicks in…
As I write, though, the news has just flashed on my screen that the third runway at Heathrow has been deemed illegal because the Climate Emergency and Paris Agreement were not considered. This may be the precedent that means that the climate, public health and our survival on this planet are beginning to take precedence over business interests.
And we can be proud of our UDC councilors who did it first!
We can also be proud that the Church of England has brought forward its target for carbon neutralty from 2045 to 2030. Proposing the amendment, Canon Professor Martin Gainsborough, said, ‘The seriousness of the situation facing the earth cannot be overstated, especially across the world, away from the UK. There are theological reasons for the move as well. Christianity is about sacrificial life: Faith is risky.’
So, yes, we are already suffering the effects, but it is surely our duty not to give up hope and not to be inactive. We have still time to limit the worst effects. As Christians, parents, voters, consumers and caring human beings, we must add our weight and influence in confronting the greatest challenge of our age.
You can read the Church Times report on the decision to go carbon neutral by 2030 here:
Questions for future articles:
What about China?
What about Trump?
Isn’t the problem over-population?
Aren’t I too insignificant to make a difference?
Do we need to change the economic system?
Can we afford it?
How much will I have to change my lifestyle?
Will taxes have to go up?
From St Mary's Parish News - March 2020
It is time to take sides.
It was clear at Davos last month that there could be no more sitting on the fence; it is time to take sides. We can side with Donald Trump, who urged us to ‘reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of apocalypse’ and claimed that it is ‘a growing and vibrant economy which lifts the human spirit.’
Or we can side with the young woman who beat the president to receiving Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Award: Greta Thunberg. She told business and political leaders ‘The facts are clear, but they are still too uncomfortable for you to address. You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up, but people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.’ Is there a middle way? We either cherish and protect God’s wonderful creation for future generations, or we don't. We are either with Trump or with Greta.
On 25th January Uttlesford’s planning committee took sides. They rejected Stansted Airport’s application to expand further, citing climate change and air quality as key considerations. It was a courageous decision, but as one councillor said, ‘Whatever the legal complexities are here, we also have a moral decision to make.’ It may well prove to be a landmark moment nationally, in which company profits were set aside for the health and prospects of current and future generations.
The church is also taking sides. The Church of England’s Environmental Advisory Group has said that all parts of the Church should recognise the Climate Crisis and step up its action to safeguard God’s creation. They have recommended a revised carbon reduction target of net zero carbon by 2045, with an interim target of 57% reduction by 2030. That’s quite a challenge for large, historic buildings like ours! In addition, the Church’s national investing bodies have already divested from companies deriving more than 10 per cent of their revenues from coal and oil from oil tar sands and are committed to divest further in 2020.
So what should we each do as individuals? Greta is very clear that it is ACTION that is required now, not fine words or posturing. Prayer is a form of action, but it should be prayer that stimulates and inspires further, tangible actions. The Eco church pages on our website include a section entitled ‘What can I do?’ so do read that if you haven’t already. It’s full of suggestions. There are little things you can do, and big things. I suggest that it is now time for each of us to do at least one BIG THING!
Eco team leader
Time for an ECO Resolution
From St Mary's Parish News - February 2020
Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? And have you managed to keep it? How about making a resolution for the whole of the Twenties decade? One that will make all the difference to future generations? The UN published an Emissions Gap report in December, saying that Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) needed to fall by 7.6% every year if we are to have a chance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees. Since we have already seen the horrific consequences of 1 degree of warming, how about we each make a New Decade Resolution to reduce our personal GHG emissions by 7.6% each year until 2030?
The urgency of the situation could not be more apparent. I imagine many of you, like me, have been receiving emails and messages from friends and family in Australia, who are traumatised by the massive and on-going fires in Australia. The messages are heartbreaking and the fears for their homes, health and futures on that continent are real….as is their anger at the lack of leadership from their prime minister. We could not have been given a clearer message of the future we are creating for ourselves if we don’t move on from our carbon based lifestyles.
However, the COP 25 In Madrid ended in deadlock, with politicians unable to unite behind any binding resolutions or targets. A Christian Aid report calculated that there were at least 15 climate related catastrophes that each resulted in over $1 billion in damage, let alone the lives lost. I imagine the Australian fires will dramatically inflate that estimate.
Most tellingly for me, on Greta Thunberg’s edition of Radio 4’s Today programme, the Gas and New Energies Director for Shell, who are spending just $2 billion on research into renewable energy, while they are spending $25 billion in developing new oil production, said that the solution was up to the customer. Until we, as customers, demand more clean energy and less fossil fuel energy, Shell will continue to produce the oil and gas to satisfy our needs: that’s how the market works.
So it really is up to us.
Up to us not to think we don’t count; not to freeze like rabbits caught in headlights; not to wait for anyone else to take the lead.As Christians we should be in the vanguard.
So what can you do? Your ECO team have set up a series of pages on the St Mary’s Church website (click on ‘Other’ then on ‘ECO Church’) and scroll down to the ‘What can I do?’ option. You’ll find plenty of ideas there to get you started. If you click on ‘footprintr.me’ link in that section you will be able to calculate your own carbon footprint. In a year’s time, do it again and see if you’ve make your contribution to the 7.6% reduction that humanity needs. Get started on the small things by all means, but it is clearly time now to do the big stuff. Good luck!
From St Mary's Parish News - December 2019-January 2020
If only we could have a garden of Eden
It is good to know leading professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and sea. Churches are realising that their grounds can become sustainable wildlife habitats and St Mary's has taken the first step in agreement with the town council to ensure no chemicals are used on site and to start a mowing regime in a trial area to create a wildflower meadow. The eco-team are hoping to start planting; increasing the number of flowers in existing beds, planting wild flowers seeds and plant plugs to attract pollinators to increase biodiversity.
The UK’s wildlife continues to decline according to the new State of Nature Report 2019. The latest findings show that since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s, 41% of UK species studied have declined. 133 species assessed have already been lost since Tudor times. Butterfly decline is 17% and moths 25% . The numbers of species that require more specialised habitats have declined by more than three quarters. As God knows ‘every flower in the meadow and bird in the sky’ he cares for each and every living thing then so should we.
The UK’s mammals also fare badly with greater than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether. At St Mary's we plan to create small log piles, hedgehog homes and a bug hotel in discreet corner to encourage mammals and amphibians.
Much is known about the causes of decline and about some of the ways in which we could reduce impacts and help struggling species. The evidence from the last 50 years shows that significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture and the ongoing effects of climate change are having the biggest impacts on nature. Both nationally and locally we need to alter the way we treat the natural world.
Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said: “We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations”. Bishop Stephen’s letter to Essex churches supports this view when he stated it is our duty to play our part. God’s wonderful world needs our help and prayers, fortunately people’s attitudes towards valuing nature means there are positive steps forward.
Jackie Damary-Homan (Eco group)
From St Mary's Parish News - October 2019
Eco Church - Our New Perspective
We have just celebrated the remarkable and heroic journey of the astronauts who landed on the moon fifty years ago. Just a few months before that, Apollo 8 had taken the first humans out of Earth orbit and around the moon. As they re-emerged from the far side of the moon, after the agonizing moments when communication with Earth was impossible, they saw, for the first time, the amazing phenomenon of ‘Earth Rise’. Our small, exquisitely beautiful globe of green, blue and white, rising above the surface of the moon. No wonder the astronauts read the first verses of Genesis to an awe-struck Earth on that Christmas Eve orbiting the moon!
This was the image that gave us the chance to see the world and ourselves from a new and powerful perspective: small, delicate, self-contained, in balance with the universe.
Sailing around the world, I felt a similar perspective: that however vast and frightening the oceans sometimes seemed, the world is actually very small; and however powerful and dangerous the winds and waves, our climate is very delicately balanced.
It is also full of abundant, natural, clean energy. Sailing towards the Fastnet Rock this summer in a Force 7 gale, I am sure I had all the power at my fingertips on the helm of a F1 racing driver! It was thrilling!
Yet for all these perspectives, we are still treating our world as if it were an infinite sewer. We pour toxins and CO2 into the air, as if the atmosphere can dispose of them freely on our behalf, and we pour plastics and pollutants into our rivers and oceans as if they are infinitely able to neutralize them without nature being harmed.
Some how we have not made the link between our behaviours, consumption and lifestyles and the consequences these have on our small and delicate planetary vessel. It is time to connect things up. We vote with every purchase we make. Voting to be part of the supply chain that brought us that food, those clothes, that product, that energy, and voting to be part of the chain that recycles, disposes or pollutes after we have used it.
Nothing goes away. The only things that have ever left our planet are some amazing Voyager space craft and the LEM modules still sitting on the moon. Everything else is still with us; with consequences, if not for us, then for our children and grandchildren.
Bishop Stephen’s Letter - Sept 2019
Dear friends in Christ,
Taking action on climate change
Two years ago, when I visited our partner diocese in Kenya, it had not rained for 18 months. Bishop Qampicha drove me across the diocese. We passed dried up rivers where I saw an elephant digging for water with its trunk. I visited villages where the water hole had been empty for months. We went to a reservoir where many people gathered with their animals, but I was told there was only enough water left for another two months. People were travelling vast distances to come to it. Fighting regularly broke out, fuelling anxious and volatile tribal tensions. We came across nomadic people who had abandoned the lifestyle of centuries to settle by the edge of the tarmac road. They showed us the skeletons of their dead animals. They now spent their days by the side of the road waiting for the little aid that was available to fill their containers with water.
A whole way of life is disappearing, and with it, violence is escalating.
Everywhere we went children hailed us as we drove by. At first I thought they were just pleased to see us. Then I saw they were shaking upturned plastic bottles. They knew we had water on board and they were thirsty. Most painful of all, I saw some children drinking water from a stagnant and semi-polluted brook. I dread to think what diseases that water contained. But if you are thirsty you will drink whatever is available.
Kenya used to measure the year by the seasons of short and long rains. But what was once predictable is now erratic. Drought is followed by flood. And uncertainty breeds further uncertainty. A whole region is thirsting.
And it isn’t just Kenya. Our whole world is facing a climate emergency. Our faith tells us the world was created by God and we have responsibility for it. Scientists tell us that we need to make large changes fast to avoid catastrophic threats to the conditions that support life on earth. Images of the fires destroying the Amazon have brought the damage being done to our world into sharp focus. The actions of young people and Greta Thunberg have spoken truth to power and challenged us about our way of living.
Christians across our diocese are engaged in seeking to prayerfully respond to climate change. Our faith invites us to live lives that proclaim that truth.
Please join me in asking God to guide and inspire us to find the courage to live and act differently that we may be good stewards of the earth,
The Rt. Revd Stephen Cottrell Bishop of Chelmsford
My Environmental Dream
From St Mary's Parish News - July/August 2019
Last month the PCC signed up for the journey to become an Eco church. It needs to be a journey that challenges us all.
At a recent conference the speaker, Rupert Read, said, ‘This civilization is over. It will be over in one of two possible ways. Either we make an intelligent transition to a new form of sustainable civilization, in tune with our environment; or we end with an environmental collapse followed by social and economic disasters.’
It is a stark choice and so far, we have made little progress in choosing the right one. Globally, we are still sending more warming gases up into the atmosphere at the rate of 37.1 billion tonnes per year. 2018 was the highest ever.
However, the destination that I dream of is an attractive one. In ten years time all of us will be running our cars on sunshine. Gliding down the roads smoothly and silently, powered by the solar panels on our homes. When a petrol driven car goes by we will wrinkle our noses at the stench and complain with righteous indignation as we do now if someone lights a cigarette indoors.
Our gas boilers will have been replaced by air source or ground source heat pumps. The coziest bathroom I ever luxuriated in was in a Landmark Trust folly, heated by a ground-source heat pump. It was wonderful! Our fuel bills will be massively cheaper and no longer will we be sending billions of dollars to dynastic families in the Middle East to fuel their conflicts.
We will be flying less because rail travel will be so much better and cheaper, with comfortable and romantic night sleepers taking us to our Mediterranean holidays.
And best of all, we will be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and feel that we ended up as reasonably good ancestors, bequeathing them a planet that they can enjoy as much as we have.
That is my dream. But we really need another Martin Luther King to inspire us all to realize it.
Meanwhile it is worth doing what we can on three levels:
1. Take personal responsibility: for our carbon footprints, for our use of plastics, for our role in the supply chains of everything we buy: are we supporting ethical, humane, non-polluting companies with our purchases?
2. Act Locally: get involved in local groups and movements to make Saffron Walden as green and sustainable as we can, halting the decline in biodiversity and reducing air pollution.
3. Influence nationally and internationally: we are privileged to life in a democratic country with freedom of speech and association. Let’s put that freedom to good use!
Edward Gildea, Eco Church Team
From St Mary's Parish News June 2019
St Mary’s Church have decided to embark on the journey to become an Eco Church!
Our curate, Rachel Prior says, 'I am delighted that St Mary's is taking seriously the need to cherish and protect God's creation. Through registering to become an Eco Church, we are joining in with many other Christians and churches, who are committed to being good stewards of this beautiful planet. The Church has an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership here and could play a tremendous role in taking us forward.'
The award is structured around five headings, with 20-30 actions attached to each:
our worship and teaching
our engagement with local and global communities
the personal lifestyles and decisions of our congregation
The timing could not be more appropriate. The various UN reports that have been published on Climate Change and loss of Bio-diversity; the recent declarations of Climate Emergency by the Town Council and the UK Parliament; the example of Greta Thunberg; the actions of Extinction Rebellion and the warnings of Sir Richard Attenborough and Mark Carney all tell us that if we don’t act now it will be too late.
‘What excites me about this project is the potential for leadership. The planet is crying out for leadership on this issue; leadership by example and practical action. The Church, in it’s duty to love and cherish God’s creation, could play a tremendous role in taking us forward,’ said Eco team leader, Edward Gildea.
Jackie Damary-Holman will be championing the work to support bio-diversity while Chris Knight will be using his experience to find ways of reducing the carbon footprint of the church.
Rev Rachel Prior will be exploring ways in which the worship and prayer life of the church can be used to inspire us to be more conscious of our impact on future generations in our daily lives and decisions.
But the church really wants to enlist ‘champions’ and ‘activists’ in all aspects of church life so that everyone can play an active part, not just a small, delegated team.
Click on the links below to go to our Eco Church pages: