Green Tau reflection: prayer and hope

25th May 2022

Over the last 24 hours I spent about 6 hours supporting the Christian Climate Action vigil outside the Methodist Central Hall, the venue for this year’s Shell AGM. I didn’t stay overnight as some brave souls did but came and went in stints. My companions were deeply committed to the environmental cause: that we humans need to wake up to the damage we are causing to the wonderful creation God has provided and of which we are an integral part: truly we are brothers and sisters, kith and kin with every other living thing. Yet our human unabated consumption of fossil fuels is producing carbon dioxide in such quantities that we are changing the climate, wiping out plant and animal species, melting ice caps and glaciers, and consigning our fellow humans to poverty, ill health and death. 

Our presence, as well as being peaceful and prayerful, was intended to raise people’s awareness of the climate crisis and the role that large oil companies, such as Shell, play. To put this in context,  CO2 emissions for the entire globe in 2021 were 36.3 bn tonnes, and of this Shell contributed 1.299 bn tonnes. To avert the worsening affects of climate change, CO2 emissions need to be reduced by 43% by 2030, and to zero by 2050. This is a huge challenge for us all but one which will be hard to achieve if the fossil fuel industries continue to invest in expanding oil and gas production rather than shifting to the production of renewable energy. 

As I prayed, I admit I had little hope that my prayers were going to effect an about-turn on the plans that Ben van Beurden, the Shell CEO, has for the company. However I did have a slither of hope that our prayers and our presence might influence the hearts and minds of the shareholders. Perhaps there might be a stirring in their conscience about the effects that fossil fuel are having on the planet. Perhaps they might begin to ask questions about the sense of pursuing profits from oil if it results in a world that becomes uninhabitable. Perhaps they might question why the company was not protecting their future by investing in renewable energy. Perhaps they would question the leadership being offered when such a large CO2 producer choose not to follow the global strategy agreed at COP26? 

So I prayed. In my mind I envisaged the Holy Spirit like a dove flying around above the heads of the shareholders in the Methodist Central Hall, perhaps pausing to whisper in someone’s ear. I envisaged a scene similar to that of Pentecost, of  the room where all the disciples were gathered, with the wind of the Spirit inspiring and energising those present. I imagined little flames might hover above people’s heads and that they might have the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, of something warm burning within them. 

Outside the building drums and the call and reply of protestors rose and fell like a storm. Inside the hall, the sound would, I guess, be deadened and I thought of the still small voice in the storm encounter by Elijah. And I thought of the story of Jonah and the storm he encountered and which manhandled him (with the help of a whale)  to the shores of Nineveh. There to his surprise and chagrin, the people listened to the message and repented.

And I prayed. I envisaged the call of the evangelists, repent and believe. Repent – a change of heart, a turning around of the way we think, a conversion of the way we do things – and believe. Believe that there is a better future, that we can look forward to a new and brighter future, where things will be green and beautiful, just and fair, where we will live in peace together. As well as seeking a new way of living – repentance – we need to offer a vision of the better world in which we can all live: the kin-dom of God.

Green Tau: issue 42

Bomb Scare! 

24th May 2022

The term carbon bomb has been widely used in climate circles for the past decade to describe large fossil fuel projects or other big sources of carbon, but more recently has been given a more specific definition: projects capable of pumping at least 1bn tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes. 

To put this figure in context, just before Covid, annual CO2 emissions peaked at about 36bn tonnes.

The IPCC report on Mitigation of Climate Change published on 4 April, specifies that emissions should peak no later then 2025 and be reduced by 43% by 2030 if we are to contain climate change and  global heating at tolerably safe level. If that peak in 2025 is, say, 40bn tonnes, then globally we would need to be reducing carbon emissions by 4bn tonnes per year. 

The International Energy Agency has already stated that the existing oil, gas and coal fields already in operation will provide all that is necessary to meet our demands for fossil fuels. In other words, if we are to meet our emissions  reduction targets there is no need to open up new fields.  This surely begs the question why anyone is investing money in expanding fossil fuel extraction or in exploring new fields?  In part it may the fear of being the first to opt out – will they be exposed to risk? Will they loose out on profits? If everyone moved together it would be safer and fairer. 

A recent report by the Guardian estimates that the current expansion plans of the fossil fuel industry includes 195 carbon bombs, and that the dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m a day for the rest of the decade exploiting new fields of oil and gas that cannot be burned if global heating is to be limited to well under 2C. These companies – and those investing in them – are betting that by 2030 governments will not have achieved the 43% reduction in emissions and will still be in the market to buy oil and gas. If their bet wins the world temperatures will have risen by more than 2C and we will all be suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/18/carbon-bombs-inside-the-20-may-guardian-weekly

On the other hand what could $103m a day achieve if it were invested in renewable energy? How many wind farms? How many tidal energy schemes? How many solar panels on buildings? How many heat pumps? What could it achieve if invested in climate adaptation projects? How many buildings could be insulated (against heat as well as the cold)? How many trees could be planted to absorb water and lower temperatures? How many efficient public transport schemes? How many new farming techniques, new varieties of seeds, and advanced weather ?

The Green Tau: issue 41

11th May 2022

A question of food

Food is a daily necessity, yet for many it is unaffordable. Recent research  points out that in the UK 2 million people cannot afford to eat every day https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/may/09/more-than-2m-adults-in-uk-cannot-afford-to-eat-every-day-survey-finds.   Is there a flaw in our food production and distribution system?

It seems to me that food production in the UK is caught between two objectives: that food should be produced as cheaply as possible, and that profits for the shareholders should be maximised. Producing food as cheaply as possible has been seen as a way of ensuring everyone can afford to eat. However producing food cheaply doesn’t necessarily make it affordable.

Reducing the cost of food can be achieved in various way:-

  • Industrialising processes whether that is the Chorleywood method of making bread or factory farming livestock
  • Large scale monoculture farming where land is cleared to grow single crops on a large scale – including the clearing of rain forests. 
  • Intensified farming where animals are kept in barns and fed high protein diets rather than having a free range lifestyle, foraging and grazing as they go – low intensive free range animal foraging requires a much greater area of land. On the other hand, eg high protein diets fed to indoor animals has to be grown somewhere.
  • Intensive use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers to maintain high crop yields. This can become an expensive option when the cost of these inputs rise.
  • Keeping costs down by paying low wages and/ or by employing people on a seasonal or zero hours basis only.  This applies throughout the food industry from the farmhand  to the supermarket check out.
  • Automation of processes whether that is robots picking crops or automated diary parlours miking cows.
  • Importing food from countries where labour costs are even lower. is of course a flaw here.

Many of these cost saving practices involve reducing wages and/ jobs. As wages and jobs fall  so the need for even cheaper food rises. There seems to be a flaw in the system!. Recently Ranjit Singh Boparan, the UK’s biggest poultry supplier of chicken, queried how it was that his industry could producing chickens that sold for less that a pint of beer – and whether such low prices could be maintained. In part he was questioning whether there were any ways in which costs can be cuts. Yet even at £2.66 (Tesco’s) for a chicken, chicken is still of the menu for a lot of people. 

During the year April 2021 to March 2022 the Trussell Trust (the UK’s largest food bank charity) distributed over 2.1 million emergency food parcel, an increase of 14 compared with the previous year. https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/end-year-stats/

People who have to resort to food banks to eat, are not just people who are unemployed. They are also those who, because of disabilities and illness, receive disability benefits, those who are elderly and living on state pensions, those who are employed on zero hours contracts, and even those who are in full employment. The current minimum wage is £8.91 per hour for those over the age of 21. The Job Seekers Allowance is £77 a week for those 25 and over – depending on circumstances, this may be supplemented by Universal  Credit. The full basic State Pension is £141.85 per week. All of these are less than the minimum wage recommended by Living Wage Foundation – £9.90  (£11.05 in London). Whether even this figure will be sufficient at a time of sharply rising fuel costs (and the knock on effect that will have an all products) is yet to be seen.

We have created an economy that does not provide the poorest with the necessary financial resources to enable them to buy the daily food they need – let alone enough to pay for heating, period products, housing, travel etc. Why is this so? Because the economic model we use says that profits must take priority. If costs rise such that they risk profits, then costs must be reduced – even if that means reducing wages and employment opportunities. As a fig leaf, a vague promise is proffered that, by maintaining profits and ensuring that the economy continues to grows, the trickle down effect will – ultimately – increase the wealth of even the poorest in society.  No where does our economic system suggest that goods should be priced at a level that allows the workforce to be paid a genuinely fair wage – a wage such that they could afford the essentials of life including chicken and a pint of beer. 

If everyone was paid at levels of pay (including benefits and pensions) that allowed them to eat properly, heat their homes, pay for their accommodation etc,  then yes prices of some goods (such as chicken) would go up. And of course that proposed ‘fair’ level of pay would have to be sufficient for the recipients to pay those higher food (and other) prices. There would be a knock on for those already on higher incomes in that their day to day living costs too would go up – but usually the higher our income the smaller the proportion we spend on essentials such as food so the impact would be smaller the higher one’s income.  Would we not all feel more comfortable as a society knowing that everyone was being properly fed and that no one was benefiting because someone else was being underpaid? 

This reinvisiging of the economy is not a pipe dream but is to be found in the shape of Doughnut Economics. In her book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Oxford University’s Kate Raworth argues for a radical overhaul of our traditional economic models: “Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet,” she says. “In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials … while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend.”

Doughnut Economics challenges our existing profit orientated economics that sees economic growth as the only way forwards.  Doughnut Economics argues that we can have a more caring and more sophisticated economic model which has two key objectives. First that everyone should have a comfortable standard of living – one that meets all seven priorities of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Second that all economic activity should be sustainable and not cause irreparable damage to life on earth – ensuring a stable climate, fertile soils, healthy oceans, a protective ozone layer, ample freshwater and abundant biodiversity. https://doughnuteconomics.org/about-doughnut-economics


This economic model would not only prioritise the needs of the 2 million in the UK who cannot afford to eat on a daily basis; it would also prioritise the needs of the 3 billion globally who are malnourished. And it would prioritise the well-being of chickens that are reared for less than the cost of a latte!

Green Tau Reflection

Good Friday 2022

Ignorant, blinkered or obtuse?

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23 Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ John chapter 19

I studied this passage with my Lent group. Jesus rightly tells the high priest, and those in authority with him, that he has spoken openly and that if anyone had wanted to know what he was teaching, they would only have to pay attention. It’s clear from the gospel that both Jesus’s, and, before him, John the Baptist’s, activities have been followed by those in authority. The puzzling question is why is it that those in authority, those who have lived and worked – and worshipped – within the religious establishment, do not realise who Jesus is and do not understand the message of his teaching? 

  • Are they ignorant? In terms of facts, no they cannot be ignorant. Jesus has been teaching openly, and they themselves have been following him. 
  • Are they ignorant in terms of understanding? Do they simply not understand what the facts mean? Do they simply not understand that Jesus is ‘of God’, as a son to a father, and that what he teaches comes straight from God?
  • Are they blinkered? Are they so sure that God cannot inhabit human form, that their minds and eyes are closed to any such possibility? There are certainly many examples of people and cultures that blinkered. In the 19th century explorers who came across the bronze sculptures of Benin, could not imagine that an African could have created such art works and therefore they must have been the work of a lost civilisation. At the same time many women who wished their writing to be accepted, has to assume a male pseudonym.
  • Are they so enmeshed in a culture and system – largely of their own making – that they cannot see or imagine any different way of doing things? Does this culture and system so embrace every part of their life, their past and their future, that there is no room for any alternative?
  • Are they self righteous? Are they so sure that they are right, that their understanding of the world and their interpretation of what is happening is right, that they cannot envisage an alternative view point?
  • Are they obtuse? Do they just not want to hear or believe or countenance anything that involves change?

When Jesus is then brought before Pilate, it seems as if Pilate is at least willing to explore what it is that Jesus represents, what it is that he is about. Pilate does at least lift the edge of the curtain so as to speak, to see what might be happening. Then the opportunity becomes engulfed in matters that Pilate finds more pressing. The discussion is foreclosed. 

The story of Good Friday tells us whilst the obstinacy, the short sightedness and narrow mindedness of those in authority led directly to Jesus’s execution, God’s capacity for salvation exceeded everyone’s dreams. 

God’s kingdom, God’s rule, is present here and now on earth for those who wish to be part of it, yet complete salvation is still a work in progress, and humanity faces many trials and ills. One of the most pressing is the climate crisis. With only a handful of years grace remaining before catastrophes overwhelm us, we sense we have a last chance to transform the ways in which we live so as to truly care for one another and the whole of creation. The message seems so clear. The message has been so oft repeated. The route maps to safety so clearly plotted. How is it then that those in authority do not understand, do not respond, do not take action? How can they be so obstinate, so obtuse, so short sighted? 

Must we brace ourselves for further tragedy? Is our only consolation that Christ will be with us? Let us pray and act for change. Let us strive for conversion. 

The Green Tau: issue 41 

6th April 2022

On Monday the IPCC produced the third and final part its reports assessing where we are as world vis a vis the climate crisis. The news is not good. “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5C,” said Prof Jim Skea, a co-chair of the report. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.” 

Clearly what is needed is system change. As previously discussed (https://greentau.org/2022/04/05/the-green-tau-issue-40/) governments are seldom willing – outside of emergencies such as war – to make system changes unless they feel that is the direction in which the voters have already moved. System change needs social change – and that means a change of heart at the level of the individual, ie the average person on the street. Is the average person on the street ready to accept the changes in lifestyle that ‘immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors’ will entail? And if not how can we bring about a change of heart?

Issue 40 looked at civil action  which, whilst making demands of government, seeks also to stimulate a pro-active response from the public. The action of groups such as XR and Just Stop Oil may raise awareness of the immediacy and scale of the crisis. Their action may embolden others to join in – reassuring them that they are not lone voices crying out in the wilderness. Certainly previous XR protests have seen support for the movement grow. But is it enough? Has it brought about the  widespread change of heart needed? Are there other ways?

  • ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ – to paraphrase Gandhi. If we live our lives as would be necessary to achieve net zero, making the cuts and changes that makes our life sustainable, then we are a living example of how a life could look – and others may follow. 
  • Walk the talk – a phrase used by John Gummer, the chair of the UK’s  Climate Change Committee, reflecting in the aftermath of COP26. We can only be credible in asking others to respond actively to the crisis, if we are already doing so. 
  • Climate anxiety, which notably is growing amongst children and young people, can only be genuinely assuaged by us if we are walking the talk. If we are not, then we are effectively deriding their concerns.
  • Bucking the trend – be proud, be confident that you are doing the right thing and more people will be interested in what you are doing. Don’t hide your light under a bushel but be upfront about the changes you are making to your lifestyle and why.
  • Have a dream – think, imagine, envisage what the ideal world world look if those ‘deep emissions reductions across all sectors’ had taken place. What would be the highlights, the sources of pleasure, the things of beauty?
  • Take strength from knowing that, even if not else is, at least you are doing the right thing. Living a counter-cultural life does need strength and confidence. For many it is where their Christian faith brings its own courage. 
  • If no one changed, change would never happen. There has to be the first one to take the first step, to set out on a new path – if it’s you, congratulations, you’re a star! You are the beacon for others to follow.
  • Strength in numbers – find others who are changing their lifestyle, maybe informally or through an existing climate/ creation care organisation. Support and encourage one another, gain strength from being part of a group, part of a community, part of a movement. 

Who can we make what we are doing attractive to others? How can we engage others in the conversation? How can we enthuse and encourage others? 

Talking about it – with friends and family, with neighbours and colleagues, with shop staff and sales people, with teachers and parents at the school gate,  with people in church, at the gym, in clubs and pubs – any time we might engage in conversation. Be a story teller. Write about it, share it on social media. Post photos. Wear it as a badge on your sleeve, lapel, bag, hat.

Flaunt it! 

Frequently we will find our efforts stymied by the system. When we are, we need to needle those who can effect change. Ask for the change needed when shopping. Contact the managers, the suppliers, the producers. Even if they can’t effect change immediately, the constant reminder that change is needed will spur them on. And when change does happen, acknowledge it gratefully and make sure others also know. Write to your MP and your local councillors. The more an issue is raised, the greater will be the incentive for them to take note and push for the system change we need.

Is it enough? I know I often feel that what I do is ineffectual, that it is energy expended for no positive outcome. Should I give up and just look after the plants and creatures that live in our garden while I can, and simply wait for the disaster that is coming?

The Green Tau: issue 40  

5th April 2022 

‘Just Stop Oil’?

A limited amount of press coverage has been given to the Just Stop Oil movement which is currently blockading various oil refineries and terminals around the UK.  Just Stop Oil are using the tactics of civil disobedience rather than civil resistance to push the government to stop permitting any new oil production. Explaining what this shift would look like, one supporter told the Guardian last month that it would mean “stopping pointing out what the government should or shouldn’t be doing [and instead] actively stopping government doing what they shouldn’t be”. The campaign, which has involved protesters being glued to roads, suspended on bamboo tripods, and locked on to oil drums and each other, is taking place in defiance of a temporary high court injunction banning protests outside oil terminals. Just Stop Oil has vowed to continue “civil resistance” protests until the government agrees a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects and claims it has more than 1,000 supporters willing to be arrested for taking part. “We need the government to stop funding new oil projects and we need it now! Our only means of highlighting this issue is mass civil resistance,” they said in a post on Instagram. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/04/protesters-block-oil-depot-near-heathrow-as-action-enters-fourth-day , https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/01/environmental-protesters-block-oil-terminals-across-england

Why is Just Stop Oil so committed to and adamant about, their demand? 

In august last year, the first part of the IPCC’s latest assessment (each assessment is the product of five to seven years by three different working groups) was published. This part of the assessment focused on the physical science aspects of climate change, and concluded that the world had on,h a narrow chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C (We are already at 1.1C). This limited window of opportunity needs everyone – governments, businesses, industries, farming etc – to stick to what their agreed 2030 targets.

The second part of the assessment focused on the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather, droughts, floods and temperature rises, and how humanity can adapt to these. This was published in February when it was sadly overshadowed by the invasion of Ukraine. It reported that  3.5 billion people are highly vulnerable to climate impacts and half the world’s population will suffer severe water shortages at some point each year. One in three people are exposed to deadly heat stress, and this is projected to increase to 50% to 75% by the end of the century. Half a million more people are at risk of serious flooding every year, and a billion living on coasts will be exposed by 2050. Rising temperatures and rainfall are increasing the spread of diseases in people, such as dengue fever, and in crops, livestock and wildlife. If global heating continues and little adaptation is put in place, 183 million more people are projected to go hungry by 2050.

Nikki Reisch, the director of the energy and climate programme at the Center for International Environmental Law, said governments should be clear: “There is no room for more oil and gas full stop. [Some businesses] want to perpetuate the myth that we can carry on using fossil fuels. But we need a just transition away from fossil fuels, not techno-fixes.” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/03/scientists-urge-end-to-fossil-fuel-use-as-landmark-ippc-report-readied

The climate crisis is an imminent and highly dangerous. The task of averting this catastrophe relies on us all achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and at least halving them by 2030. Just Stop Oil is not demanding that the government stop all consumption of oil overnight. They are demanding that the government stops our increasing use of oil,  and takes action to cut back our use of oil so that we meet our 2030 and our 2050 net zero targets. 

The war in Ukraine has highlighted our unhappy dependency on fossil fuels, especially those we import from other parts of the world whose regimes are corrupt and un-humanitarian. The solution to this short term problem should be increasing renewable energy capacity – through investment in wind, tidal and solar energy – combined with a comprehensive programme to insulate homes and other properties. Yet there is a risk that the government will opt to escape this problem by allowing more oil exploration in the North Sea. To do so would make meeting our 2030 net zero targets an impossibility, consigning us to trauma of accelerating climate change. 

For Just Stop Oil what is needed is system change. A change from the current oil based system where the government (through taxation and policies) and businesses ( through investment and  practices) perpetuate the use of oil as the main source of energy and the mainstay of production. Consumers find themselves trapped in the system. Gas heating is cheaper than any other form of heating, flying is cheaper than travelling by train, driving is cheaper than public transport, imported food is cheaper than domestically grown, virgin plastic is cheaper than recycled etc etc. It is a system stacked against the environmentally concerned individual. 

Is it surprising then that for many environmentally concerned individuals the only option is civil disobedience? And where does that leave the more fainted hearted environmentalist?

Governments are seldom willing to make system changes unless they feel that is the direction in which the voters have already moved – in recent history one might include the over turning of the poll tax, reining back on nuclear weapons development, and gay weddings. Outside times of severe crisis such as war, system change also needs social change – and that means a change of heart at the individual, ie the average person on the street. Is the average person on the street ready to accept the changes in lifestyle that reducing our dependency on oil and achieving the halfway 2030 net zero targets demands? 

To be continued in issue 41

The Green Tau: issue 39

4th April 2022

If gardens became nature reserves

Did you know that the ordinary domestic garden makes up one third of all green space in London? 

According to Greenspace Information for Greater London, GiGL roughly  47% of Greater London is ‘green’, of which 33% is natural habitats within open space and an additional 14% is estimated to be vegetated private, domestic garden land. https://www.gigl.org.uk/keyfigures/ This is not just true of London, but for the whole country. According to the RHA ‘Private garden space in Britain cover about 728,900 hectares so their potential as a haven for wildlife is considerable’.   If each garden were actively managed as a nature reserve just think what an impact that would have on biodiversity and environmental wellbeing!

https://www.gigl.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/OpenSpace-POS-PrivateGardens2018.jpg

Domestic gardens can offer a diversity of plants and micro habitats making them ideal environments for a wide diversity of insects and beetles, birds and other small creatures. 

A diverse range of plants can not only provide food and shelter for a great number of birds, insects and other creatures, they can also be chosen to provide a year round supply of blooms that ensure  constant supply of food for insects – and a good supply of insects will ensure food for other creatures further up the food chain.

A variety of height and density of plants and planting, including trees and bushes, climbers and creepers, ground cover and grasses will again meet the needs of diverse range of fauna. Areas of both shade and sun, warm hollows and places giving shelter from the wind will be appreciated. Further micro habitats can be provided with the addition of ponds or bog gardens, log piles and dry stone walls.

Encouraging wildlife is also about avoiding things that can cause damage such as pesticides, herbicides and slug pellets, and the use of peat which comes at the expense of peat bogs which are an exceedingly valuable habitat in their own right. 

Many creatures will need more than the space offered by one garden. Their normal habits maybe to move or roam over a wide area – hedgehogs for example can travel up to 2km as part of their nighttime forays. Whilst robins may guard one garden as their territory, other birds such as swallows, long tail tits, and jackdaws will feed across a much wider area. Gardens can act as corridors and stepping stones linking one garden to the next as well as linking into wider green spaces such as parks and commons. Small holes at ground level will allow hedgehogs to travel from one garden to the next, whilst trees, shrubs and climbers will provide safe stopping off places for small birds.

Gardens also benefit our own well being. The National Open Gardens Scheme identifies 5 ways in which we can benefit from our gardens – https://ngs.org.uk/gardens-and-health-week/

  1. Do something (physical) – gardening itself, or playing, doing yoga, making a bug hotel, painting
  2. Do nothing! Spend time relaxing, just observing what’s there, de-stressing 
  3. Be alone – your garden can be an escape form the  demands of world and work. Find a quiet corner that is your personal retreat.
  4. Be sociable – share the garden with friends, chat over the fence, take tea together, eat meals outside, play games 
  5. Go natural – look at the shapes and colours, absorb the scents, feel the textures, listen to the sounds

For those without gardens, house plants can be equally beneficial and rewarding – https://ngs.org.uk/a-haven-of-houseplants/

Gardens are places to grow food and make us aware of the journey from fork to plate. Growing food encourages us to eat more healthily. Growing your own salads, herbs and soft fruits can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of what you eat.

Gardens can also protect us from some of the effects of the climate crisis. Gardens with plenty of vegetation will add moisture to the air making it feel comfortable during hot weather and trees of course provide shade as do climbing plants trained over pergolas. Climbing plants can shade walls from the sun and keep the building cooler, whilst plants trained around windows can cast shade that cools the room inside.  Gardens are good at both absorbing rainwater especially if there plenty of soft areas – lawns, flowerbed and vegetable plots – rather than hard surfaces such as pavements, patios and compressed soil. Gardens with plenty of plants are good at slowing the rate at which water drains into the water table as leaves and roots trap and delay the rain. Longer grass is better in this respect than short grass, and will equally better withstand periods of drought. Both absorbing and delaying the rate of water  flow reduces the risk of flooding. You can even be proactive by emptying water butts in advance of heavy rainfall. 

Gardens are natural carbon sinks. Trees, plants and lawns all absorb carbon as they grow. So does a well tended soil. This is a soil that is not over worked or compacted but rather is well supplied with hummus that makes the soil home for a multitude of worms, beetles, bugs, bacteria and fungi, all busily absorbing carbon and releasing nutrients into the soil. Further ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of your garden include composting garden and uncooked vegetable food waste, recycling canes and flower pots etc, growing plants from seeds, and using hand rather than power tools – https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint-in-the-garden/ Or visit the RHS web site https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardening-for-the-environment/low-carbon-gardening/the-low-carbon-garden 

“When we garden, not only do we make the world a more beautiful place, we also improve local biodiversity, cool overheated cities, mop up pollution and mitigate against flooding, all while improving our own health and well-being, which together have been shown to directly determine how effectively our society functions. Plants are key solutions to pretty much every major problem that faces our species today.” https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/feb/26/green-planet-how-gardening-can-save-the-world

Green Tau: issue 38

29th March 2022

Am I Wealthy?

When we think of wealth our first thoughts are probably of piles of money – and if not actual notes and coins, them lots of zeros on one’s bank balance. When we talk about someone’s wealth, we do so in terms of pounds. According to The Times Rich List the wealthiest person in the UK for 2021 was Sir Leonard Blavatnik, with a wealth of £23 billion. The wealth of nations is also typically measured in pounds/ dollars etc. The wealthiest nation in the world is the United States with a gross domestic product of  $18.62 trillion. The UK stands in 5th position with $2.65 trillion. 

Although we talk in terms of pounds and dollars, these examples of wealth are not piles of money (whether as cash or bank balances). Rather they are investments in stocks and shares, investments in property, luxury yachts, art works etc – all of which can be expressed in monetary terms and could in theory be sold/ liquidated to provide cash. 

But are there other forms of wealth? 

Wealth has in the past had the meaning of happiness as well as financial riches, and the word developed from the Middle English ‘wele’ or ‘weal’ meaning well-being. 

As a resident of Richmond in south west London, many things have and do contribute to my well-being. They are a wealth that I have inherited through being a citizen of the UK.

  • I was born into stable middle class family. My childhood was happy with no traumatic events. My parents were supportive and encouraging. I had a happy extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles. 
  • I spent my childhood in a rural part of the country where I learnt to appreciate the natural world.
  • Growing up I had the benefits of free health care (including dental care) and free education right through to my graduation from university. 
  • I continue to benefit from free healthcare – and can afford to access dental and other therapeutic treatments.
  • I am free to follow my chosen religion.
  • Even though I am a woman I can vote, I am free to work outside the home, and I can expect my husband to assist with domestic tasks and childcare.
  • I live in a country with reliable mains water, electricity and gas; with well maintained roads and a public transport network; with regular refuse collections; with dedicated emergency services and with a welfare and benefits system. I will in due course benefit from a state pension.
  • I live in a country with a respected police service and judicial system. 
  • I live in a country where bribery and corruption is not an every day occurrences.
  • I live in a country with well endowed schools, universities, museums and libraries. 
  • I live in a country with a free press. 
  • I live in a country where green spaces are protected, where there are rigorous standards for food quality and animal welfare. 

I am not saying that all the provision of all these in the UK is perfect and that there isn’t considerable scope for improvement, but compared to what is available for the average member of our global community, they are a significant source of wealth and wellbeing.

This wealth, from which I have and do benefit, arises from investments made by earlier generations and, to a lesser extent, from the current spending of tax revenues by the government and local authorities. It is a wealth that derives from the UK’s early investment in the Industrial Revolution, and from its exploitation of resources from other countries – either those which it colonised or those with which it arranged beneficial trading relationships. It is a wealth that has developed through the widespread use of, initially coal, and subsequently oil and gas, which has contributed significantly to the global climate crisis that we all now face. 

Is this wealth that I have something I can redistribute? I benefit from it but I don’t own it. I can’t realise its cash value and redistribute it. I can’t divide up or share my education or my good health, but I can use them to change the world. I can inform and campaign; I can recognise the injustices and inequalities that exist between people and across the world; I can volunteer and protest; I can influence by example; and I can effect change through my financial spending and donations.

The Green Tau: issue 37 

17th March 2022

Natural Wealth

We usually think of wealth in terms of money. Maybe we have an image of a vault full of coins and precious jewels like that of Harry Potter’s at Gringotts Bank.  Today I want to focus on natural wealth by which I mean the stock of natural resources that the earth provides for us. These natural resources range from water, air and soil,  plants and animals, to rocks and minerals.  The World Bank describes these things as being ‘natural capital’   which points to their use as means of generating something more. This is not an inappropriate concept. It fits with the repeated phrase used in Genesis chapter 1, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. In creating the world, God was creating a thing that would grow and reproduce, diversify and abound, prosper and flourish.

What the two terms, natural wealth and natural capital, may point to is that natural resources can be misused  diminishing wealth and productivity. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Soil

Soil is a natural resource to be found in all parts of the world. It should be valued as a key part of the world’s natural wealth. Soil enables plants to grow. Without plants we would starve and so too would all other creatures. Without plants, our atmosphere would suffer: carbon dioxide would cease to be absorbed and oxygen produced. Soil absorbs water preventing flash floods. Soil is home to wealth of biodiversity – moles, worms, ants, mites, fungus, bacteria etc. it is the nesting place for puffins and shearwaters, for rabbits and foxes.

Soil was not created ready formed. Soil is the result of the erosion of rocks creating small mineral particles; the decaying  of plant and animal remains; the addition by water of further chemicals; and the digging, mixing, tilling action of creatures as diverse as ants and worms, birds and badgers. When soil is being newly formed such as on lava outcrops or newly exposed rock surfaces, or where shores have been exposed, pioneer species of plants will begin the soil making process, to be replaced overtime by other plants, insects and animals as the soil’s fertility increases. 

However the wealth of the soil can be lost. If it looses its protective plant covering, it can be blown or washed away. If its goodness is used to grow successive generations of plants without that goodness being replaced, it becomes a non-fertile dust. If is infused with poisons (pesticides, herbicides etc) the biodiversity within the soil will lost and with it the ability of the soil to process and absorb decaying plant and animal material that gives the soil its fertility.  If it is overridden by heavy equipment, its structure is crushed, spaces for air and water are lost and with it, the soil’s ability to support life forms. Across the world, as self destructive as it may seem, humans misuse the soil: deforestation; monoculture; use of increasingly large and heavy farm equipment; use of insecticides, herbicides and overuse of artificial fertilisers; destruction of the infrastructure for biodiversity (hedgerows, verges, copses); over grazing etc. All these contribute to the destruction of the soil. 

All soil, cultivated or not, needs to be protected. Where it is cultivated it needs to be carefully tended and fed, and its structure and maintained. 

Forests

Forests are another key part of the natural wealth of the planet. Forests stabilise and protect soils. They are home to a great variety of different plants (more than just trees!), animals, birds, insects and many other living things. They provide humans with timber for building (homes, railway tracks,  bridges etc), for furniture, tools boxes. Timber for making paper and card, for making fabrics (eg viscose). Fruit, nuts and saps for food, as well as saps that are used to make rubber and resins. Many forest plants have medicinal uses. Forests provide shade which can be used to protect vulnerable crops (eg shade grown coffee). Tree cover can protect the soil for either drying out or being washed away, and sylvan farming techniques utilise this value of forests. Forests slow the flow of water so reducing the risks or scale of flooding. Forests absorb carbon and contribute considerably counterbalancing the excesses of carbon dioxide generated by human lifestyles.

And yet the wealth of our forests is being diminished. 

‘Forests cover 31 percent of the global land area – 4.06 billion hectares… Between  2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.  Agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity… Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40 percent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 percent.’  https://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/

Oil

Oil, like coal and gas, is a substance formed over many millennia in very precise circumstances that coincided hundreds of millennia ago. It is a highly adaptable material that can be used not just as an energy source, but also to make products as diverse as lipstick and fertilisers, and of course, plastic. Plastic has proved a very useful material being cheap, light, non perishable, highly mouldable etc. However oil was formed by locking away carbon deposits over hundreds of thousands of year but which we are now released into the atmosphere in just three centuries. This rate of release is far more greater than the ability of the atmosphere to safely contain it. Oil has become the biggest human pollutant. Oil extraction, through oil leaks etc is also a cause of  localised pollution. And in addition we are now aware of the polluting effects of the plastics we have produced – micro particles of plastic have been found in all parts of the planet as well as in animals, fish, birds and human beings. Oil whilst appearing to offer many benefits, has and continues to damage the earth.

Unlike soils, which can be rescued and regenerated, and forests that can be replanted and restored, oil – and other minerals that we extract from the earth – is a non renewable resource. For those those things for which oil-based products are beneficial, we should make every effort to recycle and reuse all that we do have.

Natural wealth is a gift from God, a gift of creation. We should not squander or degrade it. Rather we should cherish and nurture it. This should determine how we use that wealth, how we care for the soils and the forests, how we use – or rather don’t use oil -and how we recycle and reuse plastic items.

Whilst the level of care given to our natural wealth may vary between nations (and this could be for any number of reasons such as economic policies, poverty, heritage), the distribution of natural wealth across the planet is independent of  national boundaries and its distribution could be viewed as inequitable. Some countries have large areas of fertile soil conducive to growing wheat, corn or rice. Others have soils and climates conducive to the growth of forests. Some countries have large reserves of minerals such as iron ore, lithium and gold. Some countries have large reserves of fossil fuels. Some have tides, rivers and reservoirs suitable for producing hydro electricity, or climates suitable for wind and solar power. More recently we have realised that some countries have reserves of natural wealth that excel as carbon sinks: forests, peat bogs, mangroves, kelp forests. What we have not perhaps resolved is how we share this global wealth fairly – other than through economic markets – or how we share the responsibility of caring for this wealth, and ensuring that we pass it on us diminished to future generations.  

Whilst wealth and money are not, per se, the same thing, putting a monetary value on natural wealth helps countries and people to recognise the value of natural wealth and to shape their actions accordingly. The World Bank has been working on an Ecosystem Accounting framework that allows countries to assess the services contributed by natural wealth and give them a monetary value. By having a standardised system countries can  calculate how the natural wealth contributes to their GDP. “This is a huge step towards seeing nature as an economic asset that needs to be managed and preserved to ensure sustainable growth. For example, the Government of Cambodia asked the World Bank to provide the economic rationale behind preserving 65% of the country’s forests as protected land. While some benefits were  obvious, it did not have the economic analysis to fully justify such a  wide-ranging decision. Using ecosystem accounting, the World Bank team supported the Government of Cambodia in quantifying a suite of services that forests offer  –  water, agriculture and hydropower, ecotourism and carbon storage – for the Pursat River Basin in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia. The analysis revealed that economic gains from preserving the forests was five times higher than cutting them down for charcoal production or agriculture. It also found that the benefits to other economic sectors derived from forest ecosystems are 20 times higher than the cost of maintaining them”. https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/giant-leap-towards-measuring-natures-contributions-economy

The British Government, too, is developing the use of ecosystem accounting. ‘The Office for National Statistics estimate that England’s woods and forests deliver a value of services estimated at £2.3 billion annually. Of this figure, only a small proportion – 10% – is in timber values. The rest of the value derives from other more ‘hidden’ benefits to society, such as human recreation and air pollution removal, which improve health, and carbon sequestration which can help combat climate change’. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/natural-capital-tool-launched-to-help-protect-the-environment If followed through, this should ensure that we – as a nation, as a society, as landowners and as business enterprises –  do actually value and safeguard our forests and woodlands. 

As individuals we can speak out for and protect our world’s natural wealth –

  • Be an ethical consumer 
  • Be an ethical investor whether that is with direct investments or via investments made on your behalf by your pension fund provider, insurers, bank etc.
  • Support nature conservation schemes, nature friendly farming research, alternative energy etc
  • Be a campaigner, make your voice heard 
  • Visit and enjoy local nature reserves and green or blue spaces. 

Visit https://greentau.org/2022/02/24/eco-tips/ for more  tips on being a sustainable consumer.

Green Tau: issue 36

8th March 2022

Suddenly the war in Ukraine is revealing anew our (in the UK and across the world) dependency in gas and oil and our lack of self reliance in the supply of energy. This week the IPCC issued its most recent support on the world’s position vis a vis the climate crisis and things are not looking good. We are as individuals, companies and governments are not reducing our carbon emissions at anything like the rate needed to safeguard a comfortable future, nor are we doing enough to adapt to those dangers of climate change that are already locked in by our current lifestyles. Surly this is the time to be urgently and radically addressing our production and consumption of carbon emitting energy.

The Need for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Oil and coal both began their existence about 300 million years ago as dead plant materials or marine life. When conditions allowed for anaerobic decay, the first stage of formation began. Later after another 200 millions of years of compression by overlying layers of debris, and exposure to high temperature found at geological depths, the decaying material slowly formed either seams of coal, or reservoirs of oil and/or gas. 

The earliest records of coal being mined and burnt date back to about 200BCE when it was being traded in China as a fuel. In the UK coal was mined and used by the Romans to heat water for their baths as well as for smelting metal.  In the mediaeval period the burning of coal in London was prohibited because of the issues of pollution. It was in the 1700s that the demand for coal rapidly increased as part of the industrial revolution – and has continued to increase across the world. Peak coal production probably  occurred in 2013, when 8 billion tonnes was demanded. Since then global demand has been declining but that is not to gainsay that in some countries demand for coal is still rising. 

The use of oil in the form of asphalt and pitch has been in use for at least 4000 years whilst the refining of crude oil to create, initially, lubricating oil, dates back to 1848. Since then the processing of oil has led to the creation of all sorts of materials – plastics, paints, fabrics, lipstick and nail varnish, weed killers and fertilisers – as well as its use a fuel for heating and for powering all manner of vehicles. Demand for oil has been even greater than that for coal. Peak oil is widely considered to be  imminent but as the date can only be seen in hindsight, its actual date is not yet clear. World oil production was 88.4  million barrels a day in 2020 and 99.5 in 2019.

Coal, oil and gas are major emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are the root cause of the climate crisis. To contain the adverse affects of the crisis, these emissions need to be reduced to a net zero level by 2050. The International Energy Agency produced in  2021 a report –  Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector – outlining the means by which such a target can be achieved. These include an end, as of 2021, to any further investment in new fossil fuel projects, no further sales of new internal combustion engine cars after 2035, and a net zero emissions global electricity sector by 2040.  By 2050 fossil fuel use would be solely in goods where the carbon produced can be embodied, such as recyclable plastics, and in a limited number of areas where  carbon emissions can be captured and where there is no other alternative resource.  (https://www.iea.org/news/pathway-to-critical-and-formidable-goal-of-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-is-narrow-but-brings-huge-benefits) The IEA was clearing stating that no new oil and natural gas fields were needed in this net zero pathway – all necessary supplies of fossil fuels can be met from existing extraction sites.

The imperative is to invest in alternative renewable energies, materials and technologies. Many Christians, individuals and organisations, are doing this as part of their commitment to the care of God’s creation. In the run up to COP26 37 faith institutions in Britain affirmed their decision to divest from fossil fuels investments – ie that they would withdraw from any investments that supported fossil fuels and would maintain that position thereafter. This groups included the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland; the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church of Wales; the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; 15 Catholic dioceses in the UK and Ireland, including the Archdioceses of Glasgow, St Andrews & Edinburgh, Birmingham and Southwark; and from the Church of England, the Dioceses of Truro and Sodor & Man. This latter group has since been joined by the dioceses of Bristol, Oxford, Norwich and Durham. (https://brightnow.org.uk/news/global-faith-divestment-announcement-cop26/)

Bright Now, part of Operation Noah, campaigns on the issue of fossil fuel divestment and actively  encourages all parishes and churches to get involved in this campaign, which has at its heart the care of God’s creation. In the parish where I live, Parish funds are (in common with most Anglican churches) invested with CCLA Investment Management Limited, part of The CBF Church of England investment Fund – and as of July 2020, CCLA no longer holds any fossil fuel investments. However my local diocese, The Diocese of Southwark, which holds money on behalf of its parishes, has approximately £2.7 million in fossil fuel investments. This is the largest such holding pertaining to any of the Anglican Dioceses. 

As individuals we may feel we have no fossil fuel investments but (as with my church connections) it is highly likely that we do, even if only indirectly. Many of the companies who supply us with mortgages, insurance, pensions etc also hold investments in fossil fuels. The campaign group, Make My Money Matter, contends that swopping our pensions to a green provider is the most powerful thing we can do to reduce carbon emissions – UK pension funds invest £2.6 trillion on our behalf! (https://makemymoneymatter.co.uk/21x/) It is important that we as consumers ask how our money is being used when we hand it over to the care of others. Our money should be being used to create a better, kinder, just and peaceful world.