The Green Tau: issue 53

23rd September 2022

If we all went vegan what would happen to all the cows? 

This seems to be a frequent concern amongst those who are not vegan. If people didn’t eat meat or drink milk, would cows become extinct? 

The question is one of genuine concern but raises some other questions in response. For example what life does a cow have? Dairy cows will commence their milking life aged 2 when their first calf will be removed from her care within hours of birth.  She will then give birth once year, being milked for ten months producing quantities of milk (on average 8000 litres) greatly in excess of what a calf would consume. After 2.5 -4 years, when her milking yields drop, she will be slaughtered. The usual life expectancy of a cow is 20 years. Of her offspring, males calves will have a limited life to be slaughtered as veal at 5 – 7 months. Of her female calves most will follow in this mother’s footsteps unless they are deformed or ill, in which case they too will be slaughtered. 

Very few farmed cattle enjoy a full life. By contrast cattle kept on re-wilded land, although smaller in number, live a much more natural life. In the Lake District re-wilding projects are in place at Haweswater, Ennerdale and the Lowther Estate, whilst in Sussex there is the now famous Knepp Estate. According to Rewilding Britain 112,166 hectares of land are now part of a re-wilding project. 

So no, cows would not become extinct but would be kept in much smaller numbers – just as rare breeds of many farm animals are being conserved. 

In 2020 there were 9.36 million head of cattle in the UK. It was not always so! Originally there were only the early forebears of cattle, the aurochs. Overtime cattle were domesticated and as the human population of the UK grew so did the number of cattle. Selective breeding improved and diversified the      cattle with some favoured for milk production and others for meat. As the human and domestic animal populations increased, so the amount of uncultivated land and wildlife decreased: the auroch was hunted to extinction in the UK about 3000 years ago; the brown bear became extinct in the 6th century whilst the wolf hung on until the 17th century. What is true for the UK is also true world wide. Whilst once humans and domesticated animals were once nonexistent, they now comprise 36% and 60% of the biomass of all mammals, leaving just 4% as wild animals (biomass measures the quantity of a species by its mass rather than its numerical quantity).

Rather than it being a question of ‘what would happen to all the cows?’ perhaps the question should be ‘what has happened to all the wild animals?’ The State of Nature Report of 2019noted that since the 1970s, 41% of UK wildlife has declined, and that 26% of the UK’s mammals are at risk of becoming extinct. Re-wilding more of our land would help reverse this decline and allow for the reintroduction of lost species such as the lynx and the stork.

Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to feed livestock, including both grazing land and the land used to grow animal feed. In the UK 40% of the land (9.74 million hectares) comprisespermanent grazing, 6%  temporary grazing (1 – 5 years) and 5%  rough grazing. Only 20% of the land is used for arable crops. Even so home grown animal feed is supplemented by imports – somewhere in the region of 50%.

Globally the 77% of land used for grazing and feeding farm animals, produces only 18% of the world’s food calories. At the same time this major land use contributes more than half of the carbon footprint of our global food production. If everyone globally were to eat the same amount of meat as the average British person (approx 85g per day), then the amount of farm land needed would have to increase – putting even more pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. And if everyone were to eat as much meat as the average American, we would run out of land.

Reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products would release more arable land for growing more sustainably a great variety of plant-based proteins with the potential to improve the diets and health of billions of people world wide (subject to a radical improvement of trade and wealth distribution systems). Research the by the UN suggests that with fewer cases of lower coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, a global vegan diet would also result in 8.1 million fewer deaths per year worldwide.

Britons have in fact already reduced their meat consumption by 17% over the last decade. The Government’s Food Strategy has the target of reducing that by 30% by 2030. This target has been set  in recognition of the adverse affect meat production has on both climate change and the environment, as well as the link between the consumption of red and processed meat the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Looking to the future, there will be fewer cows – but hopefully they will be enjoying a happier life – and instead more land used to restore greater biodiversity. 

Further reading 

The Green Tau: issue 52

Positive Tipping Points

Scientists have long predicted tipping points in the climate crisis, vis events that will be triggered by rising temperatures and which will be irreversible even if temperatures fell. EG a temperature increase of 1.5C will cause the Greenland ice sheet to melt. Even if temperatures subsequently fall back that ice sheet cannot be recreated – it was the product of thousands of years of cold temperatures. 

The widespread destruction of the Amazon rain forest is leading to another tipping point where the loss of tree cover, and thus the ability of the ecosystem to absorb water, such that other trees cannot grow.

But there are also positive tipping points. For decades the petrol car has ruled supreme. Roads and service stations have all been developed to facilitate the use of the petrol car. The more ecological option of an electric vehicle has been slow to take off. The initial cost of each vehicle was high as productions numbers were low and scale of economies as yet untapped. Recharging points were limited in number and far apart as low numbers of vehicle discouraged investment. All these factors deterred would-be consumers, and expansion was therefore slow. However in recent years, rising demand has boosted the impact of change. Soon a tipping point will be reached where the number of electric cars produced and used in the UK will exceed those reliant on fossil fuels. The number of charging points will exceed petrol pumps. Petrol stations and the huge carbon footprint of vehicular transport will become a thing of the past. 

At present domestic heating is another big contributor to our national carbon footprint. The use of heat pumps and solar panels,  and the equipping of houses with double glazing and insulation, will be the norm, with the economies of scale and the increasing number of qualified technicians ensuring the affordability of these options. There will also be the swing in social norms that means that everyone will expect such technologies and the alternatives of  gas and oil fired boilers will be seen as antediluvian.

Whilst the number of people who follow a vegan diet has increased significantly, absolute numbers are still low as a proportion of the total population. So whilst the availability of plant based milks in cafés is widespread, there is not yet a comparable selection of vegan cakes and sandwiches. Whilst  in restaurants there may be the option of a vegan burger and possibly risotto, we are still waiting for the time when the dishes at the top of the menu are vegan and meat based items are the minority fare at the bottom of the menu. But when that tipping point is reached and the vegan diet is the norm, the carbon footprint for our food will be reduced by more than a third.

In the past we have seen positive social tipping points past. We have moved from a society in which wearing seat belts in cars went from being the exception to the norm. We have moved from viewing a last drink for the road as acceptable, to one that deplores drink driving and where taking a taxi after an alcoholic evening is the norm.  We have seen the change in expectation of maybe one holiday a year, typically in the UK, to two or three holidays a year with at least one involving taking a flight to hotter climes. 

In Sweden ‘flygskam’- flight-shame – has led to a fall in the number of people taking domestic flights and an increase in those travelling by train. Here in the UK Flight Free aims to persuade people to give up flying, not through shaming them, but through providing people with both illustrative information that shows the damage and pollution air travel causes, and testimonies from people who have made the Flight Free pledge. 

In the Netherlands 43% of people cycle everyday compared with 4% in the UK. Whilst a government survey found having off-road and segregated cycle paths (55%), safer roads (53%), and well-maintained road surfaces for cycling (49%) were most likely to encourage people to cycle more, there has not been sufficient investment to significantly improve the cycling infrastructure. In terms of tipping points, the more cyclists there are on a route, the more confident other cyclist feel about joining them. And the greater the likelihood of more investment!

We can all be part of the tipping process. If we make the beneficial changes the climate needs and talk about them with friends and family, at church, in the work place, at the gym and in the café or bar, the desire for change will grow in momentum and change will happen.

The Green Tau: issue 51

7th September 2022

What is this about Climate Grief?

Sometimes I feel so emotionally charged up about the present and impending reality of the climate crisis that  I want to shout and scream. I want to run away. I want to lash out and throw things. But against whom would I shout my abuse and fury? Where would I run away to? Against what would I lash out and what would I throw?

I bottle it up inside. It screws my insides into knots and squeezes against my head like a metal vice. My words become trapped inside, choked back and unable to escape. I cannot voice how I feel. I retreat inwards, cutting myself off for anyone or anything that might give joy – for joy has no place here. How can you contemplate being happy when all is doomed? How can you have fun whilst across the world others are suffering? That is what climate grief feels like for me. 

It comes from the loss of biodiversity – the diminishing numbers of birds and butterflies, the lack of insects on car wind screen,  the death of trees. It comes the rampant spread of vast mono-cultured fields, satellite images of rainforest destruction, the inexorable spread of towns across the landscape. It comes from the rising summer temperatures and the devastating winter storms. It comes from the constant stream of airplanes overhead and the repeated jam of cars on the streets. It comes from seeing retreating glaciers and knowing the next generations will not see snowy alpine peaks. It comes from watching the news and seeing wild fires and droughts, heat waves and mud slides, storms and destructive rainfall. It comes from realising that heatwaves are going to be the norm in the UK and yet none of our buildings – our homes or schools or hospitals – are being adapted to reflect this. It comes from hearing of cuts to bus services when policies should be making public transport more widely and readily available. It comes from hearing of the ongoing investment in fossil fuels by companies claiming green credentials. It comes from hearing politicians saying we don’t want solar panels and wind farms marring the landscape. It comes from pictures of industrialised cattle farms and chicken factories, hearing of chickens whose lives are shorter than a school term. It comes from seeing people carrying on their lives, their acquisitive consumption,  their shopping, their travelling and house re-modelling as if nothing is amiss.  

I can’t control my grief and I can’t control what other people do. I feel disempowered and alone. 

Yet I am sure that other people are grieving too. That other people are feeling lost and helpless. And when I do chance to meet them, when we get to talk and share our concerns, we find comfort that we are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. We find reassurance that we are not alone in our thinking , that our thinking isn’t completely ‘off the wall’. We find encouragement that there are others taking action – some even putting their liberty and their careers at stake as they risk arrest and even imprisonment. 

Climate grief is not an issue that is going away. Nor is it a problem waiting to be ‘fixed’. Climate grief is an expression of the love that people have for the world around them. It is a knock on from caring for and being connected with the environment. But does it have to be debilitating and overwhelming?

No. Climate grief needs to be recognised, and those who feel it, validated. We need safe places where this grief can be expressed and we need to develop ways and means – new traditions and liturgies – so that people can more easily articulate and acknowledge their feelings. We need to use different creative mediums to enable a free flow of expression. We need to develop sympathetic listening ears that can absorb someone else’s grief and astute words to help them understand the emotions they are feeling. We need practical therapies so that people can sooth the physical pain caused by grief.

We cannot remove the loss. But we can help build up resilience. We cannot diminish the threat of impending future losses. But we can help develop support mechanisms and networks. We can find ways of adjusting the way we live to accommodate a new normal. We can develop new occasions for celebration to acknowledge what is still good. We need to find ways of expressing joy that do not diminish the reality of suffering. We need to develop activities and actions that are both  worthwhile and which genuinely do protect the God-given environment that we prize so highly. 

Reading list:

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200109-is-it-wrong-to-be-hopeful-about-climate-change

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200402-climate-grief-mourning-loss-due-to-climate-change

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/15/rebecca-solnit-hope-in-the-dark-new-essay-embrace-unknown?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

https://www.climateandmind.org/what-is-climate-grief

http://rebeccanestor.co.uk/2020/08/10/what-exactly-is-a-climate-cafe/

Green Tau: issue 50

1st September 2022

There is no ‘away’ in a throw-away society 

We can go away on holiday to the sea side, to the mountains, to a tropical islands or a city of culture. We take away 3 from 5, or 99 from 100, and get a number. When we look away, we look in the  opposite direction. But where is away on a throw-away society?

It is said that if Henry VIII had had a plastic toothbrush it would still exist today – plastics take

400-500 years to biodegrade. In the UK we throw away in excess of 200 million toothbrushes every year. These end up in landfill, incinerators or in the ocean. As they degrade they release toxins into the water or – in the case of the incinerator – into the air. 

Plastic waste is a global issue even though most of it originates in the developed world. As plastic degrades it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. These end up in the digestive systems of various creatures, but especially so in sea creatures, in the ice on remote mountains, and in the water we all drinks. Plastic particles can even transfer from mother to foetus through the placenta.  You cannot throw plastic away. It always goes somewhere!  There is nowhere where it can be ‘away’ from us. 

Terracycle and Colgate together offer a recycling scheme for plastic toothbrushes,  toothpaste tubes and caps, floss containers and packaging and electric toothbrush heads. So for any plastic toothbrushes etc that you are currently using, there is at least one means of ensuring that the ‘away’ to which they go is to be recycled into another product rather than polluting the environment meant. Colgate also sells a toothbrush made from 100% recycled plastic with 100% plant-based nylon bristles which maybe helping to close the loop on this product. Hopefully we can all act now – whether by using a recycled or a bamboo toothbrush – to prevent this ‘mound’ of ex-toothbrushes from continuing to grow 

One of the easiest plastics to recycle is PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which is the type of plastic used to make drinks bottles – type 1 plastic as marked inside the recycle triangle. This can be recycled to create another plastic bottle – an rPET bottle. You may be able to find rPET bottles used for Buxton Spa and Evian water and for Coca Cola but most bottles are still made from virgin PET. (PET plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely without the addition of a proportion of new plastic resin so recycling isn’t the complete answer).

It is estimated that an average of 35.8 million plastic bottles are used every day in the UK, but only 19.8 million are recycled (https://www.recyclenow.com/recycle-an-item/plastic-bottles). For a little more than half of PET bottles, ‘away’ means a new life as recycled plastic, but for the remainder ‘away’ may still be landfill, the incinerator or the ocean. 

For other plastics the recycling rates are not as rosey. HDPE plastic – high density poly ethylene – is widely used for plastic bags, milk bottles, shampoo and laundry bottles etc. Whilst it can be recycled into more bottles, drain pipes, plastic sheeting etc, only 12% of all plastic bags are recycled and 28% of milk and water bottles are recycled (https://www.plasticexpert.co.uk/plastic-recycling/hdpe-plastic-recycling/). 

Other plastics are even less likely to be recycled. Polystyrene for example – whilst it can be recycled, there are very few recycling plants (apparently there is one in Cardiff but none in London!) and no kerb side collections. Other plastics can be hard to recycle because they are a composite of several materials which are hard to separate – this has long been the case with coffee cups made from paper and lined with polythene. There are now an increasing number of recycling facilities for such cups. An optimistic estimate suggests that 1 in 25 disposable coffee cups are recycled (https://www.recycling-magazine.com/2019/10/01/reducing-coffee-waste/). But for most coffee cups ‘away’ means landfill, incinerator or the ocean.

Despite all these health threatening ‘aways’ which is where waste most plastic goes, we are still producing more and more new plastic every year. According to the OECD global plastics production doubled between 2000 to 2019 to reach 460 million tonnes. Much of this is used for packaging (146 million tonnes in 2015 (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/plastic-production-by-sector)

It is a scary thought that there is no real ‘away’ where we can throw what we wish to discard. What happens to all the shoes, the clothes, the half empty paint tins and paint brushes, the punctured inner tubes and bike tyres, car tyres, shower curtains, kitchen sinks, soft toys, the leaky hot water bottle etc that we will throw throw away during our life times. Sometimes there be recycling options but not always and even then one wonders what the end product is. We have a foam mattress bought when we were first married. It is probably coming near to the end of its useful life as a mattress but I do not think there is any safe ‘away’ where we can send it. Were we buying that same mattress now I know we think and choose differently. 

Whenever we acquire new things, we need to consider what will be its destination when it is has ceased to be useful in its current formation. Can this pair of trainers be recycled even though it comprises several materials? Will it just end up as road fill? Can this polyester running shirt be recycled into a new shirt? Can this iron/ kettle/ printer be recycled, its metal,and plastic parts separated and reprocessed? 

Should this be solely our responsibility as consumers? The Extended Producer Responsibility is an approach that says that the manufacture must take on responsibility for their products when they re@ch their end of life. This would refurbishing and/ or recycling the product. Placing the responsibility manufacturer should encourage more sustainable designs and manufacturing processes.  Such policies are slowly be introduced in a number of countries. As a result of current legislation European manufacturers, including British ones, are responsible for taking back and recycling in all batteries, and waste electronics and electrical equipment – The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive is the European Community Directive or WEEE. 

I am hoping that such a scheme will be introduced for mattresses (and applied retroactively)

The Green Tau: issue 49

19th August 2022

Conserving water effectively.

This year we are feeling the effects of climate change more acutely, with a series of heat waves, a lack of rainfall and now a drought.  As hot and dry summers will be an ongoing feature of climate change, so too will water shortages and droughts. 

Part of the equation lies with how much water we consume and when, and how much water we can store. Part of the dilemma is that the time when we consume most water is in the summer months when  the chances of restocking depleted water supplies is most limited. When  it is hot and there is no rain, we quickly use water we have previously stored to water gardens, to irrigate crops, to provide drinking water for animals and people, to fill swimming pools and paddling pools etc. And as many of us have experienced, the water we had stored (domestically in water butts) has not been enough to keep our gardens green. There has been much discussion in the press about water companies not investing enough in new reservoirs. 

Is collecting and storing more water the only solution? Building reservoirs is expensive and happens at the loss of someone else’s ‘backyard’. Cleaning and distributing water (and subsequently treating what is discarded) incurs its own energy cost and the greater the volume, the greater the cost. Should we instead be looking to reduce the demand side of the equation?  

According to CCW, the Consumer Council for Water, the average person in the UK uses 152 litres of water a day. A washing machine uses about 50l per load, a five minute shower 40l (more for a power shower), 10-14l for the dishwasher and each flush of the loo can use 10l.  Very quickly you can see how that 152l of water disappears!  And this is without including a sprinkler for the lawn, a hose to wash the car or a power jet to clean the drive. 

Yes, we can reduce the amount of water we use. We can change to taps that use less water by produce a spray. Ditto for shower heads. We can adjust toilet cisterns to use less water per flush. We can opt for washing appliances that use less water. We can turn off the tap when washing hands and teeth. We can bathe less often and wash clothes less often – saving energy as well as water. We can plant our gardens with drought tolerant plants and cut the lawns less often. We can install more water butts, and even install systems to collect and recycle grey water. 

Leaks from water pipes – whether that is within a property, or out in the street – account for 113 litres per property per day according to CCW. Thames Water puts its leakage rate at a staggering 24% of the water it supplies. Sometimes leak go unnoticed because the water is leaking into the subsoil. Keeping an eye on our water meter should alert us to any leaks that occur on the consumer side of the pipes.

Yet households only account for a small fraction of the water we consume in the UK. The data below ⬇️ comes from the  WWF Water Footprint report https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Orr_and_Chapagain_2008_UK_waterfootprint-vol1.pdf 

73.6% of the UK’s water is used in farming. 

17.9% is used by industry, and 

8.5% is used by households. 

Many of us are probably not aware how much water is used in farming. About a third of agricultural water is used for livestock, primarily as drinking water. A lactating cow needs 100+ litres a day, a farrowing sow, 30l and a beef animal 20l. Further water is used for washing/ cleaning dairy parlours, stock sheds and yards; for processing and cooling milk; and for disease control such as sheep dips and foot baths. (https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/lifesci/wcc/research/resources/wateruse/technology/livestock.pdf)

Water for arable farming is primarily used for irrigation of outdoors in-field crops and undercover or protected, crops. Field crops requiring irrigation are primarily vegetables including sugar beet,  peas, beans etc (potatoes account for 54% of water consumption), sugar beet, orchards and other fruits such as strawberries. Grains and grasses only occasionally need irrigation. Protected crops include  (edibles such as salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, peppers, herbs, celery, and aubergines; and ornamentals such as pot plants, bedding plants and indoor cut flowers. (https://www.nfuonline.com/archive?treeid=141830)  Water is also needed for spraycrops with pesticides and herbicides.

Just as domestic users of water can make savings by using more efficient equipment and appliances, so too can agricultural users. Just as gardeners can reduce their demand for water by swopping to drought tolerant plants, so too farmers can look to grow less water-greedy crops or drought tolerant varieties. But when it comes to providing drinking water for livestock, the only way to achieve reductions in water consumption would be by reducing stock numbers.  

A pressing issue both in the UK and globally,  is food waste. In the UK WRAP estimates that 3.6 million tonnes or  7.2%, of all food harvested is lost each year. 4% is classified as surplus which is food that would go to waste were it not diverted for use as animal food or other bio-based products. 3.2%  is pure waste, of which horticultural crops make up 54% of the total, cereals 30%, livestock 8% and milk 8%. (https://wrap.org.uk/resources/report/food-waste-primary-production-uk)  Such food waste may arise became the crop is damaged whilst growing in the field (pests and/ or weather), because supply exceeds the market demand, or because the product is the wrong shape/ too large/ too small, or because there is a lack of available labour to harvest the crop. 

On top of this primary level of waste, there are issues with food waste during processing, on the shop floor and in the home. WRAP estimates that a further 9.5 million tonnes of food is wasted of which 70% is wasted in the home. The most frequently thrown away foods are potatoes, bread and milk, whilst in total fresh vegetables and salad makes up 24% of the total.

So far  I have focused on the consumption of water in the UK, but as the WWF Water Footprint report goes on to demonstrate, when we import food and other items we are in essence importing the output of  someone else’s water. There are some products that we cannot – climatically – grow in this country such as cocoa and coffee. There are others, such as strawberries and tomatoes which have a longer growing season when grown elsewhere – say in Spain – than if grown here. However if these products come from areas where there are water shortages, our consumption of the same may be exacerbating that problem. As consumers we need to be conscientious in understanding the environmental costs of what we buy. When we buy Spanish strawberries are we endangering ecosystems in Spain? There has been a number of reports this year about the extraction of water by some strawberry growers that is adversely affecting the wetlands in the Doñana national park. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/08/bitter-fruit-strawberry-boom-water-plan-raises-fears-for-spanish-wetlands?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/22/uk-supermarkets-urge-andalucia-against-huge-strawberry-farm-expansion?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

On balance, whilst we should certainly save water in the home, we can do far more to safeguard water supplies and thus avoid water shortages, by rethinking what and how we eat. Eating less meat and dairy produce. Eating what’s in season, including the small/ large or wonky. Buying and cooking only what we need. 

Green Tau issue 48

Lambeth Conference: Environment and Sustainable Development 

12th August 2022

Every ten years (or thereabouts) all the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet together as the Lambeth Conference at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their meeting this year was the 15th such gathering with over six hundred bishops – and spouses – convening from all parts of the globe: Alaska, Australia, Brazil, South Sudan, the Philippines, Scotland, India and the Solomon Islands, and more. (Sadly the bishops of Nigeria, Rwanda Uganda declined to attend).   

The theme of the conference has been ‘God’s Church for God’s World – walking, listening and witnessing together.’  In fact the conference begins before the bishops arrive with the preparation of a document called ‘Lambeth Calls’. On each issue to be discussed at the conference a  paper – or “call” – is drafted by a group made up of bishops, clergy and laity from around the communion led by a Primate or senior bishop. Each Call includes:

  • A declaration, summarising what the Christian Church has always taught about these matters.
  • An affirmation, summarising what the bishops want to say on these matters in the present time.
  • Specific requests (The Calls) to future witness, sharing actions or challenges that the bishops want to give to each other, to fellow Christians and to the world.

Within each ‘Call’ there are be matters to discuss and decisions to be made. It may be that not all bishops will want to add their voices to every element of every call. As has always been the case at every Lambeth Conference bishops will confer together but they will not necessarily agree on everything. And the work of the conference continues after each participant has returned home as matters are taken forwards. https://www.lambethconference.org/programme/lambeth-calls/

The conference itself takes place in Canterbury but midway everyone travels to London for a day at Lambeth Palace. The focus for this day was the Environment and Sustainable Development. You can read the material prepared for this day here, pages 19 to 21 –  https://www.lambethconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Lambeth-Calls-July-2022.pdf The Call clearly states the biblical imperative that humans should care for all creation, as well as being honest about the crisis we now face – 

“the triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is an existential threat to millions of people and species of plants and animals across the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that it is “code red for humanity”; “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C”. Drastic action is needed in the next three years to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The Call also addresses the need to take action – “With crisis comes opportunity: for the Church to listen to God’s voice, to imagine how the world could be different, and to help build towards God’s Kingdom” – and is realistic about the lack of time available. “By the next Lambeth Conference, increasing areas of the Communion will be uninhabitable, because of drought, rising sea levels and other impacts as we reach tipping points in climate change. Meanwhile despite these terrible realities, carbon emissions continue to rise and there are over 50,000 new fossil fuel developments in the pipeline. Our oceans and rivers are clogged with plastic and people are choking and dying from polluted air. The web of life is becoming so damaged by the loss of biodiversity that the integrity of creation is under threat.” 

The Call then moves on to action that needs to be taken:-

“We call on world leaders to:

1. Enact bold and urgent policy changes, including:

• achieving net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

• fulfilling and substantially increasing their commitments to climate finance, including for loss and damage due to climate change.

• halting new gas and oil exploration.

• protecting and restoring biodiversity and tackling pollution.

2. Challenge wealthier nations and those with greatest responsibility for climate change to take the lead on climate action and just financing for other countries to reduce emissions.”

Those assembled to hear, think and talk about these pressing issues included those from communities already suffering the dire consequences of the climate crisis, those from communities who have historically been most responsible for the causes, those who have most to offer by means of practical and financial help, and those least able. As such the Anglican Communion can, together, speak from a basis of lived experience. This does not make the dilemmas any less tractable. Certainly some of the bishops spoke from experience when they highlighted the dangers of speaking out against the views of both governments and big business. For some communities the idea of living within reliance on fossil fuels seems a near impossible ask. 

I spent the day outside the Palace with Christian Climate Action actively praying that the outcome of the day would be that bishops would have a clear understanding of the need to end reliance on fossil fuels and to address the global injustices of climate change. In advance of the day, CCA had contacted all the bishops, highlighting these concerns and inviting them to share in a prayerful response. 

One of the bishops from South Sudan in turn asked for support for his campaign to protect Africa’s largest wetland, The Sudd. Fed by the White Nile this area floods each year providing a wetland habitat for a diversity of wildlife as well as provide irrigation and subsequent rainfall for the grasslands surrounding the wetland that supports pastoral farming. The future of this wetland is threatened by a project to build a 300km  canal that bypasses the Sudd, transferring the flood waters to the northerly reaches of the Nile. 

It was encouraging when some of the bishops as they passed on their way into  – and at the end of the day, out off – the Palace diverted to talk with us or wave a hand to show their support. Some revelled in having their photos taken with the CCA banners as a back drop! From those who talked and prayed with us we learnt more of the issues that they face. In seeing such numbers of people – many dressed in brilliant colours reflecting their national identity – we were made aware of the scope and scale of this global crisis.

And the outcome of the day? Bishops spoke of heating at first hand from their colleagues about the effects of the climate. Hopefully it was a means to greater understanding and empathy, and a spur to more incisive action. At a corporate level, the day saw the launch of The Communion Forest – “a global initiative comprising local activities of forest protection, tree growing and eco-system restoration undertaken by provinces, dioceses and individual churches across the Anglican Communion to safeguard creation.”

In the run up to the Lambeth Conference, the Vatican signed up to the call for a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation treaty  – https://fossilfueltreaty.org/vatican There was perhaps a hope that the Anglican Communion might have taken the opportunity of echoing this. At their conference earlier this year, the call for this treaty was endorsed by various faith groups including the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Other signatories include Green Christian UK, Anglican Church of Southern Africa Environment Network, Interfaith Scotland, North Carolina Council of Churches,  Operation Noah, Quaker Earthcare Witness. 

In his final key note speech Justin Welby said of the Lambeth Calls, “They are not an end in themselves. They are an appeal to each  Church and Province, and  Bishop and Diocese, to every Anglican, to be more visibly the people of God…” This then is where we can take action.As individuals we can sign this call for a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation treaty; we can ask our churches to sign; we can ask our diocese to sign – and do so with reference to the Lambeth Call for the Environment and Sustainable Development. Step by step, piece by piece we can work together for the care of creation. 

Later in the same speech he said, “The Church, salt and light, courageous in prophetic utterance, gracious yet clear, is not another NGO: it is God’s chosen means of shining light in the darkness…This is not the church getting involved in politics. It’s the church getting involved in God. “

See also https://christianclimateaction.org/2022/08/04/bishops-at-lambeth-conference-join-protestors-calling-for-climate-action-from-the-anglican-church/

Green Tau issue 47

10th August 2022 

Loss and Damage

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as an insulator, keeping in the warmth of the sun that is radiated back by the earth. We see a similar affect when clouds act as an insulator. Under a clear night in the winter temperatures will plummet as the radiant heat escapes overnight. Whilst a cloudy night will maintain the temperature at a higher level as cloud cover keeps in more of the heat. Unlike cloud which can dissipate as quickly as it appears, atmospheric carbon dioxide stays put – unless it is absorbed by plants (on land) or by phytoplankton (in oceans).

The latest IPCC report suggests that for every 1000 billion of CO2 emitted temperatures will rise by approximately 0.45C. Since 1850 2500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere, and global temperatures have risen by about 1.2C between 1850 and 2020.

These carbon emissions come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and (to a lesser but still significant extent) making cement. The other notable contributor is change of land use. Where forests have been felled, the loss of CO2 absorbing capacity leads to a measurable increase in emissions. 

Considering cumulative carbon emissions (from fossil fuels, cement and changes in land use) since 1850 the USA has been the largest emitter, accounting for 20% of global emissions. The US is followed by China 11%, Russia 7%, Brazil 5%, Indonesia 4% (both these nations have seen significant deforestation), Germany 3.5%, India 3.4%, United Kingdom 3%,  Japan 2.7% and Canada 2.6%.  The distribution changes when emissions are calculated per capita for each national. Canada is now in top place, followed by the USA, Estonia (which has been heavily reliant on oil sands for energy), Australia, Trinidad and Tobago (having large oil, gas and chemical industries), Russia, Kazakhstan, United Kingdom (8th), Germany and Belgium. https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-which-countries-are-historically-responsible-for-climate-change/ 

Another way of looking at the distribution of carbon emissions across the globe, is to compare them with wealth. It was the early industrialisation of many European and North American countries that enabled them to become some of the wealthiest nations.  The richest half of the wealthiest nations account for 86% of the current annual CO2 emissions. Of the remaining nations, the very poorest, representing 9% of the global population account for just 0.5% of CO2 emissions. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions

The very poorest nations that account for the most minimal CO2 emissions, are Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Liberia and Niger. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/poorest-countries-in-the-world. These are countries which already face difficult situations and are highly vulnerable to the extremes of drought and floods. For them the effects of climate change will come sooner and with greater intensity than nations with more amenable climates. Their poverty makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change as they have limited resources with which to either mitigate or adapt. For example  there may be limited funding to build reservoirs and water distribution networks, weather warning systems, food stocks, search and rescue services etc, and limited resources to rebuild when disasters strike.

Another vulnerable group are the Small Islands Developing States which includes low-lying atoll nations in the Pacific like Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, which are only about six feet above sea level. The rising global temperatures that are already locked in mean that ice at both Poles will (as is  already beginning) melt, with a subsequent rises in sea levels, threatening the future existence of some of these islands.

It is clearly apparent that there is great inequality and injustice in the realm of climate change. Those who have contributed most are often the best able to insulate themselves from its effects, whilst those who contributed least are often doubly disadvantaged. 

Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, 8th February 2022

To address this scenario, wealthy nations at the Copenhagen climate summit (COP25) in 2009,  agreed to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. This agreement was reiterated at COP 26 in 2022. It is still a promise that has yet to be met. To date the best year was 2020 when $83.3 bn was raised. Increasing finance for countries worst hit by climate impacts is therefore one of the key goals of Cop27 in Egypt. 

In addition to funding to help the most vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change, a call was made at COP26 for a “Loss and Damage” fund. These are funds that would compensate the worst affected and disadvantaged nations for damage caused by climate change. Like an insurance fund, it would compensate those who accrue loss and damage through events for which they are not responsible. However the developing countries’ proposal for a finance facility to address loss and damage was rejected in favour of a three-year Glasgow Dialogue to discuss funding arrangements – https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621382/bp-fair-finance-loss-and-damage-070622-en.pdf

Who should pay into this fund? Those nations who have contributed most to the climate crisis and those best able to pay. And what of the fossil fuel companies? Certainly taxation and in the current market, further windfall taxes should enable governments to obtain the necessary finance. 

In 2020-21 UN humanitarian appeals to address emergencies arising from climate change topped $20 bn.  Meanwhile the top 25 oil and gas companies generated $205 billion in profits – https://www.accountable.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/20220307-UPDATED-Oil-And-Gas-2021-Profits-1.pdf And at the same time, these fossil fuel companies were – and continue – receiving government subsidies. The campaign group Paid to Pollute analysed OECD date showing that between 2016 and 2020 companies received £9.9 billion in tax reliefs for new exploration and production and £3.7 billion in payments towards decommissioning costs.

Thursday 22 September is Loss and Damage Action Day – an international day to stand in solidarity with those living with the worst impacts of climate breakdown, and to call on rich countries and big polluters to pay compensation. 

  • Join Green Christian’s morning prayer event – register on the Green Christian website.
  • Join Make Polluters Pay’s social media action – follow @MakePolluterPay and @FFTCnetwork for details.
  • Hold a vigil for loss and damage. This is a powerful way to publicly show solidarity with those at the sharp end of climate breakdown. A guide to holding an interfaith vigil is available to download (below). More resources are available on the Make Cop Count website, including a leaflet to hand out and placards to display.
  • For more information,- https://ctbi.org.uk/loss-and-damage-action-day-22-sept-2022/

The Green Tau: issue 46

System Change?

4th August 2022

Steam Punk is based on the scenario of an alternative history in which steam power, steam engines and hand cranked machines reigned supreme, preventing the development of electrical power and the petrol engine. Might there be scope for Cycle Punk, an alternative history in which peddle power dominates with pedal powered kettles and mobile phones as well as the straightforward two wheel mode of transport?

The way economies and societies work -a product of convenience, economies of scale and inertia – is such that a preferred system will prevail whether that is the energy system, transport system, voting system, or  communications system. The systems or products that are not adopted are not necessarily a worse choice, just different as was the case between VHS and Betamax for video recorders. But once a system is established it is hard to change, because everything is geared to it, business and society have bought into it, lifestyles are built around it, and investment perpetuates it as the safe bet.

In the UK we have favoured a transport system based on private cars over one based on public cars, buses and trains. Our infrastructure favours the former. Our lifestyles have been shaped by the former. Our businesses are geared to the former. Our investment is predicated on its continuation. To change the system would need radical change in all these areas. 

Our energy system is based on the use of cheap fossil fuels. Our agricultural system is based on the production of cheap food, especially cheap animal products. Our manufacturing system is based in the use of cheap labour – as is our hospitality sector. Our investment system on the other hand is based on maximising profits for the few. 

The size and scale of such systems prevent us from seeing or experiencing anything different. Their market share precludes new entrants with alternative ideas. The systems prevent the use of better, more appropriate technologies.

In the UK fuel bills are rising out of all proportion to the cost of production, yet swopping to an alternative system seems nigh impossible. For people struggling financially, there is no spare cash to replace a gas boiler with a heat pump. There is no spare cash to install double glazing and reduce dependency on central heating. There is no comprehensive public transport network to remove reliance on the private car. There is insufficient investment in alternative energy and the odds are increasingly stacked against such investments as the return on fossil fuel investment sky rockets as fuel prices – but not costs – continue to rise.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo drawing on the power of the River Congo has the capacity to generate 100,00MW of hydro electric power compared with its existing capacity of 2792MW (https://www.usaid.gov/powerafrica/democratic-republic-congo). Yet this requires investment. The DRC is a nation struggling to meet the needs of its people, and the government is currently auctioning fossil fuel rights to explore and extract oil from under its rainforests, a move that will generate money now rather than longer term pay back of hydro power.

Africa as a whole has great potential for the generation of solar power, and which if provided via small scale projects can provide electricity to areas far removed from the grid. Yet whilst solar power has still to be developed in countries such as Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria and Tanzania (https://commodityinside.com/reports/solar-energy-market-in-africa/) the big oil companies are developing new oil and gas fields in Angola, South Africa, Ghana, Gabon, Egypt, Namibia and Kenya. 

Understanding that we are to a greater or lesser extent trapped in a system lets us be realistic about our situation, our predicament. It also helps us understand what will be needed to bring about change. 

Changes in government policy to favour the new system and tax changes and rules  to discourage the old.

Changes in global policies as advocated by the World Bank, the UN etc.

Changes in investment strategies and business plans.

Developments in new technology.

Changes in public opinion that will support all these. 

This is where we come in. We can, even in small ways, be the trigger or the irritant that initiates and propels change. We can make a difference – by talking with friends and neighbours, by loving as if we were already part of the new system, by campaigning, by pressing businesses and politicians, by voting with our money, by investing and by pestering those institutions investing on our behalf, by supporting charities, by standing up. As Christians we are well suited to this. We have that calling to be different, to be countercultural, to be willing to go the extra mile, to act for the wellbeing of the other.

The global system of slavery did come to an end when public opinion had changed. They did it then. We can do it now. 

The Green Tau: issue 45

Earth Overshoot Day 28th July 2022

Leviticus 25 explains that the land should have a sabbath rest every seventh year. In that year no crops would be sown and the people would live off the surplus of previous years. Farmers over the millennia have learnt that you cannot constantly expect the land to keep on producing crops year on year without fail. The land either needs to lay fallow (rest), or it needs to be sown with a restorative crop such as nitrogen fixing beans or clover, or it needs the input of artificial fertilisers, so that it may recuperate its productivity. It is a lesson we are sometimes reluctant to heed. The Dust Bowl disaster of 1930s in the USA destroyed vast acres of farm land because farming practices did not maintain the fertility of the soil. An equivalent story can be told about the Aral Sea. This inland lake, once the fourth largest area of fresh water in the world,  has been reduced to nothing because more water has been extracted year on year – to irrigate local cotton crops – than the rate at which water flowing in fills the lake.

Ideally what we consume from the natural world – crops, timber, drinking water, clean air, energy – is balanced by the earth’s ability to regenerate. Prior to 1970 that was the case. Since then we have been using up the earth’s renewable resources at a rate faster than they are replenished. Scientists each year calculate that point  when we pass from credit to deficit. This is called Earth Overshoot Day. This year the predicted date is 28th July. Seven months into the year and we have already – globally – consumed as much as the earth can replenish in one year! 

Surely this state of affairs can not continue? What can we do about it and why aren’t we doing it? 

Since 1970, Earth Overshoot Day has been falling earlier and earlier each year. Only in 2020 did it reverse: the reduction in world wide consumption because of Covid gave the earth a three week reprieve. Consuming less has to be the answer which means consuming more carefully and more sustainably. If we could do that in 2020 whilst coping with a pandemic, surely we could do it every year? 

The Earth Overshoot website has details of various ways in which the global community could do this. https://www.overshootday.org/ Meantime we as individuals can make changes to our own lives  and  patterns of consumption. And we can ask or push for our churches, places of work, sports clubs, local authorities, museums, retailers, and government, to make similar reductions in consumption. We need change to happen at all levels.  

28th July is 2022’s Earth Overshoot Day at the global level. That date is the average  of each nation’s own Overshoot Day. These dates range from 20th December for Jamaica (ie Jamaica pretty much balances its books,  consuming only slightly more than it can regenerate in a year) to 10th February for Qatar. The UK’s Overshoot Day  was 19th May. We would need three United Kingdom’s to satisfy our current consumption levels, whereas in reality we rely on other countries to help make up the shortfall.  

Not only should we be addressing the conservation and safe use of resources here in the UK, we should also be offering  support to those other countries on whom we rely to ensure we don’t deplete their resources and rather enable them to develop economies that benefit their own ecosystems. 

The Green Tau: issue 44

An addendum to Sunday’s reflection

On Sunday (17th July) with a focus on the environment, we looked at the plight of five creatures threatened by our human lifestyle choices. And it is not just these creatures whose futures are threatened but ours too as we all part of one interconnected ecosystem.

What action can we take to change these prospects?

“Orang-utans live in great tropical forests. They depend upon the forests for food and shelter, as a well as a  place to live and to play. But the forests where they live are being chopped down and cleared away to make space for acres and acres of palm oil plantations to make lipsticks and margarine, shampoo and pet food, sunscreen and bio diesel. When the forests go, the orang-utans have no where else to live. It seems as if we are saying to the orang-utans ‘Go away you don’t belong here’.”

By carefully choosing what we do and don’t buy we can reduce the pressure on forests such as those where orang-utans live. We can avoid products that use palm oil or we can seek out producers who follow a code of conduct that requires them to protect indigenous wild life and farming communities.

It takes a bit of effort but research via the internet and especially using web sites created by ethical and environmental groups such as The Ethical Consumer and the Fair Trade movement can gives us the information we need to make better choices. We may conclude that some of things we have been buying are not really essential and that buying less is another way of taking action. We can also investigate the sourcing of other crops such as cocoa, sugar cane and soya which can be equally detrimental to the environment. NB the vast expansion of soya beans as a crop goes not to create soya milk, but as fodder for the world’s escalating meat farms.

“Polar bears live in the Arctic where they go hunting across the ice. They dive into cracks and holes in the ice to catch fish and seals. But climate change is making the world hotter and the ice is melting. Without the ice the polar bears cannot hunt fish and seals. Instead they and their cubs starve. It seems as if we are saying to the polar bears, ‘If you can’t cope with climate change and melting ice caps, then we don’t need you.’”

“Sand martins spend the winters in Africa and the summers in Europe. In the spring they fly thousands of miles across the Sahara to Britain and in the autumn they fly the same thousands of miles back. But climate change is making the world hotter and when they fly over the Sahara Desert, the air is so hot that many martins simply cannot cope and they fall to the ground. It seems as if we are saying to the sand martin ‘If you can’t cope with climate change, then there’s no place here for you any more.’”

The climate crisis is rapidly increasing and is causing and exacerbating many other problems. We can each take action by changing our lifestyle to reduce our carbon footprint. There are many books and web sites on ways and means. The principal areas of change we can make in our individual lives are in Transport: not flying, rescuing significantly our dependence on cars and instead using public transport, cycling and walking. 

Food: eating locally produced, seasonal, organic food, and replacing meat with plant based meals

Heat and electricity: reducing demand by insulating our homes (which also helps keep them cool in the summer) and turning down the thermostat, using renewal sources of energy,  reducing the frequency with which we wash ourselves and our clothes, and reducing our dependence on so many high energy consuming appliances

Consumption: the things we buy and consume all have a carbon footprint. We can consume less including  less packaging, we can repair and reuse what we do have, when we do buy new we can seek out things that are ecologically and ethically made, and we can make sure that everything is recycled at the end of its lifecycle.

But we won’t be able to make the necessary reduction in carbon emissions on our own. We are locked into systems that make it impossible – rail travel  is made more expensive than air travel through taxation, regions outside London and especially rural areas are inadequately provided with public transport, people’s incomes are often too low to allow for investment in insulation and home improvements that would reduce energy costs, large fossil fuel companies across the globe continue receive tax subsidies, manufacturers are not required to pay for the cost of collecting and recycling their products, the true  value of nature is not included in investment decisions, our pensions fund  not only fossil fuel investment but also the destruction of forests for palm oil and soya crops … the list goes on. We need to engage with and support environmental groups that call for system change.

“Around the world in different oceans live whales. Whales get caught up in fishing tackle and crashed into by shipping. They are disoriented by noise from oil exploration. Every year fewer and fewer whales are born. It is as if we are saying to the whales, ‘Go away, we don’t need you’.”

But we do need whales! They are amazing creatures. In the oceans there tiny tiny things called phytoplankton that, like leaves on trees, convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into oxygen and energy. And phytoplankton provide food for slightly bigger plankton and the plankton provides food for all manner of other sea creatures – including whales. But there is one thing that phytoplankton needs and that is iron. And do you know where that iron comes from? Whale poo! If oceans are to remain healthy with phytoplankton providing oxygen and energy for plankton and seaweed, and  fish and other sea animals, then we need  whales.”

“What about bees? Bees live in lots of different parts of the world feeding on nectar from plants. But we have been getting rid of wild plants and hedgerows, and spraying fields with herbicides so that there is not enough food for the bees. And we have been spraying crops with pesticides that kill not just the ‘pests’ but the bees too. Every year there are fewer and fewer bees. It is as if we are saying to the bee, ‘Go away, we don’t need you.’ 

But we do need bees. Without bees to fertilise crops we won’t have apples and pears, or strawberries and cherries, or figs and kiwi fruits, or almonds, avocados, mangos …. the list goes on and on.”

The loss of biodiversity is immense and accelerating. We can support biodiversity locally by the way we use our gardens, growing wild life friendly plants, providing food and water  for birds and insects, by avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides and peat.  We can help by supporting local and international organisations that protect and conserve biodiversity. And as above, we can use our spending money to influence change.

Saving the environment is a numbers game, so talk about the actions you take with friends and family, with shopkeepers and suppliers, with local councillors and MPs, and encourage them to take action too.