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.

The Green Tau: issue 43 

“MAKING SUSTAINABLE LIVING THE DEFAULT OPTION”

– strap line for the UN’s Earth Day. 


What is sustainable living? And how do we go about it? Something that is sustainable is something that can keep on going for a lengthy period of time without diminishment. We might look at household budget and apply the Micawber principle: 

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness.  Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

As long as the required input is equal or less than output, the budget is sustainable. When what is consumed exceeds what is coming in, the budget is no longer sustainable. Sustainable living is the same: our lifestyle is sustainable if what we consume is equal to or less than resources we use. 

Let’s us taking heating for our homes as an example. 

If say we were to heat our homes with a wood burning stove, for that to be sustainable, we would need sufficient mature woodland to produce each year the wood we would burn. (This is not taking into account the cost to society of the pollution to the air). 

What if we hear our homes with oil and gas? That is ‘sustainable’ only in the short term as both these fossil fuels are non renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone. They cannot be replaced. Aside from air pollution, the major problem with soil fuels is the amount of carbon dioxide that they release into the atmosphere. It is a rate that far exceeds the rate at which it can be absorbed by the planet. This is why heating our homes with fossil fuels is not sustainable in either the short or long term. 

The most sustainable way of heating our homes is not to use any fuel but rather to build/ refurbish them with insulation levels that make extra heat (over and above our own body heat) unnecessary. Houses equipped to this standard are known as a “passivhaus” – https://www.passivhaustrust.org.uk/

Retrofitting is not without its financial cost which puts it out of reach for many people. (Sadly our government doesn’t understand that the whole nation would all benefit if insulating homes was state funded). Nevertheless any improvement we can make to the insulation of our homes will reduce our carbon footprint and energy bills and therefore makes heating our homes more sustainable: https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/insulating-your-home-back-to-the-basics/

A related area to that of heating, is electricity. What determines the sustainability of electricity?

Electrical production can be divided into two categories, renewable and non-renewable. Non-renewable electricity comes from power stations powered by coal/ gas/ oil. These fossil fuels are finite and cannot be replaced. Because of the scale of their carbon emissions, using them is highly destructive due to the adverse effects they cause of climate change and air pollution. Electricity produced by a fossil fuel driven generator is similarly non-renewable. 

Renewable electricity is produced using wind, solar, tidal or geothermal energy. These sources of energy are not diminished through use; they are available on an ongoing basis. In other words, they are sustainable.

Less easy to define is electricity produced using nuclear energy and that produced using biofuels such as wood chips, sugar cane etc. The amount of nuclear fuel needed in proportion to the energy generated is minuscule which is why nuclear power is often included along side renewables, but there are huge problem surrounding the safety of nuclear power stations and the disposal of nuclear waste that raises questions about its sustainability. 

Wood chips and sugar cane are both renewable resources but using them as an energy source is questionable. In a world where many go hungry and where more and more of the world’s natural or wild landscape is being lost, is it sustainable to use scarce land resources to grow crops for fuel rather than food?  

Questions around the sustainability of energy sources also apply to the sustainability of different forms of transport. The most sustainable means of transport is walking. It’s what we are designed for and uses no more energy than that required to feed us. The same is true of cycling, although according to Mike Berners Lee in his book, How Bad are Bananas, suggests that, depending on whether our diet is made up of beef burgers or bananas, a battery powered bicycle may have a lower carbon footprint! As above any transport reliant on fossil fuels – whether that is a petrol car, a diesel train or a plane – is not sustainable. Electric powered transport where the source of electricity is renewable is more sustainable but there are downsides to consider. Electric vehicles rely on batteries which are made from non renewable minerals such as lithium and cobalt – and cobalt in particularly comes predominantly from mines where employee welfare is minimal.

In sparsely populated areas, transport systems that rely on buses or trains may need to develop on-demand rather than time-tabled services, in order to make their use of limited resources sustainable. 

Plants are a naturally renewable resource but that doesn’t make all food equally sustainable. Factors to take into account include water, fertilisers, transport to markets, food waste, and whether the plants are feeding us directly or indirectly. Some crops such as rice, strawberries, blue berries and almonds,  require large amounts of water. In water sensitive regions irrigating such crops may divert water away from supplies used by local people for growing staple foods, as well as for drinking. It may also divert water away from aquifers and wetlands regions thus damaging local flora and fauna. In such circumstances, these crops cannot be classified as sustainable.

Fertilisers, especially artificial ones, use up limited non-renewable mineral resources, as well as contributing large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In addition the run off from fertilisers damages water courses and kills plants and creatures, compounding existing biodiversity losses. 

Where foods are imported over longer distances – and especially so when the mode of transport includes airfreight -will consume more resources and in particular will increase the food’s carbon footprint. Imported Spanish  strawberries, out of season avocados and air freighted asparagus are a few examples of unsustainable foods. In some instances the sustainability of a product becomes questionable when it takes over land used to grow staple foods for the local population or where it involves the clearance of indigenous wild vegetation such as the clearance of tropical rainforest to grow sugar cane. 

The majority of farm land globally is used not to feed people directly but to grow food for animals intended for human consumption.  It takes 100 x more land to produce 1kg of beef than to produce the equivalent in plant based food. In terms of feeding the global population a diet with high levels of meat consumption is not sustainable.

Plants as a renewable resource are also used for making things – clothes and fabrics, paper and furniture, rubber, paints etc. As with plants brown for food, similar questions about sustainability arise. Cotton for example is a heavy user of water – water abstracted for cotton growing was the major factor causing the disappearance of the Aral Sea. The growth in demand for palm oil used in products as diverse as lipstick and margerine, has led to the clearance of vast areas of natural habitat including mangroves. Demand for paper has seen naturally biodiverse forests replaced with monoculture pine plantations. 

The sustainability of every product we use needs to be measured in terms of renewability, carbon footprint, water footprint, impact on biodiversity, impact on local populations, the working conditions for those who grow, produce or sell, transport footprint, and the ease with which at the end of its life it can be recycled or disposed. Sustainability may begin as a question about individual lifestyle but quickly becomes a question about global sustainability. 

Green Tau – Jubilee  reflection

2nd June 2022 

Britain – or at least the corner where I live – is awash with Union Jack bunting, flags, and pending street parties. Shops promote jubilee wares – foods and drink, books and decorations – and unicorns in coronets and corgis with collars peep round the displays. This jubilee celebrates the Queen’s 70 year  reign – longer than any previous British monarch. 

But what is it that we are celebrating with our street parties and Union Jacks? Maybe we celebrating that for 70 years there has been one constant in our national life, a constant largely – if not entirely without upsets or disputes. May be we are celebrating our national pride – but of what is it that we’re proud? Maybe we are celebrating a chance to look back with nostalgia to the memories of the good old days, when life seemed simple and innocent. Maybe we are enjoying the challenge  of creating our own entertainment with party games and a sing-song and traditional tea-party foods – plus the challenge of dicing with the vagaries of the British weather. Maybe we are wanting to pass on these British traditions to a next generation. Maybe we want for a few hours at least to feel that we do know our neighbours, that we are part of a local community. Maybe we’re enjoying the chance to reclaim  our streets, to take them over as a public space where we walk and play, or sit and chat. The chance to stop the traffic, to stop work, to step away from the screens. Maybe its the chance to feel part of a national family. Maybe its a chance to building on the relationships that evolved during the pandemic. 

Biblically the jubilee marked a once in a lifetime break at which time debts were cancelled, slaves freed, land restored, and arable land furloughed. It was a time when the mercies of God were made manifest. A time of rest and restoration, a levelling up of resources and of opportunities. 

If we were cancelling debts and restoring life and well being to both people and the land (land in its fullest sense of an ecosystem); if we were seeking God’s mercy (by which I mean acknowledging and living a life of holiness and righteousness) then yes I feel we would have a jubilee to celebrate and a nation to be proud of. Can we transform our nation, can we effect this change?

 If we did maybe street  parties would be our national monicker: a gathering that takes place in a public space where everyone sits as equals, where neighbours look out for each other, eating foods that everyone could afford- sandwiches and scones with jam and cups of tea!

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!