Green Tau: issue 58

30th November 2022

Who benefits from fossil fuel investment? 

The big oil companies are expanding their exploitation of gas and oil reserves in response to the short falls in supply from Russia. The rapid rise in gas prices is prompting some African nations to consider developing the gas reserves under their land. To  explore and develop these reserves investment is needed and, it seems, is  readily available from western investors. 

In some ways it is not illogical. If you are a company whose raison d’être is finding, extracting and selling oil, that if you hear of new oil deposits, you go after them. Ditto if you are an investment company that has always invested in oil because it has always earns large dividends, then that is what you keep on doing. People and companies are wary of change, or perhaps become so immersed in the comfort of where they are, that they don’t look outside their own silo to be aware that change is already happening. This can be short sighted. Vis a vis oil, there are two black clouds on the horizon. Peak oil – that point in. Time when demand for oil will start to drop and co to use to drop. Many commentators suggest that we have already passed peak oil back in 2019. The decline in oil use arises when cars switch from petrol to electrical power (something that is happening aster than expected), as more plastics are made from recycled plastic rather than virgin oil, as users of oil become more efficient in their use of an expensive raw material,  and as users find renewable energy is cheaper. The second dark cloud is the climate crisis. As concern about the crisis takes root more people, companies and countries are going to be cutting back on their use of oil in an attempt to limit global temperature rises. If such moves are not successful then the world will experience rising sea levels, widespread drought, extremes of weather and widespread loss of life and incomes. And this of itself will severely reduce demand for oil. Either way it seems that long term the future for the oil industry is not good – but for in the short term their dominance of the global economic systems shields them. This has been highlighted by the war in Ukraine.  So the oil industry continues to be heavily subsidised by governments. “Since the Paris Agreement, the government has provided £13.6 billion in subsidies to the UK oil and gas industry. From 2016 to 2020 companies received £9.9 billion in tax relief for new exploration and production, including £15 million of direct grants for exploration, and £3.7 billion in payments towards decommissioning costs.”

So we are seeing large numbers of oil companies and oil investors focusing on exploring and  extracting oil and gas from the African continent. Despite the long term risks of declining demand, these companies seem convinced that there is money to be made. The idea of making rich profits from oil is certainly seen as attractive by some governments in Africa – oil would seem to offer rewards in licence fees and taxes. But who will benefit? Possibly governments, big businesses, banks and the like. Probably not the ordinary person in the street, the small scale farm or business, and definitely not the rich biodiverse  natural environment. 

Given the high price of oil, the availability of more oil will more likely benefit the big users of oil in the western world, not the person on the street in Luganda or Accra or Windhoek, not the small farm and the rural villager, nor the small businesses. What they need is cheap and accessible electricity , electricity that can be produced locally without reliance on an expensive national grid, electricity that comes from local wind turbines and solar panels? What they need is a move away from polluting vehicles and power plants. What they don’t need is the pollution and disturbance caused by drilling for oil,  building pipeline and running oil refineries. 

What the nations of Africa do need is investment in renewable energy. Ideally not in large projects such as hydro electric dams but in multiple smaller scale projects that will connect to and supply local towns and communities. 

“The potential for wind and solar is 400 times larger than Africa’s total fossil fuel reserves and it comes pollution-free and creates more jobs, but there is finance gap…That is why there is so much attention at this COP to changing the global capital allocation system,” Mr Gore

What the nations of Africa need is protection for their remaining areas of natural habitat – rain forests, wetlands and savannahs. Again this is an area in need of large scale investment that will protect habitats and provide sustainable incomes for local people. 

 “The area of land allocated to oil and gas activity in Africa is set to quadruple, threatening critical forests that help combat climate change, according to a new report by two environmental groups. Rainforest Foundation UK and Sacramento, California-based Earth InSight used mapping technology to show that gas and oil blocks overlap with about 30% of the continent’s dense tropical forests and more than a third of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest after the Amazon. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which accounts for about 60% of the basin, launched a bidding round  in July for 30 oil and gas permits, several of which overlap with the basin. Congo, one of the world’s poorest countries, has defended its right to explore for oil and develop its economy.” KBloomberg UK 

Can the big fossil fuel companies reinvent themselves? Can they recalibrate their raison d’être as energy companies?  Can they become suppliers of renewable energy technology that can enable communities to control their own energy sources? Can they create new business models that can invest the money from our banks, pensions funds and insurers, to protect and enhance the natural environment? 

Green Tau: issue 57

21st November 2022

We’re in a climate crisis – will it get worse?

Global temperatures have risen by at least 1.1C, and possibly nearer to 1.2C, above the pre-industrial revolution norm. This is because of the increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – as of October 2022 this measures 419 parts per million. Pre-industrial levels stood at around 280 ppm. At 350 ppm the world could maintain global temperatures at about 1C above pre-industrial levels. 

With a global temperature rise of at least 1.1C we are already in a climate crisis. 

Icecaps, and glaciers are melting and reducing in size. Melt water from Himalayan glaciers has been contributing to flooding in Pakistan, whilst across the world sea levels are rising and drowning low lying coast lines in places like Tonga, Kiribati and Vanuatu. 

Warming seas are killing off corals through the process of bleaching. They are shifting the location and breeding patterns of many marine creatures at a rate which is causing a steep decline in populations of many species including birds – and land based animals that rely on the oceans for food.

Warming seas and warming air causes increasingly heavy rainfall and strengthening tropical storms, monsoons and hurricanes. These extreme weather events have led to flooding and the destruction of homes, roads and other infrastructure, forests and mangrove swamps – these latter help prevent coastal erosion – across the globe.  We have also experienced exceptionally heavy rain and storms in the UK. In February of this year three storms hit the UK – Franklin, Dudley and Eunice – leaving  three dead and 1.4 million homes without power. Just this last few days storms have again bought flooding to the UK cutting of road and rail links and leaving another person dead.

Summers have become hotter and dryer. The hottest temperature of 40.3C was recorded this summer, whilst four of the five hottest summers in the UK have all occurred within the last 20 years. This summer’s series of heatwaves caused more than 2800 excess deaths. The same heat wave has been felt across the world with wild fires in the UK, Europe and North America. The hot weather has been accompanied by a lack of rain causing widespread droughts, some of which, for example in California and East Africa, have been ongoing for several years. The drought in East Africa is creating a widespread famine.

These are all examples of changes in the climate that we will have to live with both here in the UK and across the world. They are changes that are now built in because we cannot reverse the 1.1C  increase in average global temperatures.  As global temperatures rise we will have to come to terms with even more changes in the climate,  and will have to try and adapt to them. Ideally (or rather the least worse scenario is) our aim should be to do all we can to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C. 

Is this possible? Scientists and academics have been working on this for several decades now and the route map agreed in Paris in 2016 is that if we can reduce all carbon dioxide (and associated greenhouse gases) emissions by approximately half by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 we should be able to keep temperature rises to 1.5 or 2C. Calculations have been carried out to show that this would be possible if the appropriate plans are  put in place now and acted on. It is in everyone’s best  interests to follow the carbon emissions reduction plan.

Will we achieve this?

At present it doesn’t look hopeful. In fact this year carbon emissions are expected to rise by around 1% rather than fall. Following last year’s agreements at COP26, it was hoped that nations and parties would come back with revised plans showing even greater ambitions to reduce emissions to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets. We are still waiting for the final outcomes of COP27 but certainly the UK Government is not on track for the 2030 targets. And the Government’s willingness to grant new licences for exploring more oil and gas fields in the North Sea is definitely a regressive step. 

Can we be part of the solution? 

Yes. We can focus on reducing our own carbon footprints – by 2030 we should be aiming for about 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita in the UK which is about half of the current average. (There are a number of carbon footprint calculators on the web. The WWF – – one is very easy to use whilst the Carbon Footprint Calculator is more in depth – Knowing what your footprint is and what are its major components will enable you to,begin to work out how you can reduce it. As we work out how we can achieve this reduction we can put pressure on the companies we buy from – writing or emailing or simply asking in store for things/ services with a lower impact. We can also use our voices to call on the Government to create the system changes that are also needed – such as increased investment in public transport, in the insulation of buildings, completing the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy supplies, and transforming the way we farm and the foods we eat. 

We also need our Government and big businesses to work with their colleagues across the world to achieve a just transition to a net zero world. The climate crisis is a global crisis and needs global cooperation, or, as The UN Secretary General put it, we will be condemning ourselves to a global suicide pact. We can use our voices writing to MPs and business leaders, joining action groups, signing petitions, and at election time, using  our votes. 

The future is in our hands.

Green Tau reflection

15th October 2022

The ways of protest.

Last week I took part in the Earth Vigil outside Parliament. Participants sit on the pavement, backs against the wall that surrounds the building, and between 11 and 3pm a prayerful presence is maintained holding the needs of creation before God.

When we arrived a young police constable asked what we were doing. 

“Praying for the earth”  

“Well if you need anything …” he replied. 

We take up our places and quietly began to pray as tourists and workers and parties of school children walked by – a back and forth, crisis-crossing flood of human life. ‘Lord help us change our lifestyle and our priorities and safeguard the next generation.’ Abruptly the murmur of urban life is broken by loud, upbeat music (via an amplifier) whilst a commentary is loud-hailered by a one man protest group, hurling abuse at the Tory party. 

Restore focus once more on our silent prayer. Behind the many legs of the passersby, waves of traffic slide past by as traffic lights regulate their flow. Buses in twos and threes, black cabs swinging round tight curves, delivery vans and construction trucks, SUVs that are certainly not for utility and bikes which are! ‘Lord help us shape a better future, a better use of people’s skills and resources; a cleaner, kinder world.’ From the opposite side of the square another amplifier sets off in competition with the first. The music is more classical in tone. These protestors are women speaking out against the oppression of their comrades in Iran. They are wrapped in flags. 

Refocus, centre down, pray. A trickle of people come and go through the chicane that gives access to Parliament, inside whose doors policy is worked on, debated, argued, and often fudged.  ‘Lord help change the systems that shape our economy. So often they damage the lives of ordinary people and the health of the environment – bring wisdom and humility to the hearts of minds of those in power.’ A kerfuffle in the middle of the road – police are rushing forwards – has someone fallen over? No not fallen down but sat down. Not one but a dozen or more sat or lying in the road, odd hands glued down, other hands grasping ‘Insulate Britain’ banners. 

The frenzy of the moment is heart stopping. Brave? Vulnerable? Safe? The faces look confident. Now the road swarms with police and journalists – where did they all come from? More activists and members of the public add to the melee. Traffic grinds to a halt. It takes a while for the police to restart the traffic, directing them along the unoccupied traffic lane – a rogue motorcyclist tries to take an alternative route and is reprimanded.

A degree of order returns. Traffic moves in waves controlled by the lights.

Pedestrians continue to cross-cross the pavement, now and then stopping to take photos. Tourists add pictures of both the Houses of Parliament and the freedom to protest to their phones. More police vans, more police officers arrive and a slow process of note taking and questioning, surveying and evidence collecting starts. ‘Lord be with those who risk their comfort to stand up for the cause of justice. Be with those in other parts of the world who risk their lives in this cause. Challenge our churches to recognise what is happening and what needs to happen.’

A quick reconnoitre confirms we know some of the glued on protestors. Both they and the women of Iran are held in prayer. ‘Lord surround them with your protection that they may know they are loved. May their endeavours for justice be fruitful.’

Person by person the road protest is slowly – almost tediously – dismantled as the protestors are conveyed to the back of police vans and driven away. The media presence holds strong filming and interviewing the protestor in the road – they have certainly caught the attention of the press. And the public too. Passers by continue to stand and stare and take photos – what will they say when they get home or when they share these images on social media? Will their sensibilities about the current crisis of climate and justice have been raised? Only 2 or 3 shout abuse or remonstrate with the protestors.

Pray, think, reflect. ‘Lord transform the hearts and minds of all who pass by today. Fill them with compassion and a desire for justice. Safeguard the earth that it be not destroyed by our folly.’

And tomorrow and next week and next month …. the protests will go on for we need justice in our world and there are many willing to demand it. ‘Lord have mercy.’

Green Tau: issue 54

14th October 2022


The natural world and its ecosystems are our life support system providing us  with oxygen, clean air, water, food, medicines etc that keeps us all alive. They reduce flooding, even out extreme temperatures, and ensure rainfall. They maintain our well-being – being in nature, seeing blue and/ or green landscapes are known to improve mental and physical health. To diminish the natural world is to diminish what makes life enjoyable and possible. To severely diminish the natural world is to severely compromise life to the point of extinction.

The natural world depends for its vitality on its biodiversity – those the numerous and varied life forms that co-exist in an interconnected web. Reducing biodiversity – whether through the diminution in number of any  species or through the extinction of individual species – reduces the health of the  natural world and thus the viability of life on this planet.

Do we value the natural environment and its biodiversity? In economic terms do we ascribe to the natural environment – to its natural resources on which we are so dependent – an appropriate financial value? When we build a road do we put a sufficient price on what we will loose through the initial and ongoing damage to the natural environment that it will cause? If we did we might be shocked at how expensive road building is! The WWF calculates the value globally of nature as a capital benefit as being at least US$125 trillion every year. A UK Government study in 2010 reported:-  

  • The benefits that inland wetlands bring to water quality are worth up to £1.5billion per year to the UK;
  • Pollinators are worth £430million per year to British agriculture;
  • The amenity benefits of living close to rivers, coasts and other wetlands is worth up to £1.3billion per year to the UK; and
  • The health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year.

Are we, as a nation and a world, encouraging biodiversity and caring for the natural environment?  Sadly no.

Scientists working with the Natural History Museum have carried out a survey to measure biodiversity levels across the globe. 100% represents areas where the natural level of biodiversity is intact, where human interaction has not diminished the number or diversity of species. Such areas of pristine biodiversity only exist in remote parts of the Arctic plus a few isolated pockets in the rain forests. At the other extreme there are many areas in, for example the USA, Argentina and New Zealand, where biodiversity has been diminished by nearly 50%. The global average stands at 75%. The safe level – sufficient to guarantee the health and well-being of humans – is 90%!

What causes this loss of biodiversity? 

Changes in land use 

This includes clearing forests to create plantations or farm land; clearing pasture to create arable land; switching to monocultural farming; digging up hedges; using large tracts of grassland for sheep or cattle (another form of monoculture); clearing vegetation to create mines and quarries. In many places, particularly in Europe the initial change from wild to farm land will have happened a thousand plus years ago – since the 1500s 133 species have become extinct in the UK.  However in the last hundred years there has been a marked acceleration in the loss of biodiversity. The State of Nature  2019 report revealed a 41% decline amongst UK species since 1970.


This is a particular variation of changing land use, and includes not just building houses, commercial and industrial buildings but also transport infrastructure. In Britain the swift population has declined by  38% since 1985 as new and modernised buildings no longer provide suitable nesting spaces. 

Buildings and infrastructure not only diminish wildlife habitats, they also fragment existing habitats so preventing species from migrating and/or limiting their gene pools. A rising to the Biologist magazine, everywhere volunteers in Henley on Thames carry upwards of 5000 toads across the A4155 from the ponds where they overwinter to the ponds where they spawn. (


Pollution damages or kills species. Pollution includes not just pollution of water, land and air but also noise pollution. This particularly affects marine creatures. Swift populations have also been affected by the decline in insects. A German study found that insect numbers had declines by 76% since 1990, undoubtably affected by the increasing use of pesticides. The river Wye suffers from excess quantities of phosphates leaking into the river from factory-sized chicken farms that populate the valley. This by-product of chicken faeces kills plants such as water crowfoot, and by taking oxygen from the water, kills local fish and the wildlife that relies on these fish for food, such as kingfishers and otters.


Whether hunting or fishing, overkill diminishes numbers right up to the point of extinction, as was seen with beavers (16th century) and wolves (18th century) in the UK. Globally the great auk became extinct in the 1850s (last two were killed in Iceland) and the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011, whilst only two northern white rhino still exist – both female. 

Invasive species

With global travel, non native species have spread around the globe and often proof invasive in their new locations. Japanese knotweed is a particular problem in Britain, whilst rats have threatened wildlife on the Scilly Isles.

Global warming 

Many species are sensitive to climate change, and whilst they might overtime be able to adapt or migrate, the speed of change is such that many cannot adapt fast enough and instead decline rapidly in number. Such species include the Adélie penguin in the Antarctic and the North Atlantic cod, as well as alpine plants such as snow pearlwort, drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort which are all nature to Scotland.

Armed conflict

This is not something we often think of, but armed conflict destroys not just infrastructure but wildlife too and often expended armaments lead to long term pollution of soil, air and water. In marine situations, conflict is a cause of noise pollution too. The Eastern gorilla, which inhabits Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, is at risk due to fighting in the region. The Ukraine is critical resting spot for migratory birds like the curlew sandpiper. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coincided with the springtime migration. Fighter jets roared over nature refuges and birds, susceptible to sound, were scared away from their normal resting grounds. 

At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 then Convention on Biological Diversity was set up having three main goals: the conservation of biodiversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits. In 2010 the signatories of the CBD agreed a set of 20 global targets, with a 10 year time frame, to halt global loss. The Government’s Sixth National Report, published in  2019, showed the UK had missed 14  of its 20 targets. 

In 2021 Natural England, Natural Resources Wales,  NatureScot, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee launched a new report – Nature Positive 2030 – which laid out how the rate of biodiversity loss could be reversed. It called on national and local governments, landowners, businesses and others to:- 

  • protect existing wildlife habitats – Meadows are one of the rarest habitats in the UK, with 97% of this habitat lost in Britain since World War II. English Heritage properties have some of the last remaining  meadows, and is maintaining these to provide much needed habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna such as wildflowers and butterflies. In the Royal Parks, land is being established as wildlife meadows including areas in both Green Park and Hyde Park in central London.
  • invest in new habitat restoration projects – of the south coast England’s largest seagrass restoration project has planted around 3.5 hectares of seagrass, whilst another project has  planted approximately 1.2 million seagrass seeds across 20,000m2 in Pembrokeshire, Wales.  Seagrass provides a vital habitat for a diversity of marine life and an excellent absorber of CO2. 
  • create nature networks – the Somerset Wildlife Trust recently bought  Honeygar Farm in the Avalon Marshes. The aim is to rewild the land as wetland enhancing its biodiversity and increasing the connectivity between nearby nature reserves. The land now forms part of the newly designated  “super nature reserve” covering 15,000 acres of the Somerset landscape. 
  • integrate biodiversity as an integral part of all development plans – the NHBC Foundation, with the RSPB and Barratt Developments has produced a report ‘Biodiversity in new housing developments: creating wildlife-friendly communities’ to show how design concepts, practical solutions and best practice case studies can ensure that new homes are built in a way that enhances wildlife, develops climate resilience, and improves people’s health and wellbeing. 
  • give preference at every opportunity for nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation – In Richmond’s Old Deer Park, land which regularly floods is to be rewilded  with a network of creeks, wetlands, bogs, and reedbeds, a mosaic of wet habitats that could sustain more wildlife and better hold excess river water. This is part of the Thames Landscape Strategy and aims to reduce the extent and impact of flooding in the Thames valley. 

Similar projects are and need to be taking place at scale across the globe.


However many countries lack the necessary funding. For others the short-term economics may make it more attractive to sell licenses to rich companies who will exploit the land, than to conserve the biodiversity and natural richness of their land. The provision of external funding for the countries is one of the issues that is to be addressed at the concluding part of COP15 which is due to take place in Montreal this December (the biodiversity COP as opposed to the climate change COP27 taking place in November in Egypt).

It is equally important that wealthy nations do not export its biodiversity loss to lower-income countries – ie if in the UK we rewild agricultural land, we need to ensure that at the same time we  restructure our food production to maintain – and ideally improve – our home-grown production rather than just importing more food from other countries to make up any shortfall. In particular this will mean increasing  plant based foods and reducing our consumption of animal products. (The former requires far less arable land than the latter). 

There is a lot for government and big businesses to do to achieve the necessary improvements in biodiversity but we as individuals through volunteering and fundraising, through petitions and protests, as gardeners and as consumers, can be part of the solution too.

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:

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 ( 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 ( 

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 ( 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 (

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 

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. (

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. (  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%. (  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. ( and

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.

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 – 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  – 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