The Green Tau: issue 17

17th September 2021

The Carbon Footprint of Things

Over the last few weeks Green Tau has looked at various aspects of our

 The Carbon Trust has a carbon footprint labelling scheme which it is hoped will grow in popularity

individual/ household carbon footprint and how we might reduce it as part of the overall global target of achieving net zero by 2050. 

The things we buy all have their own carbon footprint, whether that’s a pair of socks or a new car or a newspaper. The carbon footprint of things includes growing or producing the raw materials, be that iron, cotton, timber etc. Then there is the processing of those materials – turning iron into steel, spinning the cotton into yarn, timber into paper. And a further series of processes will transform those elements into the final product. Then there is the carbon footprint involved in transportation between the various stages of production and onwards to the warehouse and shop. 

It is a complex chain with lots of variables which may explain why it is hard, as consumers, to establish the carbon footprint of most consumer goods. But here are a few:-

  • A newspaper 0.3 – 0.8kg CO2
  • A pair of poly cotton pants (underwear) 0.6kg CO2
  • A paperback book 1 kg CO2
  • A cotton T shirt 2-3 kg CO2
  • A pair of trainers 10-15 kg CO2
  • A  pair of jeans 20 kg CO2
  • A smart phone 55 kg CO2
  • A lap top 119 kg CO2
  • A land rover 35 tonnes CO2

Can we reduce our carbon footprint when buying things? Yes. 

We can do some research and find out which products might have a lower carbon footprint. For example organic cotton has a lower footprint than non organic cotton because it doesn’t use pesticides and fertilisers. Polyester items have double the carbon footprint of cotton ones, but  some polyester fabrics are made from recycled plastic which is better than that made from oil. Synthetic fabrics such as viscose and rayon are made from cellulose  – eg from wood or bamboo – but require a high chemical input which adds to their carbon footprint. Tencel on the other hand uses a process with a much smaller footprint.

We can consider the life span of the product. A lap top that only lasts 2 years is less environmentally friendly than one with a lifespan of 10 years as the initial carbon cost is spread over 10 rather than 2 years. We might at this point also consider how easily the product can be repaired. Some laptops are more readily repairable. Maybe the product is something we can repair ourselves such as darning a pair of socks or replacing a zip on a pair of trousers. 

We can consider the running costs involved with the product. How much energy will it take to recharge different smart phones? How much energy will different flat screen TVs use? What about buying a hand powered alternative such as hand turned coffee grinder or a manual whisk? 

We might consider whether the product has an after life – ie can we pass on to someone else when we have finished with it? Books we have read can be passed onto a friend and donated to a charity shop. The same is true of clothes. Children’s clothes can be passed onto a younger sibling, or you might hold a ‘swishing event’ with friends. 

We should also consider how the product will be recycled at the end of its life. Some clothes manufacturers and retailers will take back old clothes and recycle them. This is easier when the fabric is from a single rather than a blend of materials. Newspaper and books can ultimately be recycled with other paper products. Electrical goods are currently less readily recycled.

Alternatively we could borrow, rent or buy second hand.  Equally we should consider whether we need the thing anyway! If we are to achieve net zero as a world, I am sure it means we will have to consume less, repairing and reusing what we do have. 

The Green Tau: issue 16

10th September 2021

The Appliance of Science

Heating consumes most of our household energy and consequently carbon budget. Of the remainder  some is used for heating water – for baths, showers etc – but most is used in the kitchen: about 60% on average. The typical kitchens contain a cooker, kettle, fridge and washing machine. There may also be a freezer and a tumble dryer. And then any number of smaller appliances which can take up so much space – coffee machine, blender, mixer, toaster, juicer, rice steamer, slow cooker, waffle maker, sandwich maker, bread maker, deep fat fryer, ice-cream maker, coffee grinder, electric whisk, soup maker, griddle … 

Think of an average day in the kitchen. Boil the kettle for a hot drink: approx 25g CO2 per mug of hot water; pop bread in the toaster: 75g; microwave a bowl of porridge: another 25g; run the dishwasher: 275g (70 minute programme); run the washing machine: 400g (100 minute cycle) plus 20 minutes in the tumble dryer: 250g; brew a fresh coffee with the coffee machine: 50g; bake a cake: 750g; half an hour’s ironing: 350g; make supper (eg pasta, sauce and vegetables) using three hot plates 250g; put another load through the dishwasher: 275g; boil the kettle for a bedtime hot drink: 25g. That adds up to  2750g. Meanwhile the fridge is contributing 1250g per day and the freezer 750g, giving a total of 4750g.

If we move around the home, we have the computer and the TV which might each be another 250g CO2 per day, the vacuum cleaner, mobile phone chargers (most homes have more than one), internet hub, Alexa,  hair dryer, pressure shower etc. Plus all the light fittings. 

Perhaps it is not surprising that energy consumption in our homes accounts on average for 22% of the UK’s national carbon footprint. But if we are to achieve the UN’s targeted  45% reduction on CO2 emissions  by 2030 – and net zero by 2050 – we need to find ways of reducing our personal footprint.  We can change the way we use our household appliances and next week’s Eco Tips will look at ways of making efficiency savings. 

We can use more energy efficient appliances – but is buying something new the best answer if that means throwing away equipment that is old but still working? 

Every appliance we buy, large or small, has already produced a carbon footprint  by virtue of its manufacturing, and distribution.  Information on the size of these footprints is not readily forthcoming. This may in part be because often these appliance – or their components – are manufactured elsewhere in the world. Current accounting procedures would allocate these carbon costs to the country of production and not the country of consumption. 

As well as considering the manufacturing carbon footprint of the appliance, we also need to consider the life span of the appliance. A fridge that has a life of 20 years will better repay its carbon footprint, than a fridge that is only used  for 5 years. Sadly many appliances now seem to have a very short life. Whereas a fridge or cooker might have lasted 30+ years, modern day equivalents have an expected lifespan of 10 -13 years. Even then they may not serve their full span as in out throw away society, many are discarded as part of the popular pastime of kitchen refurbishment. 

The UK has one of the highest rates of throwing away electrical appliances. In 2019 this was almost 24kg of waste per head.  Less than 20% of our electrical waste (e waste) is currently recycled  with the rest going to landfill with the potential harm of toxic chemicals leaking out, whilst at the same time failing to salvage valuable metals and other elements that could be reused. E waste will be a future topic for Green Tau. 

NB Recent EU legislation requires that electrical appliances should a, be repairable and b, that manufacturers should provide spare parts for up to ten years after a model has gone out of production. The UK introduced similar legislation in July of this year, although manufacturers have a two year window in which to bring in these changes. 

Green Tau Reflection

Life choices that bring blessings 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

The above comes from the Beatitudes: Jesus’s teaching to the crowds on the approach to life that would bring its own blessings. 

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth sounds very mercenary. A contractual arrangement in which neither side looses out. A fair’s fair deal that leaves no space for argument not for generosity. It has the feel of a fixed price market. Anyone who tried to pay more than the asking price would be a fool. Yet Jesus invites the listener to be that fool. To pay more than the asking price. To give more that is required or demanded. To act in a way that undermines the normal way of doing business. It is a radical counter-cultural way of being that will bring its own blessings.

In the world of the climate crisis, old ways of doing things will have to change, old traditions and  old  norms will be replaced by new ways. Heating homes with gas will be history; the supermarket run in the car and the lift to school will disappear; holidays won’t start at the airport; strawberries will be a treat for the summer not Christmas.

Change like this can be hard to accept. After a life time in which cars have become the default means of transport, it is hard to rethink in terms of walking times. After a life time in which air travel has become part and parcel of the holiday package, it is hard to rethink in terms of trains and local destinations. After a life time in which seasonal food describes food linked to sporting/ social events, it is hard to re shape our eating round a annual cycle of what is currently in peak production: raspberries in June, plums in August, avocados in February. 

Change can be expensive as new practices, new products are scaled up and developed. The bonus of economies of scale take time to kick in, the benefits of lower energy bills will be felt gradually over the years whilst the initial cost of new equipment – heaters, electric cars, solar panels – may be steep.  

Following Jesus’s teaching, we can become trend setters, living a new lifestyle, adopting ways that will curb GHG emissions and restrain the climate crisis. We can lead by example and do things that are not the norm, that are not (yet) fashionable. We can choose to walk or cycle that bit further than usual rather than going by car. We can refuse to buy the plastic wrapped fruit or sandwich. We can explore the UK rather than the world. We can decline avocados in summer and strawberries in winter. 

Those of us with money can invest in carbon neutral technology, we can buy the eco friendly products and services, and we can do so generously, supporting producers as well as the climate. Train travel can be more expensive that going by car or plane, but we can choose the climate friendly option. Organic food may be more costly – now – but we can choose it over cheaper products that are less environmentally friendly.

Jesus asks that when we choose how to live, that we choose to think of the needs of others and be ready to meet their needs first. The results? A transformed world!

Green Tau: issue 15

Varodrig took this photo from the Ula platformFirst – gas from the Oselvar module burns on the flare of the BP Ula oil platform in the North Sea on April 14th, 2012

3rd September 2021

Heating homes without carbon?

Domestic energy use, ie for heating, lighting and electrical appliances, generates around 22% of the UK’s carbon footprint. The majority of that 22% comes from heating our homes. This is not surprising when you consider that 90% of homes are heated using gas boilers. Gas, one of the main fossil fuels, is burnt to heat water to warm our homes. As it burns, carbon dioxide is released. A three bedroom house with a 30KW condensing boiler will, for every hour the boiler is running, will emit around 7kg of CO2 or over the course of year around 3.65 tonnes of CO2.

It is obvious that we cannot continue to heat our homes using gas (or oil or coal) if we are to prevent the catastrophic rise in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement signed by parties at the Paris COP in 2015 set as it goal that participants should reduce carbon emissions so as to keep the rise in mean global temperature to below 2 °C , and preferably no more than 1.5 °C. To achieve this Theresa May announced in June 2019 that the UK would set itself the target of cutting its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. To achieve this Government target the means by which we heat our homes will have to be radically transformed. 

This can happen in surprising ways. In Islington waste heat from the Northern Line is being soused to heat 1350 homes, a primary school and two leisure centres. In addition the heat is also generating electricity that powers lifts and communal lighting in a nearby tower block. Similar district heating solutions are being developed in other parts of the country too, for example heat  extracted from a flooded coal mine in Durham will heat 1500 homes. 

Both these projects use heat pump technology. This is the most promising solution for drastically reducing carbon emission whether heating a large office block or the average house. A heat pump is a scaled up fridge that works in reverse. Its refrigerant liquid absorbs heat from the air – or the ground – outside the building. This is compressed and transfers inside the building  where it is released as heat via warm air or via warm water (for radiators or underfloor heating). The heat pump is powered by electricity. Heat pumps, in terms of energy used and heat produced, are at least 3 times as efficient as gas boilers. In terms of running costs, the carbon footprint of a heat pump will depend on the source of the electricity it uses. Electricity from a wind farm has a carbon footprint of 10-20g/KWh compared with 450g/KWh for electricity from a gas fired power station. 

The Government’s net zero carbon targets anticipates the installing of 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. However this target will be hard to meet unless there is an that expansion of both the production capacity of heat pump manufacturers and of the number of qualified heat pump installers.

Surprisingly the cost per KWh for gas is less than that of electricity –  this can impact on the cost of running a heat pump. Part of the higher cost of electricity is due to the government’s carbon tax designed to fund renewable energy developments. Whilst this tax is levied on electricity it is not levied on gas!  

If you would like to petition the government to reverse this situation go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/588159/signatures/new

To some extent the cost of running a heat pump can be subsidised by applying for the Renewal Heat Incentive scheme. This makes payments according to how much heat you generate via a renewable source such as a heat pump, but as they say, ‘conditions apply’.

The other approach to reducing the carbon footprint arising from heating our homes, is to insulate them. The better insulated a property is, the less additional heat is needed to achieve a comfortable level of warmth. Thus less energy is needed and one’s carbon footprint is reduced. A well insulated home also reduces draughts and cold spots which makes spaces feel warmer. 

Home insulation options include:

  • cavity wall insulation 
  • External wall insulation suitable for buildings with solid walls
  • Loft insulation 
  • Draught proofing doors and windows 
  • Double – or even triple – glazing windows
  • Underfloor insulation
  • Thermal external doors
  • Fully enclosed porches

Some grants are available for low income households to improve the insulation of their homes through the Energy Company Obligation scheme. Further information can be found here: https://warmauk.com/blog/who-qualifies-for-the-free-insulation-grant/

However the Government’s Green Homes Grant that would have seen an upgrading of the insulation of 600,000 homes has been cancelled. 

Next week’s Eco Tips will feature ways of keeping warm at home.

Green Tau Reflection

This week saw a stand off between Christian climate activists and the clergy in St Paul’s cathedral over the Church of England’s continued investment in companies profiting from fossil fuels. It has distressed me greatly.

Woe to you … you tithe mint and rue and other herbs, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the other. (Luke 11: 42)

Medicinal Plant Herb Bee Pasture Plant Mint Plant

Is it that the Pharisees that Jesus was addressing have become so bogged down in the minutiae that they can’t see the bigger picture? Had they become so concerned that all the ‘t’s be crossed and the ‘i’s dotted that they could no longer read what the writing said? They could only see the spelling mistakes but not the story. 

Is it that they found it is easier to address the needs of personal hygiene than issues of  social justice, poverty and victimisation that were prevalent ills of the world in which they lived? Did they find it easier to keep washing their hands before meals than to address the luxury lifestyle enjoyed by Herod Antipas at the expense of the rural poor.  

Is it that by observing the smaller and easier religious requirements, that they could to all outward appearances be seen as upright exemplars of their faith and so earn the honour and respect of their fellow believers. Perhaps the observances of small things gave the impression of great integrity – if they so routinely practice these small religious acts how much more must they be observing the full law?

Yet Jesus sees through the outer show. He has seen that inside the polished exterior they are full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:40). He is critical of them for their lack of love and disregard for justice. Whilst they have sought the best seats in the synagogue and respectful greetings in the market place, Jesus has been focused on the work of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, releasing the imprisoned, validating the forgotten, turning social expectations upside down, calling for a turning away from unsustainable lifestyles – and bringing in the kingdom of God. 

Jesus and his disciples knew from experience that doing God’s will meant getting hands dirty, getting down alongside the sick, withstanding jeers, taking the lower place, and ultimately to be self sacrificing. Such a lifestyle is not always easy, and do we not all want some degree of love and respect? Yet equally experience tells us that if we have confidence in God, even when we are ill-treated, scorned, marginalised, we will still find joy in doing God’s will.

Notice that in Jesus’s reply he reminds the Pharisees that doing the small things should have been an ‘and also’ to the exercise of love and justice. Paying attention to the small things as well as the large is about integrity. For this reason we see Jesus coming to be baptised alongside his fellow country folk. We see Jesus going regularly to the synagogue and taking his turn to read the scripture. We see Jesus observing the traditions of Passover. But for Jesus outward actions do not take the place of an inward commitment to the kingdom of God. 

At the present time the single most overwhelming disaster facing the world – God’s world – is human-made climate change. The effects of the rise in global temperatures is already being felt, and the accelerating affect that ongoing temperature rises will create is predictable. Plants and creatures unable to adapt are rapidly becoming extinct. Humans too are struggling and failing to adapt.

The elderly cannot readily cope with extremes of temperature and death rates are rising. The poor cannot afford to adapt their homes to improve insulation levels nor can they afford house insurance against flooding and fires as these becomes more frequent. Not can the poor readily move to more amenable climes. Islanders and those living along river deltas cannot stop rising sea levels from destroying their homes. Farmers cannot adapt practices quick enough to cope with extreme weather conditions. Young children cannot survive as drinking water supplies dwindle to nothing.

All this because we did not pay heed to the warnings, we did not stop polluting the atmosphere with more and more carbon dioxide. Instead we have kept our focus on our everyday habits – school run refuel the car, laundry in the tumble dryer, Sunday lunch roast beef, half term holiday in the sun- and ignored the long term direction of the climate crisis. We have not wanted to admit our responsibility for climate change, not even accepting that we might have been unknowingly guilty of causing harm. Nor have we wanted to change our lifestyles, our habits of a life time – to forgo our metaphorical seats in the synagogue – or loose the respectful comfort of western citizenship.

Surely, we said, this problem is so big it must be a problem for governments, big businesses and world organisations to deal with? It must be their responsibility not ours. And if they act as if there is no emergency, no urgency to act, should we not follow their lead and let things sort themselves out?

We are happy to do the small things, to reuse our plastic carrier bags, recycle the newspapers, buy an eco friendly hammock for the garden and make sure our new T-shirt is made from organic cotton. But to address the big problem, to seek love and justice for the earth and all its inhabitants, is beyond what we can even imagine. 

But in the background there have been people calling for and working for change. People who see the problem for what it is and see the scale and urgency of the changes needed. People who are prepared to stand up and stand out and say it like it is. 

And where in all this is the church? Where in all this are those who are followers of Christ? Where is the leadership, the penitence, the will to turn things round? Why are we still counting out our tithe of mint and rue whilst supporting a vast carbon producing, fossil fuel dependent economy?

Green Tau issue 14

Carbon Sinks

28th August 2021

The world has several natural carbon cycles all of which function to maintain a balance between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and carbon locked away within element earth and its inhabitants. During in the geological time span of the earth there have been peaks and troughs giving rise to to eras when the earth is climate was positively tropical and eras when much of the earth was trapped in an ice age. But since the last true ice age, fluctuations in global temperature have been small scale and prior to the start of the Industrial Age carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere stood at around 278 ppm. 

Some of the earths carbon cycles are short term: eg plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air during the process of photosynthesis to cellulose which becomes the building blocks for stems, leaves, roots etc. As the plant respires it will release a small portion of carbon dioxide back,into the atmosphere. When the plant dies, these parts of the plant fall to the ground and decay. As the plant decays some of the carbon is released into,the atmosphere as CO2 whilst some is drawn down into the soil where it remains.  

This short term cycle does vary in length. If the plant life consists of, say, grass it can be an annual cycle. If the plant life is an oak tree, the cycle can last in excess of 1000 years. The cycle can be lengthened if the plant is eaten by a creature that will use the carbon products to provide both energy for the creature and to build up its own body using the carbon to form bones and muscles etc. Whilst some carbon will be released back into the atmosphere as the creature breathes, most is locked away until the creature dies and its body goes through the process of decay.

Others are long term cycles: eg volcanic eruptions emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that may originally have kicked started basic plant life. Decaying plant remains and the bones and shells of creatures (which have a significant carbon content) build up as layers in the soil or on ocean beds. Over time these carbon based materials become compressed into rock strata eg chalk, coal  and oil. Here carbon is locked away for millennia until is released through erosion or volcanic action. 

However things have changed with the onset of the Industrial Age when initially coal, and then later oil, have been extracted from the earth and burnt releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate faster than could be absorbed by natural processes. The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere led to an increase in global temperatures for carbon dioxide acts like a blanket keeping warmth trapped within the earth’s biosphere. This increase was initial small and gradual but as fossil fuel based energy and products have increased, has rocketed. As of July 2021 carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere stood at 417 ppm. 

Our current global climate crisis arises from this rapid increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and its consequential affect on global temperatures. The current consensus is that if carbon dioxide emissions (and other similar gases that caused global warming) can be brought to a level of net zero by 2050, it may be possible that the rise in global temperatures will be limited to  between 1.5 and 2C. 

This problem can be tackled from two angles: limiting our carbon emissions and increasing the earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. Most of the earth’s carbon is already locked away in rock strata. Our interest here is with those parts of the earth where increasing amounts of carbon dioxide can be stored. These are called carbon sinks and include:

Oceans 

Boreal forests and rain forests,

Grasslands and peatlands 

Coral reefs

Wetlands and lakes

Salt marshes

Each of these habitats can and does absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide. Some are under threat of destruction due to human operations, including expanding requirements for land to be used for farming and construction. In South America large areas of the rain forest have been cleared to make way for cattle ranches. In the UK significant areas of ancient woodland have been cleared or are under threat from the contraction of HS2. 

Two courses of action are needed. Firstly to preserve and maintain existing habitats that are significant and effective carbon sinks. This must include stopping the destruction of such habitats and alongside this, ending further extraction of coal and oil deposits. Secondly to restore and expand such habitats to increase the earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. 

13.2% of the UK’s land surface is covered by trees but this compares with 35% across the EU. 30 year old woodland can store approximately 250 tonnes of carbon per hectare and 100 year old woodland approximately 450 tonnes per hectare. 

Peatlands cover about 10% of the UK’s land surface but of these 80% have been severely damaged by mismanagement such as draining the land for planting trees or other farming purposes, burning on grouse moors, and overgrazing by sheep and deer. Peatlands can store up to 2000 tonnes of carbon per hectare.  

Various charities and other bodies are involved in maintaining and expanding natural habitats in the UK which are effective carbon sinks – eg Woodlands Trust, the RSPB, the National Trust, various local Wild Life Trusts including the Cumbrian Wild Life Trust which is busy restoring Lakeland peatlands. We can support their work through donations and volunteering. The Peatland Action Programme for Scotland estimates that it costs a little over £2000 to restore a hectare of peatland. 

Green Tau Reflection

Inheritance and Greed

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

So begins the conversation that leads to Jesus’s parable about the greedy farmer.

Is it that the brother has kept all the inheritance for himself? Or maybe has palmed off his sibling with a pittance? Maybe the inheritance was a house that could not easily be divided between two? Maybe it was a farm that might be uneconomic to run if halved in size? 

Certainly for what ever reason, the sibling feels short changed and wants a fair share of the inheritance, indeed wants justice. 

Jesus doesn’t ask for clarification, nor does he suggest ways in which the inheritance might be divided, or ways in which to engage the brother in talks about what might be a just and fair solution to the problem. Instead Jesus tells the sibling to be wary of greed – and not just any greed but “all kinds of greed.” Jesus then tells the crowd a parable. 

There was once a rich and successful man – so successful that his annual harvest was more than his warehouse could hold. So the man tore down the first warehouse and built an even bigger one, assuring himself that with all this great wealth he would certainly be able to retire and enjoy the good life. And yet that night he died having failed to enjoy any of his gains. 

I wonder what the sibling thought? How was this an adequate answer to what must have seemed a valid request? Did the sibling conclude that Jesus was criticising his brother for wanting to keep all the inheritance rather than sharing it? Or did the sibling sense Jesus saying that there were more important things in life than accumulating wealth and maybe especially so if it was inherited wealth for which one had perhaps not even worked?

What might this passage have to say to us as we wrestle with finding a just settlement of the climate crisis? Is there a global inheritance that needs to be divided? Is there a rich harvest being garnered that is more than one person’s need?

The natural wealth of the world is certainly something inherited by each generation. A rich inheritance of resources: lands, birds and animals, rivers and lakes full of drinking water, forests burgeoning with timber, minerals, numerous plants with which to feed ourselves and from which to create clothes and medicines, energy from the sun, irrigation from the rains, power from winds and thermal energy, a multitude of mini beasts that keep the solid rich and fertile, insects that pollinate crops, oceans that shift heat around the planet, and so on and so on. It is a vast wealth that should satisfy all our needs. 

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. in 2021 Earth Overshoot Day fell on 29th July. Since then we have as a global population been living beyond our means. We have been consuming resources faster than they can be replenished and instead have been accumulating excess waste, particularly of carbon dioxide. Something is wrong! And it’s wrong on two counts. 

Firstly as a global population we cannot carry on living beyond our means. To do so leads to disaster. Or as Mr Micawber in ‘David Copperfield’ explains it: ‘Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 pounds 19 shillings and sixpence,  result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds nought and six, result misery.’ For those of on earth in the 21st century the misery we face is most readily seen in the climate emergency: excess amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is so markedly changing the climate that wild fires, floods, droughts, heat waves and storms  that might be once in a life time events are now annual occurrences. The changing climate is simultaneously changing the landscape, expanding deserts, shrinking ice caps, shrinking the tundra, narrowing the  temperate Alpine zone, draining river basins such as the Amazon and the Po, rising sea levels and the loss of islands and coastal lands.  This misery is not limited to the climate but is also found in rapidly declining biodiversity of the planet. Over the last 40 years the world’s wild life population – animals, plants, birds etc – has declined by more than 60% and some 10-30% of all species now face imminent extinction. And in the declining availability of essential resources such as fresh drinking water. 

On the second count, the overshoot is bad because its pain is not being shared equally across the global populace. For many of us in the west life remains safe, comfortable and affordable but for many more, especially those in the global south human life is extremely vulnerable and painful.  In the UK we face from time to time shortages of items such as cauliflowers or potatoes, people elsewhere face life threatening shortages. In Ghana last year the staple crop of maize was 60% below average. This year heat waves in Bangladesh have destroyed about 20% of their staple rice harvest.

We should be hearing this as demand from our siblings to divide the world’s inheritance and to do so fairly. 

Those of us currently enjoying western lifestyles need to reassess what we consume of the earth’s resources and undertake to consume less, and to share – to give – a greater proportion to the underprivileged. Such levelling up needs to take place both globally and nationally.  Here in the UK in 2018, the richest fifth of the population had incomes 12 times that of the poorest fifth, whilst a quarter of all wealth is held by just 1% of the populace. Globally the richest 1% hold 43.4% of all wealth.

Unlike the rich man in Jesus’s parable, we do not see many of the rich and wealthy dying overnight. Rather we see them (and us) contributing the greater amount of carbon dioxide and other waste products that are the cause of climate change and biodiversity loss. It is not rich individuals who are dying unfulfilled. It is our global family that is dying prematurely and unfulfilled. If we did but live within our means and did so equitably across the globe, life would be richer and sweeter and peaceable. 

This is the message that should be heard at COP26 and should be the model for the agreements made there. It is also be the message we individually should hear and act upon. 

Green Tau: issue 13

Reducing carbon emissions: Transport

21st August 2021

Transport in the UK (the getting from a to b and back rather than the transporting of goods) accounts for about 20% of the average person’s carbon footprint. If we are to achieve net zero by 2050, reducing – or actually zeroing – transport emissions is critical.  

There are two key means of transport which are already carbon neutral: walking and cycling. Whilst long distance walking or cycling may not be the most practical ways of getting around, they are ideal means of making all those short journeys. Approximately 60% of journeys of less than 2 miles are currently made by car. Walking and cycling are not just good for the climate, they are good for our health too!

As well as walking and cycling ourselves, we can also be active in pressing our local authority and the government to do more to support cycling with the provisions of cycle lanes, cycle parking, cycling courses, subsidised cycles for those with disabilities and for those on low incomes. Living Streets is a charity that promotes and enables walking. One of its aims is to increase the number of children walking or cycling to school. A generation ago, 70% of pupils walked or cycled to school; now it is less than 50%.

There are 32,697,408 cars on the road in the UK – and most are quite literally on the road – parked that is! Only 0.5% meet the ultra low emissions standard, ie hybrid vehicles that produce less than 75 grams of CO2 per kilometre from the tail pipe and electric vehicles that produce zero emissions. In other words most cars in the UK are heavy polluters both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and in terms of air polluting chemicals and particulates. Air pollution caused the deaths of 15,000 people in 2019.

Reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuel cars will substantially reduce the UK’s carbon footprint. Where journeys cannot be made on foot or by cycle, public transport offers a more carbon efficient alternative, whilst at the same time reducing congestion on roads. Most of Transport for London’s bus fleet are either electric or meet the ultra low emissions standard. Ideally similar policies should be  implemented in other parts of the country. This is dependent upon Government disposition and funding. Levelling up should include levelling up access to frequent, reliable and affordable public transport. 

Public transport includes trams (electric), coaches and trains. Disappointingly only 38% of the UK rail network is currently electrified compared with 55% in France and 100% in Switzerland.  Nevertheless for UK rail passengers emissions average out at 35g per passenger km. This compares with 100g (small fossil fuel car) and 200g (large fossil fuel car) per car per km. Rail travel will

need to continue to grow to achieve net zero targets, replacing not only car journeys but air flights too. Short haul flights give rise to a particularly high level of emissions – 254g per passenger km. Travelling from London to Berlin by plane has a carbon footprint of 160kg compared with 40kg by train. Even by train, the journey can be made in a day, and increasingly there is now the option of making the journey overnight.

Long haul flights are an even greater concern vis a vis net zero targets. A return flight from London to New York emits around 3.3 tonnes of CO2 per person – ie about one third of the average carbon footprint for someone living in Britain. It is hard to see how continuing to make such journeys can be compatible with a net zero target – yet many people will have good reasons for wanting to do so – eg to visit close family. Some companies offer carbon offsetting packages where you pay to enable someone else to reduce their carbon emissions, or where you pay to plant trees etc that will at some future date absorb sufficient CO2 to equal what you have already generated. What it does not do is to eliminate or reduce carbon emissions in the  present moment.

One alternative to long haul flights might be to travel by ship where destinations involve crossing oceans (it is possible to travel London to Singapore by train!) You can travel as a passenger on board a cargo ship: Liverpool to Newark takes  11 nights and costs from £1300.  Whilst the carbon footprint of cargo ships is not great – 3 to 15 grams of CO2 per tonne cargo per km – the add on cost per passenger is minimal. 

Reducing our carbon footprint to achieve net zero is demanding and will involve both substantial changes to the way we travel and imaginative ones too!

Green Tau Reflection

Life choices that bring blessings 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

The above comes from the Beatitudes: Jesus’s teaching to the crowds on the approach to life that would bring its own blessings. 

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth sounds very mercenary. A contractual arrangement in which neither side looses out. A fair’s fair deal that leaves no space for argument not for generosity. It has the feel of a fixed price market. Anyone who tried to pay more than the asking price would be a fool. Yet Jesus invites the listener to be that fool. To pay more than the asking price. To give more that is required or demanded. To act in a way that undermines the normal way of doing business. It is a radical counter-cultural way of being that will bring its own blessings.

In the world of the climate crisis, old ways of doing things will have to change, old traditions and  old  norms will be replaced by new ways. Heating homes with gas will be history; the supermarket run in the car and the lift to school will disappear; holidays won’t start at the airport; strawberries will be a treat for the summer not Christmas.

Change like this can be hard to accept. After a life time in which cars have become the default means of transport, it is hard to rethink in terms of walking times. After a life time in which air travel has become part and parcel of the holiday package, it is hard to rethink in terms of trains and local destinations. After a life time in which seasonal food describes food linked to sporting/ social events, it is hard to re shape our eating round a annual cycle of what is currently in peak production: raspberries in June, plums in August, avocados in February. 

Change can be expensive as new practices, new products are scaled up and developed. The bonus of economies of scale take time to kick in, the benefits of lower energy bills will be felt gradually over the years whilst the initial cost of new equipment – heaters, electric cars, solar panels – may be steep.  

Following Jesus’s teaching, we can become trend setters, living a new lifestyle, adopting ways that will curb GHG emissions and restrain the climate crisis. We can lead by example and do things that are not the norm, that are not (yet) fashionable. We can choose to walk or cycle that bit further than usual rather than going by car. We can refuse to buy the plastic wrapped fruit or sandwich. We can explore the UK rather than the world. We can decline avocados in summer and strawberries in winter. 

Those of us with money can invest in carbon neutral technology, we can buy the eco friendly products and services, and we can do so generously, supporting producers as well as the climate. Train travel can be more expensive that going by car or plane, but we can choose the climate friendly option. Organic food may be more costly – now – but we can choose it over cheaper products that are less environmentally friendly.

Jesus asks that when we choose how to live, that we choose to think of the needs of others and be ready to meet their needs first. The results? A transformed world!

Green Tau: issue 12

14 August 2021

Governments and businesses do certainly exert control over various aspects of what can and cannot do, yet we may be surprised how much we can do to reduce our individual  – and therefore to our national – carbon footprint. 

The WWF estimates that the production and consumption of food accounts for 20% of the UK’s green house gas emissions which currently equates to 82 million tonnes a year – say roughly 1.5 tonnes per year person. By changing how we eat and shop, we can substantially reduce these emissions.

  1. Reduce the amount of meat and dairy products you consume. Globally 58% of GHG emissions  for food arise from the production of meat and dairy items. Agricultural animals have to be fed, and to ensure good productivity, their food is nutrient rich including items such as soya beans. Large amounts of land and water are used in providing food and grazing, all of  which comes with its own carbon footprint.  Farm animals are also GHG emitters in their own right. Each cow emits 70 – 129kg of methane per year. Removing meat and dairy products from your diet can reduce you GHG emissions by 0.6 tonnes per year (Carbon Independent Calculator).
  1. The alternatives to meat and dairy are to be found in eating beans, pulses and nuts as sources of protein and numerous minerals. Soya beans which are particularly rich in protein have traditionally been fermented to produce foods such as tofu. Soya beans – as well as almonds, hemp, coconut, oats etc – are also used to create dairy replacement items: milks, butter, yogurts, cream,  ice cream etc as well cheeses. Ideally one wants to buy products that are locally produced. Hodmedod specialises in selling beans and pulses, seeds (chia etc) and grains (including quinoa) that are grown here in the UK. There is a growing number of UK based producers of plant based milks. Milk and More, a reinvention of the traditional milk delivery service, sells freshly bottled oat milk that comes from Lancashire.
  1. Choose organic foods. Organic food production because it avoids mineral fertilisers, ensures improved soil conditions such that the soil retains a higher proportion of carbon than do other soils. This carbon sequestration reduces the carbon footprint of organic foods vis a vis non organic ones. Choosing organic foods can reduce your GHG emissions by 0.7 tonnes a year. It can be difficult deciding between organic vegetables from Europe versus local non organic  items, 
  1. Buy locally grown food – or eat home grown food. Locally grown food has a lower carbon footprint because the distance the food is moved is less and therefore transport inputs are less. This is especially true when food stuffs are imported by air and often includes the import of out of season foods from the Southern Hemisphere such as asparagus and blue berries. Eating locally produced food can reduce your GHG emissions by 0.4 tonnes per year. There is a growing number of veg box schemes where farms make a weekly delivery of vegetables straight from the farm to your front door, which reduces transport emissions and food waste. OddBox specialises in fruit and veg boxes that collect together fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste either at the farm or in the wholesale market. 
  1. Avoid food processing and packaging. Ready meals packed in plastics can have a disproportionately higher carbon footprint than meals freshly made from raw, unpackaged ingredients. Reducing the amount of packaged and processed food you consume can reduce your GHG emissions by 0.5 tonnes.
  1. Minimising food waste. Throwing away food rather than eating it is obviously wasteful and a misuse of GHG emissions. Planning daily or weekly menus, using a shopping list, only buying and cooking the portions you will eat, careful storage of food etc are all ways fo reducing food waste. (For more details see the Eco Tips post of 9th August). Cutting food waste can reduce you GHG emissions by 0.5 tonnes per year. If you compost food waste such as the outer leaves of cabbages, banana skins and tea bags you can reduce your GHG emissions by a further 0.2 tonnes. 
  1. How you cook your food will also impact on your carbon footprint. Putting on the oven to bake one potato is more carbon intensive than boiling or pan frying the same potato in a pan. This aspect of your carbon footprint will be considered in a later post looking at household energy consumption.

We often say we are what we eat. If we eat with a conscience for what is good for the planet, and what is good for human and animal welfare, we will be part of the growing movement creating a better world for all. 

In many religious and cultural traditions there is a practice of saying thank you before or after a meal. This recognises our dependence upon others for what we eat, whether that is the cook, the farmer, the retailer or above all, God as creator. Saying Grace at meals is one way of being more aware of the providence of the food we eat.  

As we sit to eat this meal, we give thanks for all have been involved in its preparation.

For the farmers and the worms, bees and pollinating insects, for shelf stackers and retailers, for those who cook and those who wash up,

and for the bountiful diversity of our God-given world.
Amen. 

NB I have swopped between the terms carbon footprint and green house gas GHG emissions as if they are the same thing which they aren’t. Strictly speaking our carbon footprint measures our carbon emissions whereas GHG emissions includes all gas emissions but of which carbon dioxide is the largest.