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. 

The Green Tau: issue 11

Calculating your individual carbon footprint

The ongoing global climate crisis arise because human  activities and lifestyles

are putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a faster rate than this gas can be absorbed by the planet. The resulting increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere insulates the planet so that year on year average global temperatures are rising. This impact of human activity on the planet is termed our carbon foot print. The word conveys the idea that what we do each day is leaving a mark, a footprint, on the face of the earth. We can measure the carbon footprint of different activities eg cycling, driving a car, skiing or hiking. We can measure the carbon footprint of different products eg a book, a DVD, a litre of milk, a dozen eggs, a wooden jumper, or a pair of trainers. We can measure the carbon footprint of a household or a business, of a person living in a flat or medium sized estate agents, a supermarket or a hospital. We can compare the difference between the carbon footprint of a typical resident of Nepal and the typical resident of Norway. We can compare the difference between alternative modes of transport, alternative methods of farming, or between a range of land uses.

Here in the UK the average individual carbon footprint is 10.5 tonnes (WWF).

The Carbon Independent  and the Carbon Footprint websites both  offer a detailed on line footprint calculator which includes inputting the amount of electricity, gas, petrol etc that you use each year. 

https://www.carbonindependent.org/

https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

A less detailed calculator is offered by the World Wild Fund 

https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/region

but it does relate your carbon footprint to the target UK footprint vis a vis a linear reduction in per capita carbon emissions  to net zero by 2045. And that is one of the reasons for calculating our carbon footprint: to see how big it is currently and the to see how it can be reduced to a net zero target. 

The simplest way of reducing our carbon footprint is to look at individual aspects of our lifestyle and see how in practical terms we can reduce our carbon consumption. To some extent we will be limited by factors outside our control. For example if we choose to travel by train we cannot decide which railways lines are powered by electricity and which rely on diesel engines (although we can press Network Rail and our government to address this). If we shop at Waitrose, part of our food footprint is linked to the carbon emissions of Waitrose’s operations (Waitrose’s aim is that their entire operation should achieve net zero by 2035). On the other hand we can make positive choices to use businesses that are carbon neutral. For example, Kiss the Hippo’s coffee roasting business is carbon negative. 

Over the next few weeks I will add ideas and information about reducing our personal carbon footprint on the Eco Tips page.

The Green Tau: issue 10

A question of justice: what is climate justice? Part 2

What then of climate justice?  What is the upright behaviour, the righteousness behaviour that God expects us to show vis a vis the climate?

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19)

The writer of Genesis tells us that the climate and its seasons, shaped by the sun, is a key part of the world God created. Both creation stories in Genesis give humankind a key role in occupying and caring for and tending the world that God created. Humans are given a role of responsibility vis a vis the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and all living things that move on the earth. They are given the task of cultivating the land and the plants which God intended should transform the earth from the bare form with which it began. And they are instructed to multiply and be fruitful ensuring generations of humans to come. 

Have we looked after all the fish, the birds and living things? The decline in biodiversity with a third  species threatened with extinction, suggests not. 

Have we cultivated the earth and maintained its greenness? The expansions of deserts, the destruction of rainforests and temperate woodlands, and the loss of native plants suggest not. 

Have we provided for the well being of generations to come? Currently the world is on track for an increase in global temperatures of some 3 to 5°C by the end of the century which would render large parts of the earth uninhabitable for humans – so no!

If we were to hold up a plumb line to measure how upright our living on the earth has been, we would see a world that is on the verge of collapse, a world which will be in a worst state than when we inherited it, and a world in which life for our children and grandchildren would be very bleak. 

The diagram below is the equivalent of Amos’s plumb line. It was put together by the government’s Climate Change Committee  an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008) is part of their review of the progress being made tickling the climate crisis. It shows with a blue dotted line the target reduction in carbon emissions agreed by Parliament. The grey band shows the levels of emissions that  current policies will achieve. The gap between the two is the shortfall where new, firmer polices are needed. Just as plumb line measure how true a wall is, so this diagram shows how adrift we are of doing what is right for the climate and the world. 

Prophets like Amos and Jeremiah called out to those in power when  they were not meeting God’s standards. They also called out examples of wrong behaviour by merchants/ business leaders and those who abuse their power to oppress the vulnerable. They also called out those who falsely prophesied that all would be well and that no one need to repent and amend their patterns of behaviour! 

Climate justice requires us to call our government and business leaders  to account when policies and actions fail to address the climate crisis and rather allow the state of the earth to decline. We can write to our MPs and our local councillors asking what they are doing to avert the climate crisis, asking not just for wishful statements, but for concrete actions with measurable results. We can write to businesses, both multi nationals and our small, local businesses and ask  what they are doing to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. Kiss the Hippo, coffee roasters in Richmond is a carbon negative coffee company – https://kissthehippo.com/blogs/news/good-news-we-ve-gone-carbon-negative we can  sign petitions  and join one of the many groups campaigning on the climate crisis issue – eg Friends of the Earth, XR, 350.org

Climate justice requires us to look at our own lifestyles and measure whether they improve or damage the earth and the heritage that we will pass onto future generations. There are numerous suggestions on the internet about what we can do. This will be the topic of the next issue of the Green Tau.i

The Green Tau: Issue 9

A question of justice: what is climate justice? Part 1

What is justice?  

The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, more commonly known as

the Old Bailey, is surmounted by a statute of Lady Justice. In one hand she holds a sword, and in the other, a set of scales. The scales remind us that justice requires the evidence of the case to be weighed and only if the evidence of guilt is more than the opposing evidence, is the accused found guilty. The sword symbolises the implementation of the judgement made – ie what punishment or reparations are due. Many images of Lady Justice also show her wearing a blindfold as a reminder that justice if to be given impartially, ie favouring no one person more than another.

But how do you know when an offence has been committed, something that requires the salve of justice? Most/all? countries have laws: laws that  lay down what is right or wrong, what is acceptable or unacceptable. Typically such laws will embrace not killing or injuring people, not stealing from others nor damaging what belongs to someone else.

Laws exist to both prevent certain actions and to prompt certain actions: driving at excess speeds and buying car insurance. Laws exist to protect rights and to impose obligations: House owners have the right to forbid someone to enter their property but if they do invite someone in, they have a  responsibility to ensure their safety. Laws exist to protect those who would otherwise have no rights: refugees have a right to safety, wives have the right to be protected against abusive husbands (and vice versa). Laws exist not just to protect the rights of humans: animals, plants, buildings can all be given legal protection.

Justice is the process by which laws are enforced. Justice judges whether or not, on the balance of evidence whether a law has been broken and whether or not the accused is guilty of that offence. Justice serves to maintain harmony in a nation by ensuring that the law of the land is followed.  But what if those laws have been chosen by a minority and applied to a majority who do not favour them? Will sticking to such laws create a contented society? Will they work to achieve the good of all society? What if those laws are out of date and support a social order that no longer exists. What if these laws support an economic system that is no longer viable? Good laws are as important as justice. Good laws tell us what is right.

The Greek word for justice, ‘dikaiosyni’, also has the meaning of equity and righteousness. Hebrew has two words that can be translated as justice, ‘mispah’ and ‘tzedaqah’. Mispah has more the meaning of executing justice or giving judgement, whilst tzedaqah has the meaning of righteousness and fairness.  In a similar way in English justice can also have the meaning of fairness. 

In the Old Testament justice and righteousness are frequently paired together as if you can’t have one without the other.:-

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. (Ps 89:14)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jer 23:5).

I think that righteousness means God’s laws, God’s standards. Not just – or not even always – the laws laid down in the Old Testament, for they were laws given at a certain time and to a certain group of people – but something far greater than that.  God’s laws are holistic, an everlasting set of principles that are shaped by God’s love and rightness. They can be summarised, as Jesus did, as loving God and loving one’s neighbour – including all that is commensurate with love, and that takes a life time to discern!

Here I would like to backtrack to the idea that justice might have the meaning of fairness. Lady Justice wears a blindfold to ensure fair and impartial justice. With her blindfold on, her judgement is not influenced by the character or background of one on trial. Whether the accused is rich or poor, popular or despised, low class or high class, the judgement made, the justice received will be the same. But is impartiality the same as fairness? No, which is why when it comes to sentencing, the character and circumstances of the accused are taken into account. It is why fines may be proportionate to the accused’s income. This partiality is applied when sentencing not during the trial when the evidence is weighed in the scales. Justice can thus remain impartial – and I would like to suggest – sometimes unfair. 

If a person is so deficient in funds that they cannot buy food but instead steal, justice will find them guilty of theft. But if one were concerned with fairness, one might want to weigh in and ask why the person is so deficient of funds that they cannot afford to eat? And to ask in all fairness, how it is that society allows someone to go hungry when edible food is daily thrown away as waste?

God’s righteousness would suggest something very different. God’s righteousness would expect us to ensure that everyone has the means of earning or deserving sufficient funds, and would expect that come what may, all would be fed.

Thus says the Lord:   Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness will be revealed. (Isaiah 56:1) The word given as justice is mispah, and the words given as right and righteousness are tzedaqah. 

What then is justice from a theological or God-viewpoint? If secular justice is represented by Lady Justice and her weighing scales, then the biblical image of justice is, I think, the plumb line. A simple tool comprising a string and a weight which when suspended vertically uses gravity to show whether or not the things being judged – usually a wall – is true and upright and not in danger of collapsing. Amos sees this image as God shows him the short comings, the wrong doings of the nation of Israel.  

Here justice is not just a case of weighing up the evidence to see if the accused is guilty, but of measuring the quality of the accused’s behaviour. Has their behaviour been upright, morally correct, righteous even? Have they followed the precepts and the tenor of God’s will? Justice only has value if it is linked to a divine standard – an uprightness – of behaviour. Justice is doing what is right in accordance with God’s righteousness.

“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” (Isaiah 28:17).

The Green Tau: issue 8, 18th July

Live Local: the Fifteen Minute City

People Street Como City Walk Friends Couple Road

Imagine living in a neighbourhood where everything one needed on a daily basis lay within a fifteen minute journey – on foot or cycle – of one’s home. A neighbourhood where you can safely walk or cycle to the shops, school, medical centre, park, gym, swimming pool, office, cafe, the pub. A neighbourhood with (largely) traffic free streets, where children can cycle safely and those with impaired mobility/ sight/ hearing can easily cross the road. A neighbourhood where you know your neighbour, the barista at the cafe, the coach at the gym. A neighbourhood where you know you are part of the community. 

How far can you walk in 15 minutes? 3/4 or even a full mile. 

And by cycle? – maybe 2 to 4 miles. 

Could you get much further by car? 

The average speed of traffic in London is around 7-8mph, suggesting one could travel 2 miles in quarter of an hour. But then one would have to find somewhere to park, so the distance you could travel by car might well be much less than 2 miles.

Imagine a whole city made up of such neighbourhoods and you have the Fifteen Minute City. This concept is being a  actively pursued in Paris by the mayor, Anne Hidalgo. Hidalgo proposes to have a cycle lane in every street and to remove 60,000 parking spaces for private cars whilst at the same time spending €1b per year for on greening both streets and school playgrounds. She has already added some 50km of cycle paths and banned high polluting vehicles. Similar projects are being trialed in Milan, Madrid, Seattle and Ottawa, whilst Melbourne and Edinburgh are pursuing twenty minute neighbourhoods. 

What are the benefits? 

Benefits social cohesion and community strength. 

Supports local business and enterprise.

Less time spent commuting. Fewer traffic jams.

Less air pollution. Reduced CO2 emissions.

Option to repurpose road space as green spaces. Greater biodiversity.

Improved levels of mobility for everyone. Better health.

Increased quality of life.

If you want to hear about the Fifteen Minute City from its creator, Carlos Moreno, tune into the following YouTube episode:-

Can we as individuals go some way to creating our own fifteen minute neighbourhood? We can choose to patronise local shops and businesses, use local leisure facilities and green spaces. We can choose to walk or cycle to each destination, and we can seek out routes that green and interesting – and perhaps discover paths we didn’t know existed! 

If we become accustomed to walking or cycling 15 minutes on a day to day basis, we will find we can transfer to a lifestyle that doesn’t need a private car. For those longer but less frequent journeys we can as easily walk to the station and take the train, or book a taxi or hire a car. If that becomes the norm just imagine the effect it will have on local neighbourhood and on carbon emissions.

This pictogram shows my 15 minute neighbourhood: why not have a go at drawing one centred on your home?