Green Tau: issue 36

8th March 2022

Suddenly the war in Ukraine is revealing anew our (in the UK and across the world) dependency in gas and oil and our lack of self reliance in the supply of energy. This week the IPCC issued its most recent support on the world’s position vis a vis the climate crisis and things are not looking good. We are as individuals, companies and governments are not reducing our carbon emissions at anything like the rate needed to safeguard a comfortable future, nor are we doing enough to adapt to those dangers of climate change that are already locked in by our current lifestyles. Surly this is the time to be urgently and radically addressing our production and consumption of carbon emitting energy.

The Need for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Oil and coal both began their existence about 300 million years ago as dead plant materials or marine life. When conditions allowed for anaerobic decay, the first stage of formation began. Later after another 200 millions of years of compression by overlying layers of debris, and exposure to high temperature found at geological depths, the decaying material slowly formed either seams of coal, or reservoirs of oil and/or gas. 

The earliest records of coal being mined and burnt date back to about 200BCE when it was being traded in China as a fuel. In the UK coal was mined and used by the Romans to heat water for their baths as well as for smelting metal.  In the mediaeval period the burning of coal in London was prohibited because of the issues of pollution. It was in the 1700s that the demand for coal rapidly increased as part of the industrial revolution – and has continued to increase across the world. Peak coal production probably  occurred in 2013, when 8 billion tonnes was demanded. Since then global demand has been declining but that is not to gainsay that in some countries demand for coal is still rising. 

The use of oil in the form of asphalt and pitch has been in use for at least 4000 years whilst the refining of crude oil to create, initially, lubricating oil, dates back to 1848. Since then the processing of oil has led to the creation of all sorts of materials – plastics, paints, fabrics, lipstick and nail varnish, weed killers and fertilisers – as well as its use a fuel for heating and for powering all manner of vehicles. Demand for oil has been even greater than that for coal. Peak oil is widely considered to be  imminent but as the date can only be seen in hindsight, its actual date is not yet clear. World oil production was 88.4  million barrels a day in 2020 and 99.5 in 2019.

Coal, oil and gas are major emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are the root cause of the climate crisis. To contain the adverse affects of the crisis, these emissions need to be reduced to a net zero level by 2050. The International Energy Agency produced in  2021 a report –  Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector – outlining the means by which such a target can be achieved. These include an end, as of 2021, to any further investment in new fossil fuel projects, no further sales of new internal combustion engine cars after 2035, and a net zero emissions global electricity sector by 2040.  By 2050 fossil fuel use would be solely in goods where the carbon produced can be embodied, such as recyclable plastics, and in a limited number of areas where  carbon emissions can be captured and where there is no other alternative resource.  ( The IEA was clearing stating that no new oil and natural gas fields were needed in this net zero pathway – all necessary supplies of fossil fuels can be met from existing extraction sites.

The imperative is to invest in alternative renewable energies, materials and technologies. Many Christians, individuals and organisations, are doing this as part of their commitment to the care of God’s creation. In the run up to COP26 37 faith institutions in Britain affirmed their decision to divest from fossil fuels investments – ie that they would withdraw from any investments that supported fossil fuels and would maintain that position thereafter. This groups included the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland; the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church of Wales; the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; 15 Catholic dioceses in the UK and Ireland, including the Archdioceses of Glasgow, St Andrews & Edinburgh, Birmingham and Southwark; and from the Church of England, the Dioceses of Truro and Sodor & Man. This latter group has since been joined by the dioceses of Bristol, Oxford, Norwich and Durham. (

Bright Now, part of Operation Noah, campaigns on the issue of fossil fuel divestment and actively  encourages all parishes and churches to get involved in this campaign, which has at its heart the care of God’s creation. In the parish where I live, Parish funds are (in common with most Anglican churches) invested with CCLA Investment Management Limited, part of The CBF Church of England investment Fund – and as of July 2020, CCLA no longer holds any fossil fuel investments. However my local diocese, The Diocese of Southwark, which holds money on behalf of its parishes, has approximately £2.7 million in fossil fuel investments. This is the largest such holding pertaining to any of the Anglican Dioceses. 

As individuals we may feel we have no fossil fuel investments but (as with my church connections) it is highly likely that we do, even if only indirectly. Many of the companies who supply us with mortgages, insurance, pensions etc also hold investments in fossil fuels. The campaign group, Make My Money Matter, contends that swopping our pensions to a green provider is the most powerful thing we can do to reduce carbon emissions – UK pension funds invest £2.6 trillion on our behalf! ( It is important that we as consumers ask how our money is being used when we hand it over to the care of others. Our money should be being used to create a better, kinder, just and peaceful world. 

The Green Tau Issue 6, 4th July 2021 Plastic: the pollutant we live with daily.

Organic September, Movember, Veganuary, No-Mow May and now, Plastic-free July. Most months  have a focus on changing habits to create a better future. Plastic-free July advocates remove all plastic from our daily lives – from the tooth brush in the bathroom, the plastic fruit packet from the supermarket to the once ubiquitous plastic carrier bag. The use of the latter has fallen by 85% since the introduction of the plastic bag tax! Why is it desirable to get rid of plastic?

Plastic is made from oil, one of the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions causing global warming. Producing one tonne of plastic generates up to 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (Material Economics, 2018). As the world’s use of plastic rises, so does its consumption of oil. In 2014 we the world produced 311 million tonnes of plastic. This figure is expected to triple by 2050. (World Economic Forum)

One way of reducing the carbon footprint of plastic is to reuse existing plastics. Some items such as PET bottles, widely used for soft drink, can be recycled repeatedly. This is closed loop recycling meaning that the plastic is recycled to create an identical replacement item. (Open loop recycling recycles plastics but produces a lower grade plastic for which an alternative use must be found). To be effective closed loop recycling depends upon consumers ensuring that they do put their plastics – washed and clean – in the correct recycling bin and upon manufactures using exclusively that recycled plastic. In the UK only  30% of plastics are recycled!

Plastic rubbish pollutes our streets, rivers, woodlands, and oceans. It doesn’t naturally decay and instead remains intact for 100s of years. Plastic that does tear and break down into smaller and smaller pieces still doesn’t decay. Micro plastic particle have been found polluting glaciers and icecaps, and polluting oceans where it is being ingested by sea birds and fish. Micro plastics are also found in the air we breathe and in the water we drink!


Current estimates suggest that 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year adding to the 150 million tonnes already there. Projects are now being set up to remove plastic waste from the oceans. In 2020 a 48 day expedition by the Ocean Voyage Institute removed 103 tons from the Great Pacific Garage Patch. Other projects are being developed to process such waste into reusable plastic based materials: Patagonia uses recycled marine polyester in its clothes, Parley Ocean Plastics supplies material for Adidas shoes and Waterhaul in Cornwall uses marine plastic to produce sunglasses.

This is till only ‘a drop in the ocean’! The better solution is not to use the plastic in the first place.  Hence Plastic Free July! Why not start now?

Plastic Free July’s own web site is a good starting point as is that of Friends of the Earth and City to Sea. You will also find plenty of web sites looking to sell you plastic-free products – and possible more than you need! Our own personal experience of shifting to a – largely – plastic free lifestyle began by collecting all the plastic that came into the house over a two week period. Then for each item we looked to see if there was a plastic free alternative for the product itself or of buying the same product without the plastic packaging, or whether we actually could manage without the item altogether. Over the next few months we looked for tried different ways of shopping – going to farmers’ markets, refill stores, buying in bulk, taking our own washable box to the butchers or coffee jar to the roasters – until we found the best fit for our lifestyle. Even today we are still making adjustments as new options become available. We have also written to suppliers asking them to use plastic free packaging. Whilst I don’t often have anything positive to say about Amazon, they have developed a simple straightforward cardboard packet for their deliveries!

Our own shift towards plastic-free and zero waste living has reduced both the amount that goes into our recycling bins as well as what goes into our dustbin. The latter is currently needs emptying twice a year.