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Brian Cuthbertson, our Head of Environment and Sustainability, writes about his recent report to Synod.
The word ‘apocalypse’ is used in ordinary English to mean some large-scale devastating calamity. Climate change looks likely to result in such an apocalypse – if the world continues to do little or nothing about it, and it is allowed to escalate out of control.
Therefore ‘Apocalypse Now’ (the title of a famous 1979 war film by Francis Ford Coppola) was borrowed as the heading of a report on the Environment and Climate Change to Diocesan Synod on 14th July 2022 (also downloadable from the foot of this article). Synod happened to meet and receive this report five days before the hottest day ever recorded in the UK – up to 40.3oC – 1.6 degrees above the previous record, and 4.4 degrees higher than the peak of the famous summer of 1976.
Records like this – and even more extreme records – have been occurring in many countries. The wildfire that came to London that day – destroying 19 houses in Wennington, East London – has rightly caused widespread shock. We’ve known for a while that this was likely to happen sooner or later, but it’s hit us sooner than many scientists expected. And far worse has been happening in other places, for example the continuing wild fires in California. This is definitely attributable to climate change, as are the increasingly serious floods we’re seeing for example in Germany and Belgium last year, and Kentucky now, where whole villages are being swept away. Meanwhile in the UK we face an imminent threat of drought.
None of this is alarmism; it is telling it like it is. The cost of living crisis, and other terrible things happening in the world, such as the war in Ukraine, do not make this an easier message to hear. We are all feeling submerged by crisis after crisis.
But the original meaning of the word ‘apocalypse’ is slightly different. It is a type of literature in the Bible and other ancient Jewish and Christian writings. It refers to a privileged revelation of God’s eternal purposes. A kind of exclusive divine news story. The book of Daniel in the Old Testament, and Revelation at the end of the New Testament, are examples of apocalyptic literature.
So where are God’s purposes to be seen – in dangerous climate change, biodiversity loss and the flood tide of rubbish in the oceans – together with financial hardship, drought, famine, disease, tyranny, persecution and war? It’s hard to see anything other than human failure and wickedness in all of this. For make no mistake – the global heating that’s all around us is caused by human activity, just as much as plastic waste is generated by each and every one of us, as well as the other horrors just mentioned.
The causes of global heating are a bit more indirect, that’s all. They arise from ‘greenhouse gases’ (CO2 mainly) emitted into the atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil and gas, to heat buildings and generate electricity, to power industry, manufacture steel and concrete (and plastics too), to wage wars, and also from agriculture and deforestation. These are all caused by us human beings for our more, or often less, legitimate ends.
These things, and their constant growth, need to be curbed. A tall order, we may think! Many organisations have declared a climate emergency, some a biodiversity emergency as well. The Church of England’s General Synod, and our own Diocesan Synod, were right to set a target of net zero CO2 emissions by 2030, for the whole of the Church of England.
Now this is where God’s purposes come in. Or rather, where God’s purposes have been working unseen all along, amidst the turmoil of human life and suffering. We are speaking and acting in unison with many other organisations, including city councils such as the GLA, universities, and other public and private institutions. But we have specifically Christian reasons to act. Our motives are moral, theological, and rooted in Scripture. Once we recognise that the world is originally God’s creation – entrusted to us to care for, but which humans are terribly damaging – it becomes obvious that we should do all we can to reduce our climate impacts, cherish the biodiversity in our churchyards, sort and recycle our waste.
We cannot just detach ourselves and become passive hermits. We are all implicated and must all engage in ministering to the world’s agonies with the love of Christ. Especially we should be living out our love for each other, especially the poor and vulnerable who suffer the most when disasters strike.
At the same time we are rightly encouraged to place our hope for the future in God, and we have a firm foundation on which to rest that hope: the death and resurrection of Christ, by which He liberated Creation from its bondage to decay, and guaranteed ultimately to unite all things in Christ (Romans 8:21, Ephesians 1:10). That is God’s ultimate purpose for the world, and everything in it.
The mysterious ‘St John the Divine’, in the Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse) foresaw an angel announcing that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15).
While hoping for the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, we should be modelling the Kingdom in the present. That isn’t a passive thing, it requires action. In hard times, action takes perseverence.
So what are those actions – with which we must persevere? Our 2025 summary prospectus for Caring for God’s Creation can be downloaded from the foot of this page. It forms part of the Compassionate Communities theme of the 2030 Vision. Here are a few headlines on progress, using the same numbering as our targets in the prospectus:
- As of end of June 2022, 151 churches so far in the London Diocese have signed up with Eco Church, including 60 award winners, two of them Gold Awards (the latest being St Paul’s in North Marylebone).
- We are continually working to develop our underlying understanding of the theology of creation and its redemption – as applied to the current environmental crisis.
- 59% of churches in this Diocese entered their 2020 data in the national Energy Footprint Tool in 2021, demonstrating savings of 21.7% in annual energy use and 31.3% in net CO2 emissions since 2005. We now have at least 42 solar panels installations on churches and halls and houses, and a growing number of electrical heating systems including heat pumps. A programme of Energy Performance Certificates for the diocese’s operational housing is 60% complete, with a view to planning further CO2 reductions towards net zero.
- The LDF’s Annual Report for 2022 includes Diocesan House returning to net zero status on fuel and power. The LDF’s investment policy is under review.
- The Diocese now has a Steering Group on Caring for God’s Creation, and teams of champions in each episcopal area, several of whom are running online events, such as on Electric Vehicles, Green Energy, and Eco Church.
- Work with the LDBS has included measurement of church schools’ energy and CO2. Two of our schools, as well as one church, participated in the national CoE’s Wayfinders programme, examining the feasibility of reaching net zero.
- Our Children and Youth Team are helping churches ensure their young people are engaged on environmental issues, including by exchanging information and encouragement with young people in Angola and Mozambique.
Needless to say, there are barriers to overcome. We need to accelerate progress, especially in installing LED lighting and low carbon heating, such as heat pumps and other electrically powered systems that can use 100% renewable electricity. We are currently working on a framework to assist parishes in formulating their own strategies for longer term heating provision, to cope with system failures and planned obsolescence. Installing insulation is a challenge, as is measuring and reducing emissions from travel – eg by switching to electric cars. We need to model and budget for the cost of all this to identify available funding sources.
A huge amount of support and advice is coming from the national Church of England. In July, General Synod adopted a national Routemap towards net zero. This lays down 7 underlying principles:
- Based on theology – treasuring God’s Creation
- Urgent, relevant and widely understood
- Data-driven, focused and transparent
- Embedded in all we do
- Using less energy, and from cleaner sources
- Travelling sustainably
- Offsetting only what we cannot reduce.
The Routemap covers the national Church, dioceses’ offices and operations, residential and commercial property, churches and cathedrals, BMOs, schools and theological education institutes, and proposes milestones for each – some very ambitious (including those imposed on the national Church). This is supported by helpful analysis, such as a hit list of measures common to most churches, drawn from past environmental audits.
It is now proposed to review the national Routemap in more detail, and develop a worked up diocesan strategy and action plan for the Diocese. Look out for updates on this website!
Report on the Environment and Climate Change to Diocesan Synod
Routemap to Net Zero
Caring for God’s Creation
Energy and carbon, global heating and climate change
Climate and Environmental Risks
Climate Action Projects
Email Brian, the Head of Environment and Sustainability.