Faith and Faithfulness
Our Head of Environment and Sustainability, Brian Cuthbertson, explains why caring for God’s creation is essential, and highlights what the Church of England are already doing to tackle climate change.
Could your church community get involved?
A few weeks ago in the course of a radio interview about faith, climate action and our duty to help care for God’s Creation, I remarked on the connection between faith and faithfulness. The connection is much more than the obvious verbal similarity and shared etymology.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). He backs up his argument with numerous examples of people of faith, in terms of their states of mind, and as demonstrated by their actions. Those exemplars of faithfulness, faith matched by action, include Moses, and Jesus himself (Hebrews 3:1-6). Indeed this is one of the epistle’s main themes, how faith and faithfulness are inextricably woven together.
I suppose it’s theoretically possible to have one without the other. Faith, the state of mind, might be present, even without faithful actions to demonstrate it. But as the letter to James – the very next in the New Testament after Hebrews – says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
Action on climate change
Perhaps of greater relevance to the struggle against climate change is to wonder what faithful action might look like, even while our belief and confidence in the chances of those actions making a difference are stretched to their limits.
One doesn’t have to ponder for long, to realise that quite a lot of us may be in that situation right now. Frankly I include myself. It really is hard to see how the struggle to contain climate change is going to succeed. Future climate and ecological stability is very much something ‘we do not see’. We need to be open about that. Many are beginning to despair, especially young people who see themselves being robbed of their futures. For some, the only answer is to take ‘direct action’, blocking roads or oil refineries. Personally I don’t believe that’s the right way. Panic and despair are the enemies of effective action.
In the run-up to COP 26, the global climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021, the prospects for success did not appear rosy. Most of the other 25 COPs that came before had failed to deliver much, or in some cases, any, useful outcomes. There was one shining exception, namely the 2015 conference in Paris. Every country in the world managed to agree on that occasion, all the more remarkable when you consider the enmities that exist in the world. But even Paris left much to be done in terms of negotiation, let alone action on the ground. A ‘Paris rulebook’ had to be negotiated – by 2020, it was thought, but that was postponed due to Covid, remaining to be signed sealed and delivered in Glasgow in 2021. That was arguably achieved, albeit with some damaging last minute compromises.
A lot of people around the world had put a great deal of work into maximising the chances for success at Glasgow, up to and including the UK’s own Alok Sharma, the COP President (a position he still holds until he hands over to his Egyptian successor, later this year). Work is continuing to help keep up the momentum.
On the other side of the scales, the crisis in energy supplies and costs has made matters even harder, being further exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. We have to cope with both crises, without action on either compromising what we do about the other.
Worldwide emissions have to start falling steeply, if we are going to get anywhere close to the target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. It is widely thought that we have till 2025 for emissions to peak and start reducing. But it turns out that’s a misunderstanding: the message gets worse. The world really has to start cutting emissions right now! Yet they are still going up – rebounding faster than ever, having previously flattened and even dipped due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, global temperature records are being dramatically exceeded. The current heatwave in India is just one example.
Global heating is the root cause, added to local atmospheric conditions. The last 7 years have been the hottest in the instrumental record. The ice caps are melting. Storms, floods and wildfires are more than ever running riot.
Rising to the challenge
So we are facing a huge challenge.
What are the Church of England and other faith groups doing to rise to the challenge? The answer is, quite a lot but not yet enough.
A year ago, before COP 26, we highlighted several initiatives underway even while we were still ravaged by the pandemic. See Surge in climate change effort by churches and people, and a speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
A year before that, in February 2020, the Church of England in company with many local authorities and other organisations set itself the target of achieving net zero carbon by 2030. The General Synod motion doing that was adopted by Diocesan Synod a month later. We are now working towards that goal. It is a very challenging one.
Here’s a selection of just a few of many current initiatives in the Church of England (for more details, contact Head of Environment and Sustainability:
- Bespoke FREE zero carbon training from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), 10-5pm,18th & 19th May 2022. Exploring CAT’s landmark report ‘Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency’, as well as solutions, and the role the Church can play in bringing them about. Open to anyone from a church, school, diocese or cathedral. To book, email CAT.
- Parish Buying Energy Audits. Registration has opened, with a £150 reduction in the £445 fee for the first 100 churches to sign up. Your audit will include an assessment of the feasibility of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies – all with the goal of reducing your energy consumption and carbon footprint.
- The Energy Footprint Tool (for churches) and wider Energy Toolkit (for schools, housing, cathedrals, and more) are both now open, to help you calculate your 2021 carbon footprint. Deadline end of July. See also Energy Footprint Tool 2022 open for churches to enter 2021 fuel and power use.
- A national baseline emissions report for the Church of England has been published, based on the earlier report for churches, using findings from the Energy Footprint Tool.
- Routemap to Net Zero Carbon. There have been almost 150 responses to a national consultation. The Routemap is our action plan to get to net zero carbon by 2030. The final version will be going to General Synod in July.
Which is all the more reason to put our own backs into the effort. Faithfulness aligned with faith. Offering leadership.
To quote again the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, he has recently called for the UK government to work with faith groups to achieve net zero carbon. Addressing the House of Lords, he said:
“My Lords, like the Government, the Church of England has targets for reaching net-zero carbon, in our case by 2030. Churches across the Anglican Communion are deeply affected by climate change. Will the minister set out the plans that the Government have to work further with faith communities, from the grass roots to the highest level, both nationally and internationally?”
But we can’t just leave it to others, not even the government. We need to engage in faithful action, as well as holding faith in God to take care of the outcome. See Love, the Second Law and the Resurrection.
See also Environment and Sustainability.