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/ 3 October 2019

Responsible choices on climate change

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate campaigner, has said today’s children ‘will not forgive’ world leaders who don’t do enough about climate change.

Is it just our leaders who will take the blame? We all make a contribution to climate change; so mustn’t we all play our part in seeking a solution? Leaders and voters, adults and young people, parents and children, everyone needs to ‘do their bit’.  But it isn’t just a bit, it’s a lot.

So how do we divvy up the responsibility – and the effort?

We in richer countries bear responsibility towards people in poorer countries – Mozambique for example – who suffer more from climate change.  As Greta has said, adults bear a big responsibility towards children. It has even been pointed out that people alive today are responsible to people in the future. Even to other living creatures, now and in the future.


It’s not hard to think of examples. If I drop a plastic bottle in the street, the next rain storm may wash it down a drain. Then it will likely overflow with other storm water into the Thames, thence on into the sea. If it isn’t washed up on the beach of some paradise isle, sooner or later it will get swallowed by a dolphin, or fed by a sea bird to its chicks.

Whether that happens next week, next year or in 100 years – long after I’m dead and buried – that was my fault. What I did was wrong.

Party animals

Similar consequences can result from party lanterns and balloons. What goes up must come down – to be nuzzled, perhaps swallowed, by livestock in the fields.  That’s worse if the lantern has a wire frame.

Or if the balloon is filled with helium.  I was just reading about the helium shortage. The stuff is getting more and more expensive. But it’s also needed for ‘medicine, electronics and deep-sea diving’. Most people would agree that medical use should take priority.

We certainly can’t do without the MRI scans which require helium – at a cost the NHS can afford.  So which comes first, MRI scans or party balloons?


Other choices may be less straightforward. How about flying?  I also read today about ‘flygskam’ – ‘flight shame’.  I’m not a fan of shame, but it’s starting to take off! I’m in favour of making right choices – though they may be hard choices. There is no doubt that the emissions from aircraft make a huge contribution to climate change.  That’s one of the reasons this Diocese opposes expansion of Heathrow.

There are occasions when flying is justifiable or unavoidable. Diplomatic trips may be needed when face to face negotiation is vital – for UN climate talks for instance!  That may be ironic, but it isn’t shameful.

At the same time, can we look for ways to reduce our personal footprint from air travel, seeking more sustainable solutions whenever available?


What about that zero carbon target?  That will call for some very hard choices, for people and for churches.

Church heating is a specially thorny problem, especially for those with traditional gas fired hot water systems. We need to switch everything to renewable gas or to electricity, by the 2030s at the latest. New gas (or oil) boilers may have to be written off.  There are huge difficulties with piped ‘green gas’. Electrically powered central heating is not viable at present.

There are other electrical options, such as far infra-red, or direct electric pew heaters.  Or heat pumps – worth looking at in well insulated buildings, or in an under-floor heating system.

The trouble is, it’s no help switching to electricity unless it’s renewable. Preferably from our own solar panels. Or as the grid becomes more and more low-carbon. That’s happening quite rapidly in the UK, as power stations come off coal.  But there’s still a long way to go.

So the switch to electricity needs to keep in step with the transition to a low carbon grid.

Whatever heating we have, we need to manage it carefully, to cut its energy use to the very minimum.

The time is now

That was the slogan of a recent march to parliament, about climate change.

It’s true. Climate change has become massively urgent, widely described as an emergency. And it will continue to be, in a year, five years, fifty years.  The time to act will still be ‘now’.  We need a new lifestyle, new heads and new hearts, to match this new existential reality.

I often quote the words of the Rt Hon Joan Ruddock MP, a former government minister, speaking at an event in Lambeth:

“We used to think that climate change was a problem for our grandchildren, then we found out it was a problem for our children, now we realise it’s a problem for us.”

That was in 2009. The decade since feels more like a lifetime, with all that’s going on around us. But what have we done about climate change since?  We’ve done a lot. There’s a wealth of information on what can be done and how to do it, on this very website.

But it isn‘t enough. Not nearly enough.  We need to be much more radical. We need to make hard choices. Who makes those choices? We do.

We can’t blame others. We can’t pass the buck. The time is now. The choices rest with us.


Environment and Sustainability

Energy, carbon  and climate change

Waste and recycling

Resource depletion

Air travel and Heathrow

Church heating

About Brian Cuthbertson

Brian is the Head of Environment and Sustainability at the Diocese of London.

Read more from Brian Cuthbertson

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