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Shrinking the Footprint: Care for creation

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The Church of England’s national Environment Programmes (with the strapline ‘Shrinking the Footprint’) were inspired by the General Synod’s 2005 report ‘Sharing God’s Planet’.

Christians believe the environment was entrusted to human beings by God, who commanded us to ’till and keep it’ (Genesis 2:15). So we must care for it. Others lived here before we came along; we in turn must hand it on to posterity.

Moreover, we say it’s wrong to treat this world as solely for own use. We should share the earth:

  • With poorer people in the developing world, who suffer disproportionately because of the selfish consumerism of relatively few
  • With many other creatures, who depend on the same earth for their survival.

There is a wide range of threats to the environment which we humans also depend on.

This page provides a summary, and something about what we can do to lessen their causes.

Climate change

The climate is changing, due to a sustained trend of global warming. This is caused mainly by human activity.

We think this is the most serious and urgent environmental threat we face. It’s easy to let climate change slip down the agenda. But time is very short; climate change is fast slipping past the point of no return.

What are ‘carbon emissions’, ‘carbon footprints’, ‘CO2‘?

‘Carbon emissions’ are gases (called ‘greenhouse gases’ or ‘GHGs’), which we humans put into the air. Most kinds of GHGs have carbon in them.

Each of us is responsible for a share of these gases, each church too:

  • A church’s carbon footprint is based on its use of gas and electricity.
  • Our personal carbon footprint is the weight of greenhouse gases our lifestyles generate each year.
  • Carbon emissions add to the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming and climate change.

Dealing with climate change

We should do everything to reduce our carbon emissions as far and fast as possible. First see Carbon Footprint.

Operation Noah is a Christian organisation campaigning to persuade the government, churches and people to take climate change seriously and make deep cuts in carbon emissions.

We must get to work on our churches. More than 90 of our churches have undertaken Environmental Audits. Nearly 30% of churches in the Diocese so far have undertaken Energy-saving Benchmarking.

Ozone depletion

Ozone is a natural constituent of the atmosphere which protects the earth from harmful UV radiation.

The ozone layer has been depleted by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) leaking from older fridges, air conditioning and aerosols. We should still make sure these are disposed of safely.

Smog and acid rain

These by-products of emissions were tackled very successfully by banning coal burning from urban areas (eg through the Clean Air Acts in London).

However, new toxic air pollutants, especially nitrogen oxides and particulates, have come to the fore. The struggle has to be kept up, e.g. through London’s Low Emissions Zones.

Nitrogen and pesticides

We should curb our use of fertilisers and our nitrogen emissions eg from flying, as well as vehicles.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s powerful book ‘Silent Spring’ drew attention to the dangers of uncontrolled pesticide use.

Land and ocean

Landscapes are suffering severe impacts from our hands. So much so, many scientists believe we have entered a whole new geological era, which they call the ‘anthropocene’.

The oceans have become heavily polluted with plastics and other waste.

Biodiversity loss and extinctions

Widespread habitat loss threatens the sustainability of wild species. Human over-population makes a big contribution to this problem.

We can all help conserve biodiversity by looking after the wildlife in our own churchyards.


Sustainability means the capacity to keep things going, while not mortgaging the future.

The Brundtland Commission of 1987 defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Sustainable building

The Diocese aims to make all its own building developments sustainable and carbon neutral.

The first fully sustainable diocesan development was the Parsonage House completed in 2011 for St John’s Church in Wembley. Several more have been built since.

Building maintenance and risks

The main climate risks to our buildings are storms, high wind, heavy rain and flooding.

Severe floods are becoming many times more common across the UK.

Information and guidance

For a wealth of Christian resources to help us learn about and better care for God’s creation, see Resources on the environment.

To find out more

Contact Brian Cuthbertson, Head of Environment and Sustainability.

External links


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