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Why can’t Christians be greener?

15 August 2007

Elaine Storkey is dismayed by the failure to act and lobby about the environment

Nearly 30,000 people were at the Big Green Gathering in Somerset. Coming by car was discouraged, and the whole site was powered through sun and wind, apart from the odd campfire. But there was a quiet resolve about the five-day event.

  People were going to meet people, and have fun. A man in monk’s habit wandered past the tent selling relics and indulgences: “Bits of the true cross, fingernail clippings from St Paul, earwax from St Etheldreda.” He did not seem to be expecting sales. “Life — not available on television” stretched across another punter’s chest.

More to the point were the gatherings in the campaigns field. Events from the previous week provided the urgency. Floods in India, Bangladesh, and England, heat waves, and crop failure in Southern Europe all demonstrated again the costs of global warming.

A document from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) provided a focus for action. The study, Zero-carbon Britain (www.zerocarbonbritain.com), sets out an integrated model for meeting global warming, and, like George Monbiot’s Heat (Penguin, 2007), addresses the issues with thought, enthusiasm, and the substance of good answers.

It is becoming clearer what should be done. The study’s suggested measures include: a move to greener eating patterns, with less focus on meat production; housing insulation on a large scale; energy efficiencies across industry; the use of coaches and electric vehicles; and drastic changes in fuel taxation. The details underline a resolve to care for the planet, and an awareness that we are all in this together.

We focused on transport, and met many groups involved in it. Together, we saw with some coherence the moves that must be made. Yet, even as little victories are won, there is confrontation. CAT thinks contraction, while Mr Brown thinks growth. Coalitions oppose road building, but motorways expand. Government will not do anything decisive about air travel. Car use continues largely untouched and subsidised, while coach systems remain under-investigated.

Global-warming issues seem to stay at a low level of practical priority. One of the groups, Plane Stupid, offered cogent arguments against air-travel expansion. But opponents are already demonising them, treating them like terrorists because of their coalition’s demonstration at Heathrow. When commercial interests are threatened, proper debate goes out of the window.

In this developing scene of climate-change activity, Christian resolve seems patchy. The scientist, Sir John Houghton, is solidly behind the CAT document, setting out the principles of action. His work has been prophetic. Organisations such as Arocha work at sustainable and meek living, and initiatives such as Operation Noah and Shrinking the Footprint highlight the urgency of cutting our carbon emissions.

Even with these strong promptings, however, we seem slow to act together effectively, given the size of our numerical presence. We might love our neighbour and care for God’s planet, but too many of our churches and organisations have not begun to translate this into action. We could reduce energy consumption ourselves by sharing and paring; operate communal targets for eliminating waste or cutting flying distances; and promote schemes for radical home-refurbishment programmes.

We could even press politically for higher fuel-tax in order to cut vehicle use, and greener transport through cleaner coaches. But we don’t. Until we resolve, with policies and conviction, to live out this Christian calling at least as urgently as these secular stewards, we will be remain part of the problem, instead of its solution.

Dr Elaine Storkey is President of Tearfund.

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