Blessed are the low in carbon

by
29 September 2010

Nearly 100 churches have pledged to cut their carbon emissions by ten per cent a year. Beth Stratford finds out how some of them are faring in the run up to an international day of climate action

ON SUNDAY 10 October, sumo wrestlers in Japan will cycle to their training sessions. In Russsia and Croatia, 10,000 schools will plant trees. And the President of the Maldives will install solar panels on his roof. About 52,000 events in 181 countries are planned as part of 10:10:10, an international day of action organised by 10:10 — a movement that encourages organisations to cut their carbon by ten per cent a year — and the campaign group 350.org.

At Dalbeattie Parish Church, in south-west Scotland, they are planning a low-carbon meal for the occasion. “We’re teaming up with Dalbeattie Carbon Centre, which offers local people support and guidance in reducing their carbon footprint”, says the minister, the Revd Norman Hutcheson, “and we’re going to put on a special lunch, with beer from the local brewery, and hopefully even some zero-food-miles produce from the new allotments which have just opened.

“10:10:10 has given us a mini-focus, and the chance to create that feeling of being part of something bigger, which is important for a small communities like ours.”

The parish-church lunch throws a spotlight on its long-standing commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. It started with Mr Hutcheson doing his homework —which meant going on a two-day carbon-management training pro­gramme at the Crichton Carbon Centre at Glas­gow University.

“There were all sorts of people there, from the police service and education sector as well as the voluntary sector,” he says. “We covered everything from identifying where our emissions are coming from, to how to get people onside, to overcoming resistance to change.”

THE course inspired Mr Hutcheson to commis­sion a 25-page report about the church buildings, and he and his congregation are now working through the recommendations.

“At the moment, 60 per cent of our emissions come from our oil-powered central heating, and the building temperature boomerangs from freezing to 20°C, and then straight back down to zero as soon as we’re out of the building. So we’re looking at how we can take the chill off, so that we don’t have to start from scratch every time we have a service.

“It’s things like insulation, double-glazing, reflective panels behind heaters, [and] proper heat-diffusion across the floor area to make the most of our 130-year-old heating system. All of this is happening right now. And I’m also looking at installing an air-source heat pump.”

Reducing energy consumption can be a tricky business for church groups, who often meet in draughty old tall-ceilinged buildings, and whose numbers include elderly people who feel the cold.

But the Cotteridge Quakers in Birmingham have refused to use this as an excuse. They look set to cut their carbon by a huge 87 per cent, compared with 2004, when they began their carbon-cutting adventures by switching to low-energy light bulbs.

“Everyone wants our building to be warm, so it made sense even without the global-warming argument,” says Harriet Martin, a member of the Cotteridge Premises Committee with a particular concern for energy saving. “But it is even more exciting and inspiring when our success is so clearly measured.”

The latest ten per cent of this success has been achieved by adding 160mm insulation above their old felted roof, and dry-lining their solid walls. “The effect has been palpable,” she says. “We’ve managed to make the walls nearly five times better at holding in the heat, and the roof nearly ten times better.”

And this summer, the roof of Cotteridge Quaker Meeting House became home to a brand new solar PV array, which they predict will generate 9000kWh over one year — about 60 per cent of their current total consumption.

MEANWHILE, Hall Green Quaker Group in Birmingham is planning a group expedition to Northfield Ecocentre. “Our group is particularly interested in exploring the ethics of consumption, which can be much more complicated than energy-saving, because you have to balance things like fair-trade against buying locally,” says Gill Coffin, a Hall Green member.

MEANWHILE, Hall Green Quaker Group in Birmingham is planning a group expedition to Northfield Ecocentre. “Our group is particularly interested in exploring the ethics of consumption, which can be much more complicated than energy-saving, because you have to balance things like fair-trade against buying locally,” says Gill Coffin, a Hall Green member.

“We met to discuss our commitment to 10:10, both as an organisation and as individuals, and got into a really interesting discussion about which foods to buy, whether cotton is better than man-made fibres or wool, how to avoid excessive packaging, and how to make resources go further. One great solution we discussed is to use Freecycle or charity shops as much as possible.”

The pastor of Gadebridge Baptist Church, Hemel Hempstead, the Revd Paul Spears, has been switched on to environmental issues since watching a BBC Horizon programme on global warming at the age of 15. “There are enormous pressures in society to be defined according to what you own,” he says. “Directly preaching about giving up this or that for the sake of climate change can provoke some Jeremy Clarkson-style rebuttals.”

His hastily constructed 1950s church building is soon to be replaced with a well-insulated eco-church with underfloor heating, large south-facing windows to maximise solar gain, and as many other features as the budget will allow.

But, Mr Spears says, “for many people in my congregation, climate change comes way down on a long list of worries about their kids’ health or schooling. So I try and approach it as part of a bigger picture . . . rather than ‘here are ten things not to do.’”

ONE group that takes simple living to a different level is the Franciscan brothers of Hilfield Friary, in Dorset. Living in a collection of old farm-buildings on the edge of the Dorset Downs, with magnificent views across the Blackmore Vale, the Brothers have found that living off the land and cooking communally has given them a head start in cutting carbon.

ONE group that takes simple living to a different level is the Franciscan brothers of Hilfield Friary, in Dorset. Living in a collection of old farm-buildings on the edge of the Dorset Downs, with magnificent views across the Blackmore Vale, the Brothers have found that living off the land and cooking communally has given them a head start in cutting carbon.

“You can get some great economies of scale when you’re cooking for 30 or 40 people at a time, and can share things like cars,” Brother Hugh says. “We’re far from perfect, but we are steadily insulating our buildings, walking or cycling where possible, and encouraging visitors to come by train. We also try to enthuse them by showing them practical things they can try when they go home, like salad-growing and compost­ing.”

Signing up for 10:10 “has motivated us to start actually collecting and analysing figures on our energy use for the first time”.

Brother Hugh explains that the Franciscan community’s understanding of social justice has expanded in recent years to take into account the effects of carbon emissions. “Our new community prayer-book, for example, talks how we have sinned against God’s creation as well as against the poor.”

He admits that some “sins” were right under their noses. “Being Franciscans, for many years we’ve been very careful with pennies. Our refectory has big windows, which for years didn’t have curtains because they were regarded as quite a luxury. Only recently did somebody put two and two together, and realise that having curtains would actually translate to lower heating bills.”

CHAYLEY Collis, from Huddersfield Quaker Group, has managed to get the children enthused about acting on climate change as “eco-police”, helping to measure energy consumption. “Last Sunday, I got the kids to measure the top floor so we would know how much insulation we need, and tried to explain 10:10 using Lego Duplo. We used ten bits of Lego to represent what we use now — and took one away to show what we’re aiming for.”

At Collinwood Road United Reformed Church, Oxford, the grandparents are leading the way. “We had several over-70-year-olds who came on our coach from Oxford to London for the Stop Climate Chaos march, and many of them chipped in generously to our eco-renovation fund-raising appeal”, says the Revd Dick Wolff, who used match-funding from the Wessex Synod to install a new, efficient condensing boiler at the manse, and double glazing at his church.

“Perhaps it’s because a lot of members are grandparents, worried about what kind of a planet they are leaving for their grandchildren. 10:10 was the perfect excuse to actually set a target and get things in motion. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.”

What is 10:10?

What is 10:10?

10:10 was founded by Franny Armstrong, director of the 2009 climate-change film The Age of Stupid. Two factors prompted her to set up the campaign: many audience members at screenings had asked her: “What can I do?”, and a report, Climate Safety, had identified a ten-per-cent cut in the developed world’s emissions by the end of 2010 as a useful target. The result was a movement dedicated to persuading individuals and organisations to cut their emissions by ten per cent a year, starting in 2010.

The campaign now operates in 40 countries, and estimates that it has so far been responsible for saving 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

10:10 signatories include: Pizza Express, Tottenham Hotspur FC, the Women’s Institute, Microsoft, Royal Mail, and 40 per cent of the local councils in the UK. In May, the Coalition Government also pledged to cut ten per cent of central-government emissions in its first 12 months.

Ten top tips for 10:10:10

1 Twenty-minute audit

Take 20 minutes during the Sunday service so that the congregation can explore the church, to find areas where the building can be made more efficient.

• Have all the light bulbs been changed to energy-saving models?

• Are there notices for the tea urn and gas heaters so that everyone knows how to use them efficiently?

• Use a lit incense-stick to search out the draughts, and then plug the gaps.

2 Lend your learning

Set up a “green library” where people can lend each other their environmental books and literature. Or maybe invest in a church electricity monitor that people can borrow to do an audit at home.

3 Call it fête

Organise a low-carbon fête, with a bring-and-share picnic of local or home-grown produce.

4 Saddle up

Think about installing a bike rack, give away cycling route maps, and get a bike maintenance expert to come in and offer free servicing.

5 Makeover

Freshen up your wardrobe free of charge — organise a congregational clothes-swap.

6 Off road

Wean people off using their cars to come to church by turning a car-parking space into a small community garden.

7 Carrot mob

Initiate a local “Carrot mob”. This is a form of consumer activism where cafés or shops compete to see how green they can go. A network of consumers arrange to bring their custom at the winner’s premises en masse. It is the opposite of a boycott — a carrot, not a stick. To see how it works, visit www.carrotmob.org 

Initiate a local “Carrot mob”. This is a form of consumer activism where cafés or shops compete to see how green they can go. A network of consumers arrange to bring their custom at the winner’s premises en masse. It is the opposite of a boycott — a carrot, not a stick. To see how it works, visit www.carrotmob.org 

8 Pledge-and-tips board

Find a prominent place where people can tell each other about how they are cutting their ten per cent, and where they have found good advice or funding.

9 Get geeky

Involve more of the congregation in reading the meters. Then maybe they will check them them at home, too. And/or place thermometers in different places around the church, to find the hot and cold spots.

10 Veg out

Reducing meat intake is an effective way to reduce emissions. Why not make a meat-free Sunday roast on 10 October? Visit www.meatfreemondays.co.uk for recipe ideas.

Reducing meat intake is an effective way to reduce emissions. Why not make a meat-free Sunday roast on 10 October? Visit www.meatfreemondays.co.uk for recipe ideas.

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