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Fossil-fuel investments: responses to Dr Atkinson and Professor Northcott

08 August 2014


From the Revd Michael Roberts

Sir, - The Rt Revd Dr David Atkinson (Comment, 1 August) has clearly put forward the case for disinvestment. Many, however, are not as nuanced as Dr Atkinson, with his provisos suggesting that investment in fossil fuels should continue if given a green emphasis, and coal and tar sands are eschewed. I totally agree with that, but he makes no mention of the fossil fuel that will be part of our energy mix for decades and will reduce emissions: shale gas or fracked gas, and similar sources of methane.

It is much cleaner than coal or diesel, and, if buses and lorries were powered by gas rather than diesels, mortality rates would drop in our cities - and emissions would fall as they have in the United States. It is odd to note that in 2008 natural gas was hailed by greens as the best fuel to replace coal, and now, when it is plentiful, it is shunned by many.

In recent years, Christian greens have been totally hostile to fracking, and usually do little more than repeat the errors of Gasland or green NGOs such as Greenpeace. I read Michael Northcott's A Political Theology of Climate Change, reviewed by Dr Atkinson (Books, same issue), with amazement, not only for its conclusion appealing to the Venite to argue that fossil fuels should stay in the ground, but for its scientific and technical inaccuracies.

I was stunned to read that "Oil is the principal source of nitrogen for agricultural fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticide." Nitrogen makes up no more than two per cent of oil, and the principle source of nitrogen is the air.

I was even more amazed at his brief treatment of fracking. He states: "Studies indicate that as much methane is emitted into the water table, and into the atmosphere, as is captured by the wellheads." He cites two papers, which only claim that up to ten per cent is lost. That is not 50 per cent!

Further, he should have noted that these estimates (based on research funded by anti-fracking charities) are considerably higher than other studies, which put it at less than five per cent. He then makes unjustified assertions that fracking causes the toxification of groundwater (it may do when drilling is carried out in a slipshod way), and that greenhouse emissions are "equivalent to or above those of coal extraction". This comes from the same sources, and is simply inaccurate. This kind of cherry-picking of the literature should not take place. Sadly, since fracking appeared on the stage, I have not seen one accurate Christian assessment, except for one in The Church of Ireland Gazette, by a fellow geologist.

Perhaps the best thing the Churches can do is to invest in shale gas and hold the companies to safe and environmentally sensitive extraction. That would fulfil Dr Atkinson's provisos. This is our best hope for the future, rather than disinvestment and demonisation of the cleanest fossil fuel, with the attendant risks of increasing fuel poverty and a declining economy.

35 Worcester Avenue
Garstang PR3 1FJ


From Mr Paul Wilson

Sir, - The Assistant Bishop of Southwark may desire to make the cost of power more expensive for individuals and business by closing coal- and gas-fired power stations, but his (EIAG) rationale is highly questionable, if not plain wrong.

The last time this country was reliant on "clean" fuel, there were fewer than ten million people to feed, clothe, and heat, and only modest industry, and the working poor died of consumption in their cold, damp hovels in alarming numbers every winter.

Industry will become increasingly uncompetitive, and a large proportion of the more than 60 million people needing work and living wages will be faced with decreasing work opportunities and cold, damp winters. The world is a village now, and a very competitive one. Some industries already avoid this country because of the cost of fuel.

And why would any companybe concerned if the Church "disinvested"? The Commissioners invest for the benefit of clergy, not the benefit of the company. Any shares "divested" will only be sold to another investor or institution, of which there will be no shortage.

60 The Mount, Curdworth
Sutton Coldfield B76 9HR

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