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Fossil-fuel debate: the General Synod and the climate-change sceptics

24 July 2015


From Clare Bryden

Sir, — The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, and Lord Donoughue are naïve on economics and fossil fuels (Comment, 17 July).

In writing that "we question the virtue of supporting forms of renewable energy that are inefficient and require huge subsidies," they conveniently forget the vastly huger subsidies for fossil fuels, and how they have distorted the playing field for renewables.

They also underplay the appalling environmental impact of fossil fuels — think of tar sands in Canada, Deep Water Horizon, coal-fired smog in China, and, of course, climate change — which usually affect the poorest. Developing countries do not have to adopt fossil-fuel technology. There is an opportunity for them to leap-frog the West, if the playing field is righted.

All economic activity is under-pinned by ecology. It is naïve to think that continued infinite economic growth is possible in a finite ecology. Infinities and exponentials are in the realm of the theoretical. We have one finite planet. Ecology has limits. And GDP is a poor measure of well-being. So, instead of being directed by economics, that is the law (nomos) of the household (oikos), let us be directed by ecology, the understanding or wisdom (logos) of the household.

Laudato Si’ is not perfect, but its main weakness is on the subject of population.


1 Miller Close
Exeter EX2 5NE


From the Revd David Pierce

Sir, — I was looking forward to reading the critique of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. At the end of the article, I did not feel that it was in fact "a critical Christian response": rather, a vehicle for the climate-change-sceptical views of the Global Warming Policy Foundation written by two Christians, both of whom are also trustees of the GWPF (as the article stated).

It was interesting that this piece appeared shortly after Exxon Mobil admitted funding such think tanks to the tune of $30 million, before the climate conference in Paris later this year, and in the same issue as a new piece about the C of E’s continued investment in fossil-fuel companies.

While we do not know where the GWPF gets its funding, maybe some of the economic issues alluded to in the article could be addressed if money channelled into think tanks was instead invested into research into other forms of energy.


7 Holmsdale Close
Westcliff-on-Sea SS0 0QW


From Canon John Crowe

Sir, — I was surprised to read last week’s rather arrogant and patronising article about climate change written by the Bishop of Chester and Lord Donoughue. The Pope is a trained scientist among the vast majority of scientists with similar views to his about climate change. I thought that it was not he who was naïve, but they themselves.

I looked through the reports from the General Synod also in last week’s Church Times about climate change, to see if Dr Forster had done the Synod the courtesy of contributing to the debates. I was disappointed to see that he had not done so.


9 Pierrepont Road
Leominster HR6 8RB


From the Revd John Davies

Sir, — How generous of General Synod members to afford the fossil-fuel corporations more time to consider their demands that they tackle climate change. This magnanimous position might have been fathomable if the corporations had so far demonstrated any serious intention to cease oil exploration and reduce production.

The energy corporations are, however, committed to having at least as much oil and gas in their proven reserves as they have in current production, giving them a "reserve-replacement ratio" of at least 100 per cent.

As Naomi Klein puts it, "For a fossil-fuel major, keeping up its reserve-replacement ratio is an economic imperative; without it, the company has no future. It has to keep moving just to stand still" (This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the climate, Simon & Schuster, 2014).

This commitment to their shareholders means that all the energy giants have made long-term plans to continue to top up reserves — investing in higher-risk, "dirtier" fuels, as in fracking.

In 2011, the London think tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative conducted a study that added together the reserves claimed by all the fossil-fuel companies, private and state-owned. It found that the oil, gas, and coal to which these players had already laid claim — deposits that they have on their books and which were already making money for shareholders — represented 2795 gigatonnes of carbon (a gigatonne is 1 billion tonnes).

As Klein explains, "That’s a very big problem because we know roughly how much carbon can be burned between now and 2050 and still leave us a solid chance (roughly 80 percent) of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. According to one highly credible study, that amount of carbon is 565 gigatons between 2011 and 2049. 2,795 is five times 565."

Quoting Bill McKibben, she concludes, "It’s not even close. What those numbers mean is quite simple. This industry has announced, in filings to the [government] and in promises to shareholders, that they’re determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet’s atmosphere can begin to absorb."

In the light of these observations, I suggest that the Synod’s measures on climate change demonstrate a naïvety that, in the face of the urgency of these matters, is ill-considered, and nowhere near clear enough in the message it presents to the fossil-fuel companies and the world at large.

The Rectory
Englands Lane
Queen Camel, Yeovil
Somerset BA22 7NN


From Mr John Polhill

Sir, — While sifting through your General Synod supplement (17 July), I was thrilled to read that the Ven. Christine Hardman had cycled to York from somewhere south of London. Well done to her: that’s the kind of individual action that gets results. Her contribution went on to note the impact on the residents of Drax (power station village) of government changes to renewables support.

This reminded me of a recent visit to meet my MP. I had gone to ask his advice about how best to use the enthusiasm that would be generated by the national tour of the Baked Alaska show (funded by the good people of Lichfield diocese through the Bishop’s Lent appeal, and delivered by Riding Lights Theatre Company). The MP explained that the Government was on track with its commitment to various agreements about carbon-dioxide reduction. When asked why it didn’t, then, do more, he enquired whether we thought money should be taken from the NHS to do this.

This does seem to encapsulate the problem that we face: how will governments gain the confidence to avoid a future crisis by taking actions that are possibly unpopular today? It is clear that we all need to get on our bikes if we are to avoid future generations’ concluding that our governments fiddled while Alaska baked.


Lichfield Diocesan Environmental Officer
Little Hayes, Beaudesert Park
Cannock Wood, Rugeley
Staffs WS15 4JJ


From the Revd Michael Roberts

Sir, — As one who has worked as an exploration geologist, I do not share the concern of my bishop (the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, of Blackburn) over the regulatory system for drilling for shale gas, as reported in your coverage of the debate on green investment policy.

So far, 2000 wells have been drilled on mainland Britain for oil and gas, and no mishap has occurred, beyond a few minor leaks. The regulatory system has been mostly self-regulation, and that has served the whole population well in terms of safety and health.

Further, over the past five years or so, the regulatory system has been tightened up. We now have one of the most stringent sets of regulations in the world. Further, much that used to be self-regulated will now be carried out by an independent monitor. Also, in the present climate, fracking companies cannot afford to get anything wrong, as even the most minor issue will be broadcast.

In Lancashire, many concerns have been raised about regulations not being fit for purpose, but these have come from self-styled experts of very limited expertise in recent forms of fracking. I cannot take these seriously, as they mostly come from a person who puts forward the notion that the area around Blackpool will subside below sea level if fracking takes place, and is very confused about seismic activity associated with fracking.

Sadly, these wrong and untenable ideas form the mainstay of the paper The Challenges of Fracking, to be found on the Churches Together in Lancashire website. It has had the effect of misinforming and misleading the churchpeople of Lancashire. The people of Lancashire deserve better than that.

To return to the Bishop’s comments at Synod: yes, if enough gas is found, it will be extracted, to the advantage of all of us, and particularly those living in Lancashire. It will be far better for climate-change targets than the fracked gas we are now importing from the United States. As gas will be used until at least mid-century, it is better for the climate and the economy if we use our own. Further, the regulatory regime is already very robust, and we can be sure that it will be a safe industry.


35 Worcester Avenue
Lancashire PR3 1FJ

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