THIS WEEK, 16 bishops from the Anglican Communion Environmental
Network are meeting in Cape Town to exchange ideas and concerns
about the impact of climate change. We have done some of the
preparatory work by Skype, and we all recognise the impact of air
travel, but we also know that there is no substitute to our meeting
in person, face to face.
The scientific collective that is the UN's Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change's assessment is 95 per cent certain that
human activity is the main cause of current climate change. The
burning of fossil fuels is the biggest source of the problem: as
carbon dioxide increases, so does temperature. Although the
increase has flattened, this century has begun with 14 of the 15
hottest years on record. The warming of the oceans has caused
average humidity to increase by four per cent in fifty years, with
greater floods and 50 in consequence.
AT DAVOS a few weeks ago, Al Gore was asked not only, "Do we have
to change our current course?" but also, "If we do, can we?" He was
hopeful about our capacity to change at the speed that is needed,
pointing out that we are making better progress towards renewable
energy than was thought possible: ten times better with wind power
than was predicted 14 years ago; 17 times better with solar energy.
Germany is the European leader, producing 35 per cent renewable
He could also have pointed out that, in the more developed
world, we are becoming much more efficient in our use of fossil
fuels. My Church Commissioners' Skoda Greenline does an impressive
60 mpg. The new hybrid BMW claims 124 mpg. Yet, at the same time,
another 1200 coal-fired power stations are planned, about
three-quarters of them in China and India, chasing the dream of
economic growth through consumption.
It doesn't make sense. The science, economics, and politics all
point in the same direction, but we lack global agreement about the
way forward. Clearly that is a political problem, but its roots are
deeper. It is a spiritual problem.
THE Jesuit priest Gerry Hughes, in a book published just before
he died last November (Cry of Wonder, Books, 20 February)
identified the nature of the crisis: "We have seen wonderful
technical development, but we have become unhinged. We have lost
the link between the words we use and what we actually do . . . It
faces us with annihilation." St Paul said much the same in the
Epistle to the Romans: "For the good that I would, I do not: but
the evil which I would not, that I do."
We all know it, personally and corporately. Fr Hughes encourages
us to explore the mystery of our own human experience. Attending to
our inner conflict can, he suggests, reveal to us a vision of the
transformation into which we are all being invited, in all that we
are experiencing, in every moment of our existence. This is like
Carl Jung, who said that the person who looks outside dreams, while
the person who looks inside awakens.
BETWEEN Epiphany and Easter I am asking every deanery in the
diocese of Salisbury what has renewed their hope. Some of it is
predictable - attendance at Christmas services, significant family
and community events, and so on - but at every meeting hope has
been renewed by something really difficult having been handled
honestly and well: the response to the Charlie Hebdo
shootings; the Archbishops raising the inequality of wealth and the
needs of the poorest in this country; the handling of a death, and
a good funeral.
This shouldn't be surprising when the Christian gospel began at
an empty tomb. This is the place where we find hope in response to
the enormous environmental challenge that faces us. Christian
spirituality is our deepest resource.
WHAT do we really believe about ourselves and our place in the
world, and, so far as we have meaningful choices, how do we want to
live? Change is difficult. If that is true individually, how much
harder is it for our country, or for Europe; or for us to change
globally. The footer at the bottom of a friend's emails currently
reads: "If you go on doing what you've always done, you will go on
getting what you have always got." It couldn't be more true about
our care of the earth.
Our hope will be renewed by the practice of what we believe.
There is a growing movement to "pray and fast for the climate" on
the first day of every month. All churches have committed
themselves to shrinking their carbon footprint. Last week, Wimborne
Minster became the latest to become an "eco-congregation", a
parallel movement to that for "eco-schools".
Effort is going into energy efficiency, and the development of
renewable energy - heat pumps; solar panels; setting up a community
energy company; using glebe land to generate biomass. Added
together, the thousands of Living Churchyards across the country
which are being managed for ecological diversity are the size of a
The Anglican Franciscans at Hilfield in Dorset, who, a few years
ago, were facing their demise, went back to their roots, and
established a Franciscan place for peace and the environment. An
unexpected consequence has been the renewal of hope, and the
attraction of young people, some of whom are now testing their
vocation to be Franciscans and priests.
The UK produces 1.5 per cent of the world's carbon emissions.
For the sake of the poor, and for the care of God's creation, we
must act internationally to build the political climate for tough
decisions to be taken at the UN's Climate Change conference in
Paris in December. To strive to safeguard the integrity of
creation, and to sustain and renew the life of the earth, is the
fifth Anglican mark of mission. It cannot, for Christians, be an
optional extra. The care of the earth is core business.
The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam is Bishop of Salisbury and Lead
Bishop for the Environment.