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Christians express alarm at climate-change threat

12 October 2018

Majority of respondents in Church Times survey agree Church should issue campaign


The Acting Dean of Portsmouth, Canon Peter Leonard (centre), on the roof Cathedral House in St Thomas’s Street, Old Portsmouth, where a 6.6kw solar array of 24 panels was installed, last month. The cathedral worked with the City Council to plan the installation, which will generate 5700kWh of renewable electricity a year

The Acting Dean of Portsmouth, Canon Peter Leonard (centre), on the roof Cathedral House in St Thomas’s Street, Old Portsmouth, where a 6.6kw solar ar...

CLIMATE change is second only to the NHS among the most important issues facing the UK in the next 20 years, respondents to a Church Times survey have stated.

The Church Times Climate Change Survey ran from 17 September to 9 October, and was completed online by 1175 respondents. All the respondents were Christians in the UK, of whom 1150 reported going to church at least monthly.

Twenty-eight per cent chose climate change as the most important. A total of 29 per cent chose the NHS, and 18 per cent the economy.

Respondents aged over 60 (who made up 55 per cent of the total) put climate change first: 28 per cent chose it.

Three-quarters of all respondents (76.5 per cent) described climate change as “a very serious problem”; six per cent described it as not a serious problem.

Only 12 per cent were not worried about climate change, and 60 per cent were very or extremely worried. Sixty-eight per cent strongly agreed that the Church should “campaign to fight climate change”, and 11.5 per cent disagreed.

Asked about what actions they had taken to address climate change, or would consider taking, 63 per cent said that they had “greatly reduced energy use”, and another 23 per cent said that they would consider it.

More than one third (36.2 per cent) had switched to a green-energy supplier, and 46 per cent would consider doing so. For greatly reducing or stopping air travel, the figures were 43 per cent and 23 per cent, and for greatly reducing or giving up owning a car, 28.5 per cent and 30 per cent.

Nearly one quarter (23.5 per cent) had written to their MP, and 41 per cent said that they would consider doing so. Fourteen per cent had taken part in a protest in favour of green policies, and 38 per cent said that they would consider it. Forty per cent had greatly reduced or stopped eating meat, and 26 per cent said that they would consider doing so.

The figures — reflecting a self-selecting group of respondents — reveal a constituency significantly more engaged in climate issues than that revealed by polls of the British public.

A YouGov poll in 2015 found that 26 per cent of British respondents deemed climate change a very serious problem; 43 per cent a somewhat serious problem; and 26 per cent not a serious problem.

The European Perceptions of Climate Change (EPCC) survey, which was conducted in four European countries in 2016, asked respondents in four countries to select the most important issue facing their country in the next 20 years. British respondents were most likely to cite immigration (26 per cent of votes), followed by economic situation (11 per cent) and the NHS (nine per cent); climate change ranked 13th at two per cent, the same as pollution/environment.

The same survey found that UK respondents appeared to be the least worried about climate change: of the four countries (including Norway, Germany, and France), only 20 per cent said that they were very or extremely worried, and 38 per cent said that they were not very worried, or not worried at all. Nearly two-thirds (59 per cent) said that they would be willing to reduce their energy use.

St Philip and St James, LeckhamptonTurtle McTurtle Face: a 10ft sea turtle made from scraps of plastic hangs from the chancel screen of St Philip and St James, Leckhampton, in Cheltenham, to raise awareness of plastic pollution. It was inspired by Sir David Attenborough, who is due to speak at the Cheltenham Literary Festival on Saturday. The Church has been running a competition on Facebook to name the turtle. Suggestions include “Myrtle the turtle”, “Sheldon”, “Peter the Plastic Warrior”, and “Turtle McTurtle Face”

There are signs that opinion may be shifting. In a poll conducted this summer by Opinium, 30 per cent of respondents said that they were “very concerned” about climate change, and 42 per cent were “quite concerned”. Nearly one quarter (24 per cent) said that they were not concerned. A total of 57 per cent agreed that Britain was “already feeling the effects of climate change”, and 60 per cent agreed that climate change had made the recent summer heatwave “stronger or more likely to happen” — which, scientists have shown, is correct.

In a ComRes poll of churchgoing Christians, commissioned by Tearfund in 2015, only four per cent identified the environment as one of the most important issues facing Britain today. The top three were inequality and social justice (27 per cent); spiritual/religious decline (18 per cent); and immigration/asylum seekers/migration (14 per cent). But, asked about the main issues facing the world over the next ten years, respondents put climate change at the top (28 per cent).

Polling on energy suggests high public support for clean forms. The Public Attitudes Tracker (PAT) survey, which covers public attitudes towards the policies of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, found in July that 82 per cent of respondents expressed support for the use of renewable energy, and that just four per cent opposed it. And a ComRes survey for the the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit this year found that 85 per cent of respondents wanted renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to receive subsidies.

As regards lifestyle change, research for the Civil Aviation Authority suggests that just under half of the UK population (49 per cent) have flown in the past 12 months, and ONS figures suggest that 79 per cent of households own a car or van, and 35 per cent own more than one. Surveys suggest that about two per cent of adults and children living in the UK are vegetarian.

Asked to list actions that they would like the Church to take to address climate change, respondents to the Church Times survey responded at length.

Many thought that the Church should disinvest from fossil fuels. Another recurrent theme was the need for the Church to provide “accurate information”, and a theological response, weaving care for creation into sermons and discipleship.

Creation Care should be given “a similar investment of energy” as the prayer movement Thy Kingdom Come, one respondent argued. The respondent also called for ministerial training to include a mandatory module on it, and for all confirmations to include a tree-planting ceremony, as in South Africa.

“Stop making it a second-tier ‘issue of interest’ that’s worthy of engagement by some Christians,” one wrote. “Shout loud and clear that this is a fundamental issue for our faith. . . Surely if the Church is for anything, it’s for a time like this.”

“Climate breakdown is the moral issue of our time,” another wrote. “If we do not fix [it] no amount of effort will build God’s Kingdom on earth.”

Many began their answer by asking the Church to “lead by example”. But some expressed concern about the cost of a response. “However much they might want to, not every church can afford changes,” one respondent wrote. “Green energy often costs more, and cladding or solar panels are not an option,” another said.

While many called on the Church to undertake lobbying, one respondent suggested that “having bishops bang on to politicians urging them to stop what is already an accomplished fact is like having courtiers urging King Canute to hold back the tide — useless. The Church can most usefully fund serious academic research into mitigation of consequences and campaign to get effective steps taken.”

Others felt that the Church could have little impact: “The problem is far too large at the level of international politics for the Church to be of much effect,” one wrote.
One respondent suggested that the causes of climate change were “terrestrial, solar, galactic, and cosmic”, and that future trends had been found by mathematicians to “exaggerate the warming trend”.

Recommendations ranged from the small — “Wear thick jumpers in church” to the large — “Try to persuade China to stop building new coal-fired power stations.”

Read our climate change special here

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