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Letters to the Editor

04 October 2019

Greta Thunberg, Brexit and the College of Bishops, and Slavery in England


Greta Thunberg and government climate policy

From the Revd Dr Darrell D. Hannah

Sir, — Mr Jon Payne asks (Letters, 27 September): “I wonder whether I was the only person to be appalled and horrified by Greta Thunberg’s . . . recent speech to the United Nations.” While he is probably not the only such person, thankfully he is among a diminishing number who fail to appreciate the gravity of the climate crisis.

He declares her “level of stress and distress” to be unnatural and unhealthy. He takes comfort in the progress that has been made in recent years by the current British Government, boasting that the UK has become “practically the [world leader] in mitigating the effects of climate change”, and lists among our achievements “days without coal-fired power; renewable electricity generation at a record high . . . ; greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 23 per cent since 2010”, and “a commitment to ‘net zero’ emissions within our lifetimes”.

If we had a lifetime to deal with climate change, this would be an impressive list of accomplishments. Unfortunately, as Miss Thunberg pointed out in her speech, even if the world — and not just the UK — were to halve its emissions in ten years, that would only give us a 50-per-cent chance of staying below a 1.5°C rise and avoiding the resulting climate catastrophe. Nor does that goal of halving our emissions by 2030 take into account tipping-points or most feedback loops, both of which are notoriously unpredictable and either of which would make a climate catastrophe virtually unavoidable. While Miss Thunberg’s urgency and “distress” is well founded on good scientific evidence, Mr Payne’s sunny confidence appears to be based more on political ideology.

Mr Payne decries the school strikes that have been inspired by Miss Thunberg. He argues that Miss Thunberg and her generation are “tomorrow’s engineers and scientists” who will make “carbon capture work on an industrial scale”. He thereby acknowledges that the technology needed to remove billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere does not yet exist, even though the UK Government’s much-vaunted goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 depends on the availability and commercial viability of such technology long before 2050.

Mr Payne affirms that Miss Thunberg “and her young supporters should be applauded for caring about climate change”. None the less, he detects a “greater threat” in the “hijacking of the debate by a regressive, ultra-socialist agenda that, while it may hook into fears about climate change and stoke them, has little to do with the central issue”.

“Ultra-socialist agenda” is, of course, pejorative language and not particularly communicative. “The central issue”, as I see it, is that the assumption of unlimited economic growth has proved to be a “fairy tale” — to quote Miss Thunberg once again. Christians of all people must recover the apostolic values of simplicity and contentment. We, of all people, must witness against the consumerism and materialism so prevalent in our day. Mr Payne may dismiss that as socialist. To my mind, it is simply Christian.

Vice-chair of Operation Noah
All Saints’ Rectory
London Road
Ascot SL5 8DQ


From the Revd Mark Bick

Sir, — Mr Jon Payne tries to claim that children are being brainwashed over climate change. He makes a valid point about the stress that our young people are experiencing over this issue, but, sadly, I suspect that it is he who has been a victim of brainwashing (unless he is deliberately spreading propaganda on behalf of the Conservative Party). He quotes some specific bits of progress that have been made, but fails to refer to any evidence to back his implication that this is sufficient.

Greta Thunberg and others are looking at the evidence and are right to be deeply concerned. There is a wealth of evidence that there is a climate emergency. I would point Mr Payne to the Government Advisory Community on Climate Change, made up primarily of scientists and chaired by the Conservative peer Lord Deben. Their 2019 progress report to Parliament states: “The Government has delivered just one policy action out of twenty-five recommended by the Committee in 2018.”

One of the inexplicable things that the Government did was drop the requirements for all new houses to be zero-carbon by 2016. This gave a disastrous message to industry that, if targets are ignored, then the Government will just drop them.

In his speech in the House of Lords in May, Lord Deben strongly criticised the government, saying “we have to stop building crap houses.” He also explained clearly the need for government action: “Regulation is not about the nanny state; it is about ensuring that the needs of the next generation are taken fully into account now, when we can make the necessary changes.”

He went on to say: “Climate change will happen: it does happen. It is not a threat in the sense of being possible; it is happening now and unless we intervene, it will overwhelm us.”

I would suggest that it is people such as Mr Payne who are causing our young people to feel so stressed, not the likes of Lord Deben and the scientists working on climate-change issues.

The Vicarage
40 Boxbush Road
Coleford GL16 8DN


Brexit and the College of Bishops’ contribution 

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The unanimous statement issued by the 118 members of the College of Bishops on 27 September is to be commended for condemning as “unacceptable” the language used by MPs and by others outside Parliament after the Supreme Court ruling on 24 September that the prorogation of Parliament on 10 September was “unlawful, null and of no effect”. The heated exchanges in the House of Commons on the day after the ruling showed Parliament at its worst.

The Bishops are right to call for respect for others’ views, and the need to listen to them. They are right, too, to “call on politicians to adhere rigorously to the rule of law and on all to respect and uphold the impartiality of the courts and our judiciary”, echoing the words used by the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, in the House of Lords (News, 27 September).

I suggest, however, that the Bishops were wrong to affirm publicly their respect for the June 2016 referendum, and to make public their belief that “the result should be honoured.” Whatever may have been said about this by politicians during the referendum campaign, the Leave campaign has been shown to be based on falsehoods, and, with much better information about the impact of Brexit, it is at least doubtful that the electorate would vote the same way today, if given the opportunity to do so in a further referendum.

As John Maynard Keynes reputedly said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The Bishops say that we should listen, “especially [to] the poor [and] the marginalised”, but, as Fr Kevin Crinks pointed out (Letters, same issue), “it will be the poor who will be most affected by the economic downturn and job losses” if the Brexit Party and Eurosceptic Conservatives have their way.

There is widespread acceptance that an early General Election is now inevitable, given the current Parliamentary arithmetic. Assuming, however, that Brexit does not occur on 31 October, and that the Prime Minister abides by the law and requests (and the other 27 EU member states agree to) an extension to 31 January 2020, the Brexit issue will not be resolved by such an election.

Such a binary issue requires a separate “people’s vote” prior to an election, when there can be a robust debate and individual bishops can be free to express their views for or against Brexit, as they consider appropriate.

General Synod member
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU


From the Revd Mike Starkey

Sir, — It’s good that the Bishops of the Church of England are speaking out on the tone of the Brexit debate. But I find it disturbing that they go further and insist that “we affirm our respect for the June 2016 referendum, and our belief that the result should be honoured.”

This is disturbing because, first, the original vote was mired in appalling lies and scaremongering; and, second, as the implications of Brexit (of whatever sort) become clearer, lots of people have changed their mind.

If I buy a lawnmower and then discover it doesn’t do what I was told it would do, I can take it back to the shop.

Whether we still want Brexit is one of the key issues under debate, and the Bishops have effectively taken sides on that, supporting the government party line. In effect, they are saying that the Church believes that we should leave the EU, whatever the evidence of damage to our society and even if we no longer want it.

This is deeply wrong, strategically and morally.

Princess Court
Circular Road
Didsbury M20 3LP


From the Revd Nicholas Calver

Sir, — When the statement from the College of Bishops says that the referendum result should be honoured, does that mean that the Liberal Democrats have now, along with the British National Party, become a political party that clergy are not permitted to be a member of?

The Rectory
5 The Acorns
Redehall Road
Smallfield RH6 9QJ


From Professor Richard Bauckham

Sir. — It is unfortunate that the Revd Dru Brooke-Taylor (Letters, 27 September) has not found a Brexit supporter who can explain why they want Brexit. All Leave voters of my acquaintance are quite clear about this. Some of the reasons were set out clearly and concisely by Mr William Gale (Letters, 6 September).

The EU is a project devoted to the political integration of Europe by centralising power in the supra-national institutions in Brussels at the expense of the democratic institutions of the member states. It is government by technocrats who are remote, inaccessible, and largely unaccountable. How many people can name any members of the EU Commission apart from Jean-Claude Juncker? When did any of them last visit this country? Government that is remote from its people is bad government. People instinctively feel it to be illegitimate and despotic.

I would not call myself a nationalist, but it seems to me that the nation state is the context in which democracy can flourish. Democratic states can collaborate for all kinds of economic and cultural goals without pursuing the kind of political integration which has always been the central goal of the EU ideology. Most people in the UK have never really endorsed that goal. I expect that, within a decade or so, most people will be glad we left the EU, just as almost everybody is glad that we never joined the euro.

The slogan of the Leave campaign was “Take back control — of our laws, our money, our borders.” It expressed a widespread desire for government that is accountable and accessible. There is nothing xenophobic, isolationist, or jingoistic about that.

11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB2 9LW


Slavery in England 

From Dr Christopher Currie

Sir, — Andrew Brown (Features, 27 September) tells us that, “at the time of the Norman conquest [1066], in the middle of Tom Holland’s first great reformatio, one third of the population of Anglo-Saxon England were slaves.” Though there is no firm evidence for that figure, the slave trade was indeed extensive, and about ten per cent of English people in 1086 were still slaves.

But Archbishop Lanfranc, the first apostle of the Gregorian reformatio in England, successfully lobbied the Conqueror for the trade’s abolition, and by the early 1100s slavery was a thing of the past in England. Not a change that English Christians need to be ashamed of.

(The continuation of slave-trading in the Mediterranean, and its tragic extension into the early modern Atlantic world, is a different story, bound up with the relations between Christendom and Islam.)

14 Keston Road
London N17 6PN

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