FOUR clerics — three Anglican and one Roman Catholic — were among climate campaigners who brought traffic to a standstill last week with a series of sit-ins on M25 sliproads. But from this week such protests could incur imprisonment for contempt of court.
The protesters were supporting the Insulate Britain pressure group, which wants a government commitment to improving 29 million badly insulated homes, especially of those of the poorest households.
The protesters included Fr Martin Newell, a Passionist priest, as well as the Revd Sue Parfitt and the Revd Tim Hewes, who, earlier this year, glued themselves to courtroom furniture during hearings arising from an Extinction Rebellion protest (News, 4 June).
Ms Parfitt, who is 79 and retired in 2001 after serving in Bristol and Southwark dioceses, and has permission to officiate in Bristol diocese, said: “I’m convinced by the science that we have to cut emissions drastically, immediately. Insulating the housing stock is an excellent way to do it. I feel called by God to do everything I can in the time I have left to me, to protect people.”
Mr Hewes is 70, a retired dentist, and has permission to officiate in Oxford diocese. He said that he was taking direct action because “we are desperate for the Government to pull out all the stops for Britain and get cracking on maximum reduction of carbon emissions. Insulating Britain’s homes will do that, and it will bring millions out of fuel poverty who will otherwise die from cold this year and in the years to come.
“Insulating homes will benefit every community, and can start to change Britain into a country that means what it says when it promises to lower carbon emissions; a country that cares about people. It’s time for swift practical steps, time for Boris to take off his flip flops, get his running shoes on and insulate Britain.”
They were joined by the Revd Mark Coleman, a former Area and Borough Dean of Rochdale, in Manchester diocese, who said: “I didn’t expect to be doing this in my retirement. I am in my sixties, and have Parkinson’s. But I could not bear the thought of everything going to hell and people in Britain suffering. We need to put an end to fuel poverty and give people some real jobs at the same time.
“The best value way to reduce the carbon dioxide is by insulating homes. Pound for pound, it does the job. At the same time, it creates real jobs and stops fuel poverty.”
On Wednesday, it was announced that National Highways had won an interim injunction to deter demonstrations on the M25. Activists will be in contempt of court if they breach the terms of the injunction. Any breaches can be punishable by up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine. National Highways intends to return to court to extend the injunction and potentially seek additional powers of arrest. In addition, government ministers condemned activists for undermining their own cause and endangering lives.
Oxford diocese, which was the first in the Church of England to fully divest from fossil-fuels (News, 5 December 2014), criticised Mr Hewes’ actions.
A statement from the diocese said: “The world continues to experience the daily impact of rapid climate change. Society has a tiny window to make lifestyle changes and take crucial action on climate change that will affect the life of the entire planet and future generations.
“The actions of Revd Hewes and others, while arguably well intentioned, have frustrated many people and we're unclear how the actions have been productive in encouraging the urgent change required.
“Legitimate protest can play an important part in national debate and decision making, but the actions of Insulate Britain in recent days aren’t helping. Responding constructively to the current emergency is the responsibility of every family, every workplace, every village, town and city, every company, and every public institution. We all need to work together.”
Leader comment: Faith and works