The Church and Climate Chaos

It was wonderful to join with the young people on the Young Christian Climate Movement march to Glasgow as they passed through Sheffield on the way to COP26. We greeted them at St Mary’s Bramall Lane and walked together on the last mile of their journey to Sheffield Cathedral.

 They say

“Our sisters and brothers in churches around the world are losing their livelihoods and homes, and we stand with them. Climate-vulnerable countries cannot access finance for adaptation and climate-induced loss and damages without incurring further debt. COP26 is the time to change this. We must hold our government accountable to delivering and exceeding the promised $100bn/year in climate finance. It’s time to Rise to the Moment. In years to come, we want to be able to look back and say “we did not sit at home while unjust decisions were made on our doorstep, we set sail towards a just future”. 

Many dignitaries were there to support them including Bishop Pete Wilcox, Olivia Blake MP, the Leader of the council Terry Fox, Deputy Lord Mayor Sioned-Mair Richards, Executive Member for Climate Change, Douglas Johnson, Abdul Gooljar from the Islamic Society of Britain and Green Peer Natalie Bennett.

The youngsters are demanding that the Government

  1. Reinstate foreign aid budget to pre-COVID levels 
  2. Secure agreement from rich countries to at least double the decade-old promise of $100bn a year for climate finance
  3. Ensure finance for climate-induced loss and damage
  4. Push for debt cancellation so climate-vulnerable nations can better confront the climate crisis and other urgent priorities

During the walk, I spoke to Bishop Pete about the Churches investments in fossil fuel companies. It seemed rather hypocritical to me for the Church of England to be preaching about the problems of climate change while it remains an investor in the fossil fuel companies that have caused the problem. It is estimated that the Church of England still has £70 million invested in fossil fuel companies. Bishop Pete supports the Transition Pathway Initiative which is brokered by the Church Commissioners. This combines the threat to divest with “effective leverage”. The Church has had this policy for many years, but it hasn’t worked. Fossil fuel companies understood the damage they were doing to the climate forty years ago but have funded climate-denying organisations that have prevented action to solve the problem.

At a 1980 American Petroleum Institute meeting, representatives from companies including Exxon, Texaco, and Shell concluded that as a “likely impact,” by 2005 we would see 1 degree Celsius of warming. By 2038 we would see 2.5 degrees of warming causing “major economic consequences,” and that by 2067 we would face a 5-degree rise with “globally catastrophic effects.”

Even though they knew that, for every action taken to address the crisis, the fossil fuel industry presented an equal and opposite reaction – constantly finding new ways to mislead the public. Ultimately, these efforts produced the denial machine we face today.

During the Impossible Rebellion in August members of Christian Climate Action went to a service at St Paul’s Cathedral. After Communion they assembled at the front of the Church, displaying banners saying “No Faith in Fossil Fuels” and “Churches Divest Now”. Someone gave a speech that was applauded by the congregation and the service ended. The 13 protesters, including two members of the clergy, wanted to stay to talk to the next service but were told to leave. When they refused the police were called and they were all arrested.

Following a similar protest at Church House in May this year, the Rev Tim Hewes, said ‘To invest at this moment in history in fossil fuels, is akin to the investment by the church in previous centuries in sugar and the slave trade… To believe that maintaining investments in some way provides the church with leverage for the greater good is nonsense and merely provides these companies with a fig leaf to cover their continued acts of ecocide. It is not the duty of the church to attempt to guide them onto a more ecologically appropriate path – market forces will do that. It is the duty of the church to invest ethically, and by propping up these companies, it is reneging on this fundamental principle. The time for engagement is over. Divestment must be immediate and total and I will continue to do everything within my power to ensure that this happens.’ 

This week has also seen a momentous joint statement from Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and Patriarch Bartholomew. They united to write a joint message for the protection of Creation. They say  “To those with far-reaching responsibilities-heading administrations, running companies, employing people or investing funds-we say choose people-centred profits, make short term sacrifices to safeguard all our futures, become leaders in the transition to just and sustainable economies-”To whom much is given, much is required”.Luke12:48

If the Church is to get behind the campaign to stop climate change the first thing it must do is to get its own house in order and divest from fossil fuels. If you belong to an Anglican Church, PCC or Synod, please do what you can to make this happen.

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