Is Christian Aid’s push for Divestment undermining the poor?

Over the last 10 years the ultimate Green concern of many Christians is Climate Change, which for many means Divestment from fossil fuels and the adoption of “clean” renewable energy. This has become the official stance of groups like Christian Aid, Tear Fund and Cafod, along with Christian Green groups, like a Rocha, Green Christian, with John Ray  Initiative sitting uncomfortably on the (barbed wire) fence. Within the mainstream churches if you do not agree with this consensus, you are clearly not green!! This is despite the majority not buying into it.

Apart from the Bishop of Chester, Peter Forster, who has a Ph. D. in chemistry, few challenge this consensus and thus it has become the default position of the churches, with frequent calls for divestment and a Bigswitch to “clean” energy.

This article in the Church Times  10 August 2017 by Joe Ware of Christian Aid is both strident and inaccurate, and seems to think the main solutions to environmental issues are Divestment and taking part in the Big Switch to “renewable” energy. One gets the impression nothing else really matters.

Until about 1990 care for the environment was hardly mentioned in the churches of the UK.  This was not because of a desire only to save souls or following the daft ideas of Dispensationalism as Joe Ware claims. More socially minded Christians were concerned about Apartheid, the inner city and urban issues and racialism. In the 70s Bishop Hugh Montefiore was one of the few who waved a green flag, but to speak of a divide between the church and environmentalism due to Dispensationalism is simply wrong. Very few believed in Dispensationalism and the over-riding view on the environment was simply apathy, as I found in 1982 when I tried to get Liverpool Diocese Board of Social responsibility to consider environmental issues. I was ignored and my request was not even minuted. I rejoiced when in the 90s churches began to go green. My joy is now muted as the focus has been narrowed down to Divestment and “clean” energy, as if any energy is clean.

Before 1990 the environment simply did not figure. Now it is foremost and many green christians are pushing for divestment from fossil fuels and are strongly opposed to fracking, so that the only thing that matters is fighting Climate Change, and that from an extreme perspective. Ware wrote favorably of McKibben, who has pushed for Divestment and anti-fracking for many years, but his enthusiasm is not tempered with accuracy or realism. Renewable energy makes up less than 10 per cent of total energy usage today and thus fossil fuels and nuclear must be used to make up the deficit and both will continue to be used for at least half a century. At best Divestment is simply virtue signalling. Apart from ideological greens, all informed commentators on energy argue that fossil fuels, preferably gas (thus fracking) must be used in the greenest way possible. This includes gurus those like Ware look to.  Thus we should read  the late Sir David Mackay, Dieter Helm, Lord Deben/John Gummer, Mark Lynas, the late Stephen Tindale (formerly of Greenpeace) and others. All accept the pressing issue of Climate Change, but differ on how it needs to be tackled. However the silent majority in the churches seem to be letting this happen, though many do not buy into this strong green agenda.

The result of the single-minded focus on Climate Change means that other issues are almost ignored (unless they can be blamed on Climate Change. In fact to say it is caused by Climate Change is often seen as a full explanation!).

Other issues in the environment are manifold.

Apart from blaming flooding on Climate Change, very little is said on reducing flooding, whether tree planting, peat restoration, or minor modifications in towns e.g. criticising hard surfacing front gardens.

My own diocesan environment group seems to ignore these but have been very forward on fracking, producing three (inaccurate) papers on the subject.

It would not be unfair to say  that  Christian Aid et al adopt much of “left-wing Junk science” and are not only anti-fracking but also anti-GMO, though they are more more muted than they were. Consider this statement;

Doubt about GM’s ability to
increase yields is not the only worry
about its use. The IAASTD warned
that GMOs in the human foodsupply
chain in the form of animal p93
feed ‘might threaten human health’.
GM’s potential environmental
impact is also a cause for concern,
with the evidence again patchy. p93-4

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/hungry-for-justice.pdf

It is sad for an august organisation siding with negative critiques of GMO. Here is a critique of Christian Aid going back to 2003 http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/articles/biotech-art/christian_aid.html

More recently it has taken to opposing fracking.   http://www.christianaid.org.uk/ActNow/blog/2013/scc-fracking-action-drilling-fossil-fuels.aspx

and

http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/The-Big-Shift-QandA-august-2015.pdf

Does Christian Aid support fracking?
Christian Aid opposes fracking because shale gas is a fossil fuel and will therefore
exacerbate global climate change. Research conducted by the International Energy Agency shows that, whilst gas is a lower carbon fossil fuel than coal, exploiting the world’s reserves of unconventional gas, such as shale gas, could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.5°C.
This is far higher than the 2° rise that the UK and other developed countries has said is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.Investing in shale gas exploration could also reduce the finance available to invest in renewable energy.

 

This statement completely ignores the difference between fossil fuels; Coal is the worst with the highest CO2 emissions (and other nasties, mostly particulates) ; oil is better  and as we now know petrol is better than diesel. Gas is the cleanest with the least CO2 emissions. (Of course we are told “fracked gas is worse than coal”, but that  only considers the papers by Robert Howarth which are contradicted by the other 05% of papers on the subject.) I can’t comment on his reference to the IEA as he gives no detailed reference. I suggest the operative word is “could”.

By making Divestment and the Big Switch the shibboleths to be a Green Christian, Joe Ware and others have introduced a new fundamentalism where Penal substitution and biblical inerrancy are replaced with Divestment and anti-fracking, and if you do not agree you are not welcome in this green fundamentalism. Sadly other  important green issues are often left to one side due to the adherence to a narrow agenda.

It is sad that Christian Aid is adopting such a narrow agenda as they will prevent many
countries from developing their own (allegedly dirty) energy supplies. Thus the potential
oil and gas in the Western Rift of Uganda could well make Uganda energy sufficient thus
limiting deforestation by replacing would burning with gas. If not exactly clean, it would
be cleaner. To me, having worked in that area as an exploration geologist (for metals)
that would be a great improvement reducing deforestation and smoky huts.
To follow Joe Ware will mean that we will give with one hand and take away with the
other. If this policy is applied throughout the world, many people will be denied access to
energy.
I hope we can follow wisdom and realism and give with both hands.

 

Here is Joe Ware’s article in the Church Times, interspersed with my comments.

Church and tree-huggers, unite!

11 AUGUST 2017

 

The frost between the Church and environmentalists is thawing, says Joe Ware

ALAMY

Protesting: church leaders on 5 December 2009, including the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Dr Rowan Williams, wear blue gloves as part of a wave of support at Stop Climate Chaos’s The Wave event, in London

TEN years ago — long before the historic UN Paris agreement on climate change (News, 14 December 2015), and a full year before Barack Obama became President of the United States — the UK’s Environment Agency asked 25 leading environmentalists which five things needed to happen.

Of the top 50 suggestions, second on the list, behind improving energy efficiency, was that religious leaders should make the environment a priority for their followers. In a review of the list, The Guardian’s Alison Benjamin was baffled by the part that these green visionaries saw faith as playing: “I fail to understand how religious leaders’ making the planet their priority will make a sufficient difference to warrant its ranking at two,” she wrote.

No doubt, Church Times readers are more aware that we in the UK live in an oddly secular bubble: for most people in the world, from Brazilian Roman Catholics to Bangladeshi Muslims, faith plays a key part in their lives.

What these environmental champions had identified was the frosty relationship between the environment movement and religion or, more specifically, the Church. The perceived divide between a gang of godless tree-huggers, on the one side, and an institution that cares only about saving souls at the expense of ecological destruction, on the other,

I would love to know when this frosty situation was. In the 70s and 80s few in the churches were bothered. The concern of many was not for the environment but for Race relations and apartheid and the problems of inner cities. This social gospel was at the heart of many Christians’ understanding of the gospel in practice. It was not tree-huggers vs soul savers.

 

caused a damaging impasse in which both creation care and evangelism suffer.

The good news is that this cold war is beginning to thaw.

This misses so many thing. Few before the mid-80s emphasised the environment and they were lone voices and often got nowhere.

In fact, both groups share much common ground, which has huge potential for the Kingdom of God. Like the arrival of Aslan in Narnia’s perpetual winter — the invention of a Christian nature-lover, C. S. Lewis — spring is coming.

 

THE divide between the Church and the environmental movement is a recent one. It arose in the 1970s through the influence of dispensationalist theology, which often taught that at Jesus’s return the earth would be burnt up, and was therefore dispensable,

This is baseless. Christians in the 70s were little concerned about the environment. Yes, some Evangelicals followed Lindsell The Late Great Planet Earth, but it had little or no effect in the wider church. The environment was largely ignored as the focus was on apartheid, Inner city etc.

 

despite the biblical mandate to care for creation and its inhabitants.

Most read Gen 1 vs22 as dominion (good or bad) rather than creation care. This biblical mandate (however interpreted) only came to the fore in about 1990

The dualist second-century heresy of Gnosticism also played a part. Although rejected by the Church, this unbiblical belief that physical matter is evil and only the spiritual is important remains influential, and implies a disregard of the natural world.

This is very sweeping and  was never held by Christians

What is often forgotten is that the modern environmental movement owes its history to Christians.

There was a broad moving towards environmentalism in the 19th century and not only among Christians. One such was Darwin.

The Scottish Presbyterian John Muir, who had memorised the New Testament by the age of 11, established the world’s first National Park in Yosemite, California.

 

John Muir was a great pioneer but reading his biography scarcely shows that Christianity figured large for him as he was more in awe of nature than God.

It was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, with Octavia Hill, a devout churchgoer, and Sir Robert Hunter, a broad-church Anglican, who founded the Nation­al Trust in 1895 to con­serve the Lake Dis­trict. As the environ­mental theologian Pro­fes­sor Mi­­chael North­­cott commented, it wasn’t so­­cialists or tree-huggers who started that: it was Anglicans.

This is just picking out two people. There were more and part was the general rejection of killing for collection. An example was Charles Darwin and part may be a realsiation that some species were getting rarer. One forbear was the Rev F O Morris, an ardent anti-evolutionists who founded the Society for the Protection of Birds , which got its Royal Charter in 1904. Northcott’s assertion is dubious.

In fact, Christians and secular environmentalists have a similar world-view.

This is a very limited perspective and makes no mention of God or Jesus Christ.

They both believe that our pristine planetary home has been spoiled by human selfishness (and they are both criticised for being preachy and using guilt to shame people into action).

 

How many believe the earth was never pristine, whatever that means? Many today hold that humans are spoiling the earth, but that is often realism not some starry-eyed departure from a pristine condition.

 

Christians seeking to share the gospel will find that any­one angered by environmental destruction is al­­ready cognisant of human sinfulness and the need for restored rela­tionships throughout creation. A Christianity that empha­sises care for creation will get a ready hearing. As the late evangelist Rob Frost put it: “When Christians take the earth seriously, people take the gospel seriously.”

 

THE campaigners who spoke to the Environment Agency in 2007 effect­ively admitted that they needed help from the Church. The good news is that the Church is responding.

This assumes that these are these are the most important environmental responses. As it is, they focus only on divestment and the big Switch

 

In managing their funds, host of de­­nom­ina­­tions and Christian organ­isa­tions have disinvested from fossil fuels, a movement led by the Methodist campaigner Bill McKibben of 350.org (Interview, 25 October 2013).

It would be more accurate to say some. This is simply assuming that all Christians should follow the lead of McKibbin. Perhaps we should be aware that many of his claims are more emotive than factual.

Thousands of churches in the UK have also switched to 100 per cent renewable electricity through the Big Church Switch scheme, under which more than £1 million in electricity shifted away from fossil fuels (News, 2 September 2016Comment, 15 April 2016).

Is the Big Switch a good idea? It depends on the supposed distinction of clean and dirty erenrgy and makes no distinction between coal (dirty), oil (cleaner) and gas (cleanest fossil fuel) and the fact that “clean” energies aint clean. further it ignores the inaccurate sales talk of some firms eg Ecotricity who blythely claim that they can provide all the gas the UK needs from grass grown for biodigesters. Most experts reckon that biogas like this will top out at 10% – unless we put all National Parks down to grass :). £1million in electricity is minimal as it represents less than 2000 households. What must be asked is whether it is possible to move ALL customers over to renewables. The answer is simply NO, as Sir david Mackay argued in No Hot Air, and will remain NO until at least to the end of century. At best this is virtue signalling and little more than kidding oneself.

 

And, of course, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, which put care for our common home at the heart of RC teaching, and ignited a wave of interest in climate change before the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 (News, 26 June 2015). After President Trump’s decision to withdraw from this agreement, a stand by the Church has never been more needed.

The Church has a crucial part to play in helping to accelerate the world’s much-needed low-carbon transition. If it can pull it off, and unite all those that care for God’s creation, then both heaven and earth will be able to rejoice.

The implication is that those who do not accept his arguments, which are shaky to say the least, do not care for God’s creation. That is unjust in the extreme and rather cultic in the way it excludes those Christians who do not agree. It is simply a Green Fundamentalism. Rather than harnessing the whole church’s resources this is simply dividing Christians and will result in less being done.

Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid. He is on Twitter at @wareisjoe.

The Church Times Green Church Awards – Buildings

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