Divestment and the Church of England
In July 8th 2018 the General synod of the Church of England are meeting to discuss divestment from fossils fuels. They had one bite of the cherry in 2015. Reading the GS (General Synod) papers things seem to be moving to total divestment and not just from coal and tar sands.
Needless to say green groups are at full throttle on this with “position papers” being published. Most active is Operation Noah who have published both a paper and petition. I will consider these rather than the other multitude of voices for divestment
Here is the petition
The introduction is;
1. We ask the National Investing Bodies of the Church of England to make an explicit commitment to disinvest from companies involved in the extraction of oil, coal and gas, as soon as possible.
2. We urge the National Investing Bodies to increase their investment in clean alternatives to fossil fuels.
3. We call on the Church of England to take a leading and influential role in the national debate on the ethics of investment in fossil fuels.
This goes much further than any motion at General Synod and seems to want total divestment. Further it takes up the false dichotomy of clean (renewables) vs dirty (fossil) fuels, and thus ignore the devastation caused by mining for all the minerals needed for renewables, showing that they are also dirty! THERE NO CLEAN ENERGY.
The third point on Ethics seems to be virtue signalling as it defines a priori that fossil fuels are unethical.
After that are six reasons why it is important to divest. Rather than deal with each I shall consider reason no 5.
5. The vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement targets. The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone would take the world beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
This is in two parts. The first is a sweeping statement on the Paris Agreement and fails to make any distinction between the 3 fossil fuels. The fact that emissions of CHG from coal are vastly greater than oil, which is turn is greater than gas is simply ignored as is the proportion of each fuel which should be left in the ground. This seems to be a rewrite of the Paris agreement and rather alters the meaning. Further no one has put it that baldly. The original source on keeping fossil fules in the ground comes from a paper in nature for UCL researchers. They distinguished between the three fossil fuels
A third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves globally should remain in the ground and not be used before 2050 if global warming is to stay below the 2°C target agreed by policy makers, according to new research by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.
This puts things in a very different light both on the timeframe and which fuels are to be left in the ground. In other words, coal needs to be left there but oil and gas will be used to 2050 – and will have to be simply to keep the lights on. There is clear to anyone who understand than energy transitions take DECADE not YEARS.
The second sentence which is very authorative comes from a polemical report and from ON’s position paper
. A report from Oil Change International,12 written with Christian Aid and others, shows that the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming. Even the reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone (without coal) would take the world beyond 1.5°C.
This is hardly unbiased, and conclusions from an advocacy group should not be seen as definitive.
(Most of the photos in the paper are of the worst of coal extraction/devastation rather than oil or gas production. This is a dubious way of appealing to emotions ) Compared to open-cast coal or the slag heaps of deep coal, oil or gas wells look like an English country garden.
I checked out the website and note that it is a group which is opposed to any fossil fuels. Accuracy is not its forte as I found with the section on fracking
http://priceofoil.org/campaigns/extreme-fossil-fuels/no-extreme-fossil-fuels-fracking/ As well as making unsubstantiated claims many of the links could not be opened. This prevents any fact checking
It is insufficient simply to cite those of a similar perspective as if they are universally held
To discuss the remaining points would take time as I would need to “fact check” each claim as I have done for my previous points.
In fact both the ON petition and paper fall down when you actually “fact check” and it is difficult not to see it as truth shaving as well.
More on Operation Noah. In 2013 (revised 2015) they produced a report Bright Now arguing for divestment. http://brightnow.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Bright-Now-Report.pdf On the surface this seems a good report with good theology, sane economics and sound science. It is not. The report is highly biased and ignores any voice which does not call for immediate divestment and an immediate move to renewables aka clean energy. In other words references only reflect their bias. The section The scientific case for disinvestment is remarkable for its high standard of technical and scientific error. This is not surprising as they looked to unreliable sources, and ignore reliable ones like the British Geological Survey and others. Operation Noah have been effective within all churches in Britain but their bias and inaccuracy should cause concern.
This week (mid-June 2018) Operation Noah have produced another document, presumably in readiness for the General Synod. It is excellently produced, well-written with a wealth of references. The report is Fossil free Churches: Accelerating the transition to a brighter, cleaner future http://brightnow.org.uk/resource/transition-report/ and has some excellent testimonials. So what is it like?
Before looking at the content, consider the references. I remember a university teacher saying the first thing he looked at in an essay are the references as that indicates the essential strengths and weaknesses of the essay. If a student uses bad references the essay will be bad too! It is salutary to do that on Fossil Free Churches. Over half are by advocacy groups, which often have a less than through approach to accuracy – truth shaving -, like Friends of the Earth,(who were pulled up the Advertising Standards Authority in 2017), Ceres, 350org among others. In fact, the references are slewed to support divestment rather than even considering other viewpoints, which regard natural gas as a fuel which is far better than coal, and thus good at the present time to reduce emissions. Thus references 46 and 47 are from the IEA (International Energy Authority) but they fail to cite a paper which goes contrary to what they advocate; https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/october/commentary-the-environmental-case-for-natural-gas.html . Some reference should be made to the work of Lord Deben in the DECC, or even positive references to the need of natural gas in IPCC reports. Surely readers should be able to make their own mind and not simply fed a one-sided view. It is almost a case of no-platforming.
This one-sidedness comes out in both the Advisory group and “experts” consulted;
ADVISORY GROUP: Nicky Bull, Darrell Hannah, Ruth Jarman, Alex Mabbs Those who have contributed to this report and whose input is acknowledged below do not necessarily endorse the content of this report. We would also like to thank the following experts for their advice, input, ideas and suggestions as we developed the ideas in this report (though all errors and omissions remain the responsibility of the author): Stephen Edwards (Operation Noah), Martin Poulsom (Operation Noah), Reggie Norton (Operation Noah), Tom Harrison (Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts), Sian Ferguson (Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts), Luke Sussams (Carbon Tracker), Katharine Mansell (European Climate Foundation), Jeanne Martin (ShareAction), Greg Muttitt (Oil Change International), Simon Bullock (Friends of the Earth), Ric Lander (Friends of the Earth Scotland), Keval Bharadia (Christian Aid), Monique Nardi (Mission 2020), Rachel Mash (Anglican Church of Southern Africa), John Weaver (John Ray Initiative), David Pickering (United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland), Joel Moreland, Hugh Lee, Kevin McCullough.
There is simply no diversity of thought here and are almost entirely divestment and anti-fossil fuel advocates. This prevents any balance or serious grappling with issues and essentially presents divestment as a fait accompli, which in the paper is buttressed by theological virtue signalling. At least one expert vandalised the DECC building in 2015. Further there is no engagement with those who may be called practitioners in energy. As this is a Christian document, I know numbers of Christians who work in the fossil fuel and nuclear industry or who have other necessary expertise, which was needed here. Among Christians in the UK, this study has ignored Lord Deben, late Prof Younger, Dr Nick Riley. This is ignoring many fine secular experts.
Sadly many who read this paper, will not be aware of alternatives to immediate divestment. Over the last decade green Christians have sung from only one sheet, cutting out other voices. Here they show the characteristics of fundamentalists. Too often in the Christian press alternative voices are either ignored or suppressed.
The paper starts with an Executive summary stating “the vast majority of fossil fuels need to be left in the ground.”
If we are to meet the Paris Agreement targets, the vast majority of fossil fuels will need to remain in the ground. This means that fossil fuel companies run the risk of being left with ‘stranded assets’ – worthless fuel reserves that regulations will prevent from being burned or that can only be consumed at unimaginable cost to us all. Fossil fuel companies’ predictions of future business
I dealt with earlier in the blog, but this is unfounded dogmatism. As I wrote before it is, 80% coal, 50% gas and 33% oil . That is very different.
All this needs a proper discussion using a wide range of sources giving full details of the issues and any controversial aspects. It is thus too emotive and biased to be a useful guide.
Along with there is no discussion of relative dirtiness of the various fossil fuels or the dirtiness of so-called clean energy. It is too slick to contrast “clean” and “dirty” energy and ignore the DIRT of renewables, e.g. mining for rare earths, wrecking of peat bogs for wind turbines, difficulty of recycling obsolete turbines and solar panels
The appeal to stranded assets sounds convincing and would be if fossil fuels have only a few years left but all projections including WWF reckon fossil fuels will still being used in 2050
There is an appeal to rapid developments, but until they are developed they cannot be used! Ultimately there is a blind faith in renewables, more hope than reality. Thus renewables cannot replace fossil fuels in the foreseeable future
But renewables still marginal and will be in the timeframe suggested by ON for a transition
This graph from BP highlights the problem. Renewables are only providing some 3% of the world’s total energy. Note this is TOTAL energy and not just electricity generation where the percentage is higher. This on 14th June 2018 wind power was producing 33% of the UK electricity having only produced a few per cent for several weeks. By the evening it had fallen back and thus I was able to out for a cycle ride without being blown off. And then at the end of June 2018 solar actually outperformed gas for a short time during the day, but once the heat wave is over solar will be reduced in significance
The graph below shows the annual mix for electricity production in the UK. Note that dirty coal is almost phased out, nuclear (hated by many greens) runs at 20%, wind and solar now at 20% and gas ruling the roost at 40%. This does not consider the intermittent nature of renewables which produce nothing on a frosty, windless night. This graph shows just electricity but that is only part of energy useage in the UK as for heating, industry and transport. That is almost entirely fossil fuels (including electric cars.)
The theology in the paper seems reasonable BUT must be grounded in the science, which it is not.
The ON material falls down when “fact-checked” and this is due to an in-built bias, which should not be practiced by Christians. The authors simply select what reports they wish to use and ignore swathes of good material As a result we can see them as examples of inadequate fact-checking with truth shaving.
What is needed both by the Christian Church and all people is not truth shaving whether from “climate deniers” or ardent greens but truth sharing and a ruthless pursuit of truth, even when that is uncomfortable.
I can expect to be accused of being a Climate Denier having written this!! To me there is no question that Anthropogenic Climate Change has been happening for well over a century, and if nothing is done then the consequences will be dire. However the apocalyptic nightmares peddled by greens like Greenpeace, Friends of the earth, 350.org and McKibbin, Naomi Klein and others do no good and may well discourage people from taking any action. It does not help when such apocalyptic visions are accompanied by truth-shaving and, at time, sheer inaccuracy.
The solutions to the whole climate issue will not be a simple divestment but a diverse approach not only concerning fossil fuels, and fuel conservation but farming practices, re-afforestation, restoration of peat lands and wetlands.
As Oscar Wilde said, “to every complex question there is a simpe answer – and that is wrong.” !!!!
My final point is to say that in 1982/3 I tried to get concern for the environment put on the agenda of the Liverpool Diocesan Board of Social Responsibility as I was a member. My appeal fell on deaf ears and was not even recorded in the minutes.