How can a leading coal economist become such a guru for green issues and alternative and small-scale technologies?
That is the legacy of E F Schumacher (16 August 1911 – 4 September 1977). Migrating from Germany from 1950 to 1970 he was Chief Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board, Yet this leader of old, polluting technologies became the prophet for the opposite and his legacy is his opposition to nuclear energy and various green groups named in his memory. Whether acknowledged or not he has had a great influence in Green Britain! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._F._Schumacher
I came across his work in the 70s as I read Resurgence and The Ecologist, as his name often came up. I admit to lapping up his ideas. To my surprise I found that he lived in my home town of Caterham in a lovely house opposite our school playing fields. For four years I cycled past his house every day on the way to school and then for another four years after that saw it from our geography, history and science blocks. Two of his sons were several years ahead of me in school and mother taught one of his daughters maths. Yet I knew nothing about him when at school when he was advising the National Coal Board.
After 1970 he seemed to change his economics to small scale projects and upped his opposition to nuclear energy. On the former he was influenced by visits as an advisor to Burma. I shall return to nuclear energy. That was music to my ears and most environmentalists of the day. He published his ideas in the book Small is Beautiful in 1974, which I got in paperback form some years later.
The subtitle of Small is Beautiful is a study of Economics as if People Mattered. I won’t go into that , but it is behind much of the small-scale arguments of the last 40 years, including Intermediate Technology. It is a classic of the 70s and significant in the whole green movement. But I will focus only on his views on nuclear energy.
Chapter 8 would shock many today, where he expresses his regret that so many coal mines were closed down in the 60s, despite have enough reserves. Thatcher continued in the 80s and Scargill criticised her for it. Scargill could see how the coal industry was being closed down, despite there being plenty of coal. All this was before the serious air pollution from coal was fully acknowledged and before an understanding of climate change.
Chapter 9 of Small is Beautiful is entitled Nuclear Energy – Salvation or Damnation?. EFS goes for the latter, where perhaps purgatory might be better!! The lecture was given as the Des Moeux Memorial Lecture “Clean Air and future Energy” in 1967. When discussing the lecture for his book in 1973, he points out the change in perception on nuclear energy. In 1967 most were in favour but the tide had turned by 1973, and though he does not say it because of the activities of the Sierra Club, the new Greenpeace and others. EFS was just one who added his pennyworth in this lecture. My own memory is that nuclear energy was seen as good thing from the fifties and by the 70s all environmentalists were opposed to it for its horrific potential dangers.
He claimed ” Of all the changes introduced by man into the household of nature, large -scale fission is undoubtedly the most dangerous and profound.” He then says that the building of power stations, whether based on coal, oil or nuclear (note that as yet gas was not used), are decided on economic grounds rather than the ‘social consequences’ which may result from the curtailment of the coal industry, which was in full swing in the 60s. The social consequences were unemployment and destruction of communities, which occurred in all old mining villages and towns. I witnessed them in Wigan and Chirk in the 70s and 80s. What was over-looked he claimed was the ‘incredible, incomparable and unique hazard for human life’ of nuclear energy. To buttress his arguments he used the example of nuclear weapons and their extreme destructiveness. He then describes the radiation and points out there is no safe way of storing “used” material as it will radioactive for ever.. Arguments still used today.
On p116 he notes the problem of air and water pollution (with coal burning being implicit), but says there is a ‘dimensional difference’ and ‘radioactive pollution is an evil of incomparably greater’ dimension’ than anything mankind has known before.’ and rhetorically ‘What is the point of insisting on clean air, if the air is laden with radioactive particles?’
This claim was very plausible in the early 70s and carried many with them, including Tony Benn. It convinced most environmentalists, including myself.
According to EFS the change came in February 1972 with the government report Pollution; Nuisance or Nemesis? The report expected nuclear to produce 50% of electricity by 2000. They highlighted the chief concern – which was the storage of radioactive waste which was forever.
EFS concluded “No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make safe.” That has been the cry of environmentalists ever since.
EFS’s arguments against nuclear energy have been held by groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth ever since, who were very successful in their propaganda. I can’t criticise them as I totally swallowed the lot and was anti-nuclear. However they swung opinions against nuclear, which now produces only 20% of electricity in Britain.
More humorously Friends of the Earth had a yellow tea shirt with the words The only safe fast breeder is a rabbit. We bought one, partly at that time I was a curate in a Lancashire church and the vicar, my boss, was always telling us we should have children ASAP! He was not a nice, cuddly vicar!! Many parishioners were aware of this, so my wife turned up to parish events in the T-shirt! I left a few months later and then worked under the nicest vicar ever. We had our first child in that parish, and he and his wife were godparents. He was my unofficial mentor for 25 years. The Church of England can be quite Jekyll and Hyde.
One of EFS’s main themes was the danger of nuclear energy and how it was far worse than anything other form of energy. He was aware of pollution but did not consider the horrific air pollution from burning coal as totally disastrous. He could have noted the Clean Air Acts of the 50s after the great smog in London and the frequent pea-souper fogs. I think the last pea-souper was in 1963 which almost reached our house in Caterham and probably equally close to EFS’s house half a mile away and a lower altitude. The accumulated death-rate from coal over the years is immense and still is so in many parts of the world. So how does nuclear compare?
Accident rate from nuclear power.
As soon as one mentions nuclear weapons as EFS did in his lecture, pictures are conjured up that an accident in a nuclear power station would be like Hiroshima, first in its blast and next its radiation. So;
nuclear, no thanks!
Any accident creates great media interest, specially when creative writing takes precedent to fact. The three most well known are Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. The resultant deaths were none at Three Mile Island, possibly one at Fukushima. Chernobyl was serious with 28 killed on site, 34 others and up to 4000 from cancer. The whole area of the disaster zone was evacuated. here is a list of all accidents from Wiki. Fukushima was no Hiroshima as one person was possibly killed and the death and injury was caused by the tsunami and not a nuclear accident. Many of the reports on Fukushima have been very creative!!
Chernobyl terrified many but compared to coal it was less lethal, as fatalities from coal are simply individuals who die one by one from air pollution but the table from this New Scientist article puts it into perspective. If you include deaths of miners then that ran at 1000 pa from 1873 to 1953 in Britain, which includes the Gresford disaster of 1934 which killed 266. This was just one of several.
This New Scientist article considers the relative death rates of various forms of energy per TWh. Brown Coal includes lignite which is used in Germany to replace nuclear and nuclear power stations were shut down after Fukishima.
Compared to coal nuclear is a very safe energy – and one of the safest. I find it difficult to understand why EFS gave the lecture as it shows an extreme Unconscious Bias – or was it Conscious? However he set the tone for the next half century (or supported it) and his perspective and that of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth has become accepted wisdom for a half century of environmentalists – though some like me repented.
In November 2021 there were strong voices for nuclear energy at COP26, but others counteracted as did the activist scientist Michael Mann, commenting on twitter.
Friends of the Earth has been consistently anti-nuclear since 1971 , as has Greenpeace.
Both are also opposed to GMOs and Fracking, presenting their arguments with Conscious bias. In turn they influence most green groups in Britain and elsewhere, resulting in calls for divestment (keep it in the ground) rejection of nuclear energy and a total conviction that renewables can provide all energy needs in the immediate future. They cannot..
At COP26 there was a grudging acceptance by many that nuclear needed but Greenpeace retained its opposition of 50 years.
At COP26 some environmentalists slightly, and grudgingly, softened their opposition to nuclear energy as did Andy Lester of A Rocha in an interview with the evangelical TWR (Trans World Radio) https://youtu.be/aUzbpWGuGuU
It is a shame that a Christian environmental group should take such a negative attitude, though Lester regards nuclear as acceptable only in the short term to be rid of fossil fuels. Christian environmentalists often sing from the Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth hymnbook and do not wish to listen to other viewpoints. Hence the carious churches’ studies on energy, climate change etc do not allow any breadth of opinion , beyond “keep it in the ground”!! He did not like being challenged either!
However some Climate campaigners like Mark Lynas and James Hansen have accepted that nuclear is needed to tackle climate change. At least some environmentalists recognise that if we are serious about tackling climate change, we need nuclear power as part of the solution.
Nuclear Energy is like tree planting. The best time was decades ago, and the next best time is today.
I was disappointed when I found that EFS, whom I almost revered in the 70s has left a flawed legacy, which has led both to the energy crisis of this year and the growing issue of climate change. Throughout the continent of Europe , as well as Britain, green NGOs have stymied the development of nuclear energy – and throttled it in Germany, and due to hatred of gas, it has meant an increased use of coal.
It comes as a surprise to many that clergy can be members of a Trades Union.
I joined after a problem with the bishop and since then have twice used the Union to sort out a problem. Both went my way but I know I got a black mark.
This article sets out the case for clergy being in a union. It also, by implication, implies that clergy, especially in the Church of England, need to be employed, rather than office holders so they have proper employment rights (and duties).
The Church of England has been marred by a large number of cases of sexual abuse, many of which were swept under the carpet in the past. They have suddenly come to light.
As well as that there have been many cases of spiritual abuse, which is clearly much harder to define. That can merge into straight bullying.
Victims include parishioners and clergy junior to others who are shoved around by hierachy or their immediate bosses in a parish, whether as curate or team vicar. I can give examples where the issue was left unresolved and victims expect to man up and get on with or allowed to disappear. It can be complicated by perpetrators lying.
This has been a long running sore in the life of the Church of England and few have had the nerve to blow a whistle.
This blog highlights several vital issues and hopefully will make an impact
On 12th September the controversial Bishop Spong died at the age of 89. I’d known of him for decades and in the 80s he helped at a wedding at a Welsh church where the vicar was a very conservative evangelical, which gave us a smile.
As someone who is fairly conservative and orthodox I have never been partial to Spong with his extreme liberal views almost throwing out every item of the Christian faith for a progressive faith. He is a person whom people either loved or loathed. Spong raises many issues and especially the absurdities of extreme fundamentalism, but throws the baby out with the bathwater. I will not give a general assessment of him but focus on one issue.
That issue is his understanding of Charles Darwin and the effect of his science on the Christian faith. Way back in the 1990s he explained some of the reasons why he rejected “orthodoxy” and much hinged on Darwin. He claimed that until 1859 all Christians believed in a literal Genesis and then with The Origin of Species Darwin torpedoed that making it totally untenable.
Probably most people would agree with Spong on that and it has been the received view among most who consider themselves educated. In his book and TV series of the 1980s The Sea of Faith Don Cupitt came out with same arguments. Many thought it wonderful, but his history had a bit to be desired! A similar view comes out in older church histories and among writers of popular science, including Richard Dawkins.
I never kept the article where I read Spong’s views on Darwin but at some lectures in 2018 he repeated the same line. These were lectures he gave at the Chautauqua Institution and reported in The Chautauquan Daily – their official newspaper.
“On Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong explained how Darwinian and Christian values came to divide the Christian faith in his lecture titled, “The Assault of Charles Darwin and Why the Christian Church Retreated before Darwin.” Spong continued Week One’s interfaith theme, “Producing a Living Faith Today?”
Here is what the report said of his lecture, when he dealt with Darwin. It all sounds so familiar
One of the scientists who pushed the status quo was Charles Darwin, who Spong called the second “obsession of the church.”
Darwin began his work in 1831 when he got a job as a naturalist on a five-year survey voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle. It took him 25 years after the trip, but Darwin claimed his place in history when he released the Origin of Species.
The book sold out immediately and raised questions that had previously been debated, but were never analyzed from a perspective like Darwin’s. Christians did not welcome these findings with open arms, Spong said.
“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”
In an attempt to set the record straight, a debate took place in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, a biologist and an avid defender of Darwin’s, and Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford and an advocate of biblical literalism. Wilberforce resorted to ridicule and at one point asked Huxley which side of his family was descended from apes. Wilberforce won the debate, but Spong said it was not enough to earn him a lasting legacy.
“Sam Wilberforce was hailed as a hero, but what’s interesting is that heroes don’t last forever,” he said. “He was very popular in his lifetime, but his reputation has faded.”
After the debate, Darwin’s theories made their way into the bloodstream of western civilization. At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on.
A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Once the project received funding, more than 500,000 were sent out each week. As time went on, the pamphlets became more popular, and by the 1920s, every church in the world was divided over being classified as fundamental or modernist.
“You can’t force truth into popularity,” Spong said. “Darwin seemed to have the truth, and after a while, these fundamentals of the Christian faith did not seem fundamentalistic after all.”
The Presbyterian leaders published five fundamentals all Christians were required to believe in order to identify as Christian. Among them were the ideas that the Scriptures are the infallible word of God and human beings are created perfect but fell into sin. Spong said those fundamentals were too similar to the myths of the religion to survive.
“They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” he said.
The problem facing modernists, on the other hand, was that they knew too much to be fundamentalists, but did not know how to be Christian, Spong said.
“That is reflected in the world today,” he said. “The major mainline Christian churches are all in a frantic of political decline. The fundamentalistic churches are strong, but they are also declining. The world is catching up, and fundamentalism is not a viable option any longer.”
The fall of these ideals caused a rise in Darwin’s ideals. At that time in history, there was no longer a medical school in the western world without a foundation built upon Darwinian principles, and hardly a science department in the United States that was not embracing evolution. That was until the public school system implemented “creation science,” Spong said, designed to be a fair alternative to Darwinism. Although creation science is not taught in public schools anymore, Spong reminded the audience it was not that long ago that former President George W. Bush endorsed it.
“Bush wanted people to be fair, to have a chance to voice an opinion,” Spong said. “He thought you could decide by majority vote what truth is. It doesn’t work that way.”
After Bush’s endorsement, the U.S. Supreme Court declared creation science unconstitutional.
“By virtue of its own strength and integrity, Darwin became stronger and stronger,” Spong said. “There is hardly an educated person in the western world who does not accept Darwin’s point of view as truth.”
Spong asked why Christians fought so hard when they knew they were wrong. The answer, once again, was Darwin.
“There was something about Darwin that challenged not just the Christian story, but the way in which we told that story,” he said. “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.’ You can’t fall into sin if you are not perfect to start with.”
Spong acknowledged how difficult it can be to accept the similarities humans have with the apes, but in a time where millennials check “none” for their chosen denomination more than the rest of the other options combined, he believes the dialogue has to continue between Darwinism and Christianity in order for the faith to survive.
“I think we have a wonderful faith,” he said. “Not the only faith, but a wonderful faith. And we have to work hard to make it live in our generation, and I think we can.”
[Clearly this is an account of what Spong said and not his actual words. However from what I’d previously read what Spong himself wrote on Darwin, it seems to be an accurate and trustworthy account. Thus as I have no reason to doubt its authenticity I shall treat as Spong’s views of 2018, which are similar to those he held two decades earlier.]
On the surface this seems reasonable and historically accurate both with regards to Darwin’s life and work and the effect on the Christian church.
But it is not!
As he started in 1831 he could have mentioned that Darwin receieved the letter inviting him to join the Beagle after a few weeks geologising in Wales with the Reverend Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge.
Rev Adam Sedgwick, father of the Cambrian system. Susan Darwin had a crush on him.
Sedgwick was one of the great Anglican clergy-geologists. He was one of the most significant geologists to elucidate the Lower Palaeozoic and Devonian from 1831-1845. But, horror of horrors, he was also an evangelical. Now what was an evangelical doing as a professor of geology and doing fundamental work. Like most evangelicals of his day i.e. before 1859, he had no problems with geological time and did not see it as destroying his faith. He was very scathing about those who rejected geology and tried to insist on a literal Genesis. Here deal with some of his spats, which are quite funny too.
It’s a pity Spong did not know about Sedgwick and his many Christian geologists! And so he dug a bigger hole;
“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”
My question to Spong is simple. Who in the churches interpreted the Bible literally? For 40 years I have tried to find some examples and beyond slave-holders in the Southern States and other nuts, I am still wandering around in the wilderness looking for one.
Quite simply, virtually no Christians with a modicum of education in the 1860s took Genesis 1 literally and denied geological time. I think that is slam dunk against Spong. I’ll now go slam dunker and gently point out that Samuel Wilberforce was not a biblical literalist.
Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce
He was a competent amateur scientist and while at Oriel College , Oxford in the 1820s he went to William Buckland’s geology lectures for three years running. (The attendance records are in the Oxford museum. From my brief study of it, he was the only one who went every year.)
Buckland checking out glacial Striae at Rhyd Ddu in Snowdonia 1842. Buckland introduced ideas of an Ice Age to Britain
Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford
His review of the Origin in the Quarterly Review is competent scientifically and is similar to what most scientists would have written in 1860. Wilberforce was no literalist and no fool, but was a rather soapy bishop! Spong could have mentioned Christians who accepted Darwin from 1859 including the evangelical Rev H B Tristram, Charles Kinsgley and others. Read this for the British scene from 1859
Spong next dealt with The Fundamentals of 1910 “At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on. A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Really! Head on? Many may know the series of brown paperback booklets called The Fundamentals. So much for taking Darwin/Evolution head on. One or two articles did, but most which dealt with Darwin or Genesis at least accepted geological time and in the case of James Orr, evolution as well. Spong simply had not doen his homework and was woefully inaccurate. So much for saying, “They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” In fact many had academic credibility from competent conservative scholars, but some were not. Spong cannot have studied the background or content of these leaflets. If anyone was absurd it was Spong!
He continued “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.” When did the church say that? Some fundamentalists did, and still do, say that but they are not the church but just a small part!
He ought to have known that humans ARE apes, and thus have similarities with all the other apes. A lack of biological knowledge here.
So what should we say about Spong’s encounter with Darwin?
Most obvious is that he has adopted a popular and extreme form of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion and out- whites White. To claim that the church was literalist in 1859 is simply completely and utterly false. Just to take the Anglican church, the vast majority of clergy had accepted geological time, and thus a non-literal Genesis way before 1859. In fact a higher proportion of Church of England clergy in 2021 are literalist than in 1860.
The best that can be said is that his confirmation bias to buttress his understanding of Christianity is to assume what he claims. This is simply not scholarly and is a very shoddy way of presenting an argument. Sadly others like Don Cupitt have done the same but he did (mis)quite contemporary authors! I agree with Spong on how awful Young Earth Creationism is in every way, but we need to ensure that what he say about others is accurate. He does not.
In 1998 Spong nailed his 12 Theses to the internet and Rowan Williams dismembered the lot with simplicity and clarity.
Williams exposes the shoddiness and wrongness of all his arguments both theological and ethical. I don’t need to repeat Rowan’s arguments.
On the positive side Spong is good at raising questions and especially those which come as a result of being swept up in fundamentalism. But he is not so good at understanding and tilts at the non-existent strawmen of ultra-fundamentalism and includes all the mainline orthodox in his tilting. His dealings with Darwin are just that. His ideas may resonate with those escaping from fundamentalism, but for the rest of us (who often have serious questions about our faith) he provides nothing of merit and an easy target for a hatchet job.
What Bishop Spong gives is not a new and progressive Christianity for a the 21st Century but an incoherent and muddled rejection of the faith. Sadly some would disagree with me and Rowan Williams!!
I loath the old Sunday School pictures of Jesus portraying him as a white wimp in a nightie. I cannot stand Holman hunt’s painting either.
It’s far too sentimental.
Too often Jesus is/was portrayed as white ( and often wimpish) overlooking the fact that he was a middle easterner and thus had a dark complexion. When living in Apartheid south Africa I enjoyed pointing out that Jesus wasn’t white and would have been classified in one of the varieties of nie-blanke. Not all aprecciated it!!
In this blog Ian Paul discusses contemporary views, especially in the light of BLM. He does it well but not all will like it – for the opposite reasons my comments on Jesus’ colour in South Africa were not liked. He is critical of those who wish to make Jesus out to be black. He was not and we may say God wisely chose Jesus to be an intermediate shade, thus representing all people of whatever ethnicity or colour.
How far should the church look to the standards of society to guide its own moral stance? Recently Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, did just that on marriage and sexuality saying that the church should let the world set the agenda. This is music to the ears of progressive Christians and discord to the so-called conservative. Here Bayes lays out his views in his address to the MoSAIC group . He says “want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon,” in Canon Law, which would make it difficult for any priest to oppose same-sex marriage. Perhaps those who do, would have to quit.
It is a dangerous thing to let the world set the agenda and the early church did not do that on matters of sex as Ian states. As the unknown author of The Letter to Diognetus memorably wrote;
They share their food, but not their wives Diognetus 5 vs7
This has been a rallying cry for decades but ultimately dissolves any Christian claims into the contemporary zeitgeist. At least Barth and Bonhoffer did not do it in 1934 Germany.
Read his blog as it is one of his best and I suppose anyone who agrees with Ian must be one of the many varieties of -phobe, if not all.
There is so much talk about race with all the stuff from Black Lives Matter.
In 2019 a black pastor from London wrote “We need to talk about race” Many including the Archbishop recommended it, but this blog exposes glaring errors.
It is an excellent read and a warning that slovenly arguments on race will in fact increase racism. These apply to the history of the slave trade and colonialism in particular. Note little was made of the Royal Navy’s gunboat diplomacy against the slave trade after 1807 and how this killed the Transatlantic slave trade.
Knowing a little about the history I find the article is historically very good, though it goes against the trendy hymn sheet.
So often thinkers and activists of the past are co-opted for projects today which would make them turn in their graves.
Here Steve Hayes shows how the libertarian right of the USA are trying to co-opt C S Lewis for the weird right-wing semi-Trumpism.
In the USA many have tried to claim Lewis as a good conservative evangelical – when he was not – he was simply a sensible Anglican from a time when Anglicans were sensible!!
On a personal note I met Steve in Windhoek in 1969 while I was working for a mining company. At that time he was a radical Anglican priest who later got banned. He is now orthodox.
Study the post and consider how often we twist historical personages for our own ends
In comparison to contemporary ‘progressive’ Christians such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who clamor for the foolish and disastrous notion of achieving ‘social justice’ through gigantic government powers, was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities, or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? (See Robert Higgs’s book refuting the ‘progressive’ myth in American history, Crisis and Leviathan, and his book on the disastrous ‘progressive’ state since 1930, Depression, War, and Cold War; see also Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism and The Civilian and the Military, and Jonathan Bean’s Race and Liberty in America.) In this article, I only…