Category Archives: Environment

General stuff on the environment, especially Christians and the environment

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges … (with apologies to Darwin)

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms, which were there before, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what is there now after the mowers moved in.

Many will realise that is a parody of the fantastic poetic conclusion to Darwin’s  The Origin of species.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, ……..

 

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That might baffle you why this photo is here and what it is.

It is the flower of one of 25 Southern Marsh Orchids mown down on a tiny grass verge in Lancashire. This flowered was beheaded or decapitated by someone unaware what it was, and perhaps it is reminiscent of the head of one of Henry VIII’s many victins on the executioner’s block.

Here is a fine specimen of a Southern Marsh Orchid a few hundred yards away and then the verge as it was early in June before the phantom mower came. The first is from an “amenity centre” which fortunately is not mown indiscriminately and one of a hundred along with a host of other flowers. The second is of the narrow verge of short grass where 25  orchids were flowering until 11th June 2020.

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That changed when it was mowed on the morning of 11th June. Wyre Council claim it was nothing to with them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/decapitating-orchids-in-lancashire-environmental-vandalism/

The grass was so short. The first shows one surviving ording and the second a mangled one.

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Another example near Scorton of Red Campions and cow parsley just trashed.

 

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Mowing machines have been the scourge of lockdown this spring. I don’t mean those which you use (or shouldn’t have used) to mow your lawn, but the excess misuse of mowing machines on roadside verges this year. It’s not only Lancashire but every part of the country as mowers have gone in and removed the flora.

Consider the contrast both in beauty and wildlife of these two images taken from twitter

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Every day over the last few months I have noticed mangled banks and verges, where mowers have gone in to do their damage. I ought to explain that most days I go out for a 30 odd mile cycleride in the lanes of Lancashire. Rather than improve my speed, I prefer to see what is there and especially enjoy the wildlife, whether a hare, rabbits, stoats, various birds including the Purple Heron. I had a close shave when a buzzard nearly flew into me near Inskip. I also look at the flora and continually improve my skills of identification.

But as I saw the trashed flowers the words of the last paragraph of The Origin came to mind and then I decided to parady it in honour of the mowers.

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms,  so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, which were there before,have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what was there before the mowers moved in. These new laws of environmental vandals, taken in the largest sense, being no Growth without Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost lost by lack of reproduction; invariability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of  the fossil-fueled mowing machines, and from extermination; a Ratio of Increase so low as to lead to an inevitable Death, and as a consequence to Unnatural Selection, entailing loss of Divergence of Character and the Extinction of all improved forms. Thus, from the war against nature, from moving, pesticide and herbicides, the most unexalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the loss of all fauna and flora, directly follows. There is no grandeur in this view of life, despite life having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved, are now being hurried to extinction by the wanton disregard of the Creator’s allegedly highest creation, the damned miscreator.

I have come across not only those decapitated orchids, but rare stands of Ragged Robin and Red and White Campions with their hybrids cut right down. I have only seen one example of those two floral gems. That is apart from  common wildflowers being mown down just before flowering. I blogged some details of the mowing here; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

The total area of road verges in Britain is immense as mile upon mile of 2 metre wide strips adds up to an awful lot, giving space for an immense diversity of flora and thus of insect, bird and mammal life. We cannot afford to lose it. It is comparble to domestic gardens which are increasingly hard-surfaced or put down to plastic grass.

Sadly , this mowing has taken place throughout the countries of the UK. Many have complained to their local councils.

I have complained to local councillors from Lancashire County Council and Wyre borough but have had no useful response.

In my twitter comments I also linked to the twitter accounts of Lancashire County Council and Wyre Borough Council, which elictied responses, which were unhelpful. LCC were quick to say verges were Wyre’s responsibility. But Wyre said that the verge with the orchids was not their remit. Even senior employees of either council gave me no answer. As a result I cannot say who was responsible and only deal with the results.

The results are very clear;

  • Mowers have no regard for flowers, whether common, or less so, in flower or in bud, and simply mow them down.
  • In many lanes a mown strip 2 to 3ft wide would be sufficient, but often anything up to 12 ft /4 metres from the road is mown, without regard to the flora.
  • often strips are mown right up to base of a hedge, if present, thus removing plants about to flower or in flower eg. ramsons, campions, ragged robin , various parsleys, Meadowsweet, vetchs etc.
  • A frequent appeal is for safety and visibility , but that would never require mowing back several metres from the road.

My observations also indicate that councils are not the only ones mowing, as it is often done by local farmers or residents, and, possibly other bodies.

I would suggest that every local council and councillors  need to be challenged on this by as many people as possible, until a better policy is implemented.

Despite by very much an amateur naturalist, it is clear to me that councils need good sound botanical advice to inform their mowing regime AND then enforce it.

I could go on, but will finish with quoting that final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin,  which is an excellent scientific picture of our natural world.

Have lived in Shrewsbury, Darwin must have ridden past many entangled banks as he travelled the area on his horse. Some of the best banks were on his various routes to Woodhouse, where his visited his first girl-friend Fanny Mostyn Owen, before he went to Cambridge.  The entangled banks near Downe House are equally gorgeous.

So I’ll give Darwin the last word, with a few of my photos.

The conclusion of The Origin of Species (1st ed)

 

 

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank,

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clothed with many plants of many kinds,

 

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with birds singing on the bushes,

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with various insects flitting about,

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and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Decapitating orchids in Lancashire. Environmental vandalism

Being retired I go out most days for a cycleride near Garstang in Lancashire. Usually I cover 20 to 40 miles and average about10 mph. I don’t cycle for speed but to explore and make great use of OS maps.

Recently I have been looking more and more at verges with their variety of flowers and change of flora during the seasons. Often it is fantastic to see what is there. I also note mammals and birds,and had a close shave last year when a buzzard missed me by inches!

Sadly in the last few months I have a spate of phantom mowers who strip the verges of all greenery and don’t give a damn about flowers.

As a result of finding so many flowers decapitated and mangled I wrote a blog last month

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

I often end up in Lane Ends Amenity area near Pilling, which is totally man-made and has two lakes. The material was used to make sea defences. At any time of the year there is something to see but the best is March to July as these photos show

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In March and April the central “meadow” is covered in cowslips and then other flowers take over, most notably Southern marsh Orchids and some hybrids. There are a large number of them, but some vandal dug up the biggest clump in May.

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There are also scabious, poppies, red and white campions. moon daisies, bacon-and-egg and other flowers

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I visited again on Thurs 11th June and enjoyed the various flowers. I then cycled out of the entrance where a week earlier I saw these lovely southern Marsh Orchids in short grass on the verge.

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i have to admit I felt a sense of foreboding  as I cycled out on to the road (entrance is by the clump of white moon daisies at the end of the road.) Sadly my foreboding was justified. Gone were the 25-30 orchids and only two were still standing.

This photo shows the area mowed – just a narrow strip of grass, no more than 9 inches high.

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Here is the damage.

The left photo shows one survivor and the right a mangled orchid.

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Here is a flower I put on top of a post – rather like an executioner’s block and another lying forlornly on the ground..

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More decapitated orchids

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These two photos are looking eastwards to the Lane End’s entrance. It was mowed on both sides, but on the left they stopped before the daisies. Even so there was no need to more.

The second shows the strip with orchids with another survivor.

 

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Another view looking east, with the large white clump of moon daisies in the distance.

It shows the contrast of the mown and unknown verge and the height of the original verge.

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While taking photos a dog-walker went past and she told me that the Environment Agency had come to mow it in the morning. I am not convinced that it was the EA, as if so some of their operatives will be in serious trouble. I hope.

I peddled off in a filthy mood and later looked at the flowers on the embankment beyond Fluke Hall.

On Friday I sent another email to my Wyre Councillor and hope for an explanation .

I put details on twitter so various councils and environmental groups could see yet another example of damage caused by mowing.

Mark Billington Corporate Director Environment tweeted to me on the matter twice on 12th June;

Michael – I understand your concerns but I do not believe that this work has been undertaken by Wyre Council.

It appears to be a highway verge@wyrecouncil do not control all grass cutting within the Wyre area.

At present I cannot find out who mowed it. Maybe an FOI to Wyre council may help?

This spring I have been appalled at the vandalistic mowing of verges in my part of Lancashire – Fylde and Wyre Council areas.

The decapitation of these orchids is only the worst example I have found on my travels.

Only on occassion did I see Wyre workmen mowing – with limited sensitivity.

Most of the time I cannot work out who did the mowing but it is often excessive cutting 6 feet or more of verges when 2 to 3 foot would be ample by any standards. The usual answer is for safety and visibility, but that would only apply to verges by road junctions.

Sadly this story is repeated throughout the country.

It does seem that those who mow have had no training on the value of wildflowers and other flora, not only in themselves but also to encourage bees , other insects, small mammals and birds, and don’t seem to get beyond “tidiness”.

I also reckon that local councils are shirking their responsibilities.

orchids

 

Being retired I go out most days for a cycleride near Garstang in Lancashire. Usually I cover 20 to 40 miles and average about10 mph. I don’t cycle for speed but to explore and make great use of OS maps.

Recently I have been looking more and more at verges with their variety of flowers and change of flora during the seasons. Often it is fantastic to see what is there. I also note mammals and birds,and had a close shave last year when a buzzard missed me by inches!

Sadly in the last few months I have a spate of phantom mowers who strip the verges of all greenery and don’t give a damn about flowers.

As a result of finding so many flowers decapitated and mangled I wrote a blog last month

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

I often end up in Lane Ends Amenity area near Pilling, which is totally man-made and has two lakes. The material was used to make sea defences. At any time of the year there is something to see but the best is March to July as these photos show

P1030459P1030577

In March and April the central “meadow” is covered in cowslips and then other flowers take over, most notably Southern marsh Orchids and some hybrids. There are a large number of them, but some vandal dug up the biggest clump in May.

P1030713P1030693

There are also scabious, poppies, red and white campions. moon daisies, bacon-and-egg and other flowers

P1030761P1030762

I visited again on Thurs 11th June and enjoyed the various flowers. I then cycled out of the entrance where a week earlier I saw these lovely southern Marsh Orchids in short grass on the verge.

P1030687P1030688

i have to admit I felt a sense of foreboding  as I cycled out on to the road (entrance is by the clump of white moon daisies at the end of the road.) Sadly my foreboding was justified. Gone were the 25-30 orchids and only two were still standing.

This photo shows the area mowed – just a narrow strip of grass, no more than 9 inches high.

P1030773

Here is the damage.

The left photo shows one survivor and the right a mangled orchid.

P1030765P1030767

Here is a flower I put on top of a post – rather like an executioner’s block and another lying forlornly on the ground..

P1030768P1030769

More decapitated orchids

P1030770P1030771

These two photos are looking eastwards to the Lane End’s entrance. It was mowed on both sides, but on the left they stopped before the daisies. Even so there was no need to more.

The second shows the strip with orchids with another survivor.

 

P1030772P1030774

Another view looking east, with the large white clump of moon daisies in the distance.

It shows the contrast of the mown and unknown verge and the height of the original verge.

P1030776

While taking photos a dog-walker went past and she told me that the Environment Agency had come to mow it in the morning. I am not convinced that it was the EA, as if so some of their operatives will be in serious trouble. I hope.

I peddled off in a filthy mood and later looked at the flowers on the embankment beyond Fluke Hall.

On Friday I sent another email to my Wyre Councillor and hope for an explanation .

I put details on twitter so various councils and environmental groups could see yet another example of damage caused by mowing.

Mark Billington Corporate Director Environment tweeted to me on the matter twice on 12th June;

Michael – I understand your concerns but I do not believe that this work has been undertaken by Wyre Council.

It appears to be a highway verge@wyrecouncil do not control all grass cutting within the Wyre area.

At present I cannot find out who mowed it. Maybe an FOI to Wyre council may help?

This spring I have been appalled at the vandalistic mowing of verges in my part of Lancashire – Fylde and Wyre Council areas.

The decapitation of these orchids is only the worst example I have found on my travels.

Only on occassion did I see Wyre workmen mowing – with limited sensitivity.

Most of the time I cannot work out who did the mowing but it is often excessive cutting 6 feet or more of verges when 2 to 3 foot would be ample by any standards. The usual answer is for safety and visibility, but that would only apply to verges by road junctions.

Sadly this story is repeated throughout the country.

It does seem that those who mow have had no training on the value of wildflowers and other flora, not only in themselves but also to encourage bees , other insects, small mammals and birds, and don’t seem to get beyond “tidiness”.

I also reckon that local councils are shirking their responsibilities.

Bringing Ancient Grasslands into the heart of our towns and cities.

More on encouraging wildflowers, and thus bees and birds – AND SAVING MONEY on urban areas of grass

The Intermingled Pot

A decline in insect numbers, children losing touch with nature, adults in total ignorance of their local cultural heritage, and local government cutbacks. What can we do to help?

IMG_2749 This used to be a municipal incinerator; in 1995 it looked like this https://www.flickr.com/photos/crumplezone/7197765196 

In 2016 Natural England published its Conservation 21 strategy  (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/conservation-21-natural-englands-conservation-strategy-for-the-21st-century ) which proposes a future based around the following three guiding principles

• creating resilient landscapes and seas
• putting people at the heart of the environment
• growing natural capital

An efficient and sensible way to solve all of the above problems is to bring our rural ancient grasslands into the heart of our urban areas: Cowslip, bird’s-foot trefoil, autumn hawkbit growing on our urban road verges so they can be seen during the year by every child as they walk to school, every adult as they drive* to work, and also used as food…

View original post 1,572 more words

It seems that the main occupation of local councils during lockdown was to trash,  – whoops – carefully mow – all the verges on our roads.

The price is to remove wildflowers as they come into bloom and destroy habitats for insects.

I am wondering if these lovely orchids will be mowed down as they were last year

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I discuss the damage in parts of Lancashire here

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

 

via The practicalities of not cutting road verges

Where have all the flowers gone? Stripped from verges everyone.

One of the joys of cycling the lanes of Lancashire is the profusion of flowers and plants in the hedgerows and verges. My cycling is more to explore than to clock up the miles. I explore using ordnance survey maps so I can find new lanes and places of interest. I cycle all year round, so see the countryside in all seasons. I only avoid ice and high winds!!

Each year I cycle over 4000 miles with rides from 20 to 50 and occasionally more miles. Thus I tend to go down the same lanes many times a year. Speed is not my aim and I am always looking at the flora and fauna and stop if there is anything of interest. I always see and note the changing seasons. Although my botanical skills are not great, I note where particular flowers blossom and when. Often I chooose a route to see what flower I expect to see has flowered.

A few weeks ago I tootled past this fantastic array of forget-me-nots. It was downhill but I kept my brakes on so I could take it all in. 8 mph was better than 18mph!

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There are many other examples and best savoured at a slow pace. Granted I couldn’t do more than 5-6 mph going up Beacon Fell.

Look at the variety Alkanet, Welsh Poppy, Ramsons, Red Campion, Queen Annes Lace, and finally some hybridizing Red and white campions.

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It is difficult not to think of Darwin’s beautiful conclusion to The Origin of Species seeing these displays.

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

It is all absolutely wonderful until you cycle after someone (who knows who?) has been along the lane with a mowing machine and shredded up to six foot or more of the often flower-rich verges. As I cycled along this lane I did not think of Darwin but wondered who could have such a lack of concern or knowledge of the countryside. Today, a fortnight after cycling this, I was there again and it is still a mess.

 

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This is not so much mowing as mangling. Hardly good management.

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Darwin needs bringing up to date;

It is awful to contemplate a mangled bank, clothed with so few  plants, which have been mangled by a mower, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects unable to find their food, and no hedge garlic for the orange tip butterfly to lay its eggs. And to hell with the orchids.

This is the same lane as above. Campions nestle against the hedge, but you can see the mangled ones in front .

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I cannot understand why such a wide strip needs mowing. In fact here, they failed to mow adjacent to the road but just carved at least a three foot strip mangling the flora.

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Then cycling near Inskip I found six foot of verges had been mowed to destruction as you can see in the three photos below..

Why do this? There is no reason for visibility. as for tidiness only a stroip about 2ft wide is needed.

Further it is very rough mowing done with no concern for precision or tidiness and even less for the flora, however common it may be. Of course, there are those who will see those plants as “weeds”, thus needing removal as they have no purpose

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A little further on was a pole in the middle of the verge preventing  the mower from reaching much of the verge. This mean some flowers were left and here some Queen Annes Lace and some vetch. This is what the stretch of road in the previous photos would have looked like.P1030444

A mile or so along the lane the verges were mown down to the soil ripping up ramsons and Campions.

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Isn’t this so beautiful? I can’t imagine Darwin finding it interesting to contemplate.

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Elsewhere hedge garlic, the home to orange tip caterpillars  is often shreddedand cut back, thus assisting in the decline of butterflies.

I often cycle along the lane west of Cartford Bridge, which overlooks some of the lower reaches of the River Wyre. Recently as I went down this stretch I looked for the interesting hybrids between Red and White Campions I had stopped and photographed a week before.

They were no more – sacrificed to the great god the mower. I was furious.

 

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Here are the campions I’d photographed on my previous ride.

Now I could wax lyrical on them! The most obvious sign are pink flowers in contrast to the pure white one and very deep pink or red ones. I won’t go into the shape of the leaves and other aspects or how you can tell between boy and girl plants! I am not very good on the sex life of Campions.

I was pleased to find this site as occurences of hybrid campions are not that common in this part of Lancashire, and this seems to be an outlier. (But a competent botanist may correct me.)

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A few days after this cycling near Stalmine I found this heavy handed mowing removing a good foot of growth.

Some would argue that this was done for drainage reasons. If so, it should have been done at least a month earlier or last autumn.  By now plants like meadowsweet or purple loosestrife should be a foot high. In fact, the ditch by the end of Union Lane was cut back several months ago and now has meadwosweet and purple loosestrife thriving.

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Carrying on up the lane I came to turn-off to Stalmine and found the phantom mower had been hard at it.

All that was needed was a yard strip adjacent to the road, rather than removing everything right back to the hedge.

That is all that is needed for visibility for dangerous road-users, unless they were Borrowers.

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Last year cycling above Claughton I so pleased to find a hundred yard log stand of ragged Robin in flower. Here it is today> If you look carefully you will see ONE Ragged Robin flower.

As you see a FOUR foot edge was mowed, which can have no justification for visiblity or tidiness.

This is only one of two locations in Lancashire that I’ve found roadside Ragged Robins. The other was a lone flower in a bank at 240  metres three miles away.

 

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These are just some of the photos I started to take in April as I realised what was happening. These go up to 20th May.

Obviously as I cycle at a sedate rate of 10- 15 mph I have time to notice things, you wouldn’t if you were trying to better your time on Strava or driving, but this is why I cycle the way I do.

I like to see what is there; flora, fauna, buildings, boundary stones and anything of interest. As well as flora I’ve seen Great White Egrets, Purple Herons, Owls, Hares , Rabbits, Stoats, various butterflies etc. In February  cycling towards Eagland Hill I saw a Kestrel hovering , two buzzards being mugged by crows and then the temporary resident the Purple Heron. I have been hit by a small bird and last year a buzzard missed me by inches!!

Come a month or two I shall be looking out for knapweed, purple loosestrife and other flowers.

My worry is that this kind of mowing will remove not only the wild flowers but also insects and birds.

That is why it needs to stop and be properly managed.

About myself, I am more of a person interested in wildlife, both flora and fauna, rather than having any special skills, so this blog is a protest against the wholesale cutting down of verges while in flower.  I accept they need cuttting but that should be done taking flowering into consideration. Here is Plantlife on the mowing of verges. Very wise;

https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf

All Councils – Parish, county and district/borough need a coherent strategy on the management of verges. They also need to take advice from a competent ecologist. It is not something to be left to someone with a mowing machine, who may think that weeds need to be cut to the ground.

I have lodged a complaint with my local councillors and have had a positive response.

In contrast to this Wales is different as this BBC article shows

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52708577

With a good example

View image on Twitter

And a bad one

View image on TwitterImage

 

Finally, in contrast to my amateurish complaints, here is some informed comment.

  1. A recent conference on the management of verges

https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/some-notes-from-the-road-verge-conference-in-suffolk/

2. An old blog from a botanist dealing with these problems, giving links to how various councils in England are managing verges.

https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/rural-road-verge-links/

3. The policy of Dorset County Council.

https://news.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/2019/06/17/our-roadside-verges-a-fine-balance-to-strike/

Each of these will give a professional amplification of my concerns.

I will leave you with this image. It is better for bees, insects, birds and humans

Verge flowers

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog – Stop Graveney Marsh Solar Farm

Why solar farms are not the panacea for green energy

a new nature blog

As regular readers will know I take an interest in solar farms and their impact on wildlife.

With this in mind, I’m happy to host a guest blog today from Matthew Hatchwell of the Faversham Society. Matthew was Director of Conservation at the Zoological Society of London, and before that was head of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Europe. Matthew writes about a massive proposed Solar Farm on the north Kent marshes.

On May 10, 2020, the Daily Telegraph published an article about the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park (CHSP) just outside Faversham on the north Kent coast.  If it goes ahead, it would be the largest solar power station in the UK, covering 900 acres of farmland, containing nearly a million solar panels, and including a battery storage system five times larger than the current record-holder, in Australia.  Local residents, although supportive of solar energy in general…

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COVID-19,Good Friday and the Death of Christ.

Why did a loving God allow the Coronavirus?

Is this actually true?

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things.

 

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Little did we think when we heard the reports from China in January 2020 that within two months virtually the whole world would be in lock-down. I shall not deal with all the medical and scientific issues. But what about issues raised for Christians?

How should a Christian think about such a pandemic? Yes, there have been many in the course of history and the worst in Britain and other countries was the Black Death in the 14th century.

A pandemic raises such questions like;

Why did God allow it?

How can God be good?

Which are all variants trying to understand the WHY of suffering.

Most attempts consider what is called Natural Evil and for long I have wondered whether that is both a misnomer and misunderstands the nature of the universe, or the way the world is. One who has taken it head on is Justin Brierly of Premier Christian Radio in a recent blog. I think his alternative understandings are most unsatisfactory.

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Why-doesn-t-God-stop-Coronavirus-and-mend-the-world?fbclid=IwAR3GbGZtQthH_e0F9pbOlvXgojbbrE3h-W8lXRb7TP6BJWRVk0MuR5r3tQ8

The question of God and suffering is one of the oldest questions ever asked and there are no easy answers. Most often the response needed for those who are walking through suffering is our love and care, not our clever theology and philosophy. However, when the time comes for intellectual answers, I believe there are some helpful way to make sense of suffering.

Justin is right on here. There are no easy answers and I wonder if there is ananswer. He is right to say those suffering need love not theology, clever or not. Some are most unclever. As he continues Justin offers some theology, which is focussed on Romans 8 vs 19ff.

The Groaning of Creation

But when it comes to Coronavirus we may be tempted to ask: Why has God allowed death, disease and natural disaster to exist at all? We may be able to understand the existence of evil caused by our own free will, but what about the ‘natural evil’ that exists in the world? This question can only be answered by a Christian from within his or her own worldview, and means we must expand our perspective to a cosmic scale.

This is the Fundamental question which is almost impossible to answer – I keep failing on it.

 

Out of Kilter?

The apostle Paul states that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). The Christian story is that the whole created order is in some sense ‘out of kilter’ at a cosmic level. Some theologians trace this to human rebellion – an outworking of ‘the fall’ which acts both forwards and backwards in time. Others point to the existence of an earlier rebellion in the angelic realm that sparked a ‘cosmic fall’ (hinted at in Revelation 12:9).

This is dangerous pinning a certain idea on a few verses, especially as they have long been open to different understandings. There are questions on the translation here, but I’ll leave that. What does it means for the whole creation to be groaning?

Is Creation out of kilter?

Is it actually true that creation is ‘out of kilter’ at a cosmic level.”? Here he seeks to answer

Why has God allowed death, disease and natural disaster to exist at all? We may be able to understand the existence of evil caused by our own free will, but what about the ‘natural evil’ that exists in the world?

Justin does not consider that fact that death and natural disaster i.e volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, were there from the beginning of this planet’s history. Further, if he is right that the creation is “out of kilter”, when was the creation knocked out of kilter? We need to ask

 “When?”

“in what ways “

 “and in what ways was it out of kilter a billion years ago, when there were no humans?”

I never had a sense the created order is “out of kilter” whether in my geological work or as I look around me or when I cycle or walk in the countryside. That is not to say humans are not trying to put creation out of kilter, but that is totally different

What Justin is claiming that a Fall, whether of humans in the Garden of Eden or of an angelic Fall, has put the whole cosmos out of kilter. This is not what either Genesis 3 or Rev 12 vs9 state. It is reading into it. It probably has more to do with Milton’s Paradise Lost than the Bible.

I am fully aware that many theologians have argued for one or the other to get God off the hook for suffering, but succeed in attaching God more firmly to the hook, and making Him an ogre. To afflict the cosmos with a Curse because of the misdemeanours of Adam and Eve seems cruel to everyone and everything else.

He claims; “Whatever the origin, the result is a world that is not as it should be.” I have to ask in what ways is the world not as it should be.

If you mean the physical world, nothing has changed in geological time. The physical laws have not changed. Volcanoes are still erupting four billion years on. Yes, I’ve looked at volcanic rocks one or two billion years old. Viruses also keep attaching themselves to other living things as they did billions of years ago, and at times kill their hosts.

However human behaviour is totally out of kilter and often damages the natural world. I suspect the Coronavirus would have stayed in bats if humans had not mistreated them.

 Yet Paul includes the promise that one day “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

What does Justin glean from this?

Everybody has experienced living in the tension of this broken world. The groaning of creation brings both good and bad across our path. The natural laws that operate are both a blessing and a curse. Tectonic plate activity renews the surface of the earth with minerals, yet wreaks havoc when humans build cities on the fault lines. Cell replication allows our bodies to grow and develop, yet can result in cancer when natural processes misfire. Death is a necessary part of the cycle of life, yet still remains our “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Who says this is a broken world? It is as it has always been. The movement of tectonic plates is just normal and has been going on for billions of years, causing earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

Why does Justin not accept this?

The Coronavirus is just one more example of the broken world we live in. Life is a God-given miracle of extraordinary engineering and complexity. Yet the physical process of life itself are subject to viruses, parasites, and disease. The “bondage to decay” that St Paul speaks of reverberates through the cosmos.

This is rather high-flown with an appeal to the bondage of decay from Paul. It sounds impressive but what does it mean?

By creating a world of free creatures – both physical and spiritual – God has granted a level of freedom to the whole of the created order. That means that God won’t simply step in and wave a magic wand to take away the suffering in the world. We are part of the problem of evil, and God has chosen us to be part of the solution too.

Where does Justin think the other part of the problem of evil comes from?

Throughout the New Testament we are presented with a worldview of spiritual warfare in which God has chosen his people to be fellow combatants waging a war, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual “principalities [and] powers” (Ephesians 6:12) through our prayer, love and action.

How on earth (literally) does Justin see spiritual warfare in plate tectonics?

God hates Coronavirus

I have increasingly seen that this ‘warfare’ view of reality may help those who have experienced great suffering to understand that God is not the author of their pain. One such person is Jessica Kelley, whom I interviewed about the loss of her four-year-old son Henry to brain cancer as related in her book Lord Willing?.  …….Jessica had come to reject what she terms the ‘blueprint’ view of a God who creates pain and suffering as part of his sovereign plan. Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God. Although the war was decisively turned towards victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus, there still remains a world of running spiritual battles.  …….. Henry was a casualty in the ongoing battle to redeem a fallen and broken world:……………..

Jessica’s perspective can equally be turned to this present Coronavirus pandemic. God did not will this crisis. Let’s not lay the blame at his door. But he is working through the actions and prayers of those who are seeking to see his Kingdom come on earth.

It is hard to comment on this owing to Jessica’s tragic loss of a child, which I have not had to go through, but to argue “Instead she embraced the warfare view, that we live in a world where natural disasters, disease and evil are tied up not only with the choices of human beings but with the freedom exercised by spiritual forces in rebellion against God.” It is very dubious to tie up what he calls natural disasters i.e. volcanoes etc with spiritual warfare..

Are volcanoes, earthquakes, floods caused by spiritual forces in rebellion against God” There is nothing in the bible to support that and is very Manichaean.

Alternative views

Nevertheless, Jessica’s view is controversial to some. Many would object that a God who isn’t in control of the whole show isn’t the God of the Bible.

Why should we ever believe that God is control down to the last detail? It sounds great but it is not true to experience, though many of us experience a general guidance at times, but not at others. Did God really was in control when you twisted your ankle while out on a walk?

Some e.g. Thomas Oard rightly argue that God does not “interfere with and control” his creation, as in his book The Uncontrolling love of God. He extends the idea from Phillipians 2 of Jesus Christ emptying himself to God emptying himself in creation and often letting things be.

 Calvinist theologians believe that God is the author of both joy and sorrow and, even though we may struggle to see it, works through both for his ultimate purposes and glory. They say the warfare view contains too much of the same sort of randomness in suffering that the atheist must contend with. 

For me, I end up with a certain agnosticism in respect of God’s control but the warfare view is both Manichean and tries to divide creation into good (flowers etc) and evil (volcanoes) and makes Christians see everything as warfare and conflict.

Inevitably, different Christians will come to different understandings of how to reconcile God and suffering. What we can agree on is that God is good, suffering is bad, but that his love and purposes will win out in the end.

Yes, but that does not mean we should tolerate what can only be called extreme views – as is the warfare view, or that popular view of the Curse. What we need to agree on is that God is good, even when things are going badly and don’t make sense. That is found in Romans 8 especially the conclusion

Justin states;

The Christian story is of a broken and rebellious creation that is awaiting the renewal of all things.

This is simply not biblical. Just considering the Bible, there is nothing to support “a broken and rebellious Creation”. It is a variation of the Curse mythology which reckons God screwed up a supposedly “perfect “ creation because of Adam and Eve. The Christian Story IS of a broken humanity who are also stuffing up the rest of creation, but only on this planet but not beyond the Solar System, if that. In what ways are meteors, distant stars and planets “broken and rebellious”? Or even birds and bees and even bats and pangolins? Or, dare I say, viruses? The story starts there with humans stuffing up the earth and culminates with Jesus Christ who “unscrews” humanity and reconciles them (2 Cor 5)

If, and a big if, Justin’s is the Christian story then I wholeheartedly reject it as fanciful and absurd. Further it is not the Christian story held by all Christians over the last 2000 years.

The Christian story in its basics is that humans screwed things up and Jesus thorugh his death and resurrection has shown the way to unscrew it. Forget about warfare with volcanoes, or animal predation.

 How should we see God in the light of the coronavirus?

Above all it is wrong to focus on death and suffering as due to Adam’s misdeeds, and neither of Justin’s alternatives make sense. This is the danger of a self-contained biblical argument and not looking at what we know of the world. Any world view which disregards the science is worthless. If we applied that principle to astronomy we would believe in a flat earth and that seeds actually die before they germinate (1 Cor 15). We need to take note of science and especially the history of the earth and the life therein. Here it is in outline

The Universe was formed 13.4 by years ago with the big Bang (which was put forward by a Christian cosmologist Fr G Le Maitre)

The Earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago and since then its surface has been sundered by plate tectonics. There seemed to be no involvement by naughty angels and it was too early for Adam to cause the eruptions.

Life first formed between 3 and 4 billion years ago. The earliest forms were like bacteria with viruses going piggy-back. Thus from then on bacteria were dying and being infected by viruses. We then have the sequence of life and so to vertebrates, dinosaurs, mammals and lastly humans.

This makes it clear that death disease and suffering were there from the beginning and along with volcanoes. The earth is IN kilter.

So it continues today with volcanoes, earthquakes, animals and people dying.

Every so often the earth is hit with something like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which some implied had a human origin, rather than being natural. Some want to regard the bits which are painful as Natural Evil. That is a wrong term as those things are simply – – – NATURAL.

Can you call this evil – natural or not? It is simply life and the way the world is .Any belief system or worldview which does not accept this is flying in the face of facts.

Here we come face to face with problem of suffering, which comes out so starkly in Covid-19. All living things die, often after getting a disease. Even the fossil record shows that. At times it is accompanied with great pain. It is a problem because it is downright ghastly and we feel it should not be that way We try to rationalise it and often by one of the three put forward by Justin. We are unwilling to say it’s purely natural and believers don’t want to say God did it.

It is a dilemma, which we all seek to resolve. Not all find a resolution which supports faith and many conclude that God cannot allow the suffering and if He did then He must be the Devil. This alone should stop us from coming out with slick answers, which may help us but repel others.

Suffering was a great problem for Charles Darwin as I discuss here

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/parasitic-wasps-and-the-death-of-jesus-with-hat-tip-to-darwin/

What should we say as Christians?

Here we turn to the Christian story – the four gospels, which are odd as they give so much on Jesus’s last week on earth, describing in his public execution in gruesome detail.

As Jesus he died, he shrieked;

Eloi eloi, lama sabachthani!

My God. My God, why have you forsaken me?

There was Jesus, the Son of God, suffering an excruciating death. Imagine those fat, rusty nails hammered through your wrist and ankles. Then being suspended making it almost impossible to breath along with the nails tearing your flesh and broken bone.

The centre of the Christian Faith is on the ghastly death of Jesus and his surprising resurrection. Traditionally Christian have viewed the death of Jesus being purely an atonement without considering that in death Jesus shared human suffering.

Is this an answer?

Yes and no

It is not a simplistic answer.

The Old Testament doesn’t give an answer, but a poem/saga about suffering – the book of Job. Job had suffered badly and all his advisors were useless and then he met God, who asked him if he was present at creation (Job 38 -41). Job realised he did not understand and then trusted God. We can do no more, as we don’t understand as suffering gives no logical explanation and there is no logical explanation for suffering. The message was “trust God”.

This where Moltmann’s insights in The Crucified God are so helpful, as we see that the cross is not only forgiveness and reconciliation but also God in Christ entering into all suffering and shrieking “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” That is what we often do when suffering hits us. Suffering points to the cross.

That is as far as we can go. There is nothing wrong in saying our understanding is partial, but it is very wrong to think we have understood suffering.

This raises the question whether suffering can be called Natural Evil as it is not Evil but just Natural. Volcanoes are just the normal activity in the earth’s crust. OK, some suffering is caused by the evil of others, but that should never be called Natural Evil, but just Evil. It’s a bit tough if you are being eaten by lion, drowned in a tsunami, or suffering a disease, but this is the fabric of creation. For the record I put my foot four inches from a sleeping Cape Cobra!

Many Christians are unwilling to accept that suffering and “natural disaster” is written into the structure of the earth, and thus what some call “Natural Evil” is simply natural. Many perform theological contortions and bad exegesis to explain evil and suffering. The temptation is to explain it away by an appeal that suffering came in at the Curse when Adam fell, or some angelic fall, or spiritual warfare. I would argue that not only are they bad/heretical/false theology but are liable to have very bad pastoral effects.

First, it results in a Manichean dualism, where everything natural is split into good and bad. An amusing example of this is that when we were in Yellowstone National Park, some visitors asked Rangers why they didn’t remove the bad animals – presumably grizzlies and wolves!! It is unfortunate if your hiker’s bear bell is found in grizzly scat, but that is not because that grizzly is bad. It is unnerving to hike in Yellowstone. This negativity spreads to those who want to kill every “bad critter”, especially insects. So the insect spray is always handy. Why zap every wasp and squish every beetle?

Secondly, this can have disastrous results on the environment as we purge it of everything bad from dandelions (weeds) to daddy long legs.

Thirdly, it can easily create a judgmentalism with a tendency to regard suffering and illness as the penalty of sin. An example is a minister I knew telling the parents of a boy suffering from cancer, that someone had sinned in the family. And then most clergy often heard people who are ill or suffering asking, “Why is God punishing me?”

It is understandable why some may think these things, but that does not make them right. Just think that menstruation was once called the Curse.

What about the Coronavirus?

As said earlier, viruses are part of the natural order and have existed as long as life itself. They cause a vast number of serious diseases in plants, animals and humans. Though they are not evil in a moral sense, they cause disease to all forms of life. Simply considering humans they cause an immense amount of suffering and death.

However the damage viruses cause is often made worse by human behaviour whether innocent, reckless or due to a lack of care for the natural world. It seems likely this coronavirus entered humans from a bat in a live animal market in China. That trade is perverse and criminally evil to animals. It also provides the right conditions for viruses to jump species.

cor2

 

Thus, we can say that the coronavirus is a mixture of the natural and human evil. Were it not for the latter – both the live animal market and the cover –up – we may never have heard of it.

The wildlife trade is repulsive. Ultimately we have say that it and other ways of trashing the environment are immor and evil.  The coronavirus is just one of many examples. If we hold to an Adamic or Angelic Fall, or “spiritual Warfare” we are in danger of not recognising the human sin behind it. It removes the responsibility away from those who caused it – and that includes all of us who mistreat God’s creation in any way.

Now my answer is not definite or clear-cut as it starts from the fact that volcanoes, suffering and death are totally natural and written into all creation, without a malevolent being, human or spiritual, causing them. And most definitely not a God after the Fall.

This, and the need to look after the environment in myriad ways, deals with the more general aspects, but suffering is on a personal level we must go beyond that. We need effective action not explanations. To do this involves risk and sacrifice, which we see in those who are on the frontline in the health services and other vital services today. We have seen some of them die of Covid-19.

No appeal to spiritual warfare or the Fall of Adam or angels is of any value here – except to give an attitude of spirituality superiority, which is neither Christian nor humanitarian. If Christianity is not humanitarian it is not Christian.

Suffering reduces us to a position of weakness and humility. This is a major theme of both the Old and New Testament, even though it is often sidelined in Christendom and revivalism, which prefers Christ as Lord and King rather than servant. It can be argued that the New Testament refers to Jesus as Lord and Saviour  to subvert the demand in the Roman Empire to see Caesar as Lord. How could an executed felon be Lord and Saviour?

So consider this felon. His teaching was a development of the prophetic side of the Old Testament Law with the emphasis on love of neighbour.  Apart from their worship of a different god to most Romans, this became their mark along with their keenness to care for the less fortunate. This put most expressively in the Letter to Diognetus (late 2nd cent?), “They share their food, but not their wives.” Holland discusses it in his chapter (V) on Charity in his book Dominion.

This love and service to others is self-emptying, or kenotic. It is hinted at in Isaiah with his suffering servant; Chap 42 vs 1-9, and Chap 52 vs13 to53 vs12, which forms the backcloth of the accounts of Jesus’ death.

Suffering is emptying. Paul develops that in his appeal to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ in Philippians 2.vs5-8

4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Yes, I know I left out the resurrection, but my emphasis is on self-emptying love in action here.

His self-emptying is seen finally in the cross and comes out in his putting down of power hungry disciple Mark 10 vs 43-5

43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

As a result when early Christians after Constantine were not involved in politicking and re-inventing the trappings of the Roman Empire, were in the forefront of caring for those in need. This was manifest during the intermittent plagues and more continually in the foundations of hospices and places to care for the sick.

This is probably where the only “answer” to suffering can be found.

Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani.

The Germination of Outrage: How Vandana Shiva Fabricates Conspiracy Theories

One of the most well-known anti-GMO activists.

Not very good on precision, but asked by Extinction Rebellion to write a forward to their first book.

How many have suffered due to her stance on GMOs?

The Risk-Monger

Vandana Shiva has made a lucrative business out of spreading conspiracy theories about agricultural technologies, sustainable farming, capitalism and industry. Her popularity has grown as she positions herself as a modern-day Gandhi, a social justice warrior, an ecological feminist and an agroecologist. The problem is that most everything that comes out of her much amplified mouth is complete nonsense: pure fabrications easily and often refuted.

Which leads to the question: How does Vandana consistently get away with such ridiculous falsehoods and oral assaults on intelligent thought? How can she weave the absurd into a web of allegations willingly consumed by her followers? How does she relentlessly fabricate conspiracy theories and package them for consumption among the Western liberal elite? This article will look at one web of lies she is presently spinning as an analysis of the germination of outrage.

Gone Vananas

As Vandana points her finger at Western economic…

View original post 1,990 more words

Why the Church of England’s decision for Net Zero 2030 is wrong.

Why Net Zero 2030 is doomed to failure and despair

2030
Summary; The Church of England has entered discussions on Net Zero for Carbon. At the meeting of General Synod on 12 February 2020 as proposal for the church to be Net zero by 2045 was rejected and Net Zero 2035 was narrowly passed.
If carried out, this will be extremely expensive and bankrupt some local churches. Further those who proposed this did not consider either the implications or how it can be implemented.
Here I argue it is fundamentally wrong, and no more than virtue signalling.

When I first heard of Global Warming (before its name change to Climate Change) in about 1990 I was sceptical. This was just two years after James Hansen’s warning of danger in the USA. My reasons were geological or rather glaciological. I was aware how the earth’s temperature had fluctuated with glaciations in the Precambrian, Ordovician, Permian and Pleistocene. I have worked on the Precambrian (600my) glaciation and the latest ones ending 10,000 years ago. I was also aware of historical fluctuations with the Little Ice Age and the warming since about 1810, which I found apparent when walking in the Alps, especially the recent retreat of glaciers. Thus I was fully aware how the earth’s temperature had fluctuated for the last billion years.

It took until 1998 when Sir John Houghton personally convinced me what was happening. I later wrote a survey of evangelical responses to Climate Change up to 2010. By then I was convinced of the seriousness of Climate Change and that we should change our energy use among many other things in the future. Ironically I finished that chapter on April Fool’s Day 2011, the day a Mag 2.3 tremor occurred at Cuadrilla’s fracking site in Lancashire. I never felt it though I was only 10 miles away, but it changed my outlook.

Soon afterwards an election leaflet was delivered by a certain political party to our house. I liked all the suggestions on better cycle routes etc and I decided to vote for them, until I read the risible comments on the risk of damage from earthquakes. From a position of being hostile to fracking I started to study it carefully and found that claims by anti-frackers were fallacious. I also found that Christian green groups were simply repeating them as Gospel and had no wish to listen to the science! Outside the churches the two worst offenders for misinformation were Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, as FoE found out to their embarrassment in early 2017.

It was clear that green groups were singing from the same hymn book with anti-fracking, anti-GMO, anti-nuclear along with a blind faith in renewables as the cure for everything energy wise. They also took the most extreme and apocalyptic understanding of climate change.  As the decade progressed the evils of fossil fuels and divestment came to the fore, but this was not accompanied with a presentation of what alternatives should be used, nor with a partiality to precision. Few acknowledged the intermittency of renewables, highlighted on 23/1/20 when lack of sun and wind resulted in little energy from renewables (see below). With an almost sectarian zeal any who did not accept this outlook were dismissed as a climate denier and thus the way was opened for Extinction Rebellion in late 2018. Green groups were clear what they were against – fossil fuels (and often nuclear) – but did not provide an alternative, except simplistic appeals to renewables. The actual aim is better seen in the anticapitalism which marks such activists as Naomi Klein or Extinction Rebellion.

To get back the General Synod resolution. The government target of Net Zero 2050 is, in fact, ambitious and unless new techniques of energy production or carbon capture are developed, very hard to fulfil. The aim of Net Zero 2025 by Extinction Rebellion is simply absurd and impossible to fulfil without killing lots of people through hypothermia.  The target of 2045 is more challenging than realistic, but could be doable for the church, because so many aspects of energy in industry are not considered. However the amendment from Bristol Diocese for Net Zero 2030 is beyond absurd. It is clear that the implication were not thought out, whether practical details or cost. On paper it could possibly be done, as the church could opt to use only renewables, but the cost is prohibitive and my rough calculation  of moving over with a considerable use of heat pumps is –

A backofenvelope calculation is that cost for my diocese -Blackburn would be £15 million and thus £600 million for the whole Church of England. That is each parish must raise extra £8000 p.a or £160 per week .

One could quibble over details but this is the right order of the financial implications. I look forward to this being sent to the parishes by the various Diocesan Boards of Finance!

And so the amendment was passed for 2030;

“The rest of the morning session was devoted to a debate on the Climate Emergency and Carbon Reduction Target. The motion as originally proposed was amended, most significantly when “2045 at the latest” in paragraph (a) was replaced by “2030”. This amendment was quite narrowly carried by 144 votes to 129 with 10 recorded abstentions. At the end of the debate, the amended motion below was carried on a show of hands.

Here is the amendment;

That this Synod, recognising that the global climate emergency is a crisis for God’s creation, and a fundamental injustice, and following the call of the Anglican Communion in ACC Resolutions A17.05 and A17.06;

(a) call upon all parts of the Church of England, including parishes, BMOs, education institutions, dioceses, cathedrals and the NCIs, to work to achieve year-on-year reductions in emissions and urgently examine what would be required to reach net zero emissions by 2030 in order that a plan of action can be drawn up to achieve that target;

(b) request reports on progress from the Environment Working Group and the NCIs every 3 years beginning in 2022 and;

(c) call on each Diocesan Synod and cathedral Chapter to address progress toward net zero emissions every 3 years.”

The account on the  CoE website

https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/general-synod-sets-2030-net-zero-carbon-target

 

The Bishop of Manchester expressed his unease at the way the motion was got through.

https://viamedia.news/2020/02/14/general-synod-the-highs-lows/

I’d hoped the Environment debate would be a highlight, and in some ways it was. We heard passionate pleas for the Church to work to eliminate its carbon footprint. My one speech in the chamber this time was to support an amendment from the chair of the Finance Committee to set up the structures we will need to produce robust intermediate targets, identify specific solutions and oversee the work well. The crucial issue of selecting the year by which all this will be achieved was moved from a perhaps under-ambitious 2045 to a date of 2030. Whatever ones views on the urgency of the climate crisis, it felt unsatisfactory that this was achieved through an amendment which was decided after less than ten minutes debate, by a majority of 15, with a turnout that meant fewer than a third of Synod members voted in favour of it. Many, I suspect, were caught in the tea room, not having expected a close vote. 2030 maybe the right year, but the process felt flawed.

Perhaps a 2/3rds majority was needed………

The case for a 2045 target was laid down in  GS 2159 1

GENERAL SYNOD CLIMATE EMERGENCY AND CARBON REDUCTION TARGET

https://www.churchofe20Climatengland.org/sites/default/files/2020-01/GS%202159%%20Emergency%20and%20Carbon%20Reduction%20Target.pdf

It would be difficult to object to the general tenor of this report, unless one had no concern for the environment, which is to devalue God’s creation. However, it does reflect the general weakness of most recent Christian thought on the environment, in that it is weak on energy and mineral resources, with a tendency to appeal to renewables as a panacea and an implicit disdain for mining. Of course, those like Naomi Klein would agree as this is to reject all forms of “extractivism”. The term is pejorative and prevents one from seeing how much of everything in life is dependent on what has been extracted from the ground. Apart from food, most things we use have been extracted; fossil fuels, Uranium for nuclear, clay, gravel and stone for construction, every metal from Iron to Aluminium to rare Earths and Lithium which are needed for electronics and batteries.

My eco-friendly bicycles, which cover 4,500 miles, a year, are made as a result of “extractivism”; frame – mostly aluminium, fork – Carbon-fibre (very energy intensive), tyres –from petroleum, most parts are from a mixture of plastics, metals etc all from the ground. So my bicycles are dependant of fossil fuels! But the saddle is made of leather!

This “ethical” disdain of “extractivism” is apparent in the Church Times brief statement of Bishop Urquhart;

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, has said that the Church Commissioners chose to invest in mining, despite the ethical considerations, because “it is important for everyone on the planet.”

Church Times 14/2/20

Ultimately mining and quarrying are messy businesses. They cannot be anything else·. But then so is farming, forestry and house building. Having worked half a century ago for an international mining company in various parts of Africa I saw the mess. One of the great concerns are tailings dams, but in Uganda I lived a few hundred yards from two, which were just above a river in the Ruwenzori mountains, which flowed into a National Park. The water below the dams looked pristine and pure.

Surely there are ethical considerations of any investment in any industry?  Mining when uncontrolled is awful, but that was not my experience of most mines I visited. However I was concerned when I visited an opencast Wolfram Mine in Uganda as there seemed to be no procedure, safety or otherwise, in place. At the time I thought it a cowboy outfit in contrast to my company, of which I was often critical.

Perhaps a cause of the Bishop’s disdain, which reflects that of most Green groups, Christian or not, is that it shows a simplistic green outlook, which does not grasp that all human activities are in some way polluting.  Hence there is a tendency for a kneejerk reaction regarding all mining and fossil fuels as unethical. For energy the “ethical” response is renewables, but then failing to ask where all the materials to make them come from. Some responses are examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

It makes me wonder whether I should admit that before ordination I worked in mining and whether I should repent of having been in mining!

From GS2159

Summary There is a climate crisis; indeed, a crisis for creation. Our response is driven by our call to mission, specifically to the fifth mark of mission. This motion encourages all parts of the Church of England to recognise this and to take coordinated action toward a target of Net Zero by 2045. The urgency and significance of climate change and the degradation of the environment cannot be over-estimated. The Church of England’s Environment Working Group (set up by General Synod in 2014) issued a Call for Action1 in November 2019, and this motion follows from that call.   “It becomes ever clearer that climate change is the greatest challenge that we and future generations face. It’s our sacred duty to protect the natural world we’ve so generously been given, as well as our neighbours around the world who will be first and worst affected. Without swift decisive action the consequences of climate change will be devastating.” Archbishop Justin Welby

 

Background 1. The recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that humanity has 11 years to take emergency action in order to prevent global heating greater than 1.5°C 2. Above this, the risks to humanity of floods, droughts, extreme heat and poverty become much greater, impacting on hundreds of millions more people. Increasingly, the national discourse is one of climate emergency and climate crisis.

The report gives five possible targets; the first is the 2009 church one, which as they say is passe. The other two align with the government at 2050 and the Climate Coalition at 2045.  Both are hard but in the realms of possibility . The government one is also politically acceptable, even if grudgingly.

Here are possible targets from the Government’s 2050 to Extinction Rebellion’s 2025;

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Both the targets of 2050 and 2045 are sensible, and it is understandable that the Climate Coalition as an activist group should go for an earlier date.

However after the decision for 2030 the response of Christian members of the Climate Coalition raises questions. It does seem that they prefer 2030 and also support Extinction Rebellion.

Thus the response on Twitter and elsewhere on 12th February;

12/2/20 from JRI “Well done to @synod on going for the 2030 target. It is NOT going to be at all easy, and it will cost a lot of money, but it is the right thing to do.”

Andy Lester A Rocha “a positive message from CofE…we will need to keep some pressure on to make sure there is a genuine delivery alongside the genuine intent.”

https://www.tearfund.org/en/media/press_releases/tearfund_reacts_to_church_of_england_2030_net_zero_commitment/

Valerio from Tear Fund ““The church must continue to take courageous steps to cut its carbon emissions ensuring it reaches net zero as soon as possible, protecting the world’s most vulnerable people and the wider natural world.”

https://operationnoah.org/news-events/press-release-operation-noah-welcomes-church-of-england-decision-to-set-2030-net-zero-target/

Green Anglicans on FB 13/2/20 The Church of England takes a prophetic stand and commits to net zero in ten years

Congratulations!!!

I wonder how much behinds the scenes lobbying went on.

The paper pushes for more than 2050 and explains why a 2045 target is essential. When you take into account that the Church of England is a limited body – no attached industry! – 2045 is similar in challenge to the Government’s 2050.

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This is a very balanced argument for 2045 with a serious warning of aiming too high i.e 2030

2045 is achievable but hard; it is a possible target, which, most importantly, should get most on board.  It is vital to get almost everyone in the church on board, as even a small opposition group could derail the whole process.

2030 is set to fail. This is mostly because it is an impossible target as Bishop Holtam said in a veiled way. It is already getting a lot of criticism both from naysayers and others. It will attract a lot of tabloid attack, as well as losing allies. It will be unsellable to most PCCs.

I consider that it is a sad day for church. Whereas the original motion would have been tough, even if not enough for some, but going for 2030 will result in a serious loss of support, which will result in abject failure and then no chance of achieving 2030.

Getting all on board for 2045 would need much effort and persuasion and from experience I know that many PCCs would simply disregard it as something else from the “diocese”,  and then scoffed at and dismissed.

The target 2030 is far more challenging than 2045 with an immediate high financial commitment. I wonder whether all clergy would push for it as the cost becomes clear.

There are other concerns. There is a danger of a negative press (as clergy are often warned about!). Those church members who can be seen as “passive uncommitted” will reject 2030 and becoming vocal and stroppy, but would have gone along with 2045. This is absolutely vital as wither motion depends on parish and PCC support to have a chance of success.

The target of 2030 breaks any coalition of environmentally minded, as it only appeals to the left of environmentally minded Christians. Some will go into opposition and refuse to support 2030 in any shape or form.

I feel this is the worst kind of virtue signalling , which is going to cause major problems for the Church of England.

Were I still a vicar I’d simply refuse to take part.

 

This recent article by Peter Franklin outlines the range of views on the environment.

https://unherd.com/2020/02/bigger-than-brexit-the-new-politics-of-climate-change/?=frbottom&fbclid=IwAR0vGsA1Qnn3VsII1hN0Kp_vhs7eiu8FJQ8L0aCqCI4GFqc1PmCPfzsQ8DQ

It is a provocative article and stresses how we are divided between the Climate Left and the Climate Right

The Climate Left are dominated by Extinction Rebellion and their calls for Citizens Assemblies and System Change – yes, they are anti-capitalist and anti a few other things. It is hard not to see Christian Greens as aligned to them and Christian Climate Action most clearly is. The Climate Right, so often called Climate Deniers, are a varied bunch and thrive by picking holes (an easy task) in the Climate Left, and how costly even Net Zero in 2050 would be. One figure is £3 trillion. I would suggest neither the Climate Left or Climate Right have much to offer, and I find neither very constructive.

As Peter Franklin writes, “So, if the climate Left is mad and the climate Right is bad, then we desperately need an alternative to both. This is provided by the Climate Centre.

Climate centrism takes the science seriously — enough not to indulge in scare tactics or to pretend that business-as-usual is a responsible option. It rejects the accelerated timelines demanded by green new dealers, not because action isn’t required, but because haste makes waste. Achieving net zero in the space of a single decade would divert scarce resources into the creation of a command state, when what we need is more of what’s been achieved so far through competitive markets supported by smart government.”

This century the governments have been a snail’s pace Climate Centre, and have made many advances which are denied by the Left. Who in 2000, and even more so in 1990, would have thought coal has become almost redundant for electricity generation? Neither Delingpole nor Monbiot did that! Being of a certain age I have witnessed environmental changes for over half a century, including the last pea-souper of 1963 which stopped just short of our house. It has been loss and gain and definitely far better than the Climate Left claim. In the 70s and 80s any environmentalist was a bit of a nutter!! I was the green nutter then!

To return to the General Synod support of Net Zero 2030. This is very clearly of the Climate Left, as that seems to dominate Christian discussions on the environment. Few Anglicans would dare to admit they were on the Climate Right or even Centre, and us climate Centrists are often either silent by nature or muted. Perhaps more will come out when the implications of Net Zero 2030 become apparent.

The proposal from Bishop Holtam was much more central and with a target date of 2045 was more or less achievable. It also had the virtue of including many more supporters –  including the semi-committed who probably make up the bulk of the Church of England. Further it was a narrow vote and some were distinctly unhappy about the result. For this vote a 2/3rds majority should have been required in each house as the matter is of such importance.

The amendment was very much in line with groups like Christian Climate Change, and thus Extinction Rebellion who call a nationwide Net Zero by 2025. These are groups are clear in what they oppose and see a grim future. They also throw in anti-capitalism with appeals for a system change. However like many protest groups they are good at calling things out and stating what they want, but totally fall short on how to achieve it.

As well as involving political compromise a plan for achieving Net Zero, whether in 2030 , 2045 or 2050, must go beyond wishing it and actually giving detailed plans on all the technological issues along with costings. There needs to be plans on how to discard all fossil fuel heating in churches, vicarages and schools and how to provide a suitable replacement. My observation is that activists groups like those mentioned, whether Christian or secular are highly skilled at rhetoric, repeating simple appeals to be renewable, but do not have the engineering grasp or knowledge to begin to effect it. Here those actually knowledgeable, with a few exceptions, realise it is a long and slow process and that even 2050 is a tall order. Even worse, they realise that fossil fuels will still be need at mid-century.

Too often the climate Left resort to scaremongering https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerpielke/2019/09/26/its-time-to-get-real-about-the-extreme-scenario-used-to-generate-climate-porn/#75a19d7c4af0

There were several reports in the Church Times for 21st February. First is a general report https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/21-february/comment/opinion/net-zero-carbon-by-2030-is-do-able

Bishop Holtam was mentioned in a report but Canon Martin Gainsborough, who moved the crucial General Synod amendment, explains his hopes in an article. Nowhere does he consider the cost implications and difficulties that any parishes will face, beyond saying it “require a significant injection of money” (I suggest nearly half a billion pounds), but instead gives bland advice on what can be done to start;

“The charity Climate Stewards recommends six steps that churches can take to lower their emissions: carrying out a carbon-footprint audit and reducing emissions where you can; switching to a green energy supplier; registering for the A Rocha Eco Church scheme; joining in with the LiveLent campaign; engaging with your diocesan advisory committee; and offsetting unavoidable emis­sions. (The point about net zero is that it allows for some offsetting.)”

Apart from the first, which would make you look hard at energy use and “other carbon use” none will reduce emissions. If a church, or family or other group, has already been frugal and looked to waste it will have already reduced emissions. Obviously there will always be room for improvement. (I would argue that every individual or organisation should being doing this continually, whether on direct use of fuel or embedded use. I do.) His article may convince the faithful, but not the hard-headed grounded in the reality of delivering technical solutions.

Gainsborough has not convinced me that it is do-able. His article was far more wishful thinking than giving any real idea how Net Zero 2030 could be achieved. What was needed was to explain the steps and the costings. It seems that the amendment was brought to General Synod without considering either. That is not a responsible way of doing things.

**********************************************

Appendix

Some comments on Bishop Holtam’s General Synod paper GS 2159.

I’ve picked out a few sections which raise important aspects .

  1. We are now in a position where we could, with the right encouragement, and with no less than the current national resources and funding as well as strong support at diocesan and local levels, make great progress. It is important both to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the long term, and to make early and significant reductions in the amount of CO2 we produce.

The concept of Net Zero is not always helpful as it does not consider Carbon (in fact Carbon Dioxide) emissions for things other than energy. Many items are made using coal or petroleum , for example these from Natural Gas

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These are often overlooked in the wish to be Carbon-free.

As well as that there is the energy used in manufacture, which is often left out of the equation.

One aspect overlooked is the energy used for making many products from bricks to paper. This makes Net Zero almost impossible to achieve, unless products made with non-fossil fuel energy can be sourced. This is taken from the late Paul Younger’s wonderful book “Energy”. Paul, a Christian, died tragically young two years ago.

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In fact, almost all the materials we use rely on Carbon, either in their make-up or their preparation. As we get to 2030 should we only use bricks, concrete, paint etc which are Carbon-neutral? That was not considered.

I shall resist the temptation of suggesting our diets go Carbon-free.

  1. To achieve a net zero target much would need to happen, including, as examples,

the following;

  1. a) Energy use for heating and lighting would need to radically reduce in all our

buildings, through, for example, the installation of LED lighting where not yet in

place, extensive programmes of draught-proofing and insulation.

Many of these have been encouraged for years, especially on an individual level. We have been using low-energy bulbs since 1986. LEDs will only make a minute contribution compared to what is needed.

We need to start with the following

  • Woolly jumpers (serious suggestion!)
  • Thick socks
  • Heavy curtains where possible
  • Draught-proofing
  • Lowering ceilings
  • Insulation
  • Trees and shrubs in the built environment to reduce windchill of buildings

If people insist on wearing summer clothes in winter, they’ll either feel cold or switch up the heating!

They mere fact that these have been listed shows how far as a nation we have not come. Most have been around for decades and many of us have followed them.

 

  1. b) The heating of our 16000 churches, 4700 schools, clergy housing and diocesan

offices would need to move away from gas and oil, to electric heating powered

by green electricity and focussing more on heating people rather than heating

spaces.

The Key Flaw is that it rejects gas and oil, and probably nuclear, in the energy mix. (Many Greens today reject nuclear as strongly as fossil fuels.) Most forecasts for future energy supply include fossil fuels at least up to 2050. It also overlooks the fact that heating by electricity is the most expensive form of heating. All serious (non-doctrinaire green) scenarios include gas to 2050 unless dictated by ideological or political concerns

This also ignores oil, gas and coal as source of materials – not just plastic. Further coal is necessary for some industrial processes. Of course new methods will come in, but there is a considerable time lag from discovery, through development to delivery.

I am puzzling how to heat people not spaces, as the only way is heated clothing!!!  As it is February we have the heat on (gas) with thermostat to 20 deg. The house is cool warm! I am wearing a fleece, thick socks and feel a trifle cool. For me a few more degrees is too warm. I am also fairly cold-resistant. To have the air temperature of 10 deg or less is too cold for most people to sit around or work at a desk. It is also dangerous for the sick and elderly. The older you get the less you can withstand cold, as I have found out!

500 years ago many wore hats in the house and probably gloves. Gloves would prevent manual tasks. If too cold one needs gloves! This I found out on Seatsandle in the Lake District in the snow. I was warm but eating sandwiches with bare hands in subzero temperatures was painful.

This statement assumes plentiful, reliable and non-intermittent green energy, but at present renewables produces about a third of electricity demand and has a totally intermittent nature. Thus on 23/1/20 renewables were producing less than 10% of electricity but in the February storms it has shot up to nearly 50%. Economical battery storage on a large scale is not yet available. Further present batteries lose 20% of electricity on storage.

It also overlooks the fact that if we move from fossil fuels to electric then the grid must provide THREE TIMES the present electricity i.e tripling power stations and grid networks.  But that excludes other uses of energy in transport and industry. When you factor that in, you need another THREE TIMES as much energy  – thus to replace fossil fuels we need to increase energy from other sources TEN FOLD.

This wouldn’t really apply to the church, but to go totally electric many of our buildings would have to have a major upgrade of electrical circuits.

A very useful site  is https://gridwatch.co.uk/ And its twitter feed. To take an example take the details on 14/2/20 .These show immense variation from various fuel sources, with renewables being yo-yos and gas used to make up the shortfall

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Grey is nuclear which is constant. Blue is wind and orange is gas. When wind is insufficient gas (orange) is ramped up. At night gas is used less due to a lower demand, but when there is no wind, gas comes in as it did round 23rd January where there was  virtually nothing as no wind or sun.

But with the February storms there was a lot of wind power, with winds of 25-30 mph and stronger gusts. (I won’t go out on my bike!). But if the winds are too strong as it was on 15/2/20 wind Turbines were only operating at 50% capacity because of 80 mph winds, meaning they needed to be feathered back.

The concern over fossil fuels often ignores the drop of emissions in the developed world, which are declining this decade but rising elsewhere.

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And the change in 2018-9. (Japan’s reduction would be greater if they had not rejected nuclear.)20458I’ve left out clothes, and many long-term use of petroleum-based materials:i.e not single use plastics.

This pie chart from 2019 shows UK emissions in comparison to the rest of the world. Note UK population is 70 million and China 1,400 million i.e 20x greater, but Chinese emissions per capita are higher as are USA, Canada and Germany. So far reduction in emissions is limited to “Western” countries, but many Africans have no access to energy. (I am baffled why Christian Aid opposes any development of drilling for oil and gas in Africa. If nothing else it would slow deforestation.)

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Now what about Costs?

Heat pumps £6,000-£18.000  https://www.evergreenenergy.co.uk/heat-pumps/much-heat-pump-cost/

Solar  https://www.evergreenenergy.co.uk/heat-pumps/much-heat-pump-cost/

Need 4K/W for an average house – £4,000-£6,000 but a vicarage is larger. Let’s call it £10K

The cost for a church or school is far more and in the order of £20K.

Now that would put up Parish Share for each parish!

One aspect overlooked, and mentioned above, is the energy used for making many products from bricks to paper. This makes Net Zero almost impossible to achieve, unless products made with non-fossil fuel energy can be sourced.

 

  1. c) This would in turn require the church’s electrical supplies to be robust enough to

support electric heating, and the National Grid to support this increased

electrical loading.

How’s this going to happen?

The National Grid is not up to electrification of heat and transport. We need a doubling or tripling of generation and grid network, if this is for the whole nation.

To move to 100% electricity for heating in building would require major rewiring. To give an example, in one church in about 2004, the cost was prohibitive just to improve the wiring to install brighter lighting. If I remember right the figure was over £5K as opposed for a few hundred to ensure just adequate lighting. For financial reasons we ended up with lighting which was only just adequate. As that church was in the middle of a field oil heating was the only option.

  1. d) The travel and transport of staff and volunteers would need to move away from petrol/diesel powered vehicles (even in our rural dioceses).

There is no mention of bicycles for local journeys.  Why shouldn’t clergy use cycles around the parish? I can ask this question rather smugly as I often did. I reckon bikes are ideal in a parish and very evangelistic. You can actually stop. As a result of that several people started to come to my various churches.

Again there is a cost consideration. Apart from the tiny Twizzy there is no EV below £17,000  https://www.autoexpress.co.uk/best-cars/99735/the-cheapest-electric-cars-on-sale  but you can buy a Dacia for £7000!!

Further EVs are not in the breakthrough stage and carbon benefits are not clarified as much carbon emissions occur in manufacture, not to mention mining for electrical components which are more than a hunk of steel /alloy for the engine. But you never know when the change will come. After all, Randolph Churchill ridiculed electric lighting but within ten years it had taken off. 

  1. e) We would need to think about our international travel, recognising that there are

very strong connections with the rest of the world but also developing ways of

nurturing those relationships which are more sustainable, and offsetting flights

when necessary.

Most don’t travel by air except for holidays. Perhaps the church should limit frequent fliers, including bishops!!

  1. In addition to carbon output, we must also protect and enhance biodiversity across

our land and buildings, including churchyards, glebe land, and investment assets.

The Church needs to build ecological awareness into everything we do. Caring for

creation is an essential element of our mission and ministry.

This is very much needed, but is inhibited by inertia and a desire for tidiness. Many parishes are more concerned with a tidy churchyard than a green one. I will never forget a farmer churchwarden going around a churchyard spraying every wild-flower with roundup.

There is a tremendous amount that could be done on church land in the way of planting, and to encourage all churchmembers to do the same.

An inspirational read on this is;

204510

It gives lots of fun and hope.

My own brief case for the Christian and the environment, written as a beginners’ article

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/gods-creation-and-the-environment/