KEEPING THE ARK AFLOAT
Brief notes from a conference on environmental justice
sponsored by Christian Ecology Link
and the Lancaster Diocesan Faith & Justice Commission
in the Chaplaincy, Lancaster University
Saturday, 3rd November 2007
The morning was occupied by addresses from invited speakers and brief discussions on them, the afternoon by two sets of six parallel "workshops" and a closing session.
Sister Margaret Atkins spoke of the need to use our intelligence, distorted though it might be by our own interests. We should be thankful for the good things of creation; a simple life should be joyful and valued in its own right. We must take responsibility where it is ours, but recognise its limitations.
Professor Leo Pyle pointed out that the basic problem was economic. Climatic models show the importance of the human contribution to change, raising problems likely to exacerbate international disputes. Energy generation accounts for two-thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions, in the UK almost three times the world average per person. Although the total from China is now similar to the USA’s, 40% arises from manufacturing goods for us. Present trends are unsustainable by a factor of four, and substantial sacrifices will be needed to correct them.
Ellen Teague surveyed the dire consequences for the poor in various areas due to increased flooding, desertification, displacement of populations, hillside denudation especially after deforestation, retreat of glaciers, contamination of fresh water by rising sea levels, spread of disease and insect infestation, e.g. locusts. Production of bio-fuels sometimes threatens food security.
Energy - new nuclear? Tim Cooper of CEL presented the case against, Peter Wilson defended. There was little other support for new nuclear power stations; however, the depth of opposition varied widely, at one extreme conditional upon reduced overall energy demand, at the other absolute and favouring direct action if all else failed to prevent construction. The chief objections are that nuclear energy would permit continuing extravagance, that expenditure on it would deprive renewable development of resources, that the wastes presents excessive risks for the future, and as always that Chernobyl sets a precedent; it seems remarkably difficult to drive home the point that other reactor types lack the peculiar vulnerability which made such an accident possible. Long-term fuel supply was also a concern, but discharged fuel from present reactors contained only 3% real waste and the rest, together with the enormous stocks of depleted and recovered uranium, could be used many times more effectively in fast reactors.
Greening our parishes was presented by Jo Rathbone of EcoCongregation, with aids and check-lists for parishes to assess and improve their green credentials with specific respect to worship and teaching, practical management, and co-operation with other organisations. "Signing up to green energy" was recommended, but its advocates now acknowledge that it expresses a wish and cannot reduce an actual carbon footprint - the more so since it seems that already, more green energy is purportedly sold than generated.
The closing session reiterated that the basic problem was in economics, and that a drastic reappraisal of attitudes and expectations would be necessary to attain anything like sustainability and justice for the poor of the world.