Churches and Climate Change – it matters what they do

It was good to see the Church of Scotland adding itself this week to the lengthening list of churches which have decided to disinvest from fossil fuel companies. Churches may be small investors in relative terms – but it is important that they should say clearly that investment in fossil fuels can no longer be treated as the norm or seen as ethically or morally acceptable.

It was also encouraging to see my former diocese in the Scottish Episcopal Church – the Diocese of St Andrews – announcing the winners of a competition in which young people were asked to share their ideas for a Carbon Neutral Church. In my experience, young people don’t need to be persuaded of the importance of this issue.

it really does matter what churches do in this. Churches too easily live within their own world and – I speak from experience here – spend far too much time talking to themselves in their internal dialogue. The decision to disinvest is important because it happens on the interface between faith communities and the wider society.

My reading in this area also reminds me that fossil fuel companies are generally valued by the size of their reserves. But it is becoming inconceivable that all of those reserves might ever be extracted and used – it’s the ‘leave it in the ground’ plea. If that is the case, those reserves lose may their value and become ‘stranded assets’. So the decision to divest may actually become one which is prudent.

I think – with some shame – of my own carbon footprint in the years before I retired. I used trains and buses as much as I could around Scotland. But I was living in the rural community to the north of Perth and it was hard not to be car-dependent. In my work of representing the SEC in the Anglican Communion, I took too many flights. But Covid has made that kind of travel impossible. Yet the national and international relationships of churches have continued.

One more thing – reporting of response to the climate emergency tends to focus on what governments are saying and doing. People like me take note of what faith communities are doing. But I hadn’t realised – until I was casually listening in the car – how much ‘push’ for change is coming in the world of industry,

It is good to hear that investors – particularly institutional investors – are pushing companies on GHG targets. But it was also news to me, as the Guardian reported recently, that there is a list of 100 companies which are the source of 71% of fossil fuel climate change.

None of this ever moves as fast as we might hope – but it is moving!