Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not Stupid?

Just back from a showing of The Age of Stupid - I'd been thinking of arranging a showing fo our congregation and community, but have not been persuaded. It starts very powerfully so I had almost immediately stopped noticing the oppressive heat in the room and probably cried the first time about ten minutes in - over a glacier.

But eventually I realised I was feeling bombarded with anger. I suppose the title should have been a warning of the anger behind it. It was at about this point that several folk walked out. It did then calm down somewhat but I ended up disappointed. By saying that 2055 would see humans on the verge of extinction I felt they were being unhelpfully extreme. It gave too much scope for people to refuse to believe.

There was lots of good stuff in it (I'd have been happy just to watch the wonderful French mountain guide) and lots of heart breaking stuff, especially the Iraqi kids. I had hoped for a more coherent exploration of what climate change would mean for the world. Certainly it is powerful and if some people find themselves inspired to radical action by it then that's fantastic, but I don't think I'd be happy to see it shown in all schools as some have suggested.

On the subject of climate change and coherent explanations, Jo Jamison at Operation Noah has made a very helpful five minute radio piece on the refugee crisis that will result, here.

Wind Power

I've had a more detailed reply back from Ecotricity about their electricity generation. Unfortunately my efforts to copy across extracts therefrom have failed due to text incompatibilities it seems (or my ineptitude). Apparently a wind turbine is likely to be saving 35,000 tonnes of CO2 in its lifetime. It is expected to save between 40 and 70 times as much fossil fuel as it took to construct. If anyone reading this wants more detail I'm happy to forward them the e-mail.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stillness (and food ethics)

Contrary to the impression this blog may give, I don't spend quite every waking moment thinking about climate change. This morning I was leading Exclaimers (8-11s) on the calming of the storm and intended to avoid any reference to real weather crises. Instead I wanted to use the reading as an opportunity to give the children an experience of contemplative prayer, a way to find a calm space within themselves for God's presence to respond to storms.

However, as I was preparing I realised that this is very much what Maggie Ross keeps advising us as a response to the climate crisis: to get in touch with our core silence (I've just found her piece for the Tilehurst Greening Faith day on her blog). The exercise was not a total success, but not a complete disaster either! We concluded by making boat church together.

The image above is of a reconstruction of a first century boat found in the Sea of Galilee.

On another note, new service booklets have been issued which include, on the inside cover, the photo of our Operation Noah service and reference to our new status as an Eco-congregation so that anyone attending our services will know.

Over coffee I was talking with Rachel about food again. She told me that for Lent her sister only ate food produced within ten miles of her home in Devon: no grain (bread/pasta) all Lent and she was sick of rhubarb by the end! Rachel suggested that interested families in the church might opt to monitor all their food for a week, trying to make 'ethical' choices wherever possible, and then discuss together the complexities raised. This was prompted by a green tip I'd included in this week's notices suggesting that we reduce packaging by shopping at the market (among other places) since there are of course various down sides to shopping there in terms of pesticide use and fair trade.

Midsummer Party

Yesterday the Churches Together in Reading Midsummer Party was blessed with much better weather than Forbury Fever had been in the same location two weeks ago. Reading Christian Ecology Link were running much the same stall as on that occasion, but inevitably we had rather different conversations since people had not arrived at the event expecting to be challenged about the environment. As well as the Operation Noah petition we were also promoting Thames Valley Vegans and Vegetarians' petition to make one day a week meat free in Reading. The number of vegetarians who visited the stall seemed out of proportion to that in the population as a whole - does this mean vegetarians were more likely to visit a Christian Ecology Link stall? Certainly a meat free day was a popular idea among those who came to the stall, even among the omnivores.

There was lots more enthusiasm for colouring in animal masks than for making origami boats so I think in future we might want to make the boats up ready for signing if we want to be able to post these off. Those who did make boats only wanted to do the ones with scrap paper to see them float, not to post to Gordon Brown. We did, however, fill two pages of Operation Noah's petition and get lots of interest in the Ecclesiastical Electricity plan to put solar panels on a church roof in Reading (including encouragement from Bishop Stephen). A few people also took Eco-congregation leaflets with a view to exploring the possibilities at their churches.

Our display of eco-friendly household items proved a good starting point for conversations too (green washing liquid, wash balls, a pump for grey water [from the renewable energy UK shop], an OWL electricity monitor [apparently now available in John Lewis among many other places and possibly free to British Gas customers], solar powered lamp from Ikea, wind up radio etc). The display of books, on the other hand, was only browsed by other people on the stall!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Loving your neighbour in an age of climate crisis

I recently put together a sort of beginner's guide to green living for Christians in Reading for use at some of the Christian Ecology Link stalls we've been holding. I'll be taking some paper copies to St John's on Sunday (recycled paper of course!) but thought it would be useful to put a version up here too:

Activism: the Copenhagen climate change summit this December is the crucial opportunity for politicians to commit to sustainable stewardship of our planet. Join other Christians in campaigning to make sure this happens: www.operationnoah.org; www.tearfund.org; www.christianaid.org.uk; www.cafod.org.uk.

Animals: meat and dairy production contribute more to climate change than the entire global transport sector. Most of the recent destruction of the irreplaceably diverse and beautiful Amazon rainforest has been for beef farming (the UK is a major consumer of this beef), some has been for soya chicken feed. Intensive farming is not just an abuse of God’s creatures (cf Proverbs 12:10) but a breeding ground for disease, including swine flu. For animal welfare, look for RSPB Freedom Food labels or Soil Association ratification. Better still find locally reared organic meat and milk (www.sheepdrove.com, for Reading Farmers’ Market, True Food Co-op and Riverford see below Food) and cut down consumption so you can afford and enjoy meat as the luxury it should be in a fairer world. Try going veggie for Lent or Advent and see what happens.

Banking: our money is powerful. We can make sure it is not used to invest in destroying Indonesian rainforests for paper or mining operations that devastate local eco-systems. The Co-operative bank (and insurance companies) have an impressive ethical policy that serves its customers well too (see www.goodwithmoney.co.uk) Their Reading branch is on St Mary’s Butts. For a bank with real ‘kingdom ethics’, see Triodos Bank who only finance positive social, environmental and cultural projects (www.triodos.co.uk). At present they only do savings accounts (by post or online).

Books: Greyfriars’ Bookshop and St Andrew’s, London Street each have a small but very useful range of green Christian books. Ruth Valerio, ‘L’ is for Lifestyle is a great starting point for greening your life; J Matthew Sleeth, Serve God Save the Planet is compelling easy reading; C. Foster and D. Shreeve, How Many Lightbulbs does it take to change a Christian? is full of green tips.

Cars: transport accounts for about one quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, mostly from road traffic. Leaving your mobile phone charging all day uses as much energy as driving your car for one second. The RAC and AA campaign for more roads, so change to the Environmental Transport Association (www.eta.co.uk) and see their website for advice on greener driving. Try giving up the car for a week and see what happens. It can prove surprisingly liberating. If you want to scrap a car, offer it to Reading Skidz to help kids learn useful skills: 0118 987118. www.commonwheels.org.uk provide a fantastic car share scheme based at Cemetery Junction and Kennet Island.

Church: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ (Psalm 24:1) – what is your church doing about it? See www.ecocongregation.org.uk, www.arocha.org, www.ctbi.org.uk/375, www.ccow.org.uk, www.greeningstjohns.blogspot.com (as well as those cited under activism), for ideas and resources to help your church respond.

Compost: plants, food waste and paper in landfill produce methane (which is 20 times worse than CO² as a greenhouse gas). See Reading Borough Council’s website for advice on composting and for special offers for residents on compost bins and green cones (the latter are for cooked food waste that might otherwise attract rats).

Dirt: conventional cleaning products for our bodies, homes and clothes are, or have recently been, commonly tested on animals. They contain various substances that damage water eco-systems and are hard to process at water treatment works (requiring greater energy and water input). All you really need can be bought at RISC, London Street, or the True Food Co-op (see below, Food). For household cleaning they sell Bio-D, probably the greenest household cleaner. Ecover come a close second and with (slightly less green but award-winning) Fresh and Green or Simply Active Eco-smart can be purchased at Robert Dyas. The Co-operative sell a similar ‘own brand’.

Electricity: the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your individual direct carbon emissions is change to a genuinely green electricity supplier (don’t be fooled by the ‘greenwash’ of the major energy companies and their ‘green tariffs’). Ecotricity guarantee to charge the same as the Big Six local electricity suppliers but invest over £400 per customer in wind generation (www.ecotricity.co.uk, mention Christian Aid when you switch and they’ll get £25 too. Check the website to decide if you want their 100% green tariff)

Food: Half of all the food produced on British farms is thrown away. At least 1 in 8 people on the planet are undernourished. A similar number are obese. Yet simple, home-cooked food can be one of the deep pleasures of life, echoing sacred meals under the oaks of Mamre or in a house at Bethany.

Use your LOAF: Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal Friendly, Fairly traded .

Where to buy it?

Reading Farmers’ Market: every 1st and 3rd Saturday, 8.30-12, The Cattle Market, Gt Knollys Street for local food and a chance to meet the growers themselves

The True Food Co-op: every 2nd and 4th Saturday 1-4, RISC, London Street and venues throughout Reading the rest of the week (see www.truefood.coop) for organic (often fairtrade or vegan) wholefoods, fruit and veg, green cleaning etc at low prices with minimal packaging in a relaxed atmosphere

RISC, London Street and Oxfam Books, 8 High Street, sell fair trade foods and other goods. County Delicacies on St Mary’s Butts sell local cheeses and many types of flour (making bread can be a wonderful space to de-stress in, even to pray. See also www.sustainweb.org/realbread).

Veg boxes are local and guarantee our farmers a fair price. For very local, see www.tolhurstorganic.co.uk, or (if you want to be able to choose what arrives and have a wider variety, never air-freighted and 22% cheaper than supermarket organics) www.riverfordnorton.co.uk.

These are all also much more enjoyable ways to shop than supermarkets.

Support your local Co-operative shops too: they’re officially the ‘greenest supermarket’.

If your church does not have a Traidcraft stall, it’s time to set one up (www.traidcraft.co.uk).

Grow your own: whether it’s sprouting seeds on the kitchen window or working a whole allotment, most people find such creative acts good for their relationship with the Creator. They can also reduce food miles and make for a better understanding of the planet. Caversham, Tilehurst, Woodley and Earley/East Reading all have horticultural associations that give support (talks, visits etc) and have trading sheds for competitively priced essentials. (See Reading library website for details of the first three, ring 0118 9861909 for the last). B&Q sell peat free organic compost and growbags.

Heating: a typical home wastes one third of the heat produced by its central heating system through the roof and walls. Reading’s Heatseekers will advise on what insulation you need and how to get substantial discounts: 0845 3909390. (See also www.readingenergypioneers.info). Wokingham residents can get discounts through www.markgroup.co.uk.

Living Lightly: Inspired by Psalm 24, A Rocha have set up an online community to encourage Christians to live more sustainably by committing to make one lifestyle change every three months. Even if you don’t join them, the website is full of useful tips: www.livinglightly24-1.org.uk.

Paper: forest loss caused by paper production is a bigger cause of climate change than flying (it’s also driving the orang-utan to extinction). The True Food Co-op (see above, Food) sell recycled printer paper. Along with RISC and the Co-operative they also sell recycled paper goods like toilet rolls. To cancel unaddressed mail, write to Door to Door Opt Out, Royal Mail, Kingsmead House, Oxpens Road, Oxford, OX1 1RX; to cancel addressed junk mail, ring the Mailing Preference Service on 0845 7034599; to cancel free papers, find their phone numbers inside; put up a note for the menu deliverers. Re-think your buying of magazines etc. Re-use as much as possible, then compost.

Travel: join Reading Cycle Campaign to help make cycling safer and for discounts at cycle shops (www.readingcyclecampaign.org.uk). www.seat61.com gives advice on alternative travel arrangements to avoid flying to many destinations. Network or Family&Friends Railcards make for significantly cheaper train travel (as does booking in advance). The Travel Office in Broad Street Mall sells smartcards for cheaper travel on Reading Buses (see www.reading-buses.co.uk/smartcard).

Deanery Synod

This evening was an opportunity for churches in our deanery to 'show off' good practice/interesting initiatives to neighbouring churches who might like to do similar things. So we at St John's had our nifty Traidcraft cupboard on display - it's on wheels and opens out with all the goods ready on the shelves so makes organising the stall so much easier than laying out a table every week. Richard made it and is happy to send the plans to anyone who wants them. We leave an honesty box on the top and in 2008 sold £4800 of goods. Next to that was a display about Eco-congregation, including Operation Noah arks and petition. We had some really good chats, although I was also surprised by some folk's reluctance to sign the Operation Noah petition to reduce power station emissions ('What do we use instead?' being the response). The evening included a barbecue - for some reason folk just looked at me and said 'you're a vegetarian' - luckily there were plenty of veggie burgers and I was promised that all the left over food was destined for a good home with the scouts.

Carbon footprint 2

Last night I reported back to the PCC on the Eco-congregation assessment. It emerged that one of the other home groups had already discussed measuring their footprints and buying a communal OWL (at home we've just borrowed one of these devices for measuring electricity use and it is a real eye-opener - for me the biggest surprise has been how much difference a single notch up on a hotplate control will make. I've always wondered whether boiling a kettle was just faster or really more efficient than boiling water on the hob prior to cooking veg and now I know the kettle is more efficient).

Measuring our carbon footprint is going to be difficult since we pay a set percentage of the gas bill for the whole school/church plant (as well as a small extra bill for the refectory over which we have more control). This however is a good incentive to work more closely with the school, and probably the council too since they have the basic controls for the heating.

I've been in touch with Ecotricity this morning who were very helpful in discussing the 'carbon footprint' question. Unsurprisingly they don't have specific figures to calculate the amount of carbon input that should be taken into account in individual bills (I wonder if a meaningful statistic could even be reached on that?), but they have promised to e-mail me details about the construction of their wind turbines which currently account for 53.6% of the power they supply.
Please see the comments on the previous 'carbon footprint' post for their replies.

Last Sunday (we were away) after the service the congregation went to Mark's workshop for a picnic in the gorgeous sunshine and to see the progress on the new sacramental furniture. Apparently this project will be appearing in a future edition of Furniture and Cabinet Maker.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Carbon Footprint

Well we've had another report back from the Eco-congregation assessors. The commendations are for both the garden and for the large number of people involved in the process. The recommendation is that we should measure our carbon footprint and aim to reduce it. At Forbury Fever I picked up a personal carbon footprint calculator and then remembered why I'd never set very much store by them - I can easily cut my footprint in half depending on which calculator I'm using! The Church of England's calculator is just about direct power consumption which is obviously less subject to different interpretations so probably where we'll start.

I did e-mail Ecotricity to ask how we should calculate emissions from them and the initial e-mail said there are no emissions. I'd love to calculate it this way, but surely this can't quite be true since the windmills etc require building: I'll be on the phone to them soon. I find myself wondering how many organisations claim to be 'carbon neutral' without taking into account the original inputs?

I'd be very grateful for any suggestions anyone has on effective ways to calculate a church's carbon footprint.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

For this half term, our home group leader decided to focus on themes inspired by the life of St Francis of Assisi. We began by watching Franco Zeffirelli's 1972 'biopic'. These days it does feel very dated; my hippy side loved it while the medieval historian in me was becoming increasingly frustrated, especially by the depiction of Clare, and had to exclaim in annoyance when it ended so soon in the saint's life. But it certainly provided much food for discussion. Last week we drew out some themes to follow up, including one very pertinent to the eco-congregation journey: simplicity. Hopefully we'll weave in learning a bit more about the history of Francis along the way.

Spreading the word: Forbury Fever and Woodford Park

On Saturday 6 June Reading Borough Council held their annual environment festival in Forbury Gardens: Forbury Fever. As part of the newly formed Reading Christian Ecology Link I was there on a stall in the drizzling rain - more of a cold than a fever, my husband remarked.

We were trying to get more origami arks and petition signatures for Operation Noah and promoting the Ecclesiastical Electricity plan to get solar panels on a church roof in Reading. On display panels at the back there was various information, including advertising the forthcoming showing of Age of Stupid at the Town Hall on 30th June. We also had displays on Caversham Heights Methodist, Tilehurst Methodist and St John and St Stephen's Eco-congregations.

There seemed to be fewer things going on in the gardens than previous years and the rain certainly kept the visitors away. Nonetheless our puppet show which some girls from Reading Community Church put on every fifteen minutes was very popular, telling the story of Noah's Ark. We did get a few colourful origami arks to float in our paddling pool (before rain sank them) as well as some signatures and good conversations.

The following day my family cycled in brilliant sunshine to the Woodley Churches Together open air service marking the start of Woodley carnival in Woodford park. My husband had been asked to preach. He focussed on the Trinity Sunday reading of Jesus's baptism but wove in a message for Environment Sunday (both 7 June): lots of Biblical stories of God leading God's people into new lives through breaking waters and the opportunity for that now, including the new lives we need to lead in the face of the current climate crisis (sorry to paraphrase so brutally). So I had the posters of our Eco-congregation from the previous day up on display again, plus inviting more petition signing and lots of general info on greener lifestyles. Unfortunately the very moment the service ended, the rain began, luckily only briefly but enough to send some running for cover. I did have some good conversations with members of Woodley churches thinking of trying to follow the eco-congregation route. As so often, there was much bemoaning the seeming apathy among most of their congregation for such matters.