The iconic image of a floodlit Canterbury Cathedral would be a thing of the past if the Revd Ian James had his way.
The Revd Professor Ian James is the environment advisor in the Diocese of Oxford, and lectures in the Schools of Mathematics, Meteorology and Physics at the University of Reading, and he talked in a self select session today on the science of climate change.
In his darker moments, he says is very pessimistic about the political and social will to avoid catastrophic climate change, and he would like to see the church leading the way by reducing conspicuous consumption such as floodlit churches.
“I would like to see us taking a lead in our churches, and being very serious about auditing our carbon emissions,” he said. “Certainly such public displays as floodlit churches [are] the worst possible witness we could make to a world using too much energy.”
Revd James talked about his disappointment with the British government in policy development on curbing carbon emissions that probably sounds familiar to many around the developed world.
“We were at point where it seemed the government had finally got the message and was implementing policies to reduce emissions, and suddenly oil prices shot up, and suddenly the government caved in over taxes on petrol.” Climate sceptics add to the lack of action, he said, capitalising on the complexity of climate change research that necessarily produced a variety of predictions.
Media reporting was also a barrier, with the adversarial style of reporting giving as much column space to the sceptics as the mainstream science, which Revd James says is overwhelmingly united on the fact of global warming. The question is just how long we have and how bad it will be, and according to the data he presented, we have about twenty to forty years of “business as usual” before the “tipping point is reached” and the global temperature soars to literally unbearable levels.
Public consciousness is changing, however, he says.
“In my life time we’ve gone from a view of the world as an almost infinite resource, a dustbin with infinite capacity for our waste, and infinite capacity for supplying what we want- oil and coal. It’s a sobering thought that the atmosphere, this thin skin of air and water, which relative to the size of the earth is similar to thickness of the skin of an apple, contains everything we have and everything we know. That’s where all human civilisation has been, all art, all science, all living things, all religion. We see now it is far from being an infinite dust bin. It is an infinitely precious and infinitely vulnerable speck in the vastness of the universe. We have to treasure it and nurture it,” he said.
We need to reduce our expectations of a technical fix, and be willing to adjust our lifestyles accordingly, he said.
“I would like to see the church recognising that our responsibility to love our neighbours as ourselves extends not just to the person in the house next door, not just to the people throughout the world, but to the people of this whole interdependent planet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tree in the rainforest, or an Eskimo in Greenland, they are equally a part of our neighbourhood and we should be equally concerned [about them].
Written by Jane Still.