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Shrinking the Footprint: Commitment for a Living Planet
In the first decade of the 21st century there has been a huge growth in environmental awareness. No
one can be untouched by it, from the youngest to the oldest, as it fills our supersized TV screens,
tops the news bulletins, in both seriousness and controversy. However turning this awareness into
action is the great challenge of the first quarter of this century and there is still a long way to go.
Huge forces seem to be against the fundamental changes we need to become a low carbon – low
input society. Yet there is hope. Like so much in nature human behaviour is not linear – there can be
sudden and dramatic shifts. As Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book, ‘The Tipping Point’, our
behaviour actually shares underlying patterns with epidemics. He compares it to “contagious
behaviour”. Small effects can accumulate incrementally and suddenly we reach a tipping point. It
could be that, perhaps, we are on the brink of one now.
In the churches environmental interest is growing rapidly, and as the new baseline survey of
churches in the diocese of Lincoln is showing, so are actions as well. At the July diocesan Synod a
motion encouraging actions to reduce carbon emissions and actively supporting Shrinking the
Footprint was passed, unanimously. This represents a clear commitment to move actions higher up
the church’s agenda. It is our local part of the much bigger picture. Last November the world’s Faiths
were hosted at Windsor Castle by the Duke of Edinburgh in a conference convened by the UN
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon - a ‘Celebration of Faiths and the Environment’, called ‘ Many
Heavens, One Earth: Faith Commitments for a Living Planet’. This was a parallel event to the
Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change which brought the world’s nations together later in
December, one of a number of civil society initiatives by the UN to broaden the opportunities for
progress on climate change.
The Faiths had been invited to make seven year plans with clear commitments to actions and
targets. The Church of England amongst the Christian denominations made a declaration to a
commitment to cut CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020, with most of that coming in the first few years in
recognition of the urgency of the situation. Another commitment is to achieve sustainable schools
status for all church schools by 2015. The diocese of Lincoln has embraced Shrinking the Footprint,
the C of E’s flagship project, and that means a wholehearted incorporation of the principles of
sustainable development into our church life – at all levels. That commitment ripples outwards to
transform lifestyles and support wider efforts by government, business, education and wider civil
society to make the necessary transformation. So maybe we really are close to a tipping point.
Some important changes initiated by government are making this more likely and it’s not just about
light bulbs. One is the Feed in Tariff (FIT) or Cashback scheme for non-fossil fuel installations that
produce electricity such as photovoltaics, wind and hydro. Next Spring it is hoped the Renewable
Heat Initiative (RHI) will begin with similar support for installations that produce heat energy, such as
biomass, groundsource, airsource etc. Currently the FIT pays 41.3 pence per unit (kwh) produced,
whether you use it yourself or export it, on installations up to 4kw. Above that the tariff goes down.
These figures hold until April 2012 so there is a real incentive to get projects underway now.
The FIT scheme has brought focussed interest from investors, as it can provide a good reliable return
on investments outside the risky world of stocks and shares. Neither is the scheme exposed to
government spending reviews as the money for the payments actually comes from the utilities
themselves, adding a tiny amount to customer’s bills. The big bonus of these news schemes is that
they are guaranteed for 25 years and are inflation proofed. On top of the FIT the real saving is to use
your own electricity as much as you can, giving savings of 12 pence per unit and above. Export of
electricity is also part of the scheme with modest earnings ranging from 3 pence per unit upwards
depending on the utility signed up with.
So is this the springboard to huge investments in distributed alternative energy in the UK, and within
a short timescale? Churches have noticed this opportunity too and several in Lincoln diocese are
now looking to installations. St Denys Sleaford showed the way last year and their PVs have
performed better than predicted with valuable income for the church and some free electricity too.
Financial economies is certainly a strong motive but behavioural change can follow as we begin to
examine how we use energy and thus make further economies and a simple calculation will reveal
how many tonnes of carbon dioxide we are saving, emissions that will not be going into the
atmosphere and accelerating global warming. The more we can do now in these next few years, the
better chance we have of averting climate catastrophe.
Terry Miller