17 August 2013

To frack or not to frack

There's been a lot in the media this week about fracking and the CofE's response to it. My own diocese made the headlines earlier in the week with the publication of a leaflet about fracking. The matter is clearly a complex one. We don't really know what the environmental effects of fracking are. There's lots of mythology from the experience in the USA, and there's genuine fear as a result of the earthquakes near Blackpool which resulted in the cessation of fracking work there.

The CofE has done its best to undo some of the publicity surrounding the Blackburn diocese leaflet. There seem to be some high-level politics at play here, and the church wants to remain neutral for whatever reason. There certainly seems to be unease at the CofE being landed with a universally negative opinion on fracking. Fair enough.

My own opinion is fairly simple; maybe too simple! I oppose fracking for the following reasons:

Moral and legal
If the uk is to get anywhere near its commitment to reduce carbon emissions, developing new methods of extracting fossil fuels from the ground isn't going to help. As I understand it, we have made a moral and legal commitment to reduce our carbon emissions. Fracking does not help us to achieve this; it actually makes it less likely! We can't keep digging up new fossil fuels and still manage the reduction unless the UK government gets interested in carbon capture - something that doesn't seem to be on the UK research agenda.

We have a fundamental responsibility to care for God's creation; stewardship of the earth is not primarily about using the earth's resources for our benefit; surely we are called to care for and preserve the earth. Digging holes which we fill with noxious chemicals under high pressure does not seem to be a good way of caring for God's creation. This isn't about NIMBYism, it's about NIGBYism - not in God's back yard.

The problem with fracking is that it doesn't deal strategically with the energy problems we have; it's a temporary stop-gap 'solution'. If we are to deal strategically with the problem, we need to do much more to reduce our energy requirements and we need to do much more to find new and better ways of generating energy from renewable sources. Fossil fuels will run out. Fact. We need to start behaving like this is true, rather than running after each and every 'get out of jail card' that technology offers.

So I'm glad that the Blackburn Diocese came out and voiced concerns. As Christians, we should be concerned. I hear the cautionary notes about those who cannot afford to heat their homes, and how fracking may be a way of keeping fuel prices down. Of course, fuel poverty is something the church should be concerned about, but I don't think the solution to fuel poverty is to grab the latest fix of fossil fuel energy to maintain the current prices. That seems to be a deeply flawed argument.

Ultimately, I think my big problem with fracking is the direction in which it looks. It seems to look back into a time when it seemed as though the earth would forever supply our fossil fuel needs. What we need are energy solutions which look forward into a world with depleted fossil fuel resources and a problem with greenhouse gases.

UPDATE: For more on the fuel poverty angle, have a read here.

12 August 2013

Food is a blessing

Clitheroe Food Festival, 2013
This weekend saw the third annual food festival take place in Clitheroe. I missed out last year, as we were on holiday, but I was determined to be there this year.

A few months ago, I started talking with people in our local ecumenical group (Clitheroe Christians in Partnership) about what we might do while the festival was on. We had an open meeting a couple of months ago, and after a wide ranging discussion, we decided to raise the issue of food poverty by handing out a simple leaflet to people on the day.

So a small group set about drawing up the flyer (which you can see below). We just wanted to remind people that whilst we were all enjoying our locally-sourced, hand-made, organically-grown produce, there are many in the world who would settle for any kind of food! We used UN data along with data from the UK government to make the following points:
  • 1 in 3 children, in developing countries, is malnourished.
  • 1 in 8 people across the world goes hungry every day.
  • 4 million people in the UK suffer from food poverty.
CCP's Food Festival Flyer
We weren't trying to rain on anyone's parade, or to make people feel guilty. We were simply raising the issue on a day when we were already thinking about food. We also worked to publicise Clitheroe's new Food Bank; asking people to donate food and money to the project which has already served 84 clients! Clitheroe is thought of as a prosperous town. Poverty is not something you expect to find amongst the expensive four-wheel-drives and ubiquitous barn conversions, but poverty is here too!

On the day of the food festival, CCP volunteers gave out 1400 food poverty flyers (and we could have given out double that number). We didn't ask for money or push a religious agenda. We just felt that it was the job of the church to remind people of what they probably know already. That there are many people both here and abroad, who do not have enough to eat. Most of us don't really know what that feels like, but for some people it's a daily reality.

It was a brilliant day in so many ways, and many of our parishioners got involved in volunteering work. Some through CCP and the Food Bank, and others with organisations like Rotary. As last year, our Parish Hall hosted the celebrated 'Pudding Fest' in support of the Friends of Chernobyl's Children Charity. People donated their finest cakes and puddings, and punters paid £3 to sample 3 different puds. A bargain, and over £900 was raised for the charity. Also at the festival was a very popular fairtrade stall, which seemed to be doing a great trade all day long. Familiar faces from Clitheroe's churches were involved here too.

So now we will review this year's efforts, and think about what we do next year. The Food Festival seems to be growing each year, and the Christian population of Clitheroe seems to be responding with acts of service along with words of challenge over matters of justice.