Climate Emergency: can we change? We must change

Wells Cathedral, an extraordinary and appropriate venue for a climate change conference
© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018-19

On a bright November day with barely a whisper of wind, climate change seems remote. The climate emergency is the most important challenge facing our world today. Where better than a cathedral to discuss changing our ways? John Davies, Dean of Wells Cathedral, described the purpose of cathedrals as places of worship, celebration and connection. He emphasised the Cathedral’s role as a place of discussion and debate as he opened the Climate Change Conference on 18 November 2019.

Wells Cathedral’s conference gathering
© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018-19

Young People in Driving Seat

The conference was chaired by Ruth Worsley, Bishop of Taunton with presentations from a panel of 3 speakers. It is a subject in which she is taking a particular interest. The afternoon conference was part of a full day devoted to climate emergency discussions. Sixth formers from 11 schools across the diocese had debated the topic in the morning session. Bishop Worsley observed that it is the world’s young people who are driving the debate. We have heard all the science before, and yet there has been little action.

Climate Change is Personal

Rob Varley, formerly of the Met Office, took us through the lastest facts and figures in his presentation. However, he also made it personal, worrying about his grandchildren living abroad in a hurricane zone. He highlighted the sense of global inaction with a picture of himself as a young undergraduate in 1983, when he first learnt the climate change science.

Scientists United

The climate emergency data is real. The science is reliable. Scientists are united, apart from a dubious minority with corporate voices designed to confuse the debate. We’ve all heard the devastating figures, yet seem to turn a deaf ear.

Current C02 emission policies must triple their reduction targets. 2018 was a record year for C02 growth. The 2015 UN Summit targets are not strict enough.

Climate impacts are hitting harder and sooner than predicted a decade ago. Weather events are more extreme than earlier projections.

Bye bye Somerset? Bye bye World?

My main takeaway for Somerset was that the global sea level rise could be bigger than expected. Scientists have uncertainties about how to judge the impact of the ice melt, not whether it is happening. There is a real risk of a 2-metre increase in sea level across the whole planet. Bye bye Somerset? Bye bye World?

Government Inaction

The Government’s own reports speak of little evidence in adaptation planning. It has not acted on the advice of its own policy advisors! Even the global capitalist economists at Davos noted a failure of climate change mitigation, extreme weather and natural disasters. The frequency of risks poses a growing issue for the insurance industry. The Greta effect of one child speaking out about the inaction has been extraordinary.

Climate Injustice

Climate inaction is injustice. The Wells sixth formers’ morning session quoted Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words on apartheid:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Bishop Desmond Tutu (1931- )

Moral Choice for Action

Cast in this light, climate action becomes a moral choice. Today’s young people are experiencing eco-climate anxiety. They are right to be anxious. It is not too late to rise up and get beyond anxiety into action.

Looking the Right Way

The conference’s final speaker drew out the Christian message with an allusion to the Good Samaritan. The World Bank estimates that there could be an unfathomable 143 million climate change refugees by 2050. An additional 100 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2030.

You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say that you did not know.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
1791 House of Commons speech on slavery

Eco Church leading by Example

Wells Cathedral is not just talking about the climate emergency. It is taking a lead and putting its own diocese churches into environmentally-friendly order. Even ancient Norman Church roofs can have solar panels these days, following the Rocha UK Eco Church project. The Dean closed the conference by stressing how much more the messages resonate when climate change gets personal. He personally knew a man who died in the Derbyshire flooding. Climate change will be on the agenda of every future Chapter meeting.

Declaring World War on Climate Emergency

Various ideas were shared by the panel and members of the audience on what we personally can change in our lives to help the climate. The biggest changes must come from the top down. Real societal changes only come from legislation – as happened with the transition from leaded to unleaded fuel using taxation, for example. Radical change is called for within 6 months, in a manner similar to putting the country and the world on a war footing. The following were emphasised:

  1. Fossil fuels must stay in the ground from now on.
  2. The Government needs to use carrot and stick techniques to implement carbon neutral policies.
  3. We need an affordable, reliable public transport scheme (especially important in our rural area if we are to be persuaded not to use private cars).
  4. Insulate all homes for free as part of a low carbon retrofit initiative
  5. All new build homes must be 0% carbon – why aren’t they now?

Climate Emergency: It’s Personal

Lobby all election candidates. Keep up the pressure. Hold all accountable. Don’t let them look the other way. The climate emergency is a moral challenge to us all. It is impacting our lives now. It’s personal.

© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018-19

Web Links

Eco Church

McGrath, Matt (2019): Global sea level could be bigger than expected, BBC News, 20 May 2019.

World Bank (2019): Climate Change Overview. Last updated: 4 October 2019

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