Q & A: The Bishop of London

| 1st March 2009
Bishop of London
The eco-conscious Bishop on moral environmentalism and lightening the Church's carbon footprint

Would Jesus have been an environmentalist?
The world in which Jesus lived was, for many, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Survival in a hostile environment was top priority, and of course industrial and commercial activity and its side-effects were undreamed of. But there is huge biblical evidence of a deep reverence for the physical world as God’s creation, of which human beings are the stewards, and of their unquestioned dependence on it for physical sustenance of every kind. These two notions would not have been separate in the minds of the people of Jesus’s time.

Do we humans have a moral duty to save the planet?
We certainly have a duty not to destroy it, or to render it or parts of it uninhabitable to other species and our own descendants. There is a sense in which the present economic crisis is the symptom of a self-centred and delusional short-termism, which kidded itself that everything was fine and would carry on getting better indefinitely. Happily, as far as the planet is concerned, that bubble burst a while ago, and we are now in no doubt about the dangers of not changing our ways. We must look beyond ourselves and our present comforts.

Are you hopeful that we can tackle climate change? Do you think we can save ourselves?
I am certainly hopeful – that is different from being optimistic. I believe we have a good chance of stopping irreversible and calamitous damage if we act courageously, and act now.

What environmental organizations or movements do you most actively support?
The Church is able actively to work with many organisations in this field, with which we share both a vision and an agenda for action. I have been impressed by the work of Friends of the Earth.

What book or film would you recommend that all politicians should read?
Babette’s Feast (1987), the story of a young French cook who blows an entire lottery win on preparing a sumptuous banquet for the puritan inhabitants of a bleak Danish village who had taken her in years before when she fled from civil unrest in Paris. Its themes are compassion, gratitude, sacrifice and redemption. It teaches that service is its own reward, and that unforced human goodness is a reality. A humbling antidote to the cynicism and greed that can tempt the powerful.

What is the Church doing to lighten its carbon footprint?

The Church of England has a national strategic campaign called Shrinking the Footprint, which aims to enable its members and institutions to shrink their environmental footprint to create the ‘The 20 Per Cent Church’. A series of strategic initiatives and partnerships will change our activities, structures and processes, producing sustainable reductions in the Church’s carbon emissions to 20 per cent of current levels by 2050. And we are making progress: between 2005 and 2007, churches in the diocese of London reduced their collective CO² emissions by 12 per cent.

Do you believe that nature is sacred?
I believe that nature is God’s creation, that he created it to sustain and delight us, and that we should treat it accordingly.

What words or passages in the Bible do you find most comforting in times of despair or darkness?
‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).


Laura Sevier is the Ecologist’s Green Living Editor.

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