Why is the Church of England backing fracking?

We should pray it mends its ways, says Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley


‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,’ says Matthew in the first book of the New Testament. Well, last week the Church of England’s heart appeared to have become entangled with the dirty, dangerous and unnecessary pursuit of fracking.

As those of us concerned for the future of the planet geared up for the inauguration of a climate denying US president, the Church of England became the latest cheerleader for fracking, publishing a briefing paper which backs drilling into the earth as a way to transfer to a low carbon economy.

That paper is being sent to environmental officers in every diocese in the country. Not only has Donald Trump entered the White House with a cohort of climate change deniers, but weather experts also just confirmed 2016 as the hottest year on record.

It is astounding that on top of this we now have to battle an increased threat from fracking from the Church – a body which should be leading the fight to protect the world we live in.

The Church of England owns 100,000 acres of land and fracking companies are already eyeing it up following today’s news – meaning fracking could very literally soon be on our own back doorsteps.

While the briefing paper touches on the controversy surrounding fracking and references the ‘legitimate concerns’ various groups and individuals have, the Church’s ‘tentative’ and ‘cautious’ support is support nonetheless.

By not opposing the technology outright, the Church has opened itself up to lobbying from shale gas explorers. Giving the industry access to this land for drilling would be disastrous for our environment, security and economy. The Church must not give in to temptation.

The problems with fracking are well documented. It can cause water contamination and shortages, as well as air and soil pollution. Fracking will accelerate dangerous climate change, worsen our dependency on increasingly expensive fossil fuels and forfeit investment in the clean energy sources we need – and the many thousands of resulting jobs.

It also completely undermines the international climate commitments to limit warming to two degrees as made under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The Church has only waded into the debate because communities affected by exploration applications asked for guidance and leadership. But being a good leader means speaking out when something is wrong and taking a stand to protect individuals and communities from harm.

The Church of England is a powerful body and its influence reaches into the everyday lives of millions of Britons. It has a real opportunity to pave the way forward for renewables and reinforce crucial investment for a low carbon future.

Instead it’s squandering this chance by backing an outdated, dirty and expensive technology like fracking.

This isn’t the first time the Church has dragged its heels on fighting climate change. It pulled money out of the tar sands oil and thermal coal industries following a global divestment campaign in 2015, but it’s reported to have a staggering £101 million invested in Shell and £91.9 million in BP.

Where the Church of England’s money is, there its heart will be also – imagine the difference this money could make if it was poured into renewables instead.

Only a fortnight ago the Church, alongside the Environment Agency Pension Fund and several asset managers, launched an initiative to rank companies based on how well they deal with carbon emissions risks. To undo this positive step by voicing support for fracking is absurd.

There’s only one place fossil fuels belong – in the ground. The belief fracking will help us transition to a low carbon economy is horribly misguided.

Climate change is the greatest threat that we face. The soaring temperatures of 2016 weren’t just a one off – 16 of the last 17 years have all broken the same record. The fact is that we’re in the midst of a climate crisis and, without urgent action, it’s only going to get worse.

We should all be praying the Church of England can reconsider its position on fracking and put its faith into renewables instead.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party and former co-director of religious think tank Ekklesia. He Tweets @Jon_Bartley

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