Is The Church Actually Going Green ?

Does anyone know which is the greenest Church ?

Is anyone measuring how renewable is the energy used by Churches themselves ?  Presumably Pope Francis would now be interested to know.  After all, an Encyclical is not much good if it’s not acted upon.

Various Popes have made ‘green’ utterances about ecology – John Paul II spoke of the ‘ecological crisis‘ and in 2008 Benedict XVI installed solar pv in the Vatican.

Pope Francis has made it pretty clear.  Catholics and the rest of us should be using renewable energy:

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

“Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.”

So how widespread are they in the Catholic Church itself ?  One hopes that somewhere in the Vatican, someone is keeping track of progress ?

Catholic Potential

It’s not as if this idea is wholly new, even in the Catholic Church.  In 2009 an academic study available online,  Solar Photovoltaic Energy for Mitigation of Climate Change: A Catalytic Application of Catholic Social Thought worked out the potential impact on developing the solar pv market in the US if the  20,842 Catholic Parishes in the Continental U.S. put solar pv on their roofs.

And there are plenty of Catholic, Christian and other Faith initiatives on the environment and even specifically on renewable energy.

For instance in the US, for 15 years the California-based  Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) ‘has worked to turn people of all religious faiths onto the idea that addressing climate change by deploying renewable energy technologies’. Renewables ‘can not only deliver clean, affordable electrical power’, it says ‘but it can also address unemployment and spur socially beneficial development in communities nationwide’.

IPL works with 18,000 member congregations, and is running an online Solar Pledge campaign and can point to lots of examples of churches using renewables.  But does anyone have systematic data on progress ?  Now is the time for the bean counters of the Vatican and other faith institutions to do their ecological accounting with the same thoroughness that many devote to keeping track of their often vast financial resources.

Are The Germans The Real Leaders ?

It might come as no surprise if it turns out that the Germans, and maybe the non-Catholic Christians, are ahead of the game ?  Today (24 June 2015) it was reported by the website Power Technology that:

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a communion of Lutheran churches has decided not to invest in fossil fuels any further and has called on its member churches in Switzerland to do the same, in order to meet its climate commitment. 

As a part of its long-standing pledge to preserve environment, the federation has urged its members and associated institutions ‘to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies’ instead.  The council intends to turn carbon neutral by 2050

More than 2,000 churches in Germany already have either photovoltaics or solar thermal.  Was this the first pv on a church building anywhere ?  Quite possibly.  In Germany of course, and as it makes clear, a Conservative project.

Which religions are most likely to convert words into action ?  I’m not a great expert in these matters but I do remember from working on the WWF Assisi Declarations in 1986 which brought together five of the world’s great religions and led to the ‘Network of Religions and Conservation’, that it was Islam not Christianity which seemed to find it easiest to convert theological commitments into practical action.  But let’s see.  Perhaps the Catholics will do something dramatic ?

Evangelicals or C of E ?

A friend of mine who is a prominently green Church of England Vicar, once told me that if you wanted actual action, it was not the C of E or the Buddhists to look to but the Evangelicals.  On the other hand even the fusty old Church of England has a good spattering of green projects underway, and its record on disinvestment from carbon is definitely improving, even if still a work in progress.

There are a growing number of ‘green churches‘ in England, and six dioceses partner with Ecotricity in energy projects   while ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ is the Church of England’s national environmental campaign aimed at helping the Church’s 44 dioceses and 16,000 churches reduce their carbon footprint.

St Silas Church Islington London ‘a lively church faithful to the Catholic tradition of the Church of England’ posted this video:

The US likewise has plenty of green pioneers in the Churches.  ‘In Stockton, Bishop Stephen Blaire announced that his diocese has joined forces with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Sungevity, a private firm specializing in solar power systems. The partnership allows Sungevity to offer new customers a $750 rebate while splitting an additional $750 between a participating parish, the diocesan Catholic Charities fund, and the Catholic Climate Covenant, which can then use the funds to assist other dioceses in doing the same’.

The Diocese of Honolulu and St. Mary’s Abbey in Massachusetts have also gone solar


Back in the UK, the non conformist Methodists The Hope in God’s Future report commits the Methodist Church to reducing its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.

I’m not sure what the American Evangelists are actually doing but the Rev. Mitch Hescox Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) pulls few punches in advocacy:

Using sleight-of-hand statistical mumbo-jumbo, deniers have tried to pull one over on the American people about the recent pace of global warming. Don’t be fooled. Global temperatures have continued their century’s long march upward, with 2014 being the latest exclamation point and 2015 projected to do the same. And with the heat comes extreme weather like the California drought, flooding and mudslides in Washington that killed 43, and the fact that Anchorage, Alaska was above freezing all of 2014.

So does that mean the doomsayers are right? The end is nigh, we’re already toast, as 2014 portends?

Not at all! That’s not the moment we are in.

Here’s some solar pv from a Church in Northern Ireland (Belfast Ulster Temple Church):

See also this Baptist green project in the UK.

Some churches have been leaders in disinvestment from high carbon energy. IPL notes  The following faith organizations have divested from fossil fuels:

Not Just Christians

It’s not just the Christians of course.  The Guardian reports that ‘more than 300 rabbis signed a letter calling on Jewish institutions and individuals to divest from “carbon Pharaohs” or coal-based electric power, and buy wind power instead’.

Actions Not Words

This blog is not a serious review, more a whimsical survey.  You could go on and on recording the variety of religious organizations using solar or otherwise going green, such as these from many faiths in Canada.

No doubt thanks to the Encyclical and faith-adovocacy projects such Our Voices,  inter-faith lobbying will be a big feature of the forthcoming Paris climate talks.

But actions speak louder than words, so if anyone has any actual data on which are the greenest churches, or greenest faiths, as measured in converting to renewable energy, I’d very much like to hear from you (or post a reply to this blog).





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