Church speaks and acts on climate change

Update, 1 May 2015: Since I wrote this post earlier this week, the Church of England has announced that it will cut its investment in fossil fuel companies. The Church of England has investment funds worth £8bn, so this announcement is significant. While it's not withdrawing all its funds from fossil fuel companies, it is using its position as a shareholder to press for increased transparency on climate change.

I’m heartened to see the Church (both Catholic and Anglican) speaking out about climate change, and challenging politicians to do more.

The Catholic Church have been holding the Vatican Science Academy, where leading scientists, economists and theologians have been discussing climate change, in the hope of influencing UN meetings on Sustainable Development Goals. The Vatican are expected to issue a statement saying  that action to cut climate emissions is “a moral and religious imperative, highlighting the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people – especially the poor, children, and future generations”.  

Meanwhile, Church of England Bishops have also been speaking of a moral duty to tackle climate change, and calling on politicians to back their pledges up with firm action. And in the US the head of the Episcopal Church has recently come out to say that climate change is “is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

Some people (especially politicians when they’re being criticised) say that the church should keep out of politics. But reading the Gospels (and the Old Testament prophets) has convinced me that the Church has a duty to speak out on some political issues. Jesus wasn’t a politician, but his teaching was revolutionary. The House of Bishop’s pastoral letter to parishioners in the lead up to the General election explains why they believe the Church should be speaking out on political issues, including the environment.

The Church (and others) have been speaking out about climate change for years. But this recent intervention is timely, at least for the UK, with our General Election next week. Climate change hasn’t featured highly on the political agenda so far. Hopefully this will make some Christians consider the parties’ policies on climate change (among other issues) when deciding whom to vote for next week. Twice as many people attended a Church of England service last Sunday than are members of all the political parties put together in the UK, so Christians have a real opportunity to influence the outcome of this election.

Further information

UKIP’s climate change policy is dangerous and cynical

UKIP’s climate change policy is extremely dangerous, and their attempts to justify it don’t just misunderstand the evidence, but blatantly, cynically distort it. I know that I have already blogged about the climate change policies of the political parties. But I really need to get this off my chest.

Last week I attended a hustings, where the audience got to grill potential parliamentary candidates from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP. It was interesting, but nobody said anything very unexpected. But one point really raised my hackles: UKIP’s response to a question on climate change. I already knew they planned to do nothing to tackle climate change. It was their justification for this that astounded me:

  1. Climate change isn’t happening
  2. And it’s not down to humans anyway (it’s all the sun’s fault)
  3. The 97% of scientists who say otherwise are all in the pay of the Green lobby
  4. The 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report supports UKIP’s views on this

When challenged on this latter point the UKIP candidate proceeded to quote parts of the report which discuss the areas where the existing models are not yet perfect. Someone from UKIP has clearly been through the report, looking for any minor caveats that, when quoted out of context, may make it sound like the report is saying climate change isn’t really happening.

My day job is about making sure the results of scientific research influence policy and practice. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how evidence should be used to inform policy (see my blog post on the evidence around the badger cull if you’re interested in science and policy). Science is often messier than it is portrayed in the media: we don’t always understand everything about an issue perfectly. That’s why there are caveats about the limitations of the evidence in every scientific paper. Science is very good at quantifying the level of uncertainty in results – scientists use confidence intervals to show the range in which they can be confident the true value sits. Acknowledging uncertainty and limitations doesn’t make science useless: you bear the limitations and uncertainty  in mind when interpreting the results, but you certainly shouldn’t ignore the body of evidence completely.

The IPCC report was written by hundreds of scientists, and reviewed by more than a thousand experts, and governments, from around the world. When writing the report, the IPCC will have considered all the evidence, uncertainty and limitations. Taking that all into account, here’s their summary shortest summary of all that evidence (I’ve added the emphasis in bold to help you pick out the bits that relate to UKIP’s claims) :

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have 
warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the 
concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

"Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. 
The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750

"Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse 
gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and 
understanding of the climate system. 

"Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all 
components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and 
sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions." 

Don’t take my word for it – you can read the IPCC report online, in varying levels of details, from a 28 page summary for policymakers, an 84 page technical summary, or the full report.

UKIP’s attempt to justify their climate change policy by misrepresenting the scientific evidence is cynical. It’s not that they don’t understand. They are attempting to deceive the British public. I pray they get nowhere near power – whatever you think of their other policies (beyond the scope of this blog), their climate change and energy policies will be disastrous.

OK. Rant over. For a more dispassionate look at the climate change policies of UKIP and the other parties, read the Election Focus.

Election focus: The Hunting Act

Hunting deer, foxes and hares with dogs was outlawed 10 years ago. A poll by Ipsos Mori, conducted at the end of last year, found that 80% of people in Great Britain think that fox hunting should remain illegal, 86% for deer hunting and 88% for hare hunting/coursing. These figures are about the same in both rural and urban areas (despite claims from the Countryside Alliance that only urbanites support the ban).

So why do an election focus on this issue? There can’t be much legislation that is so popular with the general public. But hunting has become an election issue, with pro-hunt campaigners  actively supporting (campaigning for and financing) candidates for parties who promise to repeal the legislation.

Opponents of the Hunting Act claim that it doesn’t work, has done nothing to protect animals’ welfare, and restricts a countryside tradition. Supporters of the Act claim that it’s a highly effective piece of legislation, pointing to successful prosecutions of hunts breaking the law. Some anti-hunt groups argue that the law needs strengthening, or enforcement improving, as illegal fox hunting still continues in some areas.

So where do the parties stand on this issue? I’ve been looking into it, checking parties’ websites, emailing party head offices, and emailing the candidates standing in my constituency. I’ve only included parties standing in England, as there is different legislation in Scotland. Here’s what I’ve found.

Conservatives

Writing in the Countryside Alliance magazine (a pro-hunting lobby group), David Cameron said:

“The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative government will give parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”

So a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a return to hunting foxes, deer and hares with dogs.

Labour

Labour has said it would not repeal the ban. Maria Eagle, shadow environment secretary, has already stated:

“Only Labour will protect the Hunting Act. Ten years ago the Labour party ended the cruel practice of hunting with dogs, because we believe that causing defenceless animals to suffer in the name of sport has no place in a civilised society. But just as we celebrate the Hunting Act, the Tories plan to repeal it. Only Labour can protect the Hunting Act because Labour is the only major party committed to defending it. The hunting ban is a testament to the progress made since the days of bear baiting and other such barbaric blood sports.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats haven’t responded to my emails yet, and I haven’t been able to find any policy statements about this on their website. However, it’s widely recognised that lack of support from the Liberal Democrats is the main reason why the current Coalition Government haven’t repealed the Hunting Act already.

If I hear anything from the Liberal Democrats I will update this post. In the meantime, you could ask the candidates standing in your constituency what their views on it are. The League Against Cruel Sport have an easy way to do this with their General Election Survey.

UKIP

I couldn’t find anything on the UKIP website about this issue, so I emailed them. Here’s the response I received from Alan Bigwood of UKIP Headoffice:

“UKIP has absolutely no policy on Hunting, and the reason is simple.   Those in favour of hunting and those opposed to it, are separated by a gulf that is in reality a chasm.  There is no point in UKIP having an official policy on Hunting because it has nothing to do with pulling out of the EU, and even within UKIP itself some of the members are pro hunting and others are vehemently opposed, a mirror of wider society.

UKIP does not intend to bring hunting back even if Nigel Farage may take a different personal stance, which he has every right to do.

It is party policy to offer referendums to the public, and if enough petitioners were to demand a referendum on Hunting then a UKIP government would, of course, accede to that request…  In such instances we feel that it is best to let the people decide, not an out of touch clique in Westminster, many of whom have never done a proper job in their lives.”

The Greens

My Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate replied to my email, saying:

“The Green Party is committed to maintaining and strengthening the ban on hunting with dogs, and would extend this ban to all hunting of all animals for sport or pleasure.”

There’s lots more information about the Green Party’s position on other animal welfare issues, including snaring, shooting, dog fighting and greyhound racing on their website.

More information

Watch the disturbing video below, then visit the League Against Cruel Sports website for more information, and to take action.

March Photo Challenge: wild birds

For my March Photo Challenge I visited my local park to take photos of the wildfowl. Spring was in the air, as can be seen from the fighting moorhens… The swan was also rather combative, chasing off ducks who came too close.

Moorhen
Moorhen

Swan Fighting moorhens Fighting moorhens 2015 03 26_Meadowbank birds 2_3424_edited-3 Bark

Duck tail
Mallard tail
Greylag goose legs
Greylag goose legs
Greylag goose feathers
Greylag goose feathers
Greylag goose
Greylag goose

Swan

British Animal Challenge: March and April 2015

March seems to have flown by. My focus for the British Animal Challenge in March was reptiles and amphibians. I did manage one reptile spotting walk, but didn’t see any reptiles. (I think I picked too warm a day, and should have gone out earlier in the morning.)

Still, I did at least cross one new species off my list in March: we found a common shrew in one of the dormouse boxes we were cleaning out. I’ve seen a few pygmy shrews in dormice boxes before, but not a common one. They don’t nest in the boxes, so are either using them for a quick nap (shrews need to do everything quickly, as they have to eat pretty much constantly), or helping us get rid of some of the insects that like to take up residence in the boxes.

I’ve definitely seen dead common shrews before (victims of my previous cat), but can’t remember seeing one alive, so didn’t cross it off my list before. I finally have a confirmed sighting.

While there was only one new species ticked off my list in March, I did see some other animals. I’ve seen:

  • Hedgehogs (now coming every evening to my garden) – even witnessed some hedgehog fights
  • Hares
  • Deer – not sure which sort, as we whizzed past on the train
  • Rabbits

My calendar for April looks pretty packed. It includes a dormouse box check, so I may get lucky and see a yellow-necked mouse. I’ve also got another trip to Cornwall planned, to go sailing in my dinghy for the first time – I’d love to see some cetaceans on that (although I’m not pinning my hopes on it). I’ll also try to look out for reptiles and amphibians (there are some good ponds near where I’ll be staying in Cornwall).