Climate change

A vision of a low carbon future

by Michael Bayley

from Signs of the Times, No. 28 - Jan 2008

The Omega Climate Change Group in Sheffield has produced a five session course, designed as a Lent course though it could be used at any time. Michael Bayley, on behalf of the group, has sent us these two excerpts. The course is available at

1) Part of an imagined letter to a grandson in 40 years time

This was written as a counterweight to a more pessimistic article by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian. Both are used in the course.

Sheffield, June 2047

Dear Tom,

Poor thing. They set you a difficult question for your essay. I'll try to help, although I still find it difficult to understand myself how we broke the habits of a lifetime and managed to do just enough to avert catastrophe. I remember, back in 2007, we were pretty despondent.

We were not hopeful when Brown succeeded Blair. He seemed reluctant to take any political risks, but he surprised us. He was coming under a lot of pressure from Cameron. At the beginning of 2008 Cameron supported one of his commission papers which advocated cuts of 80% by 2050. People were saying that even that was not enough. And they were right. But suddenly all the main parties started talking to one another seriously. The Committee for Climate Change, which was set up by the Climate Change Act of 2008, became renowned for the very tough line it took. Nobody would have believed in 2007 that we would have a carbon rationing scheme in existence by 2011, with improved and heavily subsidised public transport, a huge increase in cycling, a programme for insulating every house in the land in 15 years and, miracle of miracles, a freeze on all road and airport expansion and the beginning of a systematic reduction in flying.

How did it happen? Brown and Cameron began debating the practicalities of how to tackle the problem rather than indulging in point scoring, and the Liberal Democrats, who seemed to be going nowhere fast in 2007, decided to espouse the green cause to such an extent that they were forming electoral alliances with the Green Party, which immediately made them much more attractive to dissident Labour Party voters.

These decisive moves were given a great boost by the powerful combination in Europe of Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy who made it clear that they meant business on climate change. With Brown moving in the same direction suddenly three of the most powerful nations in the EU were pushing hard, and things that had seemed impossible, like limitations on flights, suddenly seemed possible.

Once governments had bitten the bullet and introduced carbon rationing everybody just got on with it and we did the things we ought to have done years ago. We did insulate our houses. We grew our own fruit and veg. There was a major revival in British farming. The scheme where every school had its own fruit and veg garden had a remarkable effect on the education system, and it was especially striking the way in which many of the most difficult children responded.

The campaign to make bicycling safe, especially for children on their way to school, paid handsome dividends. Your generation, Tom, is much fitter, and obesity is no longer a major problem. For students the bike has become the means of transport. Firms now have to make proper provision for people cycling to work and the number of people cycling goes up every year, even in hilly Sheffield.

I remember clearly that amazing broadcast from the Vatican on 29th June 2026, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. Augustine I was the first African Pope. He had been elected the previous year. He was born Moses Ayakuba, the 13th of 14 children. His parents and 8 of his siblings died of AIDS, and then 3 more of starvation. He and his 2 surviving siblings were rescued by a Catholic Sister who found them abandoned. From the age of 5 he was brought up in an Orphanage in a small town 50 miles from Kisangani, in the Eastern Congo. His outstanding abilities soon became obvious. He went to a secondary school in Kisangani run by the White Fathers. At the age of 20 he offered himself to the priesthood and was trained entirely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Once ordained his rise was meteoric, and by the age of 45 he was Archbishop of the Congo, and ten years later he got his Cardinal's hat. Only 5 years later he was elected Pope, to the utter disgust of the conservatives, and the surprise of everyone.

He continued to surprise everyone but never more than on 21st June 2026, when he launched his encyclical Populus Mundi. It really was addressed to the people of the world. He spoke of the terrible suffering that was being inflicted on the world, especially in the whole of Africa south of the Sahara, and his own beloved Congo, by global warming. He acknowledged the great steps that had been made, but he said it was the unavoidable responsibility of every Christian to work to preserve the world for which Christ had died. Then it came. "We have indeed seen great steps in reducing CO 2 emissions, but all that progress is in danger of being undermined by the continuing growth in the population. Catholics have fought shy of addressing this problem by reiterating the wisdom of the past, but the Church must be true to the tradition, to the present and to the future. From today I recommend all Catholic parents to restrict their families to the number of children our fragile planet can sustain. I suggest that that number will generally be a maximum of two."

It was impossible to hear what he said next. You could see the jaws of all the supporting cardinals drop. He had kept it totally secret, knowing the pressures that would be put on him to reverse his decision. But once he had announced it could not be reversed.

At that point we really began to feel that we were going to win this battle. As you know we are now just on target to keep the CO 2 level to 450ppm, but it was close run.

2) John Taylor's Enough is Enough

Though published in 1975, this was ahead of its time and is a rare example of well researched scholarship which describes how biblical texts condemn the desire forexcessive consumption.


He starts by describing the Hebrews' dream of shalom which is "something much broader than peace: the harmony informed at every point by its awareness of God... the harmony was the reciprocity of all the parts. It meant a dancing kind of inter-relationship, seeking something more free than equality, more generous than equity, the ever-shifting equipoise of a life-system. Economically and socially this dream of shalom found its expression in what I call the theology of enough."

The overweening greed

He points out that there are many references in the Old Testament to covetousness and greed, "but apart from all this the Hebrews had a word, betsa , which is desire of a different sort. It is invariably condemned, and seems to combine the idea of vaunting ambition and of unjust or fraudulent means. It comes out strongly in Jeremiah's reproachful condemnation of a new king's ostentatious redecoration and enlargement of the palace.

(Your father) dispensed justice to the lowly and poor...

But you have no eyes, no thought for anything but gain ( betsa ) (Jeremiah 22 vv 15 &17).

The virtue of fitting in

Taylor shows how in the New Testament there is "the same stern veto against grasping excess... A word which is commonly translated 'covetousness', pleonexia , does in fact mean 'excess' or 'wanting more and more'... It is often linked with sexual lust with which it has so much in common."(Mark 17 v 21, Colossians 3 v 5)

He goes on: "The opposite of this lust for possession and domination is the readiness to fit one's own needs to the needs of others and to submit self-assertion to the claims of an equipoise society. The Greek word is moderation ( epieikes )... It means... a matching, a toning in with the whole... That sense of the totality of creation and the fitness of each part in proper proportion to the rest, is the reverse of the narrow-minded sin of pleonexia which, disregarding the whole, grasps at excess and throws everything out of balance. True to this doctrine of creation, which modern ecology has strikingly endorsed, the disciple of Christ proclaims the kingdom of right relationships and calls on all (people) to make their far-reaching financial decisions with a sense of accountability for the whole system under God." (pp 45-47)

Taylor puts much emphasis on 'fitting in' and 'balance' and especially 'equipoise' on which he expands here where he shows how, by relating such ideas as profitability or wealth to this vision of the whole system under God, we find that their meanings are immediately expanded. "That is what I have in mind when I speak of equipoise as a better word than either equality or equity. I think there is something of this broad vision in St Paul's enthusiasm for the collection from the Gentile congregations and its offering by representatives of those churches to the motherland in Jerusalem:

There is no question of relieving others at the cost of hardship to yourselves; it is a question of equality... As Scripture has it, 'The man who got much had no more than enough, and the man who got little did not go short.'" (2 Corinthians 13 v15)


Paul's quotation referring to the mystical manna is an important lesson in the theology of enough. The answer to the question,' What is that?' is crucial. " ' That is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.' God's gift and (humankind's) happy dependence on it, is the ground of the theology of enough. It is graciousness born of grace. 'Each of you is to gather as much as he can eat,' There an important note is struck; the covenant does not call for asceticism. Nor do I believe that we, in our day, should seek a deliberate return to poverty. It is not poverty but balance that we are after... so in this object lesson of the early Hebrews the story of the mysterious manna goes on: 'Those who gathered more had not too much, and those who gathered less had not too little.' And those who tried hoarding it found that it bred maggots and stank. It is that stink which rises today from all over our despoiled environment." (pp 49f)

Michael Bayley is a retired Anglican priest. He tells us he was persuaded by the birth of two grandchildren that he wants to do what he can to ensure that they, and the rest of humanity, have a world that is fit to live in when they are as old as he is now.