Where have we put our treasure?

Following my article on fracking for Third Way, Operation Noah asked me to write a short piece for its Bright Now blog on divestment from fossil fuels. Here it is…

In a Resurgence article based on his latest book The Energy of Nations, Jeremy Leggett gives the history of four systemic risks in energy markets: climate change and the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground; the resulting carbon bubble in capital markets; corporate losses in US shale gas and oil production, which means the ‘boom’ may just be a bubble; and peak production of affordable oil.

Expanding on the second risk, he writes: ‘Over the next 10 years, spending [by the world’s 200 biggest gas and oil companies on expanding and developing their reserves] could exceed US$6 trillion, if things stay as they are. This is one very big bet the policymakers will do nothing about climate change. In the last year, key investors have balked at that bet. Major insurers and pension funds have curbed their investment in coal and oil.’ State pension funds in Norway and Sweden have said they would ‘withdraw from all fossil-fuel investments, for fear of assets being stranded’. Australian coal investments are under huge pressure, as China develops legislation to ban coal use. ‘Investors arguing that capital expenditure was too high and dividends were too low forced Shell to cancel all Arctic drilling in 2014.’ And hence, ‘Investors may increasingly be setting up future emissions reductions by default [for climate policymakers].’

So divestment makes sense in two ways: it works, and every divestment, however small, adds to the momentum; and it makes financial sense to join the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association and the University of Glasgow and pull out before the crash!

It is not as though alternative investments aren’t available. I recently wrote an article for Third Way magazine about fracking, in which I argued ‘Even a cursory comparison with the renewables sector clearly shows that fracking is a distraction … A second “dash for gas” would lock the UK into a high-carbon future, and would divert investment away from cleaner renewables now.’ For individuals, the Which? Ethical Investments Guide and YourEthicalMoney.org provide independent information on green and ethical money, including investments, banking, pensions and insurance. And for those looking for a social return on their investment, there are plenty of opportunities to invest in community energy schemes – from Abingdon Hydro via REPOWERBalcombe to Zouch Solar, which I may have made up!

Some of the responses on Twitter to Glasgow University’s announcement are interesting. A couple argue that divesting is ‘futile symbolism’ unless the University also stops using fossil fuels, and I think they partly have a point.

In my fracking article, I concluded that the UK government’s keenness to promote fracking is about money and power: ‘[George] Osborne is hoping for a repeat of the North Sea oil bonanza, and there are strong links between the government and the fracking industry.’ But I also had to acknowledge our own culpability. ‘There is a disconnect between public opinion of fracking “in my back yard”, and our energy-hungry lifestyles … We are addicted to energy, and take it for granted.’

Money equals power, and giving the fossil fuel companies our money, whether as investment or payment for energy, means giving them power. I am happy to say that I bank with Co-op, buy my energy from Good Energy, and am at present car-free. But as a participant in the UK economy, I am still locked in to fossil fuels, and spending money on almost anything means oil production and carbon emissions.

The Christian Climate Action group asks What Would Jesus Divest?* But I asked ‘[W]here have we put our treasure, and thereby our heart?’ (Matthew 6:19-21) Do we see ourselves deep-down as consumers and individuals, or citizens and neighbours and members of the body of Christ seeking God’s Kingdom? After all, the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44) is not a pocket of shale gas to be exploited, but rather, as R. S. Thomas suggested in The Bright Field, ‘the eternity that awaits you’ … or perhaps we might say it is a ‘Bright Now’.

* It would perhaps be more accurate to ask what would the women providing for Jesus divest? See Luke 8:1-3.


Culture vulture

Third Way magazine has just invited me (as one of its friends and family, aw!) to write approx 100 words about my cultural highlight of 2014 for the Reviews section in the new year issue. It was lovely to be invited, and to be prompted to recall some pleasant memories. I thought I may as well write something while I was musing, and here it probably shouldn’t be quite yet, but here it is!

2014 was a rich year, from the Matisse Cut-Outs, to Fidelio at Garsington, to finally visiting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Hepworth Wakefield, to putting on my own first humble art exhibition in Exeter. But my highlight was discovering The Bookshop in Wigtown, a cornucopia of quirky delights, one of those deceptive spaces that opens up nooks and crannies to entice the unsuspecting into discovering a pair of armchairs by a fireplace, a suspended violin-playing skeleton, a vintage bicycle, or a ladder to a platform and a cosy-looking mattress. It also sells second-hand books.

I could have written myriads more about squillions of other things. It has been a good year so far, and it’s not over yet!


BBC Bias

With reference to the stories in the Guardian and Independent about how the BBC is refusing to include the Green Party in the general election TV leader debates, here’s the complaint I made to the BBC…

The BBC has already been showing an extreme and (given the party’s rhetoric and policies) worrying bias towards UKIP. Now it is also displaying an extreme illogic in its inclusion of UKIP and the LibDems but exclusion of the Green Party in the general election TV leader debates. How is it possible to argue this based on the 2010 General Election results, when UKIP had a grand total of zero MPs, and on polling since, given that the Greens have overtaken the LibDems?

It is notable that UKIP support is concentrated in the parts of the country with the least immigration, which might indicate that immigration is no big deal where it has happened. I wish I had the words to express how dismayed I am at the way the BBC is giving a platform to UKIP. Its policies are deeply damaging to women, to our relationship with the rest of Europe, and to the future habitability of our planet. On the other hand, the Greens must be doing and saying something right, if they have the establishment so worried!

And here’s the amazingly quick response, which even at 8pm-ish appears to be tailored and not just automated. Good to know the licence fee goes towards a large phalanx of complaint-responders…

Dear Ms  Bryden

Thank you for contacting us about the proposed format for the 2015 General Election debates. We have received a wide range of feedback from supporters of different political parties across the UK. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

The BBC is working with other broadcasters to try and make election debates happen in 2015 and we believe we have set out a fair and realistic formula. Twenty two million people saw some of the debates in 2010. They were very successful in engaging the electorate, especially first time voters and the broadcasters would like them to happen again at next year’s general election. We are also putting forward our own proposals for other debates across the UK.

Ensuring impartiality during an election campaign is a priority and judgements about debates, and other programmes, are taken on the basis of objective editorial assessments of a number of factors, including the levels of past and current electoral support for each party.

Although UKIP did not win a seat in the 2010 general election, they polled more than three times as many votes as the Green Party, which did win a seat. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP topped the poll, beating all the Westminster parties in terms of seats (24) and share of the vote (more than 27% – up more than 10% on 2009). The Greens won three seats in the European election, with just under 8% of the vote (a small drop since 2009).

UKIP have also performed strongly in local government elections in England for the past two years and have more councillors than the Greens. Before their victory in Clacton, UKIP had come second in every Westminster by-election for the last two years – the Greens’ best performance was around 4%.

We also take account of opinion polls, when there is a robust and consistent trend: UKIP have been regularly polling in the mid-teens for more than two years, well ahead, for instance, of the Liberal Democrats and around 10 percentage points ahead of the Greens.

The BBC has since responded to a letter from the Green Party, which expressed disappointment at the proposals unveiled by the UK’s four leading broadcasters for election debates next year. You can read the response in full at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/statements/green-party-letter

In Scotland, the BBC is proposing a debate, in peak time on BBC One, involving the leaders of the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties. We are proposing a similar format of debate on BBC One from Wales, involving the leaders of Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. We have written to the parties to begin discussions about our proposals and we will ensure impartiality during the Election in Scotland and Wales. Full details of our content will be released over the coming months once they are finalised.

We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards
BBC Complaints

To which I responded…

The implication is that the Green Party is the only party in Britain with an MP and local councillors and MEPs and polling over 5%, but no leader voice in any televised debate.

Also, I wondered whether you could respond to my comments about the BBC giving a platform to UKIP and ignoring the Green Party, which must at least partially be a factor in what you describe in your letter: “UKIP has demonstrated a substantial increase in electoral support since 2014 across a range of elections along with a consistent and robust trend across a full range of opinion polls; the Green party has not demonstrated any comparable increase in support in either elections or opinion polls”.

And they immediately came back with a repeat of their previous response, so it wasn’t tailored after all, and the licence fee is only going towards an algorithm. Rumbled!

And here’s where you too can make a complaint.


What the frack?

Published in Third Way, October 2014

Third Way

Depending who you ask, hydraulic fracturing – fracking – is either a panacea for our energy crisis or an environmental apocalypse in waiting. Clare Bryden drills through the propaganda in search of some answers.

Fracking has been a controversial news story since the protests at Balcombe in West Sussex against test drilling by Cuadrilla Resources in August 2013. In July this year, it knocked even the Middle East from the top of the news agenda when the Government announced the 14th Landward Licensing Round, opening up half of the UK to shale oil and gas exploration.1

Notably, it had refused to rule out fracking in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites. New planning rules, also announced, stipulate that licences would be granted in these areas only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ if ‘it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest’, and give the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles the right to overturn planning decisions. But environmental campaigners are a suspicious group, and took the view that the rules allow Pickles the automatic right to overrule local authorities who reject an application, thereby actually making it easier for developers.

Here as elsewhere, much heat was generated – but what is the truth of the matter? Is fracking good or bad?


Gas production in the North Sea is in decline, and to continue to meet demand, it needs to be supplemented with imports of natural gas or shipped-in liquefied natural gas (LNG), or with alternative sources.

Shale oil and gas is tightly locked into very finegrained rock. ‘Fracking’ is a short-hand for hydraulic fracturing of the rock. The technique was developed in the US, where it has boosted oil production and driven down gas prices. It involves drilling a well vertically down, then horizontally into the shale layer. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the rock at high pressure, creating fissures, and allowing the oil or gas to flow out through the well.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has identified abundant potential reserves of shale oil and gas across swathes of the UK, especially the north of England, the Midland Valley of Scotland, and the Weald Basin in southern England.2 Assuming that 10 per cent can be extracted, shale gas could meet the UK’s gas needs for more than 40 years. But there’s the rub. As the BGS notes, its estimate ‘represents the gas that we think is present, but not the gas that might be possible to extract… [which] depends on the economic, geological and social factors that will prevail at each operation.’


From thousands of wells in the US, companies have not extracted more than 5 per cent.3 US technology has been found not to work on Polish geology, even though Poland was thought in Europe to be the most likely to replicate the US success.4 The UK shale gas industry is in its infancy, and there is no reliable understanding of the geological factors without a programme of drilling and testing.

Again, even in the US, the economics do not necessarily stack up. Drilling is expensive, and because yields from shale wells typically halve in four months,5 ever more wells must be drilled just to maintain production. According to Jeremy Leggett, ‘Oil and gas companies drilling American shale today spend a collective dollar and a half for every dollar of oil and gas income’.6

Leggett also comments drily on the social factors: ‘Anyone who knows the extent of necessary industrialisation at a fracking sweet spot in America, and who also knows the sentiments of rural England, knows that it will be impossible to replicate the American shale boom in the UK.’ Which brings us back to the impacts of fracking on the environment.


An environmental report produced for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), as part of its consultation on licensing proposals, considered the effects of ‘between 30 and 120 well pads being developed (each having between 6-24 wells and occupying up to 3 hectare of land per pad)’.7 It is difficult to conceive a well pad development the size of three Trafalgar Squares not having an impact on the countryside.

About one-tenth of the area now open for licensing is covered by the National Park or other protections. The rules covering the remainder of the country are unchanged. But I would argue that any local landscape and green space has value and needs conserving. Landscape is formative, the land is our heritage. Why else would we be so protective of our ‘backyard’, and the issue be so emotive?

Beneath our backyard, two minor earthquakes near Blackpool in April and May 2011 were seized on by campaigners as indicative of the dangers of fracking. A DECC report co-authored by the BGS concluded that test drilling by Cuadrilla was responsible and that further small earthquakes cannot be ruled out, but that the risk is low and structural damage extremely unlikely.8


Of greater concern is water, both the amount required for production and the risk of pollution and contamination of fresh water aquifers. Globally, fresh water is a more valuable resource than oil or gas. It is essential for life.

Each fracking well requires between 10,000 and 30,000 cubic metres of water. Over a decade of operation, this is equivalent to the amount needed to run a small coal-fired power station for just 12 hours. Even when multiplied up by hundreds of wells, the figures are therefore not exceptional. Nevertheless, water companies are required to produce a long-term water resource plan with contingency reserves in case of a drought, and will assess the amount of water available before providing it to fracking operators.9

The operators must declare the chemicals used in drilling and fracking to the environmental regulator, which assesses them for hazards on a case-by-case basis. Some of the water may return to the surface as flowback fluid, and the operator must dispose of this safely. Movement of flowback fluid by tanker may be an issue on local roads.


The risk of methane in drinking water is one of the most sensitive questions over fracking. The videos of people lighting the water coming out of their taps are somewhat unsettling.

According to mapping by the BGS and the Environment Agency, almost all the shale gas resource in England and Wales lies beneath at least one aquifer. An independent review by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering considered the most likely cause of contamination to be faulty wells drilled through aquifers, and recommended well examination by independent specialists. It also found that the risk of fractures reaching overlying aquifers is very low if extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres.10 The Environment Agency says it will refuse permission to developments if they are too close to supplies of drinking water.11

So far, then, it seems that the visual impact of fracking on the landscape is likely to be unacceptable. The local environmental risks should be manageable if robust regulation is introduced and enforced, although this is a big ‘if’, as ministers have rejected calls in the UK for specific regulation and defeated EU proposals.12


But what of the carbon footprint of shale gas, and can it, as claimed, be a bridge to a low-carbon future?

To have an even chance of keep global warming below 2°C, and avoid dangerous climate change, world carbon emissions must peak before 2020 then steadily decline. The total amount of carbon we can afford to emit is very small compared with the carbon content of coal, oil and gas reserves still in the ground. Countries, companies and individuals are therefore looking for low or zero-carbon alternatives.13

The UK has so far managed to meet its carbon targets largely through a ‘dash for gas’ replacing coal in electricity generation. DECC expects a second dash in the next few years, the share of renewables to increase steadily to 40 per cent by 2030, and new nuclear stations and coal and gas-fired power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage to come online from about 2025.14 So the government argues that shale gas could be an important bridge to help secure energy supplies until renewable energy capacity increases, while being a cleaner replacement for coal in the generation mix.


Anti-fracking campaigners point to a Cornell University study which found high methane leakage from fracking wells, giving shale gas a higher greenhouse gas footprint than coal. However, DECC’s chief scientific adviser considers this study to be an outlier. If adequately regulated – again, note the ‘if’ – local emissions should be only a small proportion of the shale gas footprint, which is similar to conventional gas, lower than LNG and significantly lower than coal.15

It seems clearer that UK shale gas cannot be considered a bridging fuel because of timescales. The chief executive of Cuadrilla has said it would take two or three years to drill enough test wells to determine whether commercial extraction is viable, and large-scale production would be unlikely to start for several years.16 Other commentators look to China, where the barriers to the industry are relatively low but significant production is still eight to ten years away, and consider timescales of fifteen to 20 years to be more realistic.17


Even a cursory comparison with the renewables sector clearly shows that fracking is a distraction. A 2009 report by National Grid found that biogas, produced predominantly from waste, had the potential to supply 5-18 per cent of total UK gas demand by 2020.18 The most optimistic forecast expects shale gas to fulfil at most 5 per cent of gas demand by 2030.19 In terms of contribution to electricity generation – and gas is far too versatile a fuel to be wasted in this way – Germany has already shown that renewable capacity is capable of expanding rapidly.

Even in the UK, renewable electricity capacity grew by 27 per cent in 2013 and renewables contributed 15 per cent to generation, while heat from renewable sources grew by 19 per cent.20 The Government is now trying to limit subsidies paid to solar farms, because they are growing too rapidly.21

Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock claimed in July that shale gas will bring jobs and growth, which is supported by the Institute of Directors’ estimate that it could attract annual investment of £3.7 billion and support up to 74,000 jobs.22 But according to research by the Renewable Energy Association, launched by the then Climate Change Minister Greg Barker, the UK renewables industry was already worth £12.5 billion and supported 110,000 jobs in 2010/11, with 400,000 in total required to meet the UK’s renewables targets in 2020.23


A second ‘dash for gas’ would lock the UK into a high-carbon future, and would divert investment away from cleaner renewables now. It would also lock the UK into an future of uncertain gas prices and supplies on global markets, as DECC expects the UK will need to import 70 per cent of consumption by 2025.24 That figure dwarfs the 5 per cent maximum contribution by shale gas, and almost mocks Hancock’s claim that shale gas has the potential to provide us with greater energy security.

Moreover, as the chair of Cuadrilla Lord Browne pointed out: ‘We are part of a well-connected European gas market and, unless it is a gigantic amount of gas, it is not going to have material impact on price.’25 So much for the insistence by David Cameron and George Osborne that shale gas would drive energy prices down and reduce household energy bills to the benefit of the fuel poor.

Instead of rhetoric on shale gas, what the UK needs is a truly sustainable energy policy that challenges the status quo; that is underpinned by conservation and decarbonisation; that invests in energy efficiency; that makes as sparing and smart use of fossil fuels and nuclear as possible; that seriously considers the potential of decentralised electricity grids, and invests in demand side management and storage alongside increased ‘home grown’ renewable generation; and that seriously considers the potential of renewable biofuels, consistent with sustainable food and waste policies.


Why, then, is the UK Government so keen to promote fracking, when the Scottish Government has recently supported residents’ rights to oppose it26 and many countries in Europe have banned it?

The Government has announced an extraordinary range of financial incentives to fracking companies, local councils and communities: a 30 per cent tax rate for onshore shale gas production, well below the top rate of 62 per cent on new North Sea oil operations;27 altering planning fees to account for only the above-ground area, rather than the entire area of underground drilling;28 allowing local councils to keep 100 per cent of business rates from fracking operations rather than 50 per cent;29 payments to local councils and communities of £100,000 per site and 1 per cent of revenues from any successful wells.30

It is also making protest more difficult, rushing through planning reforms which mean that homeowners will no longer be individually notified of a planning application for drilling or fracking beneath their home,31 and changing trespass laws, so that companies are granted access to run pipes through land below 300m from the surface.32


Yet it knows that public support for fracking is weak. DECC’s latest survey of attitudes towards its priorities found that 80 per cent supported renewable energy and 59 per cent would be happy to have a large scale renewable energy development in their area, whilst only 29 per cent supported shale gas extraction. The survey did not ask respondents whether they would be happy to have a fracking development in their area.33

Nor will the Government’s refusal to rule out fracking in National Parks and AONBs endear it to its backbench MPs in rural constituencies.

I can only conclude that it is about money and power. Osborne is hoping for a repeat of the North Sea oil bonanza, and there are strong links between the Government and the fracking industry. Campaigners have named five non-executive directors working within government departments who have fracking interests, including the Cuadrilla chair Lord Browne,34 and six members of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee which published a report on ‘The Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and Oil’.35 The new chair of the Environment Agency has also had links to the fracking industry.36

All interests are declared and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing, nor do any of the five non-execs sit in DECC, but it is no wonder that the anti-fracking action camps at Balcombe and elsewhere are called ‘Reclaim the Power’.


Alastair McIntosh in ‘Soil and Soul’ describes a model for activism of naming the Powers, unmasking the Powers and engaging the Powers. All power ultimately comes from God, but expressed through human agency is fallen. Naming the Powers makes the invisible visible. Unmasking the Powers exposes their effects on life, for example their sanctioning of violence. Only then should the Powers be engaged, not through meeting violence with violence, because that is legitimising the Powers, but by challenging and redeeming the Powers.

We must hold our Government to account, reminding them that we live in a democracy and they work for us. One obvious way is to use our vote next year. We can also write to our local councils, MPs or members of the Lords. But we should not assume that the Powers are all in Government and have already been named and unmasked. We are also culpable.

There is a disconnect between public opinion of fracking ‘in my back yard’, and our energy-hungry lifestyles. One of the more helpful contributions to the fracking debate has come from the Bishop of Chichester, who questioned whether our present consumption of energy is justifiable (not simply sustainable), and how we can demand much less from the earth and still live rich and fulfilled lives.37


We are addicted to energy, and take it for granted. We think nothing of driving miles to leisure activities, and are ignorant of what happens when we flick on a light switch. We are quite happy, if we consider it at all, for our energy to be extracted overseas or generated on the other side of the country. In this respect, I admire a farmer who is willing to lease land for fracking and put up with the visual impact, noise and inconvenience.

Our relationship with energy is at odds with our other relationships: with God and creation; with our neighbour affected by the impacts of energy production or climate change, including future generations; and with our own souls. Living within constraints can be a well-spring of creativity – think of the beauty encapsulated by the strict form of sonnets and sonatas – and we damage ourselves when we live without compassion, mindfulness or simplicity.

I have already mentioned money as a Government motivator. But where have we put our treasure, and thereby our heart? If it is invested in fossil fuels, is it time we followed the example of the World Council of Churches and disinvested?38 We need to be wary too of placing a monetary value on the environment or community. The fracking protests at Balcombe divided the village and caused great bitterness. That could well happen elsewhere. But is a community worth £100,000 plus 1 per cent of revenues?


Thankfully, Balcombe has become an example of an alternative way. It has started a community energy project, raising money through personal savings and share issues to install solar panels and generate enough electricity for the village. The project is helping to bring healing to the community, offering a visible reminder of what lies behind that light switch, and demonstrating that ordinary people can have a choice about how they source their energy.


1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28513036

2 http://www.bgs.ac.uk/shalegas/

3 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28513036

4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-26735000

5 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/287378ee-0708-11e2-92ef-00144feabdc0.html

6 Resurgence, Jul-Aug 2014.

7 https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/environmental-report-for-further-onshore-oil-and-gas-licensing

8 http://earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk/research/earthquake_hazard_shale_gas.html

9 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277211/Water.pdf [link no longer active]

10 https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/shale-gas-extraction/report/

11 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28130982

12 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/14/uk-defeats-european-bid-fracking-regulations

13 http://brightnow.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Bright-Now-report.pdf

14 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24823641

15 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/237330/MacKay_Stone_shale_study_report_09092013.pdf

16 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/28/fracking-office-single-unit-shale-gas-produced

17 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-26735000

18 http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/9122AEBA-5E50-43CA-81E5-8FD98C2CA4EC/32182/renewablegasWPfinal2.pdf

19 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223492/navigant_consulting_report.pdf

20 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/digest-of-uk-energy-statistics-dukes

21 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27393805

22 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/265972/Developing_Onshore_Shale_Gas_and_Oil__Facts_about_Fracking_131213.pdf

23 http://www.r-e-a.net/news/report-on-employment-and-skills-in-the-uk-renewable-energy-sector-to-be-launched-with-greg-barker

24 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/265972/Developing_Onshore_Shale_Gas_and_Oil__Facts_about_Fracking_131213.pdf

25 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/29/browne-fracking-not-reduce-uk-gas-prices-shale-energy-bills

26 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-28792721

27 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jul/19/george-osborne-tax-break-fracking-shale-environment

28 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fracking/10605859/Pro-fracking-planning-reforms-rushed-through-despite-strong-opposition-Lords-warn.html

29 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/13/fracking-shale-gas-incentives-councils

30 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27529175

31 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fracking/0605859/Pro-fracking-planning-reforms-rushed-through-despite-strong-opposition-Lords-warn.html

32 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27110655

33 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-attitudes-tracking-survey-wave-9

34 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/revealed-fracking-industry-bosses-at-heart-of-coalition-8707589.html

35 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/newsdesk/energy/news/whoare

36 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/22/environment-agency-chairman-fracking-links

37 http://www.chichester.anglican.org/news/2013/08/15/fracking-debate-should-be-more-challenging/

38 http://brightnow.org.uk/news/global-divestment-movement-builds-momentum/


#BAD14 #Inequality

Today is Blog Action Day, and in 2014 the theme is Inequality. I’m afraid I’m going to cheat, and post stuff I’ve written earlier. Some is a bit dated (anyone remember Michael Gove?), but I think the core message is still relevant…

It’s the equality, stupid

Published in the Church Times, 27 July 2012

YOU wait ages for a story on welfare statistics, and then, on 14 June, three come along together.

First to arrive was the publication of the latest Happy Planet Index, bringing the good news that people in the UK are better off than others in the European Union or G8 countries, based on the perceived level of happiness, life expectancy, and environmental factors – but worse off than those in many developing countries.

Then came mixed news from the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ annual report Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK, which found a sharp fall in incomes in 2010-11, but also an improvement in equality across all income levels.

And tagging along behind were announcements from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, on child poverty. At present, the Child Poverty Act 2010 defines child poverty as children living in households that earn less than 60 per cent of median income. The UK does not suffer the squalor and starvation of previous centuries; so using a measure of relative poverty reflects levels of social exclusion: whether these children are excluded from the average family’s ordinary living-patterns and activities (Comment, 15 June). But Mr Duncan Smith wants to change the way in which child poverty is measured.

He argued that the problems of worklessness, welfare dependency, addiction, educational failure, debt, and family breakdown are causes of child poverty. On the other hand, the thesis of The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Penguin, 2010), is that these are symptoms of inequality, and therefore it is important to retain a relative measure of child poverty, and to have policies that tackle this.

Professor Wilkinson and Professor Pickett studied rich countries, and the differences in inequality between them. They found that a smaller gap between rich and poor in terms of income equality means a happier, healthier, and more successful population (Comment, 26 March 2009).

There is no relation between income per head and social well-being in rich countries; so more economic growth will not necessarily lead to a happier or healthier population. But, if the UK were more equal, we would be better off as a population. The rich would not lose out in order to benefit the poor. The 99 per cent would benefit – perhaps, even, the 100 per cent – although poorer people would gain the most.

As well as varying from country to country, inequality also varies over time, and it can be influenced by government policy. Britain became more equal during the World Wars, as the Government saw that making people feel they were sharing the burden was a way to gain popular support for the war effort.

During the mid-1980s and early ’90s, inequality grew rapidly, almost certainly reflecting the neo-liberal economic policies of the Thatcher and Major Governments.

Professor Wilkinson and Professor Pickett argue that it would not take a revolution to reduce income inequality. All the data in The Spirit Level come from rich developed market democracies, and the analysis is only of the differences between them.

But a transformation is still required, and the authors outline two direct ways of reducing income inequality: first, reduce differences in pay before tax (as happens in Japan) – for example, by minimum-pay policies, strong trade unions, employee representation on boards, and through a public ethic intolerant of the bonus culture; and, second, redistribution by taxes and benefits (as happens in Sweden), not least through more stringent action to prevent tax-avoidance.

Other policies can have indirect influence, including education policies and the management of the national economy. There is a huge volume of evidence available to policy-makers, which they need to filter. The danger is that some evidence is played down, in order to avoid challenging the status quo.

ON THE day that Professor Bob Holman wrote about how Christians need to lead the battle for equality in Britain (Comment, 21 October 2011), St Paul’s Cathedral closed its doors to the public for the first time since the Second World War, amid fears that the Occupy demonstration posed a risk to health and safety. That, and the subsequent eviction of the camp, reflected negatively on the Church.

But Occupy has also been criticised for a perceived lack of clarity in its demands. Policy is a complex area, and dangerous to simplify. The gift of The Spirit Level is that it enables concentration on one area: reduce inequality, and see substantial improvements in murder rates, mental illness, obesity, imprisonment, teenage births, and levels of trust.

Occupy, the Church, and any organisation or individual could evaluate all government policy in terms of one question: what effect would this policy have on income equality? This question would act as a common cause, and bring clarity to the engagement.

For example, what effect would replacing GCSEs with exams akin to O levels and CSEs have on income equality? I would want to investigate whether lower-income children would be less likely to take O levels, while recruiters would prefer candidates with O levels, and hence inequality would increase indirectly.

As policy is so complex, often the indirect effects on inequality are not obvious. It is important, therefore, to enlist experts in each field and discuss, listen, and learn. Nevertheless, the Child Poverty Act puts the onus on government ministers, such as the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to show how their policies in education, health, and social services are governed by the goal of poverty-reduction.

So, even without all the answers, we can still put the equality question to our representatives and policy-makers, and ask them to ensure that the aim of reducing income inequality underpins all policy discussions.

The website WriteToThem has information about how to contact your MP, MEP, member of devolved administration, or local councillor. You can also follow a link to TheyWorkForYou, to find out more about your MP’s interests. It helps to know whether they have spoken on an issue and how they have voted in the past, in order to target and personalise your communication.

Whichever method we choose, let us work together as the 100 per cent towards the equality and benefit of the 100 per cent.

www.equalitytrust.org.uk; www.writetothem.com; www.theyworkforyou.com; http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk

Peril of eating all the pie

Review of Joseph E. Stiglitz. The Price of Inequality. London: Allen Lane.
Published in the Church Times, 12 October 2012

“IT MAY be true that ‘the poor always ye have with you,’ ” writes the 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, “but that doesn’t mean that there have to be so many poor, or that they should suffer so much.”

The first half of The Price of Inequality is utterly compelling. Focusing on the United States, Professor Stiglitz stacks up the evidence for growing inequality of wages, total income, and wealth, and the sharp acceleration during the Great Recession, since 2008. The bottom and middle are now worse off than in 2000, while income growth has been primarily at the top one per cent. He also, importantly, busts the great American myth of equality of opportunity (related to both income mobility and lifetime earnings), often used somehow to justify inequality.

Market forces have shaped inequality; government policies have shaped those market forces (much of the inequality that exists is the result of government policy); and the one per cent have used their power to shape policy to their own ends. The wealthy often do not so much create wealth as take wealth away from others through rent-seeking – not just in the US. Recall, for example, HMRC’s waiver of Vodafone’s potential £7-billion tax bill.

The US and other widely un-equal countries are paying a high price for this inequality. Their economies are inefficient in their use of resources, and are neither stable nor sustainable in the long term. Further, the US is staring into the abyss of a breakdown in social cohesion and trust. Democracy it-self is in peril, warped, as it has been, from one person, one vote, into one dollar, one vote. Yet, despite everything, through its ownership of the media, the one per cent has succeeded in shaping public perception, and convinced the 99 per cent that they are all in it together.

At this point, and in his description of the battle fought over the laws and regulations that govern the economy, Professor Stiglitz starts to flag. But he picks up again when he returns to economics, and the battles over fiscal policy (tax and expenditure) and monetary policy (interest rates and inflation).

In his discussion of the policies that may or may not pull the US and European economies out of the Great Recession, I find three key messages: austerity doesn’t work (George Osborne, take note); progressive taxation – that is, shifting the burden from the poor to the rich – will stimulate demand and growth, as well as reduce inequality; and addressing unemployment should be prioritised over fighting inflation.

In the final chapter, Professor Stiglitz summarises his multiple solutions to inequality and its causes, but, given the power of one per cent, he has to ask: “Is there hope?” Only, it seems, if the one per cent learn before it is too late that their welfare is bound up with the way the 99 per cent live.



So BP has been found “grossly negligent” in the lead-up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and fined billions of dollars. In response to the original event, and other oil-related events past and imagined, I wrote a series of haikus. Not saying they’re any good, but here they are.

The Sea Empress holed.
Crude oil slicking north and south
Tarred the spring feathers.

Heat-waves in Europe
Slaughtered old and young alike –
Bring on climate change!

Katrina Mark II:
Deepwater Horizon spills
Poisonous record.

North Sea in winter.
OPEC spikes the markets and
Ignites Armagedd-


Sign of the Nazarene

Many of my Facebook friends have changed their profile picture to the Arabic letter N. It stands for ‘Nazarene’, or Christian. ISIS is drawing it on the houses of Christians in Iraq, to indicate who to target… much like the Nazi treatment of Jews.

The Islamic militants of ISIS have committed horrific acts: cutting a child in half, as described by Andrew White*, and the burying alive of 500 Yazidi women and children. It has been described as ethnic cleansing and genocide.

So why haven’t I changed my profile picture? After all, I did post this article of five things you can ACTUALLY do to help, and the fifth is to raise awareness on social media.

Initially, a few weeks ago, it was due to technical problems uploading the image. Then I was distracted. Now the worst interpretation is that it is vanity over not wanting to be seen as a johnny-come-lately.

But when I take the time to reflect on the events and actions in my mind’s eye, it is not for the suffering of the Iraqi Christians – terrible as it is – that my heart cries out. It is for the perpetrators.

I imagine a young man, with little education, desperate to belong, to fit in, to be respected. His only role models are the teachers who are brainwashing him. He has learnt about ‘them’ and ‘us’, to follow orders, to hate ‘them’, to enjoy killing and inflicting pain on ‘them’. And with every child that he kills, or family that he buries alive, his soul is shriveling. Empathy, compassion, and an understanding of his own humanity becomes further out of reach. He is losing himself. He is dying inside.

I cannot imagine doing what he has done, but then I have led a completely different, privileged life – educated, middle class, living in rich western country, a democracy with the rule of law, respect for minorities and human rights. Who knows how I might act if Britain descended into chaos? I have to believe that I share a common humanity with my imagined young man. There is the potential in me for doing harm, and there is the potential in him for doing good.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “pray for those who persecute you”. And he prayed for the soldiers who crucified him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

Many people are praying for the persecuted, fewer for the persecutors. My brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted, and many of them will I am sure feel unable to pray for their persecutors, even though I am equally sure that many of the persecutors do not truly know what they are doing. So I suppose that in taking that upon myself, I am bearing some of their burden in some small way.

All of which is why I usually find myself praying for the perpetrators in any crime at least as much as the victims, and why it is the members of ISIS and similar groups who I am trying to hold in my heart before God.

And why I haven’t changed my profile picture… because for me it would be identifying with an ‘us’ against a ‘them’, and perpetuating ‘us-ness’ and ‘them-ness’. I choose instead to identify with, appeal to, and pray for our common humanity.

* Canon Andrew White is known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, and I am in awe of him.


Whatever dieting works for you

When one hits mid-life, one is obligated to have a crisis, right? For me, I thought it was time to take a bit of interest in looking after my body, beyond just being vaguely conscious that cycling as my main mode of transport and eating whatever in moderation aren’t particularly bad lifestyle choices. It’s time to ward off the risk of spread and get into shape.

I’ve never tried this dieting lark before. Of course, one hears things about Atkins, not mixing food groups, 5:2, or whatever is today’s money-spinning fad. What little I’ve seen in print is generally along the lines of how hard it is to keep the mental discipline, and what a chore it is to keep track of calories. So typically for me, as a dieting newbie it’s time for some research.

One of my first major research findings was that there is lots of potential out there for lots of lovely numbers. Another was that I need to think about exercise as well as my diet, so that’s twice as many lovely numbers. And then there are lots of websites offering lots of lovely calculators to complete.

I typed my height and weight into one website calculator that gave me my BMI. But I’ve read that most of the England rugby team would be obese if measured by BMI, so clearly fat and muscle percentages are important too. In the absence of a skin-fold caliper (“Can you pinch an inch?” is one of those annoying ad campaigns that have bored into my brain and laid maggot eggs that hatched into meme weevils and now feed off any intellectual capacity I might once have had), I fed a body fat calculator my height, neck, waist and hips measurements… which happily also provided my waist to hip ratio. So now I know that my BMI is OK if towards the top of the green range; my fat percentage is probably too high (although the story I’m sticking to is that the measurement is too coarse); and my waist to hips ratio is ideal :-).

It’s important to be realistic about my aims, and knowing my frame size and body typewill help. So into another calculator I type my wrist circumference, and find out my frame is small. On the other hand, my elbow breadth indicates that my frame is large. This is going well. Let’s instead look at some photos of famous ectomorphs, mesomorphs and endomorphs so I know which celebrities I wannabe. Or probably the most useful suggestions were to look in the mirror periodically to check on my physique, and to take various body measurements at fortnightly intervals and be heartened if they go in the right direction.

But how to set about going in that direction? Typing my height and weight and target weight into another website gave me targets for daily calorie intake and calories expended on exercise, and hence a likely date for meeting that weight.

Time to start a spreadsheet.

I set up my sheet of fortnightly body measurements, and my sheet of daily calories and exercise. Then I set up a sheet for my first day of counting those calories.

Again, the most useful online hints are along the lines of: what are the best foodstuffs; to occasionally go over the daily intake target to keep the body guessing; to eat little and often to keep the metabolic rate up; when to exercise after eating; what to eat after exercising.

I don’t buy into the mega-bucks diet food processing industry. I don’t think of myself as a foodie, and I’m quite happy with a fairly unvarying diet, but I’m also pretty good at eating well – whole grains, fresh fruit and veg, largely home-made and very little processed food. I actually find the sight of low-calorie artificial ready meals and cakes on supermarket shelves to be pretty nauseating, wondering what processing has substituted what manufactured chemicals for what natural foodstuffs.

Hooray for food labelling! Websites and packaging give me the calories per weight of pretty much all foodstuffs, except the mystery chutney in my cupboard. My frequently used munchies are all itemised in my spreadsheet. I can calculate calories in my various stock homemade stews. All my recipes are itemised too. I can give you daily numbers for my little-and-often intakes at breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, dinner, and supper.

What about the lovely exercise numbers?

I don’t have a blood pressure monitor, but the last time the doc measured it it was pretty good. I found a phone app for measuring my heart rate, which is easier than taking my pulse and correlates to it well enough. From that, a heart rate calculator can tell me my maximum heart rate and my training zones for fat burning and cardio exercise.

Another website or dozen provide calculators of how many calories various activities burn. Their best advice? Do things that you enjoy and will keep up.

I’m never going to keep up going to a gym, partly because I’d have to cycle there, and partly because of the music. I like the outdoors, and would be happy to get most of my exercise from walking or at a Green Gym. I’m less interested in being rained upon in winter, or in joining the ranks of runners in public view. So, to supplement the cycling as favoured mode of transport, I decide to buy a fold-up nordic walker machine with electronic gizmo. It sits in my guest room most of the time, and I put my exercise clothes in there too. I have my playlist of mostly Mozart on my mobile. It’s easy just to step in, get changed, and go.

The electronic gizmo has a heart rate monitor, which I check against my pulse. It seems pretty accurate at rest. In flow it might be a bit less accurate, but I’ll go with it as a measurement of whether my exercise is moderate or vigorous. The gizmo also tells me how many calories I’d be burning… were I a 185lb man. Note to manufacturer guys – let’s be a little less sexist in our assumptions, hey, and provide a way of inputing minor details like, oh I don’t know, weight? I suppose I could factor it down, but instead I use a website calculation of calories based on my age, weight, number of minutes, and the moderate/vigorous axis.

As for my cycling, Cycle Streets tells me how many calories I burn for each bike journey. I have to assume a cruising speed, but the timings suggested are pretty close to my out-turn and take account of incline, so I’ll go with their suggestions too and ignore the inevitable discrepancy with other websites.

Then I might add in a bit of walking, resistance workout, housework, concert singing, gardening, and other significant activities. All the numbers for calories burnt per minute are available online. The variety is good, to prevent the body from getting used to a routine. There are even side-benefits; the hated-but-now-more-desirable lawnmowing is particularly good exercise, and my garden is looking more kempt than usual.

I added a graph to that sheet of daily calories and exercise, and hey presto! Here it is.


The point of all of this is that it’s important for each person to find out what really works for them. I have found out what works for me, and because I’m a data geek, what works for me are data collection and spreadsheets. I enjoy weighing and calculating, typing the data in, and planning how to massage my meals and exercise the rest of the day to meet my targets. When I think about food now, I think less of its epicurean desirability than how it will affect the figures on my spreadsheet. As a result, except when I’m out and it would be socially frowned upon to whip out the kitchen scales, it’s been pretty easy to regulate my calorie intake. Exercise is a bit harder, because it requires finding the time, but the numbers have helped my motivation there too.

I’m never going to, say, sign up to Weight Watchers. But I know that other people will find it easier if they have someone they have to share numbers with, who will keep them on the straight-waisted and narrow-hipped. It might be helpful to keep going in a group with mutual support, or not helpful if they see that group as sitting in judgement on their progress or lack of it. You may be able to tell I’ve never been to Weight Watchers and have no idea how it is organised!

What works for a person just might not be that obvious. It might not be widely pushed by the media (graphs don’t sell magazines quite as well as slebs). Maybe a song-writer could get into exercise by writing songs with beats to target heart rates or stride frequency and testing them. I bet those Weight Watcher devotees who moan about calorie counting would find it hard to imagine my approach. But take another look at my graph; you can just about see that I’ve had to change my daily exercise target as my weight has gone down. And my fortnightly body measurements tell me my hips have shrunk two inches. I may have stumbled upon my approach, but it’s looking good so far!


Zombie Apocalypse

This post is prompted by a Mythogeography research project on ‘zombies’. He wants to write about the experiences people have when using a ‘tactic’ that he devised for Wrights & Sites’ ‘A Mis-Guide To Anywhere’ in 2006. His instructions: “I would ask you to take a walk on your own (where and at what time of day is up to you) for at least half an hour. I would like you to walk ‘as’ the last human survivor of a zombie apocalypse. Everyone is now a member of the living dead other than you. I don’t want you to act out this role (fleeing the zombies, etc.) but rather simply to walk and see and experience the world through the eyes and feelings of a survivor in that fiction. When you return from this walk I would like you to write and send me an account of how you experienced your walk, and how you experienced the terrain you walked through.”

My walk will take me from my home to the centre of Exeter. I am conscious as I prepare to leave the house at 3.20pm that I have never read a zombie book (not even a Jane Austen crossover), never seen a zombie film, and never met a zombie. I’m not even sure what a zombie is… The undead? A body which has been stripped of its mind, heart, and soul? Bandages covered in blood figure large in my mind’s eye, as do arms out-stretched, vacant eyes, and a certain amount of moaning. I have seen a number of dead bodies, and am always struck by how pale and waxen they are, and how empty and small. The person is no longer there. So I suppose any zombies I see today will be small and pale.

I have to say that even if it were true that I am the sole survivor of a zombie apocalypse, I am not unduly bothered. The day is fair, there are snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in my front garden, and all manner of things shall be well.

The housing estate is quiet, but not unusually so. A few cars pass me as I start to walk. The drivers are largely bandage-free, though some have their arms outstretched and their eyes are staring a little. Most seem to be heading for the side of the road outside St Peter’s school. Mid-afternoon is of course schools out, and these are zombie parents picking up their zombie kids.

I join the flow of zombie kids streaming out of the school gates. I do not try to match their pace to pretend to be just another one of them; they do not feel threatening, and the flow in any case is not continuous but has formed into groups.

There are more cars parked beyond the school, each containing one zombie parent immersed in their own zombie online world. Although the day is bright, it is quite chill. But many of the zombie kids are only in short-sleeve shirts; ambient temperatures are apparently irrelevant to the undead. Five or six whizz past on their bikes, turning right in front of an oncoming car. They seem to have no regard for life or limb… because of course what are these to the undead?

At the bottom of the hill, I join the main road, and walk up into Heavitree. There is a lot of traffic, and I notice that despite the lack of heart, mind, and soul, zombies still seem to be able to drive safely. Perhaps they are simply following the car in front, and conforming to rules of the road learnt before the apocalypse took hold. In other words, perhaps zombies are inherently conservative.

At this point, I realise that I am treating my walk as a piece of observational research, with the objective of characterising the nature of a ‘zombie’. This is entirely in character for me!

So then, I have formed a hypothesis: that zombies are conservative. Perhaps the reverse is also true: that conservatives are inherently zombies. I would need to take a sample to test each, find the odds ratio, do the chi-squared test, etc etc. But then I remember that I am the last survivor of the apocalypse, which means that the sample size of ‘not zombie’ is a maximum of 1, and therefore and unfortunately not statistically significant.

Ah well. I refocus on my walk and its terrain. I jay-walk across the road: a tiny piece of defiance in a conformist world. There is a group of zombies heading for me, taking up the whole pavement. They barely make room for me to get past. I make a mental field note that zombies also appear to lack courtesy.

Now I see an zombie old lady walking her dog. The dog is white, so it’s hard to tell whether or not it too is undead. Stories often depict animals as sensitive to ghosts and evil spirits, but the dog doesn’t seem fazed to have an undead owner. I take this to indicate that it is indeed undead, and (extrapolating wildly) that pets have also been overtaken by the apocalypse.

More and more traffic passes: cars and buses and vans and taxis. A JCB passes me from behind, and a man on a bicycle smiles… no, wait… his autonomic nervous system twists his zombie face into a rictus.

The sun comes out, and I no longer care about anything other than its warmth on my face and the feel of my body walking. With a squint in my eyes and smile in my mouth, I am dead to the undead. And in this state of being I walk past the Magdalen Road shops, right into Denmark Road to the memorial to a burnt witch, and left up Barnfield Road.

It occurs to me that although my thoughts have been revolving around zombies, my view of the world is little different from usual. I remember Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness, in which he writes about the need to Wake Up! from our sleep. I often despair at humanity’s sleep-walking tendencies, our acceptance of business as usual, consumerism, and inequality, and our head-in-the-bandages stance on issues like climate change. I suppose I think most of us are zombies most of the time, and a zombie apocalypse is unlikely to change things drastically.

Anyway, I avoid the temple of consumerism that is Princesshay, to enjoy the spring flowers in Southernhay instead. As I turn into Cathedral Close, I hear the squeals of zombie small children playing – I presume the squeals are not from terror of being sacrificed to Molech. And then I emerge onto Cathedral Green, where the dead and buried probably outnumber the living and the undead, and my walk comes to an end.

This evening I will watch the Lego Advert Movie, and ponder its allegorical meaning.