Measurements of Carbon Dioxide concentrations in a church

The measurements reported in this post were made by colleagues of the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham – Dr David Soper and Dr Mike Jesson – whose help is gratefully acknowledged.


Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has understandably been increased concern over ventilation within buildings and on buses and trains etc. This has been reflected in church circles where church ventilation has also been much discussed. Whilst more modern churches will have been specifically designed with ventilation in mind, with proper ventilation paths between windows and doors, the same cannot be said about older churches. For many such churches the only ventilation is offered by the opening of doors, and by leakage through windows and roofs. Because of the large vertical size of such buildings, this lack of ventilation is ameliorated by the ability of any pollutants of pathogens to diffuse throughout the large church space.

One such church is St. Michael on Greenhill in Lichfield (figure 1 below), which is essentially two large, connected boxes – a nave, and a chancel, with a main door in the north wall of the nave and a smaller door into the choir vestry on the south side, and internal doors between the vestry area, the nave and the chancel (figure 2). A though ventilation path is rarely established however as the external and internal doors are seldom open at the same time. There are plans to build new parish rooms to the south of the church, on the grassed area of the figure below.

Figure 2. Plan of church (the measurement positions are indicated by red circles)

This brief post outlines a short series of measurements to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in St. Michael’s. CO2 is produced naturally by people during breathing and CO2 concentration levels are often taken to be an indication of pathogen levels when the population is infected. These measurements were made on Sunday May 15th 2022, when the service pattern was somewhat different from normal, with the normal 8.00 and 10.00 Holy Communion services supplemented by the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) at 11.15 and a 4.00 service at which a new Rector was Instituted by the Bishop and Archdeacon. As such it gave the opportunity to look at the effects of different congregation numbers (10 in the chancel for the 8.00 service, 50 for the 10.00 service and the APCM, and 150 for the Institution). A screen shot of a video of the Induction service is shown in figure 3 to give some idea of the density of the congregation.

Figure 3. The congregation during the 4.00 service

The measurements

Carbon Dioxide measurements were made with small transducers and data loggers at different points around the church. These were attached to pillars of left on suitable window ledges. These sampled automatically every minute and the results were transmitted wirelessly to a Raspberry Pi computer and from there to a University of Birmingham web site from where the data could be accessed in real time. These measurements were supplemented by measurements of temperature and pressure using further transducers with built in data loggers.

For the sake of simplicity only the results from two of the CO2 sensors will be shown, as the results from them all were very similar. The location of these are shown on the plan of Figure 2 – one on a pillar in the nave, and one on a window ledge in the chancel. The photographs of the instruments shown in figure 4 indicate that they are quite small and discrete and indeed were barely noticed by the congregation. The results will be presented from midnight on Saturday May 14th to midnight on Sunday May 15th.

The results of the trials

The weather on May 15th was quite pleasant with early morning temperatures of 10°C rising to around 20°C in the late afternoon and evening. The external humidity varied from 20% to 100% throughout the day. Inside the church however there was far less variation with temperatures between 16 and 21°C and humidity between 55 and 70%. The was a light southerly wind in the morning, with a somewhat stronger easterly wind from mid-afternoon onwards.

The results of the CO2 measurements are shown on the graph of figure 5. These are shown in terms of parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by volume and are relative to a general background level of around 400 ppm.

Figure 5. The carbon dioxide concentration measurements

The church was opened at around 7.30 am for the 8.00 Holy Communion service held in the chancel, which went on until till around 8.45. Around 10 people attended. There can be seen to be a small increase in CO2 levels in the chancel over the course of the service (A). Later in the morning there was a 10.00 Holy communion service in the nave with around 50 in the congregation, with a small choir of 4 or 5 in the chancel. This was followed immediately by the APCM from 11.15 to 11.45 in the nave with about the same number attending. During this period there can be seen to be a steady increase in CO2 levels both in the nave and the chancel (B). At 12.00 the church emptied and the doors were closed. This led to a steady decrease in concentrations (C) till about 2.00 when people started to arrive at the church to set up for the major service of the day – the Institution of the new Rector by the Bishop of Lichfield. At this point both the main door and the choir vestry door were opened (as Gazebos were being set up to the south of the church for refreshments after the service), and a ventilation path was opened through the church, with major CO2 concentration reductions (D). Around 3.00 the congregation for the 4.00 Induction service began to arrive and the church rapidly filled with around 150 attending, including a choir of around 20 in the chancel. There were significant increases in CO2 concentrations during the course off the service through till around 5.30 (E). When the service was over, both the main door and the choir vestry door were again opened, and there was a rapid drop in concentration levels till around 7.00 when the choir vestry door was closed (F). After some clearing up, the church emptied by around 8.00 and there was a gradual fall off in concentration levels (G).

Two main points emerge from these measurements. Firstly, and quite obviously, the levels of CO2 increase with the number of people in church and with the time they spend there – B and E on the above figure. Secondly it is clear that there are two different types of ventilation – the slow diffusion of CO2 throughout the building and leakage through the building envelope – roof, doors, windows etc. (C and G); and the rapid lowering of concentration levels when there is a direct ventilation path through the building between the two doors (D and F).

Now from the slope of the graph for the times when concentrations are falling, it is possible to get estimates of the time it takes for the concentrations to fall by 50%. For C and G these times are around 2.5 hours, whilst for D and F these times are between 10 and 30 minutes. Thus the through ventilation reduces the carbon dioxide levels much more quickly than simple diffusion and leakage.


The results show firstly that the method that was used is a simple and viable way of assessing the main ventilation parameters in a church. Colleagues from the University of Birmingham recognise that there is still work to on improving the frequency response of the sensors but overall the method has much promise. Secondly there are some implications for St. Michael’s itself – that large congregations in the church for lengthy periods of time can result in significant CO2 concentrations (and thus pathogens in times of infection), and that through ventilation is much more effective in reducing these concentrations than simply relying on diffusion and leakage. In the Parish Rooms developments that are under consideration for the area adjoining the choir vestry, it may be worth investigating if it is possible to design through ventilation paths through the church and the new development.

Eschatology, environment and evangelism.


The astute reader of my blog posts will know that I rarely post on theological or ecclesiastical matters, even though I am an Anglican clergyman, a role that consumes much of my time. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, most of my church-based output is in the form of sermons, which, being delivered to specific congregations at specific times and places, do not lend themselves to a written blog post format. For those interested in that sort of thing, some videos of my sermons, particularly from the lockdown period, can however be found here, along with those of others. But my main reason for not posting much in this area, is something of a feeling of inadequacy. Whilst I consider myself to be more or less on top of the recent literature and developments in my technical fields discussed on other pages on this site, and also to have a good grasp of the local history issues that I study, I really do not feel the same degree of comfort when considering biblical or theological sources – where my knowledge and reading barely scrapes the surface of what is after all a two thousand year old body of literature. There are however perhaps areas where I can contribute something to theological or ecclesiastical discussions. One of these is in the field of environmental issues, and it is that area with which this post is concerned.

In this post I will argue that a consideration of the overarching story of scripture of creation / fall / redemption / new creation, and in particular the eschatological aspects, has considerable implications for how Christians should regard environmental issues such as biodiversity and climate change, and, at least for a portion of our society, is a potentially useful tool for evangelism. In what follows I thus look at the big picture of the biblical narrative, come to what can only be a limited and provisional view about the overall purpose of God in creation, and discuss the implications for environmentalism and evangelism.

The big picture – the scriptural narrative

Although not often emphasized in ordinary church sermons and teaching, scripture as we have it presents a coherent overall narrative, through its multiplicity of literary forms. It begins with the creation of all that there is by God, culminating in the creation of humanity.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters… So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1,1-2,27, NIV)

This is followed by the narrative of the fall and, throughout the Old Testament, the unveiling of God’s “rescue plan” as Tom Wright would put it, through the covenant with Israel, the giving of the law and the message of the prophets. This plan finds its fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as outlined in the gospels and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit onto the church. The narrative culminates in the eschatological visions of Paul and in particular of John of Patmos, the writer of the book of Revelation, and his vision of the new heaven and the new earth.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21, 1-3, NIV)

Clearly the core of this narrative is in the events that surround the life of Jesus. Different parts of the New Testament focus on these events in different ways. The earliest gospel, that of Mark, simply concentrates on Jesus’ life and death, his teachings and healings, and of the miracles that accompanied these. For him and the writers of the other synoptic gospels, this teaching is summed up in Jesus’ summary of the law.

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12,29-31, NIV)

In Matthew and Luke, the field of vision is wider with the story of his birth and resurrection from the dead. Luke expands this a little more in Acts to describe the Ascension of Jesus to heaven, the coming of the Spirit and the outworking of that in the life of the early church. In John’s gospel the field of view becomes markedly wider. At the opening of the gospel we read

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1,1-3, NIV)

which takes the Jesus story back to the creation itself.  Later in the gospel we read how Jesus is described as coming from heaven, to where he will return.

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. (John 3.13)

This broader vision is further elaborated by Paul who gives little emphasis to the earthly life of Jesus, but rather views him as the eternal son of God, through him all things were made, who is now exalted with his Father in heaven, and through whom all things will be made new. He writes the following in the majestic words of the letter to the church at Colossae.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1.15-20, NIV)

In talking of God reconciling all things to himself through Jesus, Paul implies that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just concerned with the salvation of individuals. He also writes in his letter to the Roman church, words that are of considerable importance for the discussion of environmental issues, explicitly including the whole of creation in the redemptive work of Jesus.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans  8.19-21, NIV)

Finally, John of Patmos, in the visions of the book of Revelation, describes Jesus at the culmination of the biblical narrative.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22.12-13, NIV)

But why?

This overall narrative is a stirring one indeed – but the story stops at the description of the new creation, heaven on earth. Perhaps that is all we are meant to contemplate. But I am left with a nagging question. Put simply, why was the created order, both physical and biological, so important to God that it merited the extreme intervention of the incarnation, death and resurrection of God himself as revealed in Jesus? And this is my starting point on the reflections that follow in this post.

Now I freely admit that my perspective on all this is not the divine one, but it seems to me utterly unsatisfactory that the narrative of scripture should be an end in itself, leaving us with the rather static picture of humanity and God together in the new creation into eternity. I am reminded of my least favourite carol which describes the fate of the redeemed in the words “where like stars His children crowned, all in white shall wait around”. There must be something better than that! I am thus led to conclude that the purpose of God in creation is to bring it, in its entirety, to a point of perfection, as outlined in the visions of Revelation, where it is fit for whatever purpose might follow – not as an end in itself. I am unable to suggest anything further as to what that purpose might be, but it does seem to me to suggest that there is something very, very special about the created order – something that cannot be achieved in any other way than through the physical and biological processes inherent within it.

Following on from this, I would suggest that the uniqueness of creation lies in its complexity and diversity, and that this could not be achieved in any other way than through what we know as the evolutionary processes. The laws that govern the physical creation are both deterministic and stochastic, and it is this inherent stochastic component that leads to the observed complexity that we see around us in our physical world and its geological, atmospheric and oceanic processes. The stochastic element arises from the essential element of chaos that lies at the heart of creation, chaos being used here in its scientific sense where it refers to the sensitivity of physical processes to small changes in the initial conditions, rather than its theological sense. This same mixture of deterministic and stochastic processes is found in the biological creation, with the main mechanism of its outworking being through the genetic / sexual reproduction process, resulting in the massively wide variety of plants and animals (including humanity) that comprise our biosphere. Taking this further, from the biological genetic variation in humans flows the immense variety of intellectual and cultural achievements that make our society what it is. My suggestion is that it is this very variability and complexity that is important to God – and the created order has been specifically designed to have this characteristic for some future purpose that is yet to be revealed.

Now, however one interprets the story of the fall, it is clear that in some way, the creation has been marred and become less than perfect. How this occurred is a matter for further speculation – through external agency or simply because this was always a possibility through the operation of the stochastic processes within it. The effects of the fall show themselves in what theologically is described as sin – the tendency to selfishness and self-interest, both individually and corporately, that mars our humanity and makes it incompatible with its continued existence beyond the grave. As such, Jesus, through his death and resurrection, can be thought of as removing this incompatibility in some way, through taking the human condition in its imperfect state, into the Godhead (perhaps here I am verging on one of the old heresies!). In doing so it was made possible for humanity to pass through death and to play whatever future role it might have in God’s ongoing purposes.

Sin also of course has wider effects and injures the wider human community and the whole of the created order. The injuries caused to society and to creation at any one place and at any one time, then spread throughout the physical and biological creations through the normal evolutionary and stochastic processes within the physical, biological and social creations. However, through Jesus’ earthly life we were given an example and the moral resources to live the sort of life that is a true reflection of our humanity, based on the love of God and neighbour as outlined in Jesus’s summary of the law. The giving of the Holy Spirit to his disciples was the act by which we are enabled to live the eternal life of our restored humanity in the present. In the verses from Colossians and Romans quoted above, there is the strong suggestion that one aspect of living this restored life is to take the needs of God’s creation seriously and work for its restoration in all its forms. Creation has been badly degraded by the actions of humanity and it is our responsibility to reverse that process – to begin the process of restoring creation in a specific time and at a specific place, that this restoration might then spread more widely, again through the stochastic evolutionary processes, so that the wider creation too might become fit for whatever future purposes God has for it.

A model for evangelism?

I wrote above that the scriptural big picture of creation / redemption / new creation is not often presented in traditional church teaching. However, I am struck how many of the younger generations are quite happy with such “big picture approaches”. Overarching narratives occur time and time again in fantasy fiction (many tracing back to Tolkien’s work of course) and many TV series will have a “series” arc that connects individual episodes. There is also an increasing environmental consciousness of the young, as has been evidenced by their approach to the recent COP talks and to other environmental issues.

Now Christianity has perhaps the greatest and most exciting narrative arc of all, and one in which care for our created world is of the utmost importance. If the argument I made above is accepted, then the physical and biological creations are of vital importance to God for his future purposes and need to be preserved and enhanced in all their amazing diversity. I would suggest that not really using these concepts in our apologetics, evangelism and overall mission is a quite significant omission. Properly presented, they could provide a way into the church for a wide sector of the currently unchurched society in which we live – with environmental concern and activism being used as a way to bring them to Christ, and thus to personal transformation and discipleship. Some would say of course that this is the wrong way round – and that personal transformation should come first, and then lead to service and mission. To counter this, I would simply argue that there are many ways of reaching the same end – and is the disciple who prioritises service to his community and world over his individual experience of God, eternally any less well off than those who experience an inner conversion and transformation that never fully finds its way into a life of discipleship and service?

The calculation of Covid-19 infection rates in churches


In a recent post, I looked at the risk of Covid infection on GB trains, based on the spreadsheet calculation methodology of Professor Jimenez and his team at the University of Colorado – Boulder. This method is based solely on aerosol transmission, which is now regarded as being of much more significance than transmission by surface contamination, and the risk of the latter can be easily reduced by normal hygiene precautions. In this post, I apply the same methodology specifically to the case of churches and include a downloadable EXCEL spreadsheet that might be of use to others. There is a level of self-interest of course, as I am a minister at an Anglican church which will shortly be faced with decisions concerning the nature of worship as the Covid restrictions are removed.  Essentially the spreadsheet gives a numerical value for the risk of Covid infection with specified amelioration methods in place (social distancing, masks, no singing etc.) and allows a rational assessment of safety to be made.

At the outset, it needs to be made clear that there are very many assumptions in the methodology of Jimenez, with some of the parameters not well specified, and the base values of risk that the model gives must be regarded as indicative only and it is best used in a comparative sense. In what follows, I first describe the input and output parameters of the spreadsheet, and then look at how it might be used to compare risk levels for different situations.

Screenshot of spreadsheet

Download the spreadsheet from here

The spreadsheet

The spreadsheet is quite simple and straightforward, and requires no specific expertise to use. A screenshot is given above. The brown cells are input parameters, and the blue cells the output parameters The former are as follows.

  • Length, width and height of worship area. The model effectively assumes that the worship area is a three-dimensional box. This is clearly not usually the case, and some degree of judgement will be required in assigning the length, width and height. All dimensions are in metres.
  • Duration of worship is specified in hours.
  • The ventilation with outside air is specified in air changes per hour. For most old churches that have been well maintained, this will be small and a value of 1.0 can be assumed. For particularly drafty churches, this could be rather higher (at say 3.0). For air-conditioned worship areas a value of 10.0 is appropriate.
  • For the decay rate of the virus and the deposition to surfaces standard parameters are assumed. Normally the value for additional control measures will be zero unless there is filtering of recirculated air.
  • The number in the choir and congregation are self-explanatory. Ministers should be included in the latter. Because of lack of reliable data on breathing rates and virus emission rates in children, no breakdown by age is required. This is probably a conservative assumption.
  • The fractions of time that the choir sings and the fraction of time that the congregation sings are both values between 0 and 1.0. The choir fraction is when they are singing alone – it is assumed they will join with the congregation when the latter sing.
  • The fraction of population that is immune is taken to be the proportion of the population that have received a full course of vaccinations, multiplied by 0.9 to allow for virus escape. At the time of writing in the UK, this parameter has a value of around 0.5.
  • The parameter that allows for virus transmission enhancement due to variants has a base value of 1.0, a value of 1.5 for the alpha variant, and a value of 2.0 for the delta variant.
  • A choice of values for masks efficiency for both breathing in and out are given.
  • The fraction of the congregation with masks is a number between 0 and 1.0.
  • The probability of being infective is taken from regional ONS data. For example, if the ONS figure of those infected is 1 in 500, then the probability will be 1/500 = 0.002.
  • The hospitalization and death rates of those infected can also be taken from ONS data and have small values just above 0.0. At the time of writing the hospitalization rate is around 0.02 (2%) and the death rate is almost negligible and is taken as 0.001 (0.1%).

The next set of parameters in the spreadsheet are those that emerge from the calculation process and are not of direct interest to users. These lead on to the output parameters, which are as follows.

  • The probabilities of covid infection, hospitalisation and death of a person attending the service of worship.
  • These probabilities expressed as risk – for example a risk of 1 in 1000 of infection.
  • The number of covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths arising from attending the service.

Comparing risk

The absolute values of probability and risk must only be regarded as approximate. Indeed, Jimenez emphasises that there is a great deal of uncertainty around many of the assumed parameter and urges caution in the interpretation of the results. At best, the results will be accurate to within an order of magnitude. The main utility of the model would seem to be to assess changes in risk – for example, any particular congregation may be comfortable with a certain set of Covid amelioration methods (no singing, masks etc.) and the method can be used to see how this risk might change as these measures are relaxed.

As an example of this, let us consider a church (which is not dissimilar to the one where I am a minister), where the congregation is currently capped at 60, there is 100% marks wearing, and only the choir of 6 sings. For the current infection rate of 1 in 150, this gives a risk of infection of 1 in 18100 for a one-hour service. This level of risk would seem to be acceptable to the congregation. Indeed, for one person attending similar services each week for one year, the risk of covid infection is close to the UK risk of injury in a vehicle accident in a year.

Firstly, suppose that a capacity of 100 is allowed (i.e. social distancing regulations are abolished). This increases the risk of infection to 1 in 11800. Now suppose that in addition masks are no longer required. This leads to a risk of infection of 1 in 4100. Allowing congregational singing raises the risk further to 1 in 1600. As all these figures are dependent upon regional infection rate, they also allow for the congregation to decide at what infection level restrictions can be removed. Should the infection level fall to 1 in 1000, then the overall risk with no amelioration measures decreases from 1 in 1600 to 1 in 11300. Whilst these figures are themselves only approximate, they nonetheless give any congregation the information to make a rational choice of how to proceed as restrictions are eased.

Closing comment

In order to make the spreadsheet as easy to use as possible, I have deliberately kept it simple and have not included too many options. However, if anyone has any suggestions for improvements / useful additions, then please contact me on

Global warming and the church – the way ahead?

The scriptural imperative

In recent sermons and workshops in my local church, St Michael’s Lichfield, I suggested that there was a strong theological / scriptural imperative for taking action to counter the effects of global warming. These can be described under three headings.

  • Care for creation – the message throughout scripture that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” and that men and women have been given “dominion” over that creation.  Dominion in this context speaks of the rule of God, and humanity, created in the image of God, needs to exercise a dominion that mirrors that of God. Some would prefer to use the word stewardship for this.  However the nature of dominion is expressed, the divine harmony of creation has been marred by the actions of humanity, and it is thus the responsibility on God’s people to take action to restore the created order.
  • Creation and new creation – the overarching story arc of scripture that God’s creation has been marred by sin, that Jesus’ death and resurrection were to redeem both humanity and the wider creation through the establishment of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”; and culminates in the picture of the new creation, where heaven and earth come together. This is well set out in the writings of Tom Wright of course, and again leads to the conclusion that, as members of God’s kingdom, Christians have both a hope for the future, a responsibility to work for the restoration of his creation. 
  • Neighbour love – the words of the two great commandments set the basis of the Christian ethic – to love God and to love one’s neighbour. The parable of the Good Samaritan carries the clear implication that the word neighbour carries a universal meaning, and applies to those “who are near and those who are far off”. To love one’s neighbour in the context of Global Warming is to take action to protect the particularly vulnerable communities  – in, for example, the low lying islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans who are at an existential risk from sea level rise. 

The way ahead

Having thus established that action to combat the effects of global warming is scripturally justified and indeed can be considered important in the mission and witness of the church, the next question that arises is ”What can be done about it?”  The importance of this question has been recognized in wider Anglican circles and the last of the five “marks of mission” addresses this issue.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

 As in any emergency response there are two ways forward, which are not mutually exclusive.

  • Mitigation – taking action to limit the increase in global temperature, mainly through limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide.
  • Adaptation – developing ways to help communities that are, or will be affected by global warming to alleviate the issues that they are facing.

Although these ways forward might appear straightforward and simple, they are anything but. The reduction of carbon emissions in one place (such as increased use of IT systems instead of travel) can actually result in an increase in carbon emissions in another (in this case, in the areas that host the power-hungry cloud servers). Similarly very necessary short-term adaptation to flooding or drought can result in the necessity to provide large amounts of power or transport from carbon-based sources.  The issues are complex with many interacting social and infrastructure systems, and the decisions that need to be made are often pragmatic and, against some measures, not at all optimal. Whilst this basic complexity needs to be understood and to some degree embraced, in what follows we use this simple mitigation / adaptation framework to discuss how the church (and in particular the Church of England) and its members might act in the coming years.


The basic requirement for mitigation is to reduce the carbon emissions. The Church of England Synod documentof February 2020, talks mainly in terms of the power consumption of church buildings. This is a very narrow focus, and neglects the carbon production by its own members in their non-church activities, as well as another major emission source – the transport used in the church’s activities. The original proposal was that, in the terms of the document, the church should be carbon neutral by 2045, but this was brought forward to 2030 by a vote on the floor of Synod, despite the conclusion of the background document that this was not practical. This is both laudable, but also quite frankly ridiculous. There is little point in bowing to the demands of pressure groups in setting targets, as appears to have happened, if there is no plan or method to achieve these targets in a widely dispersed community such as the Church of England. It might give some synod members a warm feeling inside, but unless a firm plan exists, it is of no practical importance, and quite possibly is a distraction.

That rant having been delivered, the thrust of the Synod document is to change all church power systems to electricity, with this electricity being provided by renewable means. This is again laudable, but there are again issues, even leaving aside the huge potential cost to parishes. Firstly, the proportion of UK electricity produced by renewables is of the order of 30% (leaving aside nuclear power, which of course has its own set of environmental issues). Switching to electricity, if renewable power is not available, actually increases carbon production. The use of gas, which is a primary power source, produces 0.185 kg CO2 per kWh of energy, whilst the use of non-renewable electricity (a secondary product from fossil fuels with energy losses due to low process efficiency) produces 0.309 kg CO2 per kWh. Any commitment to renewable energy must thus come with a commitment to supporting new renewable sources, and in particular land and offshore wind farms and solar farms. This may well lead to some conflict with communities affected by such developments. Is the Church prepared to be on the side of the developer in such situations, over and against the wishes of the local community?  In addition the church could adapt its own resources (i.e. its buildings) to conserve energy through better insulation and to become energy producers, through the increased use of solar panels on church roofs, wherever the structure can be made to be strong enough to support these.  This again will raise a host of community and planning issues that need to be faced, and gifts other than the enthusiasm of climate advocates will be required. 

As well as thinking about its own buildings, church members also need to be challenged on their own use of energy and production of carbon in their daily lives, as a part of their discipleship and witness. This will require a year on year teaching and communication strategy for all levels of the church, bringing together a solid scriptural base, reflecting the priorities in the five marks of mission, with practical ways forward for individuals and families.  There are already a number of excellent resources available for this.

As was remarked earlier, there is however an elephant in the room – the carbon emissions from transport. Indeed the February 2020 synod document has only two mention of transport, one of which rather dismisses the effect with a single mention that electric cars will solve the problem; and the other suggest limiting air transport. Emissions from all forms of transport can be very significant – see the graphic below. Figures shown are grams of carbon emitted per passenger kilometre for an average loaded vehicle. Clearly public transport emissions (particularly electric trains) are significantly lower than those for private vehicles. Air transport emissions are very high indeed. Electric cars may be part of the solution, but until there has been a major decarbonisation of electrical supply their use is not without issues. In any case, electric cars are, just like conventional vehicles, major producers of particulate matter that it is becoming increasingly appreciated is responsible for respiratory problems, child development issues and early deaths.  It is generally agreed by at least the younger generation of transport engineers and planners, that the only way forward to achieve carbon neutrality and minimise other environmental effects is through the encouragement of walking and cycling and public transport use, and the restriction of personal transport.

Transport emissions

Thus in the first instance, a practical measure that churches and dioceses could take would to carry out transport audits to calculate the carbon emissions due to church activities – driving to church, diocesan meetings etc. Sample calculations for a variety of types of church suggest that these values will be between 30 and 50% of the overall carbon emissions. for an one church community  Clearly something needs to be done in this regard if emissions targets are really going to be met across all activities. And this will be painful. It may require changes to church activities to times and places where public transport, cycling or walking will be the main means of getting there, both at parish and diocese level.  At the local level, it may require a rethink of where congregations meet, moving away from the centralized large church model to the more local small church model. Indeed it may require a complete restructuring of church structures so that central functions take place in cities well served by public transport rather than in picturesque medieval cities that are difficult to get to by anything but car (yes, Lichfield diocese, I am thinking about you here).  Obviously again church members need to be challenged on their own transport use – particularly in terms of car and plane use – simply as part of their witness and discipleship. It is my experience that to talk in these terms actually challenges people on a very deep level – such is the overall societal dependence on (and indeed one might say addiction to) personal car use.


Hazards, Vulnerability and disasters

When considering adaptations the concepts of hazard, vulnerability and disaster are important (see the graphic above). Natural hazards will always occur, although they will become more frequent as climate change progresses. These however only lead to disasters where they impinge on a vulnerable, non-resilient community. Thus the primary thrust must be to help vulnerable communities be come more resilient.

The church’s “adaptation” response can be considered to have both international and national aspects. With regard to the former, this could involve supporting those overseas agencies that work to help vulnerable communities prepare for extreme events and to help them to recover from such events . These can be both short-term incidents such as cyclones or longer-term incident such as prolonged drought. The various aid agencies are usually quite responsive to need and will make their needs known via the internet as required. A flexible giving response for emergencies by churches and dioceses would be helpful here. 

Nationally, it is generally accepted that the effect of global warming will result in warmer wetter winters, hotter drier summers and more extreme conditions. Depending upon the locality many church buildings are well placed to act as emergency shelters for those displaced by storms, and also perhaps to offer a cool place of refuge to the vulnerable during heat waves. Careful emergency planning is of course required before these events actually occur, and it may be that churches could play a useful role in national and local resilience fora. And of course, the individual caring ministry of church members for each other and those around them will continue to be of importance. 

February 2020 Floods in Ironbridge


One major role that could be played by the Church of England in relation to global warming is that of advocacy. Its very significant political and social influence could be used to argue for both mitigation and adaptation measures. For the former, it could argue for greater provision of renewable supplies, enhanced house insulation, more electric car charging points and the development of public transport routes and services (both electric buses and trains). For the latter, support could be given to overseas aid projects that both help to build resilient societies in vulnerable areas and to respond quickly to emergencies. Within the UK, the relevant authorities should be urged to consider better flood defenses, and funding for the maintenance of the built environment and transport networks to withstand extreme storms.  The church, at all levels from parochial to national, would need to work with a range of other official and voluntary groups as it seeks to influence policies in these ways.

On an individual level, the importance of individual church members taking small actions to reduce carbon emissions and build societal resilience should not be underestimated. Such actions, as well as being a witness to their faith, could also serve as local advocacy, in influencing friends and neighbours to adopt similar measures. Both the institutional church and its members need to take seriously Jesus’ command to be “lights of the world” in this regard.  

Who is my neighbour? Climate Change and Global Impact.

Commentary on workshop slides

Page 1. The intention was that the workshop would look at the large-scale environmental issues – in particular the effects of climate change. This is not to say that the other large-scale issues, such as plastic pollution, aren’t important. I have simply concentrated on something I know a little about. Some of the slides have been used elsewhere – in the sermon I preached in February, and in a School Assembly for Years 5 and 6 at St Michael’s School.

Page 2. This contains an outline of the workshop and an introduction to climate change. Climate change occurs because of a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that blankets the earth – letting in solar radiation, but impeding the reflected radiation. This results in a general warming of the earth as shown in the bottom left hand figure. The science is now firm. This temperature change is caused by anthropogenic (i.e. human) effects due to industrialization. The graphic on the bottom right doesn’t work in the handout, but I have included it separately below. In my view it illustrates global temperature rise in a particularly graphic way (click the icon on the bottom left if the graphic is not visible).

Global temperature change

Page 3. These slides show the effect of glacier melt and sea level rise, droughts and wildfires caused by elevated temperatures and the specific effects of temperature increase on the UK and Europe. Very broadly, the effects of climate change for the UK are threefold – hotter drier summers, warmer wetter winters and more extreme weather events. The bottom right slide introduces the scriptural background, and in particular the three reasons for taking action on environmental issues that I outlined in my February sermon – the stewardship of God’s creation; the redemption and restoration of creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and through us as his disciples, leading to the hope of a new creation; and the principle of neighbour love. What follows concentrates on the latter. 

Page 4. This introduces the story of the Good Samaritan. A teacher asks Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”,which Jesus then gets him to answer himself with the words of the two great commandments. These are used frequently in BCP communion services, but only irregularly in the more modern services (Yes, this is a whinge). The first of these commandments is part of the Shema, the regular daily prayer of Jewish worship. The Shema also contains the passage from Deuteronomy 11 shown in the bottom left slide, which indicates that love for God will also result in a harmonious relationship with nature, which is interesting in the present context. The injunction to love one’s neighbour, from the book of Leviticus, is not itself part of the Shema, but seems to have been linked with the verse from Deuteronomy. Jesus certainly used it that way in his teaching. In the Old Testament at least, the concept of neighbour probably applied to those with whom you lived, or to your tribal or ethnic grouping. 

Pages 5 and 6. In response to the self-justifying question “Who then is my neighbour?”,Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the next few slides are illustrations of this. In the School Assembly, the children told me the parable with no problem, so I will assume all readers know it well enough. On the map, I show the relative locations of Jerusalem and Jericho, about 20 miles in distance and 1500 feet in elevation apart. This would be a journey of a day or two in high temperatures in a quite barren environment.

Page 7. Here I return to the question “Who then is my neighbour”. The answer given by Jesus in the parable is obvious and memorable. On the map in the top right hand corner I try to make the point that Jerusalem and Jericho are a day or so apart (the red circle), and the distance between Jerusalem and Samaria (the purple circle) somewhat greater. Jesus defines one’s neighbour in more than local or ethnic terms. The modern map shows the distance we can travel in a day or so – which of course encompasses most of the world.  I would suggest that, using this analogy, the definition of neighbour we should use is a global one. 

Page 8.  In the last slide of page 7 and the first two on page 8, I ask the question again “Who then is my neighbour” – those in low lying Pacific and Indian Ocean islands for whom climate change poses an existential threat; those in Australia suffering from drought and wildfire; or those more locally suffering from an increased frequency and intensity of floods? I then go on to ask the question “What can we do” and introduce the concepts of mitigation (by cutting carbon emissions) and adaptation (helping those vulnerable to the changes that are already occurring).

Page 9. Firstly I show some numbers that illustrate carbon emissions for the activities of St Michael’s church in 2018 and compare them with values for typical households in the UK and for various countries around the world. The figures are self-explanatory and certainly provoke thought.  As I type I realise I have included no carbon emission figures for public transport, but in general the climate emissions per passenger mile for bus and train, are much, much lower than for private cars.  I also introduce the idea of climate advocacy – of using the influence we have through politicians and those around us to argue for change. This might be to advocate more renewable energy sources (including land based wind energy which will not be popular!); to encourage public transport use; and to encourage the provision of electric vehicle charging points. Note that the latter are not a complete solution to the issue of carbon emissions with the current electricity supply mix, and electric vehicles still produce environmentally damaging particulate pollution.  The last slide returns to the theme of adaptation and illustrates the ideas of hazard and vulnerability. Natural hazards will always occur, but they only result in disasters when they impinge on vulnerable individuals and communities.

Page 10. The first slide continues with the adaptation theme – and suggests ways in which we can support the vulnerable – through practical support to overseas communities and advocacy for an increase in overseas development aid; and perhaps for communities at home by using church buildings as refuges in emergencies (they can be very pleasantly cool in heat waves for example) or again by advocacy so that flood protection and emergency health provision is taken seriously by government. At this point I was going to suggest we talk to each other about what we could do, both as individuals and as a church. Perhaps we can take this up in discussions to this post? My first suggestion is that we could carry out individual and household carbon audits – there are a number of simple tools for doing this on the web. This would at least give us a basis for further action.  Other suggestions would be very welcome.  Finally I end with the Anglican Communion five marks of mission, drawing attention particularly to the last one “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. Environmental concern is a vital part of the church’s mission. The last slide is another saying from Jesus that we know well (particularly if you come to the BCP communion service…). We are called to let our light shine before others. We must never underestimate the importance of our choices and lifestyles as a witness to others, both in persuading them to consider the effects of their lifestyle on the environment, and in showing the love of Jesus in a practical and real way.