A new Heaven and a new Earth - Canon Professor Martin Gainsborough
Canon Professor Martin Gainsborough, a member of General Synod for the Diocese of Bristol, assesses General Synod’s vote on disinvestment.
At its meeting in York earlier this month, the Church of England’s legislative body, the General Synod, committed the Church to disinvest from fossil-fuel companies by 2023 unless they make tangible progress to align with the Paris agreement and transition to a low carbon future by this date.Progress will be measured by the Church of England’s Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) which scrutinises companies’ business plans.
The General Synod vote saw a rival motion calling on the Church to disinvest by 2020 defeated.The debate boiled down to a question of strategy, namely whether it would be wise to commit to disinvest so soon.The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, argued it would not be, saying that companies might just decide to ‘sweat it out’. By remaining engaged for longer, the Church would have more influence, he said.The counter argument, made by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, was that disinvestment in 2023 was too slow and that faster progress is needed to stem catastrophic climate change.While Dr Croft is almost certainly right about the speed of change required he failed to convince Synod that his approach would achieve results.
Such issues aside, Anglicans should be wary of patting themselves on the back too quickly following the Synod vote.Firstly, climate change is just one of a whole series of areas where human beings are overstepping planetary boundaries.Biodiversity is another but there are eight others which rarely hit the headlines.Secondly, talk of disinvestment, or even ethical investment, fails to get to grips with the more fundamental problem of our fixation with economic growth as it is this which is ultimately messing up the planet.The question we need to be asking is why is it we are so addicted to economic growth in the first place?While there are many answers to this question one is that our financial system requires growth to stop the whole system crashing.Thus, counter-intuitively, to save the planet you need to reform international finance – and here, not surprisingly, we quickly get into very tricky terrain.
So, what does this mean for Christians?Christians believe in a new heaven an earth, a God that transforms, and a God for whom nothing is impossible.We need to pray for a coming of God’s Kingdom and a change of heart where people are resisting change.At the same time, I want to encourage the Church to take a lead in asking those difficult questions that the ecological crisis throws up – like why are we so addicted to economic growth? – to follow them to their logical conclusion, and to bring our inheritance to bear which is Jesus Christ to advance us to a distinctively Christian answer.
Watch Canon Gainsborough’s speech at General Synod (starts at 51:11).