THE Church of England’s next lead bishop for the environment has promised to encourage “courageous decision-making” on a parish and national level, and to listen to the “prophetic voice” of young people, to combat climate change.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, was appointed on Thursday by the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead the Church’s environmental programme, which includes meeting the 2030 target for net zero carbon emissions agreed by the General Synod last year (News, 14 February 2020). He will take over the work in June from the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, who is to retire in July (News, 5 February).
Bishop Usher writes in the Church Times online this week: “The job of those in power is to lead by example and to help put decisions within reach of anybody who is changing their car or boiler, or who wants to change their shopping habits. The Church of England can convene conversations at a national level which help to keep the pressure on, but we must also make sure our own house is in order and take decisions at every level to meet the ambitious net zero target by 2030 which General Synod has set.”
Bishop Usher, who took his first degree in ecological science at the University of Edinburgh, has written two books about spirituality and landscape: Places of Enchantment, Meeting God in Landscapes (Books, 5 September 2014), and The Way Under Our Feet: A spirituality of walking (Books, 17 July 2020). He was previously a member of the Northumberland National Park Authority and chaired the north-east advisory committee of the Forestry Committee.
He is a keen beekeeper and is undertaking work to enhance the biodiversity of the historic Bishop’s Gardens in Norwich. Every candidate whom he confirms receives a hazel tree to plant in memory of Mother Julian of Norwich, the 14th-century mystic who reflected on the glory of God as she held a hazelnut in the palm of her hand (General Synod Digest, 21 February 2020).
“As lead bishop for the environment, I want to amplify the prophetic voice of the young, and those in the world’s most vulnerable communities who are already being affected most severely by climate change,” Bishop Usher said.
“I want to encourage courageous decision-making. Those decisions could be big or small, from a church switching to a green electricity provider up to improved government subsidies for green technology, both nationally and locally. It’s about encouraging everyone to engage with their portion of the challenge and to step up.”
The UK is to host the G7 in June, and COP26 is to be held in Glasgow in November; there would be difficult decisions for churches and governments alike, he said. “The challenge will be to keep up the momentum when there are a whole host of other significant priorities, but, despite a very difficult past year, we can learn from the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. . .
“As individuals, we have learnt that practices such as travelling long distances for business and frequent flights, which we previously considered unavoidable, can be reduced as we rediscover what ‘normal’ looks like. And, globally, the speed with which safe vaccines have been brought to market is a huge testament to what can be done when human endeavour aligns behind a common goal. . .
“We now need this kind of response to climate change. The threat to human life posed by climate change and loss of biodiversity dwarfs that of Covid-19, and yet we are still at a stage where some are content to sit back and leave it to others, or deny there is a problem at all.”
Archbishop Welby said of the appointment: “The crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are the most grave and existential we face: as human beings, as a Church, and as a global community.”