The Church of England’s ambitious environmental initiative Shrinking the Footprint was launched in 2006, and its seven-year plan on climate change and the environment Church and Earth outlines its programme for 2009 to 2016 in which it seeks to reduce the carbon footprint of its buildings and operations by 80% in line with government targets. The Exeter Diocese is identified as an exemplar, being ‘active on many fronts in the county of Devon and in the south-west region, and has a record of church and community action on the environment stretching back to the 1980s’.
However, these initiatives suffered as setback when in a pastoral letter to the parishes of East Anstey, Chittlehampton and Black Torrington, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, announced that the planning applications for two small agricultural wind turbines in each parish had been withdrawn on account of the ‘abusive and bullying tactics’ adopted by the opponents against clergy and staff involved.
An indication of the issues at stake may be gained from the detailed report of the public meeting in Chittlehampton posted by the pro-wind turbine Green Party and that of the Chittlehampton Parish Council written from a less committed point of view. Whilst the former complained that none of the ‘experts’ spoke with any conviction, the Parish Council noted ‘it was felt that the questions were not satisfactorily answered by the Diocese or the developer’, but hinted at the mood of the meeting, reporting that ‘there were many interruptions as people were very keen to make their feelings known’. However, there was no suggestion of the ‘overall feeling of impotence and anger, in the face of local farmers or landowners prepared to sell land to the developers who would then be the sole beneficiaries and profit makers from the enterprise’ observed by the Green Party member. (Agricultural-scale wind turbines, such as those proposed, are in use by many small farmers in rural Devon.)
The Parish Council reported ‘[i]t was very clear that many members of our local church were very unhappy with the proposals and the way the whole matter had been dealt with by the diocese’. This indicates a potential struggle in implementing the policy of the diocese, which had received the assent of the diocesan synod – the only common forum within the formal church governance for the churches concerned since all are in different benefices, and only two are in the same deanery.
However, the issue is broader than Devon and, following a backbench rebellion against wind turbines blighting rural areas mounted by more than 100 Conservative MPs, the Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker, is reported as saying Britain has ‘the wind we need’ either being built, developed or in planning. The diocese and the Church as a whole remain committed to reducing its carbon footprint, but there is clearly more work to be done in communicating the urgency of the situation, and selecting measures appropriate to each locality.