The Church of England has adopted a forward-thinking approach towards the environment, having launched an ambitious environmental initiative Shrinking the Footprint in 2006, followed by a seven-year plan on climate change and the environment Church and Earth. The latter outlines a 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. In the context of law and religion, this results in its involvement in three areas: through its faculty jurisdiction and equivalent Cathedral measures in relation to “in-house” environmental schemes; through statutory legislation for local schemes on church-owned land; and on a national scale in terms of legislative developments, the ethical investment of its assets, and its broader influence on issues in this area.
The Church’s national environmental programme focusses on carbon reduction and is promoted on a ‘top down’ basis, and Shrinking the Footprint, is described as ‘a cross-divisional campaign involving both the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division and Mission and Public Affairs’, which is ‘aimed at helping the Church’s 44 dioceses and 16,200 churches reduce their carbon footprint’. However, its delivery is primarily a regional and local issue, as are other improvements in environmental performance which in view of the focus on carbon, are not subject to such an holistic approach. As a consequence, its achievements can sometimes appear a little flaky at the edges.
On 14 August, the Daily Telegraph carried the article “Fracking ‘threatens God’s glorious creation‘ in which it described a leaflet produced by the Diocese of Blackburn indicating that for Christians, fracking presents “a choice between economic gain and a healthy environment.” The article reports that the leaflet “does not explicitly commit the church to a clear position for or against fracking”, but “appears to endorse some of the environmental concerns regarding this new technique”. Viewed in its pastoral context, the leaflet provides a good overview of this emerging technology. However, its portrayal of some of the alleged environmental concerns does not stand close scrutiny, and the use of emotive terms such as “toxic cocktail” (in relation to water usage and contamination) strays from its desired impartiality.
By publishing the leaflet, the church is entering a contentious area: in April this year, the Advertising Standards Authority, (ASA) published its adjudication on a complaint made by Refracktion, a pressure group of local residents, against a brochure relating to fracking issued by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd “Summer 2012 Exploring For Natural Gas Cuadrilla Resources is exploring for natural gas in Lancashire“. Although only 6 of the 18 complaints were upheld, (and one upheld in part), Cuadrilla was informed that the brochure must not appear again in its present form.
Whilst Cuadrilla might contemplate lodging its own complaint to the ASA on the Blackburn leaflet, this could be counter-productive in view of: the pastoral, rather than lobbying, context of the publication; and possible adverse public reaction. Such a move now seems unlikely as spokesperson for Cuadrilla was reported as saying that “the firm would be meeting with Church of England representatives in Blackburn in the coming weeks”. For its part, the diocese might consider revisiting the information within the brochure and on its website, and in view of the profile of fracking within the national and international media, the Church of England should give urgent thought to the development of an agreed position.