I recently wrote this for a gathering at Inverness Cathedral back in September 2016. I wrote it as an Ordinand struggling to make sense of some of the commitments that the Church has towards renewables, while questioning just how much awareness the Church has in its support for say, wind farms. There will be those who are NIMBYs, and those who think of themselves as totally in favour. But I have to stop and ask would those in favour turn into NIMBYs if a wind turbine was going to be in their backyard?
Perhaps I’m stepping into muddy waters, perhaps I can’t see the bottom and perhaps it’s just as well. I think this is a subject to which I will return time and again over. Below is the text and I would be keen to know your thoughts, insights, niggles. But please keep it clean – I will only publish those comments which are clean.
I’d like to share with you some of the struggles that I have not just as a Christian, but also as an Ordinand, about the love / sense of duty I have for the environment.
When I was growing up, the conservation sector in Africa was waking up to the consequences of the fences which had been placed across large tracts of land both in East Africa and also Botswana. Fences that slowed down or in some cases stopped the migration of animals that had previously migrated across the land. There was a growing sense of frustration as various species of animal encroached onto farm land, tore up crops and fed as they passed through on their migration. Other migratory animals would halt at fences built perpendicular to their migratory route, unable to go on, and invariably there was increasing conflict between man and beast.
This conflict continues to this day. We might think that urban foxes are an issue, or badgers on farmland, but is that because all that has really happened is that humanity has decided to build on more land, which reduces the natural habitat of these animals? And thereby bringing us into closer contact and conflict with them? Is this something that we, as Christians should be worried about? Our ever increasing expansion and use of the environment?
I was reading only this week that the first tidal turbine has been unveiled by Nicola Sturgeon to be placed in the Pentland Firth and will eventually be joined by 268 similar turbines. The project is said to be the world’s first large-scale tidal energy farm, has taken over 10 years to come to fruition and will create around 100 jobs.
Now, this is an area where I struggle. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t think about these things and question their validity and my response as a Christian. And I struggle because surely using tidal power is good. It’ll create electricity and thereby the hundreds of homes that would have used electricity created using fossil fuels will be able to harness this green energy. That has to be good.
The project will create 100 or so jobs in the north of Scotland and that has to be a good thing, right? Will the company train the people living there so they can maintain the site? Or will highly specialised people come into the area to work on the site? But that in itself will bring money into the region so that has to be good.
But.. what about the raw materials and energy used to create each turbine? Where does that come from? How much energy was required to build the prototypes and the turbines? Will they have used fossil fuels? Will that be offset somehow against what will be produced? What mileage would have been required to transport the raw materials to the manufacturing site (in this case, Nigg)? And then on to the Pentland Firth? How much of the material used to make the turbine could have come from under developed countries with little or no regard for human safety or the impact on the environment? And should I as a Christian be concerned about any of that?
There are a few more queries that I would like you to consider. How many of us love hearing the sound of whale song? Or have a special memory of seeing whales breaching, or a tail fluke slap down on to the sea? Or seen dolphins feeding offshore? The waters of the Pentland Firth are rich in nutrients and any of us who have been over to Orkney will have seen the upwellings of water mixing those nutrients in the water column. The Pentland Firth is a major migratory route of many of our whale species from the North Atlantic to the North Sea, and also vice versa.
One of my fears is that the whale sightings that draw some of our visitors to the north coast will decrease as whales collide with these man made structures. Their migratory routes aren’t going to change simply because humanity has put an obstacle in their way.
Can I be happy that Scotland is at the forefront of such technology, that so many jobs will be created, that so many homes can receive that energy? I might cautiously offer a yes, but I still have many unanswered queries.
As Scottish Natural Heritage quite rightly state, if sensitively designed and sited, marine renewable energy developments have the potential to not only contribute a large proportion of Scotland’s renewable electricity but also should be at lower environmental cost than comparable land-based systems.
I’ve looked at the maps that MayGen (the project company) have created and I’ve looked at the harbour seal/grey seal telemetry maps and research that Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland have published. Unfortunately whales cannot be monitored in a similar manner to seals so there is far less data for whale species, and there is great concern for physical damage to these animals, but from what I’ve read there has been a great deal of scientific research which has gone in to mitigating the effect of this tidal farm on the environment.
And why should I care? Because I believe its one of the duties as a Christian to steward God’s kingdom. Without it, without every single part of the fragile ecosystem that we call Earth, humanity will not survive. Our call and duty is written into the five marks of mission of the Anglican Communion, which are about our lifestyle and who we are in Christ.
It is one of the reasons that we have a celebration. It is why we need to explore what it means for our faith to be part of this created world. I hope I’ve managed to explore one of the issues with you that I wrestle with, and I hope I’ve left you with perhaps some different perspectives and possibly more questions than you thought you had.