“Fracking is not morally different from any other extractive industry – it’s about context.”
So says Malcolm Brown, head of the Public Affairs Council of the Church of England (C of E). His remarks were made in relation to a briefing paper from the Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Environment Working Group of the Church of England produced in December 2016. They were reported in The Guardian in January.
The paper does not oppose the technology though it sympathised with the “legitimate concerns” of people in ares such as Lancashire and Yorkshire. It gives a cautious assent to the development of fracking as a bridge to a lower carbon economy. It places much face in regulatory systems and minimises the possible health effects of noise, truck movements, emissions and overuse of and contamination of water.
The C of E Environment Working Group was set up in 2014 in response to a motion passed at General Synod,”to be a voice in the public square arguing for environmental responsibility; to challenge the Church of England at all levels to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth, and to develop policies and actions for the Church.”
By placing a great deal of faith in regulatory systems, this particular group in the church is, in my view, demonstrating a certain naivety. The current government has systematically back-pedalled on encouragement of renewable energy, for example by reducing the feed-in tariff on electricity fed into the grid from solar panels. The fracking industry has of course received the report with delight as a vindication of its activity.
While the church has divested from coal and tar sands in its investment fund it cannot be praised for its stance on fracking. As campaigning groups from within the church such as Christian Aid and Operation Noah have pointed out, switching between different fossil fuels will not provide a fast enough route to the targets of the Paris agreement.
The radical cleric Peter Owen Jones, in a response to the paper described it as evidence that the C of E “institutionally …is still thinking and feeling within the very narrow band of anthropocentric reformation theology. Basically this theology translates as ‘our needs are greater than the needs of all other life forms.” He goes on to say that in the context of the current situation in relation to climate change, fracking (or any other form of extraction of fossil fuels) is morally indefensible.
Pagans will find much common ground with Peter Owen Jones. His reference to reformation theology hints at the non anthropogenic thinking of the creation spirituality and activism of theologians such as Matthew Fox, which rejects the idea of the automatic superiority of the human being in creation and roots itself in social and environmental justice. This is a position that reflects the ideas of many Pagans.
Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystical theologian in whom Matthew Fox finds much inspiration says: “A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or, he may be in Church and be aware of God; but, if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is alike present in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere so far as lies in Him.”
By this reckoning, the violation of the earth through fracking and climate change would be a violation of the sacred, which Christians call God and which Pagans might call the Earth, Our Mother, the Goddess or the Gods.
It is well to remember that the C of E contains many voices and not all will agree with the Briefing Paper discussed here.