On 21st April, Christians gathered to pray at St John’s Church, Waterloo, London. It was fitting in a religious gathering to name the service: ‘No Faith in Fossil Fuels’.
Why? Because fossil fuels, oil, gas, and coal are ruining our climate worldwide and threatening the future of all life on our planet Earth. But also because the UK Government is trying to undo the progress made in fighting Climate Change by considering allowing a return to the exploration of oil and gas fields offshore, and the opening of coal mines. The government has a plan to tackle the present cost-of-living crisis but has shown no vision to ensure the future of our planet as a habitable place. We marched to show that we find this unacceptable.
Maybe this is the reason why, when Christians met to pray on the 21st April, there were 1400 of us, nearly three times the number of those who had met five months earlier in November 2022 to also pray and protest against fossil fuels.
Something has changed.
It was very moving and encouraging to be present with so many other Christians praying their hearts out and singing with gusto. There was no hesitation in expressing their faith, and their commitment to Christian values and their care for our common home. Several Churches including Catholic, Anglican, Quacker, Methodist and Salvation Army participated as well as Christian organisations such as CAFOD, Tearfund, Christian Climate Action and Christian Aid.
When we finished praying, we began our walk to Westminster in the sunshine. Soon we joined a much larger gathering of people from all walks of life who were at the Houses of Parliament, ready to protest against the use of fossil fuels and encourage a wider conversation about alternatives to fossil fuels and motivate the government to invest more in solar and wind power, funding home insulation and helping people to pay for more energy efficient boilers.
On our way to Westminster, we stopped at the offices of Shell Oil. One of our bishops planned to hand in a letter of protest for the Board of Directors. This letter was not accepted. In fact those inside locked the building and called the police. This letter was influenced by the International Energy Agency Report in 2021 which stated that the exploration and development of new oil and gas fields must stop if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating. However, since this stark warning, all major oil companies have continued to explore for and develop new fossil fuel reserves. Despite the advice of the IEA, the UK government has opened a new licensing round for companies to explore for oil and gas in the North Sea. Nearly 900 locations are being offered for exploration, with more than 100 licences set to be awarded. The UK government is also subsidising the fossil fuel industry to the tune of £20 billion more in support to fossil fuel producers than to those producers of renewables.
When we arrived at the Houses of Parliament, we were met by thousands of people already gathered. It was a colourful sight with banners, music, general good humour and camaraderie. Over two hundred organisations were represented. Extinction Rebellion, an organisation famous, (or infamous!) depending on your point of view, because of their direct action in the past, had a large number of representatives present. However, they had assured the authorities that they would not engage in direct action during this protest and they kept their word.
This memorable event concluded at 4pm to be continued in a number of engaging ways over the following three days. We hope and pray that the government got the message.
Patricia Byrne RSC