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SRT at 50: With Scorching Heat and Drought

SRT at 50: With Scorching Heat and Drought

Monday November 16 2020

Continuing the series marking the 50th anniversary of the Church of Scotland SRT, Adrian Shaw reflects on the Church of Scotland’s history on climate change.

With Scorching Heat and Drought was the title of an SRT booklet on climate change published in 1989. A remarkably prescient insight into the debate that was to follow, this was one of the earliest publications on climate change by any Church, not only in Scotland but quite possibly around the world.

The publication, edited by David Pullinger, included contributions on the greenhouse effect; the implications of global warming for ice caps, sea levels, plants and agriculture; and went on to ask how governments should respond. It concluded with a theological reflection and questions asking what we must do to ‘cherish the world’.

Three decades later it is remarkable to look back at a publication that set out so many of the questions we still ask today. While the science of climate change has moved on and we now understand the processes and implications in more detail and with greater certainty the question for us remains ‘how do we respond?’

Climate change and energy policy has been of importance to SRT throughout its 50 years which originated as a response to the North Sea oil and gas industry and the implications of that industry for our lives. Energy technology and its human and ethical implications is a theme that the SRT has revisited repeatedly, not surprising perhaps when two of its directors, John Francis and Donald Bruce, both had experience in the nuclear industry. Donald Bruce also played an important role in helping to establish Eco Congregation Scotland, which has grown to include over 500 churches of many denominations across Scotland and offers a structured programme through which churches can explore what it means to care for creation.

Looking back in 2020 it is remarkable how energy production and use in Scotland has changed since the publication of With Scorching Heat and Drought. The coal industry, the basis of Scottish industrial might for two centuries, has disappeared almost entirely. Coal fired power stations which produced the largest part of Scotland’s electricity in 1989 are now part of Scotland’s industrial history with the closure of Longannet Power Station in 2016. Nuclear power continues at present but the Scottish Government has indicated that, unlike the UK government, it does not see a future for nuclear power as part of Scotland’s future energy mix. The off shore oil industry, so exciting in the 1970s, is now in its mature phase with output from North Sea fi elds declining since the period of peak production from 1985 to 1999. The dramatic fall in the price of oil in 2020 makes further exploration less likely and, at the same time, growing calls for divestment from oil and gas companies and a just transition to a low carbon economy further question the global power of the oil and gas industry.

The rapid growth of renewable energy has seen wind power effectively replacing coal as the largest source of Scotland’s electricity with ambitious plans under development to build hundreds of very large offshore wind turbines in the North Sea.

It is also remarkable that the debate prefigured in the publication has moved from the periphery of political debate to occupy centre stage. The Scottish Government has enacted climate change setting tough targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045. The changes required to achieve this target will have big implications for the economy and for our lives, for transport, heating of homes and other buildings, businesses and agriculture. At the same time the consequences of climate change for Scotland, which include greater winter rainfall, more extreme weather events and slowly rising sea levels demand attention and new expenditure to protect critical infrastructure. For example the cost of repairing and maintaining the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful, in the face of increased rainfall and landslides has already run into tens of millions, pointing to the scale of future expenditure around Scotland.

The SRT has encouraged us to consider the causes and implications of climate change over three decades. It reminds us how our economy and our consumption has an impact on the natural world, on God’s creation, and challenges us to think how we should respond. These challenges are not comfortable or easy to answer but they are vital for our future wellbeing and the care of our common home, the earth.

Adrian Shaw was, at the time of writing, Climate Change Officer with the Church of Scotland.

SRT at 50: a year-long series marking the 50th anniversary of Church of Scotland SRT (Society, Religion and Technology).

SRT Milestone: Lynne McNeil looks back at the history of the project
No Time to Waste: Dr John Francis on nuclear weapons
The Great Unmentionable: Dr Murdo Macdonald considers end of life issues
The Challenge Ahead: the Rev Dr Alistair Donald on artificial intelligence
Battlefield Robots: the Rev Dr David Coulter on the rise of AI in warfare
The Strength of a Seed: Ruth Bancewicz looks at churches engaging with science
Faith and Evolution: Eric Priest asks whether faith and evolution are in harmony
Jesus and the Natural World: Andrew Torrance says the natural world is not its own independent reality
Augustinian Questions: the Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison considers the thoughts and writing of St Augustine on science and faith
Surveillance and Social Justice: Eric Stoddart explores surveillance in daily life