The Diocese of Salford has launched a new research project that Bishop John Arnold hopes will spearhead the efforts of the Catholic community in England and Wales to tackle the current ecological crisis by paving the way to a sustainable, carbon neutral future. The research team will collaborate with other dioceses, parish communities, industry experts, theologians and other groups to develop carbon accounting and environmental management tools that will lead to an implementation framework for use in other dioceses.
The two-year pilot project – “Guardians of Creation” – aims to involve over 100 parishes and over 200 schools, alongside religious communities and other parts of the diocese. The study is part of the church’s response to what Pope Francis has described as the ‘cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. It will reduce the diocese’s carbon footprint, improve energy efficiency and generation, and facilitate greater involvement from parishioners and local communities.
Dr Emma Gardner, Head of Environment at Salford Diocese, said: “We need to take urgent action today to ‘protect our common home’. This project will help provide ways to address the ecological crisis through practical solutions and positive change. The Diocese of Salford is looking forward to working with other dioceses and organisations so we can play our part together.”
In 2019, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales set out their commitment to engage in this urgent issue in their statement “Guardians of God’s Creation”. In the document, they pledged to avoid the worst consequences of this ecological crisis by engaging now and over the next decade on what they described as the ‘long path to renewal’. Bishop John Arnold has responsibility for environmental matters at the Bishops’ Conference, making his own Diocese of Salford the perfect place to begin.
The Right Reverend John Arnold, Bishop of Salford, said: “The Catholic Church recognises the ecological crisis we are living through and is keen to play its part in delivering the UK net-zero strategy. We are looking to deepen our understanding of how to put a Catholic diocese on the path to carbon neutrality, and this collaborative research will tell us what needs to be done and what structures must be put in place to support this. I hope that the findings will assist organisations and institutions beyond the Church both here and abroad.”
Salford Diocese is collaborating on the project with St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and the Laudato Si’ Research Institute, Oxford, and is supported by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Other partners including the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester will be involved as the project progresses.
In December, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, vowed to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by at least 68% from what they were in 1990 by the end of 2030.
Dr Roland Daw, the project’s lead researcher at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, said: “This work is about collective action that empowers the whole Church with the understanding, technologies and financing mechanisms it needs to speak to this urgent crisis. Statistics and doomsday predictions have not been enough to change behaviours in the face of this urgent crisis, so faith groups have as important a part to play in educating their communities as any others in society.”
The Vatican has been promoting awareness of the Pope’s ecological message contained in his encyclical Laudato Si’ and has called for communities around the world to become environmentally sustainable. Pope Francis has called for an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the “effects of encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in our relationship with the world around us”.
The project will take an ‘integral ecology’ approach at all levels, meaning that it will not just be limited to questions of carbon, but will consider wider social and environmental sustainability objectives. Integral ecology is a way of looking at the world that connects at depth our human life with God, each other and the natural world. By doing so it affirms human dignity and the special worth of each and every creature that God has made. It therefore informs our action at different levels, the individual, the family and society.
Celia Deane Drummond, Director of the Laudato Si’ Research Institute, Campion Hall, said: “This is an exciting project that has the potential to pave the way for a systematic transition to more environmentally sustainable practices in the Catholic Church. The Laudato Si’ Research Institute is delighted to have the opportunity to support this pilot study as a partner, and to work collaboratively to address one of the most pressing ecological issues of our time.”
The Laudato Si’ Research Institute in Oxford will help develop this understanding of integral ecology as applied to sustainability and carbon neutrality.