Instead of praying, buy fluorescent

In my web browsing last evening, I came across a booklet published by the Church of England last month. It’s called “How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Christian?” Alas, I couldn’t read it online — the pamphlet can only be ordered from the Church at a price of £4.99. But the promotional copy gave me a sense of its Christian mission —

In eight sections ‘How Many Lightbulbs?’ will inspire you, your church, and your community towards actions that will reduce your ecological footprint, from turning off the tap, to starting a church compost heap.

It turns out that the booklet is part of an official Church of England initiative started last year called “Shrinking the Footprint.” It seems like quite an elaborate program that tells churchgoers all sorts of things they should do in their everyday lives. It’s not clear whether the “footprint” program replaces the more standard spiritual activities of the Church, such as praying, attending services, giving spiritual guidance, comforting and counseling parishioners, etc.

My favorite Church activity is Generate Your Own Renewable Energy, with photovoltaic (PV) cell systems featuring prominently. But, I can’t use PVs right now to save energy and money, the website notes. That’s not likely to happen until 2030; but that’s alright, I’m assured — one could still make “an iconic statement” now using a PV cell installation.

A point to note is that current micro-generation technology is still relatively new and can be expensive even when grant aid is available. A recent report from the Energy Saving Trust indicated for example that domestic-scale photovoltaic (PV) cells are unlikely to produce equivalent cost energy before 2030, even taking grant aid and possible sales of surplus energy to the national grid into account. In short, where there is a limited “green budget” there may be more cost efficient ways to reduce carbon emissions.

This does not mean that these technologies should be ignored. A wind turbine in a churchyard or PV cell installation on a church roof can make an iconic statement and be a visible symbol of the Church’s commitment to adapting to climate change. In certain circumstances, other renewable technologies can make good financial as well as environmental sense, but each case needs to be considered on its own merits with the benefit of professional advice.

But lest churchgoers get complacent and think about hiding their footprints, I would like to point out that each diocese of the Church now has an Environmental Officer as part of this wide-ranging program. According to its website,

The Church’s national network of Diocesan Environment Officers will be undertaking a variety of local initiatives as part of Shrinking the Footprint as it progresses from energy conservation through to a variety of other environmental issues.

I’m not going to laugh anymore when CEI staffers and others talk about carbon offsets as the new indulgences. I think the Church of England has a sale on them.