The Green Room ~ good stewards of God’s Creation


by the Revd Dr John Harrison

Back in August 2015 President Obama announced that he was going to allow further oil exploration in the Arctic wilderness, giving the go-ahead to Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea. The reaction to this decision was swift and in the light of his very public stance on climate change; he was accused of ‘self-defeating hypocrisy’.

Most of us felt that there was a stark contradiction here between addressing the global issue of climate change and the continuation of exploration for oil in increasingly difficult and hostile locations. In the case of the Arctic wilderness, the risks of oil spills and damage to the fragile permafrost are real, and we all had every right to fear the consequences of his decision.

Fortunately, in October 2015 came the news that the US administration had effectively blocked any prospects for future oil exploration in this region and there was a collective sigh of relief. The Arctic is still, however, one of the world’s most threatened environments as it contains huge reserves of oil and gas, together with a range of valuables ores. But just for once a change of mind moved us away from yet another damaging human impact on the environment. But why is it so difficult for decision-makers to change their minds when faced with evidence of the potential damage to the environment that could result from their actions?

The other day I had cause to look again at the issue of fracking here in the UK, and I came across a simplified diagram of the basics of the processes involved. Fracking involves breaking irreversibly the rocks beneath our feet, packing the cracks with sand to keep them open, then piping out the shale gas. The environmental risks are; leakage of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas), waste water discharges finding their way into our rivers, leakage of chemicals into ground water, and the triggering of minor earthquakes. These possible environmental effects are well-known although perhaps not fully quantified.

How does our administration address these issues? Like all other aspects of administration in this country at the moment – by stubborn defence. It would seem that once decisions are taken, there is no amount of evidence or pleading that will bring about a change of mind.

At present David Cameron and George Osborne are pushing fracking because “it will mean more jobs and opportunities for people and economic security for our country” (Cameron), or for the egotistical reason that the UK “is prepared to push the boundaries of scientific endeavour including in controversial areas, because Britain has always been a pioneer” (Osborne).

It is perhaps because the now famous “this lady is not for turning” has been written into our national psyche, or are we really not bothered anymore about what we do to a world which is littered with the debris from our bad decision-making? Decision making which is more often based on posturing and not on careful consideration of the long-term consequences of our actions? It is as if we say “Yes I know that we should be good stewards of God’s Creation but there are more important decisions to be made regarding our immediate future”.

Thank you, God, for your patience with us in our short-sighted pursuance of personal goals.


  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.

  • Go to Environment pages


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