Emission control

United Church buildings produce as much carbon dioxide as 30,000 cars. Why are so few congregations cleaning up their act?

Article: Emission Control By Mike Milne in the Observer February 2017 pg 38


Here’s some fresh global warming data that’s bound to send a chill across the United Church: the denomination’s 3,000 congregational buildings produce the equivalent of an estimated 135,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. That’s about the same as burning 63 million kilograms of coal, or driving 30,000 cars, or powering 15,000 homes for a year — and it would take a forest about the size of Quebec City to offset it.

Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that few congregations are taking steps to reduce their energy use — even in areas where church-funded no- or low-interest loans are available to help them retrofit their buildings.
Several General Councils have recognized the existential threat of climate change and passed motions calling on congregations to try to lower their carbon footprints. The General Council Office has tried to reduce its energy use by cutting back on travel and meeting electronically more often. And the denomination and its Foundation took a stand against climate change in late 2015 by selling about $8 million in fossil fuel investments.
But a report released last July, called “Caring for Creation, Our Communities and Our Congregations,” gives the church its first national estimate of how much carbon its buildings are pumping into the atmosphere. It says that for the church to be “a truly credible and inspiring climate change leader [it] must put its own house in order.”
Commissioned by General Council’s finance department for $90,500, the report was completed by Faith and the Common Good, a Toronto interfaith environmental group, and BuildGreen Solutions, an Ottawa consulting firm. “This is a proactive thing,” says General Council finance chief Erik Mathiesen. “This is a chance for the church to lead by example. But in order to manage something, you need to measure it.”
Lucy Cummings, executive director of Faith and the Common Good, says the carbon reduction report makes clear that carbon-producing energy use is a theological, environmental and ethical issue, as well as a financial issue for congregations. “The energy used to light and heat United Church faith buildings is one of the denomination’s largest carbon contributors — and one of its biggest expenses.”
In other words, congregations can save money and take steps to slow global warming by making their buildings more energy-efficient or offsetting energy use by generating clean energy with solar panels.
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