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February 2003

         "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
But those who trust in idols, who say to images, "You are our gods", will be turned back in utter shame."

(Isaiah 42.16-17)

"Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

(Romans 1.20)

"Whatever the colour of your skin, whatever god you worship, whatever hideous wrong you may have done me or my ancestors, each single person on this earth has more or less identical requirements when it comes to air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. What could be more fundamental ground to meet on than that?"

(Sara Parkin in "From Here to Sustainability")

Saturday 1st February

"It is no accident that our planet is called Earth. All terrestrial life depends on the fragile, friable crust of soil that coats the continents. Without it, living things would never have emerged from the oceans: there would be no plants, no crops, no forests, no animals - and no humans. The precious covering, the very flesh of the planet is painfully slow to form, and can be destroyed terrifyingly fast. Just one inch of soil can take centuries to build up but, if mistreated, it can be blown and washed away in a few seasons. And earth is now rapidly vanishing all over the planet that bears its name.

Each year, the Worldwatch Institute estimated, the continents lose 24 billion tonnes of topsoil. Over the last two decades as much has been lost worldwide as covers the entire cropland of the United States. And it's getting worse." - from "Down to Earth", a report from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

Pray for all who are researching the causes and seeking remedies for soil degradation throughout the world.

Sunday 2nd February

God our Father, in the name of Him who gave bread to the hungry we remember all who through our human ignorance, selfishness and sin are condemned to live in want; we pray that all endeavours for the overcoming of world poverty and hunger may be so prospered that there may be found food sufficient for all; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday 3rd February

The European Forum for Agricultural Research for Development reported last May that two-thirds of all agricultural land has, in the last 50 years, been affected by soil degradation. Problems include erosion, salinisation, contamination, waterlogging, compaction, acidification, desertification and loss of soil fertility. Europe's farmland is losing soil at a rate of 17 tonnes per hectare per year, compared with a natural replacement rate of about 1 tonne. In 1870 nearly half the population of OECD countries was employed in agriculture: today the proportion is under 6%. Agriculture has become Agribusiness, and so the care of land comes a poor second to maximizing output.

Tuesday 4th February

Intensive farming involves getting maximum output from minimum input in order to produce both food and profit in the largest possible amounts. Short-term economics and market forces dictate large farms, big machines and heavy use of fertilisers and pesticides. Heavy machinery compacts the soil and reduces its capacity to absorb moisture and air. Inorganic fertilizers can increase yields substantially, but their overuse can lead to unbalanced soils and contamination of water supplies. Organic farming, which restricts the use of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, is practiced on less than 20 million hectares worldwide and accounts for only 2% of food sales.

Wednesday 5th February

The UN University Institute for Natural Resources warns that, without drastic action to improve soil quality, sub-Saharan Africa will only be able to feed 40% of its population by 2025. Yet modern methods of "conservation agriculture"(CA) - i.e. zero or minimum tillage, continuous plant cover, direct seeding and crop rotations - have spread rapidly in the USA (now 20 million hectares) and in Brazil and Argentina, and could much reduce the rate of soil degradation. The German-based African Conservation Tillage network was formed in 1998 to promote the use of CA throughout Africa. Pray for its work and the work of all who are dedicated to the spread of sustainable agriculture.

Thursday 6th February

Deep ploughing disrupts the soil structure and leaves loose material on the surface where it is easily eroded. Many farmers now practise ridge tillage (in which only the tops of ridges are tilled for planting), chisel ploughing (which does not turn the soil upside down), subsoiling (which lifts the soil but does not invert it) and other forms of CA. In Argentina one-third of arable land is cultivated using no-tillage techniques. Pray for the spread of these practices throughout the world.

Friday 7th February

With the growth of meat-eating in Asia and elsewhere, hundreds of millions of chickens, pigs, dairy and beef cattle are kept in factory sheds all their lives. Feeding them takes up half of all cereals consumed in the developed world, while dealing with their excrement is a serious waste disposal problem and the resulting methane emissions exacerbate global warming. The use of hormones and other chemicals in preparing animals for human food also has implications for human as well as animal health. Pray for wider public awareness of the consequences to ourselves and our environment of the intensive rearing of animals.

Saturday 8th February

Today the University of Gloucestershire and the John Ray Initiative are hosting a conference in Cheltenham entitled "Jesus and the Earth: The Gospel and the future of the environment." The main speakers include Sir John Houghton, Dr.Peter Carruthers and the Bishop of Liverpool. Pray for all participants, that a truly Christian response may emerge to the whole idea of sustainable development.

Sunday 9th February

Lord, give us a deeper understanding of your purposes, that we may be steadfast amid the turmoil of our times. May our faith never fail, nor our love grow cold, nor our hope become faint. Help us to fix our eyes on your Son, who for our sakes endured the cross and was obedient even unto death.

Monday 10th February

The whole modern food system in developed countries depends on oil - a finite resource and one whose emissions contribute significantly to global warming. The energy content of food, i.e. the calories, can be compared with the energy consumed in producing, processing, packaging and distributing it: this is the "energy ratio". For modern high input fruit and vegetable cultivation one calorie of food output requires up to 10 calories of energy to produce it. For intensive beef production the ratio is 1:300, excluding processing, packaging and distribution. However, if transport is taken into account, it requires 66 calories of energy to fly 1 calorie of carrots from S.Africa, 97 calories to import 1 calorie of asparagus from Chile and 127 calories of energy to transport 1 calorie of iceberg lettuce from the USA by plane. In 1992 trade-related transportation was estimated to account for one-eighth of world oil consumption and by 2004 this will have increased by 70%. The resulting carbon emissions will have risen from 1.45 billion tonnes in 1992 to 2.45 billion tonnes in 2004. Yet there are several paths towards a localized food system.

Tuesday 11th February

The National Trust now supplies its restaurants as far as possible with local food, as do many hotels and restaurants. Labelling produce to indicate the distance travelled, or the transport-related environmental impact, would give consumers the information they need. Farm assurance schemes and organic certification bodies could offer reduced certification fees for local produce. But the most effective spur would be to increase the costs of transport to take account of environmental damage. In Switzerland a Heavy Vehicle Fee is already charged on heavy goods vehicles based on their gross weight, kilometers driven and emissions. A similar system could be introduced in every developed country.

Wednesday 12th February

Subsidies at local, national and European level could be re-directed to support local food distributions systems. In the light of threats to our oil supplies, in the Middle East and elsewhere, governments can no longer ignore the political and environmental dangers associated with our addiction to crude oil. Only localized food networks can ensure secure food supplies, minimize fossil fuel consumption and reduce our dependency on food imports.

Thursday 13th February

It takes 25,000 gallons of water to produce one car, 30 million gallons a day to run a nuclear power station and 400 billion gallons a year to operate the US computer industry, while China's water consumption is forecast to grow by 600% in the next 20 years. Yet, with judicious investment, huge water savings can be made. For example, Carlsberg-Tetley Brewery now recycles and re-uses its rinse water, so saving 43,000 cubic metres of water and 87,000 a year. Payback time for this investment was 13 months. Beacon Press, the printers, uses a resin instead of water, not only saving its water bills but cutting out the need for polluting solvents. The Environment Agency now publishes "Waterwise", a guide to businesses on developing and implementing a water management plan.

Friday 14th February

The National Trust on its Purbeck Estate has cut water use by 97% simply by replacing conventional toilets with waterless or low-flush WCs. Wiltshire County Council cut its annual water bill by 250,000 when it introduced new flush controls for its urinals, using an infra-red system which cuts out flushing except when it's needed. This measure paid for itself within two months. Booker Belmont Wholesale cut its water use by 65% and brought annual savings of 106,000 by replacing ordinary taps with "push" taps and putting in cistern adjusters and flushing controls. All the above have won Water Efficiency Awards from the Environment Agency. For details visit or

Saturday 15th February

The Johannesburg Summit last year agreed to a target of halving by 2015 the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This would require expenditure of around $25 billion a year - just one-eighth of what the US spends on advertising each year. Privatisation of water has had a bad press, but without private investment, the target looks unachievable. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, householders connected to the privatised water system typically pay around $1 per cubic metre, while unconnected consumers who have to purchase water from mobile vendors pay $5.50 - $16.50 for the same amount, while urban US residents pay $0.40 - $0.60. Water Aid believes the choice between public and private supply should be based on whichever is most likely to increase poor people's access to affordable, safe and sustainable water services. Jim Oatridge of Severn Trent says: "The key to successful schemes is to create regulatory mechanisms and good governance systems which protect the public from excessive charges; and to ensure that water service providers recover the full cost of providing the service - and that service levels promised are indeed provided."

Sunday 16th February

Lord, help us to realise a vision of a world which husbands its God-given resources so that we may enjoy the natural and spiritual blessings which you have prepared for us, a world where humans can live together at peace without damaging the natural resources which we all share.

Monday 17th February

The Government's 1998 Transport White Paper said: "We cannot build our way out of congestion with new roads." Now the Government's plan is to build our way out of air traffic congestion with new airport capacity, indeed new airports. Yet a sustainable aviation policy can be achieved without destroying the English countryside or ruining the quality of life of those unfortunate enough to live near an airport. Firstly, landing charges are kept artificially low by massive subsidies from the airports' shopping malls. The airports respond by providing ever more flights, leading to congestion and delays, which lead in turn to more profit from the shopping malls. Subsidised landing charges could be ended overnight by the Civil Aviation Authority. Secondly, there are never enough runway "slots" to meet the demand. The CAA could auction these slots to the highest bidder: this would help divert traffic to less congested regional airports and provide the money needed for high-speed rail connections.

Tuesday 18th February

A new report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution called "The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight" (accessible at concludes: "If no limiting action is taken, the rapid growth in air transport will proceed in fundamental contradiction to the Government's stated goal of sustainable development." It singles out short-haul flights as particularly damaging to the environment and recommends that emissions charging and trading should be introduced as a matter of urgency. Furthermore, air freight should be restricted to high-value perishable goods, with the remainder switching to rail and sea transport. "Since rail" it says "is demonstrably more sustainable than air transport", there should be a shift to rail for short-haul and domestic routes, with airports becoming hubs for all forms of transport, not just planes.

Wednesday 19th February

In France, the introduction of the rapid TGV train has cut the amount of air traffic between Paris and Marseilles by 80%, so helping Charles de Gaulle airport to meet the passenger limits laid down by the government, while improving the airport's profitability thanks to the higher proportion of long-haul flights. Pray for a wide debate on the future of civil aviation and for joined-up thinking at the highest level of government.

Thursday 20th February

The Government's Air Transport White Paper is due to appear shortly. EU legislation currently requires local authorities to implement action plans to control air quality and noise, but airports are exempted, so making it difficult for neighbouring local authorities to meet their targets. Yet Zurich Airport now levies a NOx (nitrous oxide) charge based on the emissions of every aircraft that lands there. Other airports could levy variable charges for noise and local emissions on the airlines using their facilities. The charges would not only attract cleaner and quieter planes but provide the funds for local noise insulation programmes. All this requires fundamental new thinking at governmental level.

Friday 21st February

Aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing are developing a "sonic cruiser" which will fly at high altitudes close to the speed of sound. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution warns that a fleet of such aircraft could be "disastrous for the planet". Even the aircraft industry pressure group "Freedom to Fly" declares: "Our members accept the principle that industries, including aviation, should meet the verifiable external costs of their operations, such as pollution and noise nuisance, without distorting international trade and investment." In continental Europe a genuinely integrated, reliable and fast rail alternative is now taken for granted. Could it happen here? That depends on decisions shortly to be taken by our government.

Saturday 22nd February

The 10th year of Rolex Awards for Enterprise has benefited five Laureates and five Associates. The projects recognized include a whale anti-collision system in the Canaries, a sustainable agricultural system in Eritrea using mangroves and, most notably, a revolutionary system to provide light for remote villages in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. Dave Irvine-Halliday's solution is based on clusters of high-brilliance, rechargeable, white-light emitting diodes. By putting a diode cluster lamp in each home, he has found it possible to light a whole village using less power than is used by a 100-watt electric light bulb. For details visit

Sunday 23rd February

Father God, who alone are the source of all truth and understanding, direct by your Holy Spirit those engaged in scientific research, that as they uncover more of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, they may further the universal purpose of your love. Bless the partnership between religion and science, that faith and reason together may serve your will in promoting the welfare of humankind and in reconciling the whole world to you, its Maker and Redeemer. (adapted from words of Tom Torrance)

Monday 24th February

A new book by Jeremy Rifkin called "The Hydrogen Economy" (Tarcher/Putnam $25) describes the steps required to move from a fossil fuel-based economy to one based on hydrogen. Two major problems arise: " It takes energy to isolate hydrogen into a usable form. Is it worth the effort? His answer is to integrate hydrogen with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal; " The storage of renewable energy is problematical. Hydrogen, he says, can solve both the storage and the transportation problem. For example, wind-turbine electrical output generated at night, when demand is low, can be redirected to the electrolysis of water to form hydrogen, to be stored for future use. This can then feed fuel cells to generate extra electricity whenever, on a calm day, wind turbines cannot meet the demand.

To objections that hydrogen production is uneconomic, he points to the huge social and environmental costs of fossil fuel production and the massive subsidies it currently needs from taxpayers across the globe. As to the technical challenges of a hydrogen economy, they are no doubt formidable, but in this age of hydrogen-fuelled space shuttles, they are certainly not insurmountable.

Tuesday 25th February

EU Commissioner Mario Monti has acknowledged in a private letter that the Government's 650 million bail-out of the nuclear generator British Energy was unlawful. A Greenpeace-commissioned report from ILEX, the energy consulting group, concludes that all British Energy's nuclear power plants could be closed within 2-3 years while maintaining the security of our electricity supply system. There is existing over-capacity which is currently masked by low fuel prices. If these were allowed to rise, power stations temporarily withdrawn from service would re-open and new gas power plants could be quickly built in response. Moreover, according to a new Government report called "Future Offshore", over 3000 TWh of electricity could be generated by offshore wind farms - 40 times the output of all Britain's nuclear power stations. The report also predicts that the cost of offshore wind farms will fall over the next 20 years to the level of the cost of new combined cycle gas turbines.

Wednesday 26th February

The European Commission is shortly to propose legislation to reform the way industrial chemicals are made and sold "in order to make producers assume responsibility for their products" (White Paper on Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy). Greenpeace comments that with the ever-growing volume of evidence linking man-made chemicals to hormone disruption, damage to reproductive systems and increasing rates of cancer, allergies and other health problems, this is an opportunity that must not be wasted. The new system will no longer allow manufacturers of chemical products to market them unless and until governments or NGOs demonstrate evidence of harm. Instead, they will have to supply data which demonstrate the absence of hazardous characteristics in order to gain authorization to produce a chemical. "Industry should ensure that only chemicals that are safe for the intended use are produced and/or placed on the market."

Thursday 27th February

Last October Greenpeace offered a vacuum cleaner test on dust collected from one hundred homes to identify hazardous chemicals such as are commonly found in soft furnishings, textiles, electronic equipment, flooring, detergents, DIY products, cosmetics, toiletries and other everyday articles. Greenpeace is pushing for mandatory substitution of safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals. It maintains that the Commission's proposals are no threat to the European chemicals industry, but a powerful incentive to create a sustainable chemicals industry out of the many safe products available.

Friday 28th February

Families living on low incomes and unhealthy diets in the London Borough of Newham can thank Eric Samuel, a theological student doing research on food poverty, for the establishment of 6 new food co-ops, 13 fruit tuckshops and 3 school breakfast clubs. Every morning at Spitalfields Market he buys enough fruit and vegetables to stock his shops and then knocks on doors to deliver fruit and vegetables for 40% less than the supermarket price. "People living in food deserts don't eat healthily" he says. "That's why we have high levels of heart disease and blood pressure."

Sources include:

Greenpeace Business.
Green Futures.
Losing the Earth (Understanding Global Issues)

For further information and prayer request please email:

or write to:
Philip Clarkson Webb
15 Valley View
Tunbridge Wells
Kent TN4 OSY

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