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One Planet - Archbishop on BBC World Service

Thursday 15th October 2009

Mike Williams from BBC World Service 'One Planet' finds out if the Archbishop of Canterbury is environmentally-friendly, and hears about some innovative ways to improve the buildings we live in.

Read a transcript of the interview below, or click download on the right to listen to the programme [13Mb]

Mike Williams:  I just wonder what God would think of our custodianship over creation?

Archbishop: Well I used to be an academic and I think God might say B minus or worse at the moment, it's not impressive.

Mike Williams: Do you think it's a moral issue?

Archbishop: I think it's very clearly a moral issue. I think that if it's part of our essential humanity to show care of the creation, as a Christian believer I'd say to imitate God's care for creation then of course, the abuse of the environment is a moral question.  Not quite the same thing but on a continuum with the abuse of another human being.

Mike Williams: So what then is the Christian thing to do?

Archbishop: The Christian thing is to ask about any development in the society or economics: is this actually going to cut away the branch we're sitting on, to cut away the world itself that nourishes and sustains us and that we're supposed to be responsible to and for. So I think that does put some tough questions against the idea that endless economic growth is possible, you've got a finite material world.

Mike Williams: It seems to me that you're effectively saying we're just too greedy.  We eat too much, consume too much – is that right?

Archbishop: In plain English, yes, that's about right.  We here of course being those nations who account for some phenomenal majority percentage of the world's consumption, as opposed to the majority of the world's population who account for a tiny slice of it.

Mike Williams: You mentioned population, it's an important topic and something that crops up time and time again amongst our listeners, who believe that there are just too many people on the planet – that 6.8billion people and growing rapidly is unsustainable.  Do you agree?

Archbishop: An endlessly growing population is unsustainable, but there are two things I think that make this a complicated part of the picture. It sometimes suits people to say that the real problem is over population not over consumption and that's a questionable way of coming at it, it's an attempt to shift responsibility once again onto the poorest.  Secondly, most government led attempts to control populations, I'm thinking of China especially, don't look very impressive morally or in other ways socially.  So getting that right, getting ourselves to a stage where a voluntary limitation of population is a reality is going to take a lot of work, and it's especially going to take a lot of work in those poorer economies where of course large families are part of your insurance system.

Mike Williams: Is that all then? We just have to accept that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet.

Archbishop: I hope that some of the message will get through before then but as I say I'm cautious about short cuts here because the effect of it seems to be pretty destructive in some areas.

Mike Williams: I'd like to ask you about the Church and what it can do, we've touched on this subject but, are you doing enough?

Archbishop: Whether I'm actually doing enough I don't know, but I can say a bit about what we have been doing as a Church.  For example at the Lambeth conference one of the most powerful presentations was on the environmental question.  We also made available at the conference a carbon off-setting programme for those who wanted to take part, and the Church of England itself now has this Shrinking the Footprint website which gives advice on how to monitor and reduce your energy output.

Mike Williams: You seem to be keener to encourage them along a path instead of being a bit more dictatorial.  The Church has great authority, why don't you use it?

Archbishop: I think it's pretty optimistic to say the Church has dictatorial authority.  You have to try and find out what makes a difference, and what makes a difference above all I think, is giving people realistic options that they feel they can make a difference with.  To raise moral in that way to give people the sense that they can make a bit of a difference, I would say that is much more important than just either issuing detailed directives, which the more detailed they get the more absurd they might sound, or vaguely threatening disaster.

Interviewer: The finances of the Church: you are effectively a CEO of a very large and quite wealthy organisation.  What are you doing to ensure that the Church's wealth is being used to further these aims that you express?

Archbishop: We have an ethical investment advisory group for the Church Commissioners, our fund holders, which monitors this, among other ethical questions.  It's not perhaps as high up on the agenda as some of us would like it to be in the ethical priorities, but it's getting there, we're moving towards pushing it further up.

Mike Williams: You'll forgive me, I'm looking at the 2008 annual report, and [you have] £6.5million in an investment trust focusing on green products, but you've got £6.7million in PepsiCo, £103million in Royal Dutch Shell and £29million in the world's largest mining company BHP Billiton.  Does that sound right to you?

Archbishop: I don't think that we change the investment pattern overnight, it has as I said, come up the agenda in recent years.  Some of us are pressing that it should be further up.

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