Speed limit, electric cars and a forest towards a climate-friendly church

Participating in the e-mobility pilot project, from left: Jan Westphal (director, Horizonte gGmbH Altenburg), Dietmar Wiegand (deputy head, Altenburger Land church district), Rev. Christian Sparsbrod ( Rudolstadt-Saalfeld church district) and Rev. Jens Bechtloff ( Kindelbrück pastorate) with the new cars. Photo: EKM/Diana Steinbauer
Participating in the e-mobility pilot project, from left: Jan Westphal (director, Horizonte gGmbH Altenburg), Dietmar Wiegand (deputy head, Altenburger Land church district), Rev. Christian Sparsbrod ( Rudolstadt-Saalfeld church district) and Rev. Jens Bechtloff ( Kindelbrück pastorate) with the new cars. Photo: EKM/Diana Steinbauer

German church takes practical action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions

(LWI) –  A petition to introduce a 130 km-per-hour speed limit on the German Autobahn (highway) is one of the steps the Evangelical Church in Central Germany (EKM) envisages in an ambitious campaign promoting care for the creation to combat climate change.  

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member church is also encouraging its staff to use electric cars and adopt car-sharing among pastors and other interested people. Another part of the campaign is a “climate forest” in which 1,200 oaks and 10 mountain ashes have already been planted as part of efforts to compensate CO2 emission during the duties of the church leadership.

Speed limit: a small but important step

“We are constantly being asked what practical action we as ordinary people can take against climate change,” Rev. Christian Fuhrmann from the EKM said  in a recent interview with the Central German broadcaster MDR. “A speed limit would be a small but important step. It is just as important to get into discussion about this in society.”

We are constantly being asked what practical action we as ordinary people can take against climate change. […] A speed limit would be a small but important step. It is just as important to get into discussion about this in society.
Rev. Christian Fuhrmann, Evangelical Church in Central Germany

The church plans to submit its Tempolimit petition to the German Federal Parliament.  The idea is to collect 50,000 signatures within four weeks – starting from 4 March, the beginning of Lent. If this figure is reached, the parliamentary petitions’ committee will organize a hearing on the matter.

EKM Bishop Ilse Junkermann has been outspoken about the “commitment to creation,” saying  it is the church’s responsibility to take action.

Germany is the only country in the European Union without a speed limit on its major highways, and the EKM petition gives three arguments for one. At least 2 million tons of CO2 emissions could be avoided; smoother traffic flow would cut down on both traffic jams and the cost for Autobahn construction and maintenance; there would be less noise and particulate matter from tire abrasion; and road safety would increase.

New concepts of mobility

Reaffirming its November 2018 synod decision towards climate protection, the EKM has in the last few months taken other practical steps including a project that aims at improving mobility in rural congregations that are situated far apart.

The  electromobility and car-sharing pilot project started with four vehicles in December 2018. The basic idea is to promote the joint use of electric cars as service vehicles for staff, combining this with “citizens’ cars” for private purposes by other interested individuals.

EKM personnel director, Rev. Michael Lehmann, explains: “We don’t want to just talk about protecting the climate, we want to take action. Demographic and social change plus the ongoing trend towards secularization are leading to rural parishes covering larger areas. Alternative forms of transport are one way of guaranteeing the mobility of pastors despite the increased size of their pastorates. At the same time, this can still reduce local emissions. Since driving is mostly unavoidable, electric cars are an option and we want to mitigate climate change even more by car-sharing.”

Climate forests: compensating for CO2 emissions locally

While carbon dioxide emissions cannot be entirely avoided, EKM’s goal is to compensate for CO2 emissions from the service cars used by the central church office, the presiding and regional bishops, and also during events. Consequently 1,200 oaks and 10 mountain ashes were planted last November in EKM’s “climate forest” near Hohenleuben, around 100 kilometers southeast of Erfurt.

 EKM/Susann Biehl

Compensating for CO2 emissions: Forester Frank Weller and Brigitte Andrae, president of the church office, planting deciduous trees in a forest owned by the EKM. Photo: EKM/Susann Biehl

“For this project, we selected a coniferous forest owned by the EKM with very few species,” Susann Biehl, EKM forestry expert, explained in an interview with radio Antenne Thuringia. “It was damaged by climate change in the past. Now we are engaged in forestry ‘reconstruction’ and, instead of spruces, planting deciduous species suited to the location such as oaks, maples and mountain ashes, as well as the local silver firs, in order to stabilize the forest and increase biodiversity.”

Now we are engaged in forestry ‘reconstruction’ and, instead of spruces, planting deciduous species suited to the location such as oaks, maples and mountain ashes, as well as the local silver firs, in order to stabilize the forest and increase biodiversity.
Susann Biehl, forestry expert, Evangelical Church in Central Germany

The EKM’s decision to use its own land for reforestation instead of paying money into a climate fund to compensate CO2 emissions supports the church’s principle of initiating mitigating efforts at the local level.

Thanks to the church’s pilot project, residents of the nearby village and the general public have a notice board displaying information about the intention to protect the climate and they can take walks through the forest on a firm path.