Almost fourteen years ago, my wife and I moved from the Houston tropics to the London cold. I accepted an ex-pat assignment in London to manage my company’s northwest Europe trading and marketing business. In early January, we boarded a plane and landed in frigid London. It had recently snowed, and the gusty wind felt colder than the slightly above freezing temperature. Our new home was certainly not Houston.
After checking into a hotel on the south side of the Thames River, we walked for a mile to the Waterloo Bridge. It was raining as we walked in silence while trying unsuccessfully to keep warm and dry. The wind was blowing so hard that my wife’s umbrella turned inside-out. Her grim look after this incident made me wonder if she was going to turn around and board the next flight back to Houston. This option still existed as we had not sold our house in Houston. Looking back, we now chuckle but at the time, it wasn’t funny.
We walked across the bridge encased in a sea of fellow commuters trudging to work. The office was located on the Strand near the Savoy Hotel, a few blocks from Trafalgar Square. Per protocol, we reported to work and completed the check-in process. The following day, my wife went with a British estate agent to look at London flats. After a long day of viewing properties, my wife recommended three properties for me to view. We agreed on the best flat and asked the agent to obtain a lease. After a stressful negotiating period of trying to finalize the lease, we signed a three-year leasing agreement. Unfortunately, we could not move in for a month. We had to stay in our Southbank hotel and walk to work during January along the Thames since there were few public transport options near the hotel.
Our flat was furnished, so we shipped mainly household items and a few small pieces of furniture. The sea crate took over six weeks to arrive. We air shipped 75 pounds of clothing and bedding to tide us over until our sea crate arrived. On move-in day, we loaded a taxi with our luggage and drove across the Thames River to our flat. The agent met us with keys, and we dropped off our bags. We learned that our air shipment was delayed by two days. I requested to be allowed to stay in a hotel and was told by my employer that since we had a flat, the company would not pay for a hotel.
We walked the two miles to work from our new flat and after eating dinner, we walked the two miles back for the night. We bought sheets for the bed but did not have a blanket or duvet. It was January and bitterly cold. Our flat was in a multi-story building built in the 18th century. The building was heated by a gas boiler located in the basement. Hot water circulated through the building and emitted heat through a radiator. We had little heating temperature control. Our bed was in a small room next to a window that had single pane glass. The winter cold penetrated through the window even though it was covered with thick drapes. We were so cold that we laid in bed with our winter coats on top of us. I told my wife that our current conditions were worse than when I was living in my college dorm room. We were digressing! We spent two cold nights in the flat before our air shipment arrived with warm bedding.
During our over 4 years in London, I learned that the UK had (and still has) poor energy efficiency. Other European countries, like Germany, mandated modern building insulation, double-paned windows, efficient heat-pumps, and other energy regulations to transition towards more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly heating. The UK government had resisted these changes for a variety of reasons and now has high energy costs after Russia invaded Ukraine. Energy policies take time to implement, but the UK lags the EU. Looking back, it would have been easier to implement energy policies before I moved to London than in the current post-Brexit UK.
My office was warm as it contained few windows and was modernized. UK restaurants were drafty and small, so winter restaurant meals were usually eaten feeling intermittent blasts of cold air. Luckily, our grocery shopping was usually done in the basement of an Oxford Street department store where there were no windows. The theatre district was insulated by the mass of people packed into cozy seating, although summer productions could be stuffy and hot as there was little air circulation.
The UK government is finally promoting switching from gas heating to electrical heat pumps to lower emissions. Sadly, the UK government is again late and slow to ramp up. In 2022, the UK heat pump sales were 1.9 per 1,000 households, a distant last in Western Europe. In comparison, Finland had 69 sales per 1,000 households. Heat pumps are more efficient at producing heat than natural gas. In addition, heat pumps emit zero carbon gases. So why has the UK government been so slow to make these needed changes? In 1969, the first large UK oil field was discovered in the nearby North Sea and gas heating became the UK energy-of-choice. The UK government has been slow to transition from this source of energy.
What does the Christian faith have to do with energy efficiency and protecting the climate? When God created humans, God gave humans the earth’s dominion. Humans are God’s stewards on earth. (Genesis 1:28, Psalms 8:6–8) Energy is a depleting asset that is not to be wasted nor used to harm God’s creation. Using it sparingly and efficiently is being good stewards of God’s creation. God commanded good stewardship for good reasons. As winter approaches during the Advent season and I reminisce about the early days in our London flat, I reflect on the importance of both needing and preserving God’s creation. We need God’s creation to survive but we also need to preserve it for future generations. Modern building insulation, a heat pump, and an energy-saving thermostat would have been a great stewardship step.