Last winter, my nine-year-old son accompanied me to a climate talk at our church. I had warned him that it would be long, and likely boring. The presentation did indeed go on for over an hour. But rather than bored, Oscar was captivated. He suddenly took to journaling. He was writing about climate change, flooding and drought, and the significant oil and gas reserves that must stay underground.
I was intrigued by Oscar’s interest. I was encouraged by his energy and extremely proud when he began to share what he was learning with others.
Then I began to worry. How much did he understand about what the world might look like when he’s my age? And did he (as I do) have faith that we could muster the ambition necessary to take action?
What’s at stake?
To date, the world has warmed 0.85°C over pre-industrial levels. Super storms are more frequent. Wild fires are more pervasive. Sea level rise threatens small island states, and major coastal cities like New York risk being under water by 2100. The health of our oceans is declining rapidly, and with it, this life support system of the Earth.
The Inuit in Canada’s north have experienced some of the fastest rising temperatures in the world. Food security and human health are increasingly at risk due to diminished access to and contamination of local foods. Shifting weather patterns, glacial melting, and permafrost thaw also challenge northern infrastructure, which is designed for frozen ground.
Climate change has also contributed to reduced habitat for many marine species. It has prompted changes in breeding grounds for birds and interruptions in the migration and feeding patterns of some mammals. Habitat loss across Canada is expected to be among the worst in the world, with a potential 20 per cent loss of species in vulnerable ecosystems by 2100.
Growing seasons in the rest of Canada may be getting longer, but production is hampered by invasive pests and increasingly frequent water shortages. Warm weather viruses (such as West Nile) and water-borne diseases have become more common in towns and cities. There is more air pollution and intense smog. Figures from the World Health Organization indicate that heat-related deaths are expected to climb from 70 per year in Montreal currently to 460 annually by 2020.
The integrity of the Earth is being tested. And though it is tempting to feel overwhelmed, as Christians, we are a people of hope.
What is being done?
World leaders are gathering in Paris for the UN Climate Conference (COP21) from November 30 to December 11, 2015. They are there to finalize an ambitious, binding international climate agreement with clear targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Leaders know that much more is needed to keep global warming below 2°C over pre-industrial levels.
Prime Minister Trudeau has not yet identified a new emissions target for Canada, but he intends to participate constructively in the Paris talks. He has assembled a strong team of federal officials and environmental advisers; and he is joined by several Canadian premiers. He knows there is a long way to go, and has committed to get us there.
Canadian church leaders have also spoken up. On Promoting Climate Justice and Ending Poverty in Canada: Faith Communities in Canada Speak Out calls on the Canadian government to establish more ambitious emissions targets.
Now, as individual Christians and communities of faith, we too have a role to play. God calls us to protect, care, and advocate for all of creation. Our faith compels us to bring our concerns for the Earth, our distress for those most heavily impacted by climate change, and our hopes for climate justice to God in prayer. Our faith must also compel us to make choices that support the flourishing of creation – and to press our government to do the same.
Hope for a better future
I don’t think that Oscar has truly contemplated the impacts of unchecked climate change. And at barely ten, he shouldn’t have to. What he does understand is that people around the world are working to set a course for a cleaner, healthier, more life-giving future. So while I remain anxious about the planet we are set to leave our children, more than anything, I am hopeful.
It isn’t yet too late.