Religious Momentum to Resolve the Climate Crisis?

My son told me on the phone, “It was a wicked march.” (Translation: it was a great event!)

On September 21st, three hundred thousand people – including dignitaries, celebrities, and students like my son, all converged on the streets of New York City. After a moment’s silence to reflect on the state of our suffering Earth, a wave of noise echoed throughout the city as hundreds of thousands of voices affirmed: “We will be silent no more!”

With this historic demonstration of popular resolve for action on climate change, will leaders of governments and industry will now change course and implement proven strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

A Climate Summit

The people in the streets were focussed on September 23rd when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a global Climate Summit in order “to engage leaders and advance climate action and ambition.” Time is short, and global resolve is needed: in December 2015 a new international climate change agreement must be drafted at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) meeting in Paris.

Some 125 heads of state gathered for the Climate Summit, among them US President Obama, UK Prime Minister Cameron – but not Canada’s Prime Minister Harper. Mr. Harper agreed to address the UN General Assembly and attend a dinner given by the UN Secretary General – but climate discussions are apparently not to his taste.

Canada’s record on climate is so poor that environmentalists regularly award “Colossal Fossil Awards” to our government at these international climate change conferences. We made a commitment to honour the Kyoto Protocol, but did little to keep our word, and then, in late 2010, Canada actually pulled out. With massive planned expansion of the Athabasca oil sands, coupled with promised, but still unannounced emissions regulations on the oil and gas industry, there’s less chance for Canada to meet our promised emission targets than for the Blue Jays to make the post-season.

Rose Marie Berger, writing in Sojourners magazine, noted that the Climate Summit was a key moment to organize for change, and thus something faith communities needed to engage in. “This summit is (Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s) an altar call, and the UN General Secretary wants the whole world to be his witnesses.

Faith and Creation Care

People of faith were witnesses at both the Summit and the March, and also organized forums in New York at the Union Theological Seminary, including the World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace. Climate change presents believers with a moral challenge that calls upon the spiritual resources and action of all our faithful communities.

But not all of those concerned needed to be in New York. Events and activities were organized in towns and cities across the globe, including in many Canadian faith communities.

As part of this effort, Citizens for Public Justice, with the support of the Canadian Council of Churches, prepared “Living Faithfully into a New Climate,” a set of resources allowing faith communities to highlight the importance of the September 2014 events. These resources will also assist churches in their future efforts in support of creation advocacy.

On the weekend of September 21, CPJ heard from over 30 congregations who used these resources and prayed and advocated for climate action during their worship ceremonies. A church in Ottawa prayed for, and named, many of the species of animals that have gone extinct due to man-made changes in habitat. A Mennonite congregation held their adult Sunday school on climate change and Christian responsibility. The National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church wrote a letter to all Canadian congregations, inviting them to use these resources and develop the theme of climate change in their weekend services. Several United Church congregations used CPJ’s sermon aids and the church’s Seasons of Creation liturgies. When faith communities bring an issue to prayer, it communicates how important the concern is to God, and to God’s people.

Our Christian Calling

People of faith are called to care for God’s creation. We are asked to respond to the Creator’s love with awe and wonder for the beauty, complexity, richness of God’s world. We are invited to honour all that that God has declared “good.” The human role is to tend the land and water, and the creatures that live therein. In Romans 8:19 we read that “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed and to be set free from decay...” Thus, we are invited to advocate for the Earth.

We urgently need to change Canada’s environmental record, and all policies that increase global carbon emissions. People of faith can join environmentalists, Aboriginal peoples, and social justice advocates who have made many recommendations for change over the years. In 2011, CPJ assisted Canadian leaders of the world’s major religions to issue the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change. They urged our federal government to strengthen our international climate change commitments as well as domestic environmental and energy policy by taking three steps:

  1. A Binding International Agreement to Reduce Carbon Emissions
  2. Canadian Carbon Emissions Targets & Renewable Energy Policy
  3. Support the International Green Climate Fund

After the People’s Climate March, the Climate Summit, and the growing interest in Canadian worship communities for action, we can all participate in this growing momentum for creation care and advocacy.

Climate March

(Photo Credit: Moms Clean Air Force)

Joe Gunn serves as Executive Director at CPJ.

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