What can Christians contribute to the climate conversation?

Momentum for climate action is growing

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!”

These words, from the Canticle of the Turning, were some of the first shared by Mardi Tindal on March 9th. She was speaking to about 80 people of faith gathered in Ottawa to discuss “Climate Action after Paris: next steps for faith communities.” After an interview with Tindal (former moderator of the United Church of Canada and leader of the United Church delegation to COP21 climate negotiations in Paris last December), the audience interacted with a panel of climate action leaders including Karri Munn-Venn (Senior Policy Analyst with Citizens for Public Justice), Tony Clarke (Director of the Polaris Institute), and Graham Saul (Director of Ecology Ottawa).

Tindal explained that she is feeling hopeful because Canadian leaders pushed for strong targets and inclusive language at COP21, and because the negotiations brought diverse stakeholders together in collaborative conversation. And so, she said, “I have a real sense that the world began to turn faster.”

Graham Saul echoed this feeling of hopefulness, highlighting that because municipal, provincial, and federal governments have indicated willingness to move on climate, “the stars are aligned” for climate policy change. “If there was ever a moment when we needed to be talking to our MPs and our neighbors… NOW is that moment. Please get involved,” he said.

The Christian contribution

Climate change is a message. Climate change tells us that our current economic model prospers at the expense of marginalized communities in the global south and far north. Climate change tells us that our actions today have negative impacts around the world that we are not aware of.

Science helps us to accurately perceive our impact on the world. But as humans, we relate to narrative and image, not facts and figures. And so, Tindal emphasized, science alone cannot carry the message of climate change to the human heart. This is why faith communities have a key role to play in transmitting the messages of climate change.

Our faith asks us to turn and personally acknowledge the stories that science summarizes: to see, and to be responsible for how we relate to our neighbors and our environment. And, when we are present to the voices of those who are suffering because of the impacts of or solutions to climate change, we are invited—as Christian citizens—to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.”

By sharing the messages of climate change, Christians can help society push away from blind convenience and profit towards compassionate attention to the impact of our current choices. We can share our hope for a moral turning of societal values in response to climate change.

Concrete Action

What does this journey of “moral turning” look like for Christians? Speakers at the event offered a wide range of climate action examples from faith communities in diverse circumstances. Here are their recommended next steps, in four broad strokes.

  1. Accept personal and institutional responsibility. Tindal emphasized that “the church is positioned well to find our way through despair to hope” without falling into either cynicism or ungrounded idealism. There is a need, Munn-Venn said, for concerned citizens to engage climate issues in the pews, since national-level actions like the Canadian Council of Churches’ statement “On Promoting climate justice and ending poverty in Canada,” aren’t often popularized, and reflection on our responsibility to care for creation is often overlooked. She highlighted that the first step towards accepting responsibility is learning—both about climate change and its impacts, and about our national church statements on creation care. Citizens for Public Justice offers climate themed worship resources to help churches engage in this learning and reflection.
  2. Take seriously the need to live with integrity. “We need to make commitments equal to what we are asking government to do,” Tindal declared. Munn-Venn suggested that churches can lead by example with their infrastructure, and so scale up personal “greening” efforts to a community, regional, and eventually national scale. For example, the Ottawa diocese of the United Church has committed to reducing GHG emissions from their buildings by 25% in the next 5 years. This project serves as a pilot, with intention to scale it up to the national United Church of Canada. Faith and the Common Good offers many practical tools to help churches engage in this process.
  3. Build diverse partnerships. The solutions to climate change require broad-based support, because they breed complications in almost every sector. Clarke reminded us that the Green Economy Network (GEN), a social movement of labour unions, environment groups, and social justice organizations, exists to bring different sectors together to create a more holistic framing of the issues. “If we’re really going to tackle climate change, we also have to deal with the economy, because the system itself is broken.”  Christian advocacy is strengthened by collaboration with other members of social society. Churches can contribute uniquely to partnerships: we offer physical and social infrastructure, license to speak to moral and spiritual challenges, experience navigating difficult conversations with diverse communities, overseas connections, and collective witness to marginalized voices.
  4. Engage with Canadian political leaders. In reflection on the recent First Ministers Meeting, Munn-Venn stated, “the federal government knows what needs to be done… and it’s very clear that they’re not going to do it without the provinces, and they’re not going to do it without us. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to step it up—to write letters, to call, to visit, and let leaders know they have the support of the people of Canada.” All of the event’s speakers were cautiously optimistic about the intention of current federal leaders, and each also called citizens to action. Tindal expressed it best, saying, “We can help keep this movement, this turning, going, by showing our support to government in this politically sensitive area.”

Be encouraged, and turn to action!

A just transition is possible, but “we are going to have to keep being imaginative and courageous in our faith to keep bringing energy to the change,” said Tindal.

The world turns when each of us turns to see, accept personal responsibility for, and respond cooperatively to, the message of climate change.

Author

  • Miriam meandered over to Ottawa from Edmonton, Alberta, where she recently completed her B.Sc. in Environmental Studies at the King’s University with a concentration in biology and a passion for public justice. As an academic urbanite reflecting on society’s place in creation (and vice versa), Miriam’s research has ranged to include statistical analyses on the survivorship of endangered seedlings, the construction of interactive applets to communicate grade five level chemistry, an exploration of Sabbath as the solution to the ecological crisis, an evaluation of the externalities of gasoline consumption in Canada, an evaluation of youth policy and programming in Alberta, and participation in the founding of an intentional Christian community on Alberta Avenue in Edmonton. Miriam continues to find herself overwhelmed by the mysterious threads of grace that knit all existence together in shared meaning. Motivated by the conviction that human creatures should be more faithful citizens of ecological communities, she wants to see a union of environmental and social justice woven into the fabric of responsible public policy in Canada.

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