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Churches commit to climate justice

Desmond Tutu is certainly no stranger to the pursuit of justice.

The South African Anglican Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Laureate was in Canada in early June at the invitation of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

Best known for his part in the anti-apartheid struggle in his native South Africa, Tutu referred to climate change as “the moral struggle that will define this time.” “The oilsands,” he said, “are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to a safer climate.”

He urged the Government of Canada — and all Canadian — to take note and to take action to stop unfettered oilsands expansion.

Many of us know the first verse from Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all those who live it.” Yet how often do we forget that the wondrous creation surrounding us is God’s doing? That in creating, God repeatedly declared the earth’s goodness? And how often do we stray from God’s call to serve and preserve God’s beautiful and bountiful Earth?

Recalling this message would help us break through the conflicting noise about global warming and ready ourselves for what needs to be done.

It is now widely accepted that the massive increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are largely the result of human activity. And, as the concentration of GHGs continues to grow, climate change is causing the rising of sea levels, species extinction and glacial melting. Agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods are threatened by extreme and volatile weather, resulting in conflict over natural resources, food insecurity, hunger and poverty.

In September 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly stated that in order to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels — the threshold for “dangerous climate change” — most known fossil fuel reserves (including those in Alberta’s oilsands) must stay underground.

Fortunately, the church hasn’t been silent.
In 2011, the Christian Reformed Church in North America signed on to the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change. Less than a year later, the CRCNA approved a series of recommendations that included a call to churches, members and denominational bodies to be voices for justice and public examples in the effort to live sustainably within our God-given resources, to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions to the atmosphere and to advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions.

How can we live into this commitment to climate justice?

We begin by examining our own lives, all the while being mindful that personal and church greening, though important, must be part of a much larger effort.

As Father Mishka Lysack, an Anglican priest and co-editor of Citizens for Public Justice’s Living Ecological Justice, eloquently points out, “personal greening alone can never adequately address the enormous magnitude of climate change, any more than hosting church book clubs about racism could have ushered in effective civil rights legislation at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Greening,” Father Lysack says, “needs to be linked to larger collective behaviour [in response to] God’s calling to . . . defend creation when it is under serious threat.”

Fortunately, there are many ways to engage in creation advocacy. Here are four places you can start:

Speak up
Lend your voices to the commitments made by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, as well as those made by ecumenical and interfaith groups. Make sure your pastor, deacons and fellow church members know what the bi-national church has committed to and work with them to explore ways your congregation or classis can live into these commitments. Learn what other faith-based organizations are doing to address climate change and support these efforts.

Join in
Engage in acts of solidarity with the Global South, such as the “Climate Fast.” Individuals and small groups in Canada and around the world are fasting on the first day of every month in solidarity with vulnerable people who are going hungry as the impacts of climate change worsen. The Climate Fast will continue “until world leaders [including Prime Minister Harper] do what's necessary to sign a fair and comprehensive plan at the UN climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.” Participate, and encourage others to do the same.

Spend thoughtfully
Vote with your dollars. Examine your investments. Move your money away from fossil fuel companies and invest instead in renewable energy, such as solar, wind, or geothermal.

Speak out
Communicate directly with your political representatives on the urgency of addressing climate change. Start by writing to your Member of Parliament. Send a letter signed by your pastor, or send several letters from members of your congregation, sharing similar stories and a unified request for action to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions. Invite your MP to a congregational discussion on creation care. And encourage candidates to share their perspective on climate change policy as we move towards the next federal election.

Climate change is a huge issue and it requires creative and far-reaching solutions. It can be overwhelming to consider what we, as individuals and as communities of faith, can do in the face of such a tremendous challenge. So try this. Begin with a place you love and use it as inspiration to act for justice, not only for the people of this earth, but for creation itself.

  • Karri is the Senior Policy Analyst at Citizens for Public Justice, a national organization of members inspired by faith to act for justice in Canadian public policy. She is also an artisan and farmer. She lives with her fabulous family at Fermes Leystone Farms in west Québec.

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