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Public engagement forum part of Justice Tour 2015

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski


SASKATOON — Efforts to reduce green house gas emissions, a campaign to bring about a provincial poverty reduction strategy, and the connection between poverty and climate change were described during a Justice Tour 2015 event held recently in Saskatoon.

The presentations by three local speakers were part of a public engagement forum held April 15 at Alice Turner Library in Saskatoon during the national Justice Tour 2015, organized by the Canadian Council for Churches and Citizens for Public Justice. Earlier in the day, Justice Tour leaders also met with representatives of a number of local organizations and advocacy groups during their time in Saskatoon (see related article), one of eight stops across the country.

The public forum began with Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the Office of Justice and Peace in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, welcoming participants to Treaty 6 territory, followed by songs presented by local musician Gabe Penna. Three local speakers gave presentations about initiatives related to poverty and climate justice.

Angie Bugg, energy conservation co-ordinator with the Saskatchewan Environment Society and a member of McClure United Church in Saskatoon, provided an overview about the impact of climate change and the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Saskatchewan, as well as detailing concrete action being taken to reduce energy consumption in the province.

“We are already starting to feel the impacts of climate change,” Bugg said, describing effects that include both more extensive drought and severe flooding, as well as more forest fires. It is expected that the southern part of the boreal forest will die back, replaced by more open parkland, she added.

The disappearance of the glaciers that feed Saskatchewan rivers is going to affect the province, Bugg said. “We will still have the water in our rivers that comes from rains and from snowmelt, but later in the summer, that water currently is supplied by the glaciers, so our river levels can be expected to be quite a bit lower.”

In this province, greenhouse gases are produced by oil, gas and mining industries (34 per cent), transportation (21 per cent), electricity (21 per cent), agriculture (16 per cent), other industry (four per cent), buildings (three per cent) and waste (one per cent), she reported.

“In Saskatchewan we have 10 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, with three per cent of the population,” she said, adding that if Saskatchewan was a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would make it the second-highest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.

Governments could be setting higher standards for energy efficiency, she said. For instance, improved building codes could demand that buildings be much closer to “net zero” energy consumption than they are now. Improved neighbourhood design, better energy standards for vehicles and equipment, and stronger regulations for the oil and gas industry are among the steps that will make a difference, she said, but government representatives need to know that this issue is important to electors before they will make changes.

Speaker Helen Oliver of the Saskatoon Health Region provided an overview about the Poverty Costs Campaign that ran in 2014 to raise awareness about the cost of poverty and generate support for a provincial poverty reduction strategy.

Poverty Costs grew out of a Saskatoon poverty reduction partnership formed in 2009, that involved multiple organizations interested in doing something locally to reduce poverty, Oliver described. After engaging in a number of projects to raise awareness about the realities of poverty, the group launched Poverty Costs, broadening their target audience, and focusing on the economic costs of poverty in the province.

“We calculated that cost to be about $3.8 billion a year, which includes heightened service use” by those struggling in poverty, she described. “Also, if people aren’t taking part in our economy, they’re not purchasing, they’re not paying taxes because they are living in poverty. Another key message of the campaign is that it would cost much less to reduce poverty, than it would cost us to continue to pay to address it.”

A cost analysis was done, events were held to highlight the issue, letter-writing campaigns were initiated, and both traditional and social media were engaged. Advocacy revolved around asking people to take action in asking for a provincial poverty reduction strategy, with Saskatchewan one of only two provinces without such a strategy.

“A poverty reduction strategy is about getting people to more than just surviving, but getting them to a place where they can really thrive,” she said. An effective strategy considers root causes of poverty and provides a comprehensive action plan.

With recommendations for the poverty reduction strategy expected later this spring, the Poverty Costs group will provide ongoing feedback and advocacy to ensure the strategy reflects the lived experience of those in poverty, she said, adding that timelines and accountability measures will also ensure a successful strategy.

In the third presentation, Dr. Christopher Hrynkow, an assistant professor in religion and culture at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, connected poverty and climate change, describing how those least responsible for climate change are paying the greatest price.

He began with Pope Francis’ recent plea: “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Hrynkow presented two maps of the world, one with the size of countries adjusted to show levels of carbon emissions and a second map showing the regional distribution of climate-sensitive health consequences. The images mirrored each other, graphically showing how the richer, developed countries producing the most emissions are least likely to feel the impact of climate change.

Climate change creates problems for both international and local community development, he added. “Efforts like poverty reduction become more difficult under conditions of climate stress. This is true even in high capacity societies — societies that you think would be well poised to deal with these things. We saw this in 2003 heat wave in Europe and Hurricane Katrina and Sandy in the US. There are layers to this: who paid the greatest cost within American society, for instance: it was the people who lived on the margins of society.

“The concept of ecological crisis has always included a social dimension, but I think it’s really important to bring out the social dimension, to say that this is a problem for people,” Hrynkow stressed, saying this understanding will motivate more Christians to respond to the “socio-ecological crisis.”

The three most recent popes “have identified a deep inter-relatedness between humanity and the rest of creation, including the dependence of the people’s flourishing upon the health and integrity of the Earth.

“The Vatican has repeatedly bemoaned the loss of healthy, just and sustainable relations amongst peoples and between humanity and the rest of the Earth community. It notes that the distorted values and attitudes that have caused this loss of deep connectivity have also contributed to the advance of human-induced climate change,” said Hrynkow. “The point that they try to make is that it’s a breakdown in relationships. But it is a repairable breakdown, at least for now.”

Hrynkow described how youth at St. Thomas More College are responding to the issue, leading the way in introducing the idea of students, college groups and STM College taking the St. Francis Pledge to reduce carbon emissions and environmental damage. “We became the first Canadian educational institution to take the pledge,” he reported.

An STM student, Erica Lee, one of the founders of the Idle No More movement, has also initiated a proposal to expand the college’s socially responsible investment practices to also include practices that are ecologically responsible, and to extend investment exclusions (such as alcohol, tobacco and armaments) to include the nuclear and oil exclusions, he reported.

Youth are engaged in discussions about eco-justice with a good deal of interest and passion, Hrynkow noted. “If you can keep social justice and ecological health coupled, you’re going to be able to appeal to this generation . . . (and) separating them is increasingly false.”

Hrynkow predicted that the upcoming encyclical on the environment from Pope Francis will likely make the connection between poverty and destruction of the environment.

The evening concluded with comments from the Justice Tour 2015 leaders, and a question and answer session.

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