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Faith communities urged to stay active on climate change

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Faith communities must stay hopeful and engaged to ensure governments live up to climate change commitments, says the leader of the United Church of Canada’s delegation to COP21.

Mardi Tindal, the former moderator of the United Church of Canada, was among speakers at a panel discussion March 9 on the theme “What’s next for faith communities” following the COP21 international climate change talks in Paris last December and the recent first ministers’ meeting on Canada’s commitments in Paris.

The event, co-sponsored by United Church Conference of Ottawa-Montreal, Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), Faith and the Common Good, the Ottawa Roman Catholic Archdiocese, the Canadian Food Grains Bank, the Polaris Institute, and Ecology Ottawa, featured an interview with Tindal by Pulpit and Politics author Dennis Gruending and a panel of representatives of some sponsoring groups.

Appearing via Skype to reduce her carbon footprint, Tindal said she and other representatives of faith communities and civil society groups were struck by how differently they were treated by the Canadian government’s representatives at COP21 than at previous climate talks. They found themselves included and welcomed in the process, kept informed at every stage and consulted. “It was a shock, but a good shock,” Tindal said. “We had to shift to accept their invitation to work with them.”

But since Paris, Tindal said she is still “bumping into a lot of denial about climate change” and even some “personal resentment” against herself “for saying this is something people needed to be concerned about.”

She praised Canada’s role in making sure respect for the human rights of all, including indigenous peoples; a just transition for the workforce in a move to a decarbonized future; and the creation of a just and sustainable economy. She praised Canada’s commitment to holding the warming of the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“We now have, basically, to hold the government accountable,” she said.

Tindal had four overall suggestions on next steps:

First, faith communities must “accept responsibility to contribute to a climate of hope,” she said, noting she encounters many who say, “It’s too little too late,” and who fall into a “climate of despair.”
One must resist the temptation to fall into pessimism on one hand and “ungrounded idealism on the other,” she said. The safest and best place to be is to be open to each other, and to help each other “find our way to hope.”

The “best hope lies in our quiet and determined resolve” of communities to help each other adapt, she said. Progress “cannot be taken for granted,” because even now politicians are taking into consideration how much political capital they can spend on this issue. “We have to be part of the public engagement,” to encourage the politicians, she said.

Second, faith communities can also provide spiritual nurture and prayer on combating climate change. Tindal said “it meant a great deal to see the non-stop prayer cycle” initiated by CPJ so that every hour of the COP21 talks was covered by prayer.

Third, faith communities must “take seriously the need to live with integrity,” Tindal said. That means reducing our own carbon emissions on our own properties as much as we expect the government to do.

It also means committing to help people in the Global South who suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts caused by the north. “The south does not have the resources there to adapt to decarbonization.”

“We have to contemplate a completely renewable, non-carbon economy by 2050,” she said.

How are we in the churches going to reduce our carbon emissions and deal with our leaky buildings and our transportation? she asked.

Fourth, faith communities must work with and encourage those working in various levels of government and in other civil society groups to have an “ethical conversation,” Tindal said. Working together will help us all figure out the next steps. Faith groups must also continue their advocacy, she said.

Tindal said the conversations must also include people in the oil and gas industry. While in 2009, Tindal was the only Canadian faith leader at the Copenhagen talks, she was pleased to see so many diverse groups at Paris, among them indigenous groups, faith communities, unions, community organizations and chambers of commerce. “We all need to be in the room,” she said, urging faith communities to “find out when the conversations are taking place” and to offer their buildings as venues for these conversations.

While scientists might be able to warn of the impacts of climate change, faith communities can provide the moral dimension. “It is wrong” when inaction on climate change would cause so many people to “lose their lives through starvation” and “see their nations sinking under the sea.”

Tindal urged faith communities to offer encouragement and to celebrate progress instead of always criticizing. “Some are risking considerable political capital to move us toward the environmental goals,” she said.

“We are talking about a huge social transformation,” she said.

During the panel discussion, Polaris Institute director Tony Clarke said taking on the environment means also taking on the economy. The system is broken, he said, noting high unemployment and poverty in the midst of affluence. He urged joining in the One Million Climate Jobs campaign to create employment in a green economy; public investment in renewable energy; a renewable buildings campaign to make them energy efficient; and a commitment to public transit, inside cities and between them.

Ecology Ottawa founding director Graham Saul spoke on grassroots efforts to turn Ottawa into “the green capital of Canada.” He also pointed out Canada has 35 years to “transition from our dependency on oil and gas. “We have to make sure the choices we are making are going to invest in the jobs of tomorrow,” he said.

CPJ’s senior policy analyst Karri Munn-Venn spoke of how the federal government is not going to be able to live up to its commitments without the provinces. “They need to be emboldened by our action,” she said.

Munn-Venn said they will be looking to the upcoming federal budget to see what commitments there are to the environment and whether subsidies to oil and gas will remain. In the meantime, faith communities can commit to learning about the subject, sharing what they learn, study the issue and pray, she said.

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