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Journey to Justice

By Joe Gunn

This changes everything: even the church?

06/15/2016

June 18th marks the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Sí. Please resolve to spend some quiet time with this text, thinking about how your family and your congregation can rise to the challenge of creating the new, more environmentally just world the pope envisions.

Author and activist Naomi Klein spoke at a Vatican press conference after the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. In an article for The New Yorker magazine about her Vatican experience, Klein wrote that “if transformation is as contagious as it seems to be here — well, we might just stand a chance of tackling climate change.”

For Klein, “If climate change is taken seriously, it changes everything.” Meeting climate targets the Canadian government has adopted will change the shape of our economy, the way we travel, and many of our consumer habits. Christians may well want to ask themselves if their family, their faith community, their church leadership and their governments have started on this journey to climate justice. If not, are we harmfully avoiding the task? Is it morally acceptable to leave such a problem to future generations that could inherit fewer opportunities to protect creation?

The United Church of Christ in the USA has used Klein’s provocative book title in a congregational education guide that asks, This Changes Everything: Even the Church? They ask if the climate challenge will prompt Christians to change the way they do church and live out their faith.

Here at home, there is truly much that can be done. Natural Resources Canada reports that 83 per cent of our energy still comes from carbon-emitting coal, oil and natural gas, plus uranium. Canada is seventh among G20 nations in green energy investment. Whereas solar and wind energy doubled between 2005 and 2012, it still accounts for only three per cent of our total (and about 14 per cent comes from renewable hydro-electric power). Nonetheless, in 2013, 23,700 Canadians were directly employed by the clean energy industry, while 22,340 people were employed by the oilsands. Clean Energy Canada reports that the world will see 60 per cent of the planet’s power mix come from zero-emission sources in the next 25 years. Alberta will end electricity generation from coal by 2030, as Ontario already has. Last year, twice as much money was invested globally in renewable energy as in fossil fuels.

This year the money I put aside for retirement in RSPs was all transferred to fossil-free investments. Several years ago such options were much less available. However, one family’s small holdings, while important to us, pale beside the possibilities of government policy to make a real difference.

In stark contrast, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) controls $282.6 billion of Canadians’ pension plan contributions. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that the CPP is more heavily invested in fossil fuels than other funds. This means the CPP is more exposed to climate risk. The CPP even spent $900 million to buy a fracking oil company based in Colorado. According to Friends of the Earth, the CPP also owns 34 companies involved in the worst climate polluting industries — coal mining and coal burning utilities. Many Canadians believe that the fiduciary responsibilities of such investments by public entities should include minimizing climate risk, and started a campaign to pressure the CPP Investment Board to comply. Are religious organizations to which you belong changing their investment portfolios?

The federal government is currently consulting with Canadians to ascertain their views on climate change. My MP spoke at a town hall event in our riding where over 150 people participated. Will your family, or your faith community, get involved in such events? A handy guide to allow you to offer your own views to government is available at http://www.cpj.ca/climate-consultation

Gordon Laxer’s book After the Sands suggests that “Every successful economic and energy revolution has been accompanied by a cultural revolution that inspires people to change their lives . . .”

Pope Francis helped Christians to understand that spiritual principles lie at the root of ecological justice. But neither religious conviction, nor leadership statements, automatically translate into service of the common good. Communities of practice and beneficial government policies are needed to encourage all of us to sustain environmentally helpful behaviours, congruent with our most deeply held spiritual values.

Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, a member-driven, faith-based public policy organization in Ottawa focused on ecological justice, refugee rights and poverty elimination.