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Journey to Justice

By Joe Gunn

02/22/2017

This Lent, instead of giving up chocolate, let’s give it up for the Earth!

Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday, has long been associated with the need for conversion, to return to the roots of our faith, and to act more deeply from our shared spiritual convictions. This has traditionally been done in three specific ways: by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three activities are still relevant, but today we may be called to deepen our lenten practices in ways that not only firm up our waistlines — but also our resolve to serve humanity and God’s creation.

Pope Francis’ 2017 lenten message stated, “I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many church organizations in different parts of the world.” In his encyclical letter On Care for Our Common Home, the pope recognized that, “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.”

So how will you decide to observe this period — starting March 1 and ending April 16?

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) has officially launched Give it up for the Earth!, our faith in action climate justice campaign for Lent. Give it up for the Earth! is centred on a postcard that includes: a pledge to individual climate action; and a call for more far-reaching national climate policy measures. Church groups (and others) are invited to sign your pledge at www.cpj.ca/pledge and register a Give it up for the Earth! event at cpj.ca/for-the-earth. In the Saskatoon diocese, contact Myron Rogal at the Office of Justice and Peace for materials.

There are several personal actions that might renew and contemporize the spirit of Lent, as well as move us to act in ways that better respect the environment. For example, we might reduce the amount of driving we do, once we note that transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada — second only to the oil and gas sector. Carpooling, taking transit or even walking more often may be options to lower our carbon footprint.

A spring break “staycation” closer to home, avoiding aviation emissions, might provide another option for a frugal lenten observance. Fasting from meat on Fridays — long a Catholic tradition — can also help, since GHG emissions associated with beef production are four times those associated with chicken and 18 times higher than the emissions to produce beans and lentils.

And while filing your taxes during Lent, you might consider joining the global movement that is divesting from fossil fuel companies and reinvesting in renewable energy projects. Last year my daughter prodded me to redirect my retirement savings from a Canadian bank that had invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline Project, and re-direct my RSPs to new, fossil-free, investment opportunities.

At the same time we have to be clear that individual actions, while necessary to change our mindsets and develop authenticity in our lifestyles, are not enough to resolve the environmental challenges we face today. We also need governmental action in new public policy directions.

Give it up for the Earth! suggests several ways for Canada to lower our communal contributions to climate change and achieve our international commitments.

We could support governments that put a rising price on carbon emissions so that market mechanisms begin to influence and change our most wasteful behaviours. (Even conservative economists prefer allowing the market to reward cleaner technological developments than the alternative of bringing in bureaucratic regulations to determine carbon targets. The longer we delay, the more likely harsher usage of both tools becomes inevitable.)

We could eliminate federal subsidies to fossil fuel operations, currently estimated at $1.5 billion annually, re-directing those savings toward major investments in a low-carbon future and guaranteeing retraining support for workers to transition away from declining old-economy jobs. Investments in green infrastructure and renewable energy products must also be encouraged, while respecting the autonomy of Aboriginal peoples when major projects of any sort impinge upon their territories.

Finally, as Pope Francis and Development and Peace/Caritas Canada have told us, the poor will suffer most from climate change, although they contributed the least to cause it. Developed countries like Canada have a responsibility to share the financial burden of poorer countries which must adapt to climate change. Our fair share of signed global commitments would be for the federal government to pledge $4 billion by 2020.

Pope Francis has said that, “On climate change, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act.”

This Lent, Give it up for the Earth! offers a postcard, biblical reflections and explanatory materials to reflect and act on our environmental challenges. You may find them even more delicious than chocolate!

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.