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Canadian Christians join in call for action on climate change

Canadian Christians join in call for action on climate change

United Church of Canada’s former moderator, Mardi Tindal (left) joins march for climate justice in Toronto, Canada.

09 July 2015

*By Kristine Greenaway

Canadian Christians concerned about climate change are calling for government action in response to the impact of global warming on the country’s coastlines and vast Artic region.

Earlier this week, parishes and church-based environmental advocacy groups joined an estimated 10,000 citizens from all walks of life to march through the downtown core of Toronto, the country’s largest city. Leaders of Indigenous communities, anti-poverty groups and health care workers joined environmentalists to call attention to the need for “a justice-based transition to a clean-energy economy in Canada.”

“This is the moral and spiritual challenge of our times,” says Mardi Tindal of The United Church of Canada, who took part in the march. “Christians need to witness that we are all in this together.”

Tindal, a former United Church of Canada moderator who is well known for her advocacy for action on the growing climate crisis, believes the situation is now urgent.

“For life on the planet to continue, we must all be ambitious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so global temperatures do not rise to the point of further jeopardizing life, including the ocean's capacity to produce oxygen.”

One of the key concerns for Canada is the impact of climate change on the country’s indigenous peoples. Tindal notes that many of the country’s aboriginal people live along the coastlines or in the north where the impact of global warming is already being felt through melting permafrost, disappearance of glaciers and extreme weather conditions. She agrees with Pope Francis that a change of hearts is needed in order to ensure that effective action is taken to prevent further global warming.

“Climate scientists have often said to me, people of faith speak to hearts and it is only through changed hearts that we will meet this challenge,” she says.

Joe Gunn, executive director of the ecumenical advocacy group Citizens for Public Justice, reports that following the march on Sunday a group of 150 interfaith representatives including Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians gathered at a mosque to share the meal that marks the end of each day of fasting during Ramadan. The provincial Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, shared in the meal and the evening of discussion. Murray is hosting the Climate Summit of the Americas now underway in Toronto.

The two-day summit that wraps up Thursday has gathered several hundred representatives of subnational jurisdictions (provinces, states, municipalities) to focus on collaboration to reduce greenhouse emissions and to strengthen cooperation leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year. The intent is to reach a common position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through market-based mechanisms.

In a statement, Murray says that government, industry and environmental leaders participating in the event “will demonstrate how collaboration and leadership can deliver a healthier planet and economic prosperity.”

The Climate Summit is being held in parallel with the Pan American Economic Summit also underway in the city.

Stepping up for climate justice

Canada’s national Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, turned down an invitation to attend the Climate Summit. Aglukkaq, a member of the aboriginal Inuit people of northern Canada, did not reply to this journalist’s request for a reason for her absence.

Gunn says leadership from the government of Canada on climate change has been “extremely disappointing”. The only reason the country’s emission levels appear to be dropping, he notes, is because of reduced production due to the drop in oil prices.

“We need sustained federal leadership with fixed objectives,” Gunn says. “We must move off fossil fuels, yet the federal government is still subsidizing them. Canada’s targets for the Paris meeting are the lowest of G7 governments. We have a big problem.”

In the absence of federal leadership, subnational levels of government in Canada at the municipal and provincial level are stepping up to address the challenge. In Ontario, the provincial government has established a strategy for reduction of greenhouse gases and is the first jurisdiction in North America to eliminate the use of coal for generating electricity.

Tindal says the message from marchers on Sunday is that they will support leaders who do the right thing and “choose life”. Acknowledging that there are diverse opinions on the best ways to reduce carbon emissions, Tindal believes churches can contribute to the dialogue by modeling the ability to bring divergent views together.

“We need to make our voice of moral urgency heard. This is not the time to be shy. We must step up as Pope Francis has done. We need to show we are prepared to follow Jesus and exemplify love for the Creator and creation,” Tindal says.

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* Kristine Greenaway is a former World Council of Churches communication director and former executive secretary for communications at the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

More information about the WCC’s work for climate justice

WCC member churches in Canada