Bell-ringing campaign to raise alarm on climate change

The 1,000 or so residents of Kaslo, B.C. are used to hearing the pleasant chime of church bells on Sunday morning, inviting them to worship at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. On the afternoon of Dec. 13, however, St. Mark’s church bells will ring out 350 times—for several minutes—as a call for world leaders to negotiate a new climate change plan in Copenhagen.

“Ringing church bells served a great number of purposes historically and one of them has been warning of problems, of disasters, and of challenges to the community,” said the Rev. Dr. Mark Mealing of St. Mark’s.  “We’re ringing it because we’re all at risk at present.”

This holy ruckus is part of the worldwide 350 Campaign, which holds up 350 parts per million (ppm) as a safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. Currently the concentration is 390 ppm and rising. Leading scientists say that soon the concentration will be too high to be reversed, and climate change will lead to droughts, a scarcity of drinking water, and rising sea levels—effects already evident in some parts of the world.

The 350 Campaign is pushing to have this trend reversed at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen, Dec. 7 to 18. UN members will negotiate a follow-up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, where countries set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Canada did not meet its commitments to Kyoto and has downplayed the significance of the Copenhagen talks.

Dec. 13—the height of the talks—will be a day of action for the many churches and faith communities who have signed on to the Interfaith Call for 350. The World Council of Churches (WCC) is coordinating an ecumenical service in Copenhagen, and when it ends at 3:00, churches all over Denmark will ring their bells 350 times. The WCC is urging churches around the world to echo this action in their own time zone, with church bells or whatever is on hand—drums, gongs, shells, or voices.

“We envisage a chain of chimes and prayers stretching in a time-line from the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific—where the day first begins and where the effects of climate change are already felt today—to northern Europe and across the globe” said a statement on the WCC website.

Mr. Mealing has been busy setting up his church’s plans in Kaslo. Not only will St. Mark’s ring their bells 350 times, but several parishioners will set up vigil lights at home. To interpret this unusual noise, he will put up posters all over Kaslo and place a notice in the local paper.

For Mr. Mealing, the bell-ringing is an action based in faith: “The expectation that our religion places on us is that we would be good and honest stewards. We’re caretakers of the planet,” he said. “Not only the human race but all living things on the planet are impacted by climate change and we’re responsible not only for ourselves, but for everything else living.”

Want to add your clang to the clamour? The Canadian campaign is organized by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, and resources are available on their website. Churches can also register by emailing Sara Stratton, KAIROS’s campaigns coordinator for sustainability. Additional resources (including a carillon song written for Dec. 13) are available on the WCC website.

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