In March 2015, 17 Anglican bishops from six continents met at a summit in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss how Anglicans could respond to climate change. Their talks eventually led to a written declaration, The World is Our Host: A Call to Urgent Action for Climate Justice.
For the Rev. Canon Ken Gray—rector of the Church of the Advent in Colwood, B.C., co-chair of the Creation Matters Working Group for the Anglican Church of Canada, and secretary of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network—one word in the declaration seemed to strike a particular chord for readers: “urgent.”
“It is a theological and spiritual challenge for us now to face, immediately and urgently, concerning the way we have stewarded creation and the way we’re currently using it,” Gray said. “There, I think, is … growing distrust [in] neoliberal market economics as being able or willing to provide real solutions to real problems.”
Caring for creation and addressing the global threat of climate change is one of the 10 issues highlighted in the Anglican Church of Canada’s 2015 federal election resource. Concern for the environment is embodied in the fifth Mark of Mission, which counsels Anglicans “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
A recent study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlined the dangers posed by climate change, warning that the average global temperature cannot exceed two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels without catastrophic repercussions.
Far from a distant future crisis, effects such as rising sea levels have already begun to occur. Gray pointed to other current examples, such as extreme weather patterns that have led to unprecedented forest fires in Western Canada, higher food prices as agricultural systems function less effectively, and even the aggravating role of climate in crises such as the Syrian refugee situation.
“Folks are aware [of the climate crisis], Anglicans are aware, and they’re looking for leadership,” he said.
Fellow Creation Matters co-chair Nancy Harvey encouraged Anglicans to help bring attention to the issue.
“The science is in,” she said. “And I would say that that’s the role of all of the faith groups—to offer moral leadership.”
Anglican churches across Canada have strived for positive change through programs such as Greening Sacred Spaces, which helps parish and church groups conduct building audits to reduce their carbon footprints. The dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal and Huron are considering specific steps towards divestment, redeployment or re-investment around fossil fuel industries.
From Oct. 5 to 8, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice Director Henriette Thompson will attend a circumpolar Arctic conference in northern Sweden alongside Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox representatives, Future of Life in the Arctic: The Impact of Climate Change—Indigenous and Religious Perspectives.
“The voices and the visibility of the Indigenous peoples of the circumpolar Arctic across the US, Russia, the Scandinavian countries and Canada … are largely absent and silent [in public discourse],” Thompson said. “Yet the climate crisis is impacting the north at a faster speed than almost anywhere else on earth … In some ways, the Arctic is the cutting edge where the … climate crisis is impacting human beings and the land itself at a very fast pace.”
That impact, she noted, is upsetting many traditional Indigenous ways of life, whether reindeer herding in Sami territory throughout the Scandinavian countries or hunting and fishing by Indigenous peoples in Northern Canada.
The response of world leaders to the climate crisis will come to the fore in December at the United Nations 2015 Climate Conference in Paris, which will aim to produce a legally binding agreement to keep the increase in average global temperature below two degrees Celsius.
With the Canadian federal election mere weeks away, Gray urged voters to challenge party candidates on their plans to achieve climate justice, using the Anglican election resource to press them on questions such as their plans for the Paris conference and support for policies such as carbon pricing that might better integrate the economy with ecology.
“You don’t need to be an expert to engage in this, to go to an all-candidates’ committee,” Gray said. “You don’t need to know everything about politics. All you need is to be willing to write down or even walk up to a microphone and share a question publicly.”
“That’s how democracy works, and the more we invest in democracy, I think the more we’ll get out of it,” he added. “I think the human community and all of creation will be better served.”
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