Climate change and Canadian churches

Climate change: adding an ethical perspective
Climate change: adding an ethical perspective

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its most recent report. The blue ribbon group of scientists concluded that is 95 percent certain that global warming is occurring, that it is caused mainly by our burning of fossil fuels, and that we will see more violent weather and rising sea levels as a result. Scientists never talk about absolute certainties, but clearly, they are as confident in their predictions about climate change as they are that cigarettes cause cancer.

The cigarette analogy is appropriate here. For years, some people insisted that there was no proof that cigarettes caused cancer. But as it turned out, some self-proclaimed experts and front groups were financed by the tobacco industry, itself, just as some of the climate change deniers are financed by the carbon industry today.

As for the rest of the climate skeptics, they simply won’t believe the scientists no matter how much proof of global warming they provide.

In Canada, as Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson writes, the government is part of the problem. The Conservative caucus contains a “disproportionate number” of individuals who believe that climate change is not occurring, or if it is, that the causes are natural events and not human behaviour. Those MPs are representative of their political base — many of whom also deny climate change and its effects on our cities, towns, farms and oceans.

As Simpson points out, the government made no effort to provide a reasoned response to the IPCC report. Rather, it issued a brief news release praising its own efforts and making partisan attacks on other political parties. The government’s own figures, however, indicate that Canada is far behind in its promise to reduce greenhouse gases by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Conservatives are also committed to rapid development of the carbon-polluting oil sands in Alberta, which will make it impossible for Canada to keep even the modest environmental promises it has made.

The complex issue of climate change is an especially challenging one for our political and economic system. Politicians think in terms of years — usually four — rather than in centuries or millennia. Similarly, corporate executives tend to think of the next quarterly or annual report to shareholders.

In October 2011, more than 60 faith community leaders signed a document called the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change.  Those leaders called on Ottawa to support an international agreement aimed at limiting global warming. But unfortunately, we walked away from that (Kyoto) agreement later in 2011. The leaders also called for national carbon emission targets, a national renewable energy strategy and the provision of public funds to assist the poorest countries in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Indeed, people of religious faith have a chance to influence the global warming debate in a way that respects creation and its inhabitants, especially the poor; and in a manner that takes the long-term view of our existence. After all, it’s something that our politicians have seemed incapable of doing.

This article appeared in the United Church Observer on October, 10, 2013.


9 thoughts on “Climate change and Canadian churches

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  1. I find it interesting that Churches can teach Virgin Birth, resurrection of the dead, and any other superstition and get away with it. When science proves a current scientific fact, the membership can’t believe that. Christ taught peace and social justice, without prejudice. Many Christians believe in war, greed,and discrimination. Science No ,Mythology Yes. There are many Progressive and caring folks who claim to be Christians, but the louder voice is the Conservative political one, the anti Christ.


    1. In fact the changes that would be required to truly challenge the system that is causing climate change, is outside most peoples grasp. Therefore it is unfair to single out conservative religious folk. People are willing to make minor changes like those suggested by the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change, but would this really change what we are doing to the earth?


  2. Two years ago, 60 faith leaders issued a statement on climate change. I suspect that I’m not the only one who has never heard of it before. That’s a big problem with the churches–they all have statements that not even the people in their own pews ever hear about. I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Amos: “Take away from me the noise of your solemn assemblies…but let justice roll down like an ever flowing stream.”


  3. Does the person that composed this article actually read beyond the headlines? The summary was produced before the report, for political gain by politicians.
    The report says nothing of the kind. To paraphrase the report, it says “After 25 years and trillions of dollars, we still have no evidence of anything that is not natural. The null hypothesis is not disproved. We were wrong about the temperature, the sea ice, the glaciers, the seal level, and in fact we were wrong about everything. The models in every case are an epic fail. Of that we are 95% certain”.


    1. Sorry to disappoint you Rod but your characterization of the report is way off. The scientists admit that it it difficult to model this with absolute precision but they remain convinced that climate change is occurring, that it is caused by burning carbon and that it will be damaging. The only question remaining is how damaging? The question for us is what can we do to mitigate it? It is already too late to turn it around in the short run.


      1. Scientists published 13,950 peer-reviewed papers on climate change from 1991 to 2012. 13,926 of those peer-reviewed papers on climate change agreed it was real, and was already being felt. The key-term here is ‘peer-reviewed’ … it means reputable scientists reviewed these papers. Climate change deniers are simply ignorant of the facts, and make up less than 1% of the scientific community.

        Those who say climate change is not real or not being caused by human action are in the same boat as those who still say smoking does no harm and the earth is flat. Such beliefs can only be characterized as willful blindness. It is indeed tragic to see people willing to risk their children and grandchildrens’ future rather than acknowledge a reality that demands personal and societal change.


    2. I agree with Dennis’s comments, below, but feel obliged to add one more. You say that the change is “natural.” Quite so, but what are humans if not natural? Are we not biological creatures? Do we not eat, defecate and affect our environment? It is a grave misunderstanding to set humans apart–a kind of biological exceptionalism–from nature. If we are not natural, what are we? Supernatural? Supranatural? What? Certainly to every other living thing on earth we are just as bound up with the rest of nature as are all other material aspects of this planet.

      Related to Dennis’s comments, surely someone who feels justified in contradicting the massive and overwhelmingly compelling scientific research on climate change must answer these questions: What kind of evidence would you require to change your views? What kind of investment do you have in your position that would cost you in some way were you to change it? Finally, how do you decide which scientific evidence to believe and which to disbelieve? After all, scientists are responsible for the brakes on your car, for the quality of the food you eat, for the medicine you take and for the planes you fly in.


  4. I find it so sad that so many people (not all of course) have greedy dollar signs that obstruct their ability to accept what the vast majority of scientists are telling us. Many, without question, also blindly play follow their leader, Steven Harper, who I am sure still believes climate change to be a socialist plot. It seems Harper will have to see smog thicker than it is in places in China before he accept that his overwhelming grasping for power and ignorance of facts will help bring disaster to our planet and its inhabitants.


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