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We caused global warming, and now it's time to turn our hands to healing

By Muriel Duncan

It was a tough weekend for the environmentalist in me. Saturday morning brought the Globe and Mail report that the federal government was ending funding, with a day's notice, for groups across the country that have been promoting the One Tonne Challenge. That program was supposed to get us all doing our part to cut greenhouse emissions, to help us understand we need to change our way of life to save the planet.

Next, I got a look at the new Time magazine with its special report on global warming. On the cover, a lone polar bear stood at the edge of a piece of ice looking at a considerable amount of open water around him. "Be Worried. Be Very Worried," the headline said, and it wasn't only talking to the bear.

We shouldn't need to be told to worry. People who've been paying any kind of attention already know the polar ice caps are melting, and bears are drowning because there is too much distance between solid ice floes. We already know the oceans are too warm, making hurricanes more extreme; we've been told about drought damage spreading and creating a whole new category of refugees. We've been warned for decades that the loss of forests means less carbon dioxide is converted into oxygen. We know animals are in big trouble too -- which should tell us something about ourselves.

In a way, the Time cover story was good news for environmentalists because it spoke loud and strong to the foolish way our society has let this crisis intensify while we tended to the economy and our current lifestyle. Too many of those who benefit from rampant growth and increased energy use have lied to themselves about global warming, or they've been content to take their profits and let their children's generation take the consequences.

However, global warming has already caught up with us; it is moving more quickly than expected.

Yet our leaders still appear to think only in terms of politics and economics. The Canadian government reacts to the warming of the North as an opportunity to increase a military presence in newly open water; at the same time, it is reviewing about 100 climate programs set up by the former government to combat global warming.

We can hope that the review will be open to public opinion. Our government needs to consult scientists and experts like David Hallman of the United Church and World Council of Churches, and all the other activists who have been warning for decades that disaster is heading our way.

Maybe public intervention will move political leaders out of their denial. In the United States, new polls are showing more people -- 85 percent -- believe the global warming is probably happening. That is a start.

The United Church has long believed in working with other groups who are trying to mend the earth. We already have the ongoing ecumenical justice work of Kairos on climate change. It knows how to organize local events and take issues to the politicians.

Considering the scope and threat of global warming, it isn't surprising many of us feel powerless. But time has run out and we all have to change what must be changed. Much of the damage to God's creation happened on our watch; we're responsible for the restoration as well.

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