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Bill McKibben, climate change activist and founder of 350.org, says that oil reserves must stay in ground. Photo courtesy of 350.org

Climate Summit 2014   

Faith groups asked to get active for the environment

By Dennis Gruending

In April 2014, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their fourth report, which stated more clearly than ever that climate change is occurring as a result of human activity. Simply put, carbon emissions are being trapped in the atmosphere and warming the planet. Scientists say that if we don't reduce fossil fuel consumption, the results are potentially catastrophic. They predicted, for example, that we might see the collapse of ice sheets with the rapid rise in sea levels in coming years.

Less than a month after the IPCC report, a part of that prediction came to pass. Two scientific groups, one of them being NASA, reported that a large section of the West Antarctica ice sheet has started to disintegrate and its continued melting has likely passed a point of no return. The IPCC had earlier warned that the global sea levels could rise by as much as a metre by the end of this century and by more in the subsequent years. American researchers say that would inundate land in cities, such as Miami, New Orleans, New York and Boston.

Although there is a growing sense of urgency among scientists, it is difficult for most individuals — and certainly for politicians driven by four-year-cycles — to be concerned about events a century or two from now. Still, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, fears for the future and has called upon world leaders to attend a 2014 Climate Summit in New York City on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22. By inviting heads of state to attend, Ki-moon hopes to break the enduring cycle of stalled international negotiations on climate change.

Meanwhile, there are vast proven fossil fuel reserves in the world — a good deal of it trapped in the sticky bitumen of the Canadian tar sands. According to Bill McKibben, the climate change activist behind a group called 350.org, 80 percent of the oil, coal and gas on our planet must stay in the ground if we are to limit the future rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.

McKibben’s 350.org and 850 other groups are planning a giant march and rally to accompany the climate change summit in New York City. Organizing, mobilizing and building social movements are "ultimately what change the course of history,” according to 350.org.

The 25-member Canadian Council of Churches wants to get Canadian churches and other faith-based organizations active on the issue, too. To that end, the ecumenical group Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) has prepared worship aid materials, including prayers and sermon notes for use on Sept. 21.

Joe Gunn, CPJ’s executive director, says: “We will be asking faith communities to make this day the largest demonstration of action on climate sensitivity on record, by walking, biking or taking public transit to work on that day. We also hope that faith-based organizations will make free use of the materials that we have prepared for them.” 

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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