Church leaders buy plane tickets to fight climate change

Willard Metzger, who heads Mennonite Church Canada (the denomination I am part of), and Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, flew to Durban for the climate conference. This article from the Nov 26 Winnipeg Free Press contains some of my comments on their trip. Here is a more complete and more candid version of my thoughts on the matter.

1.) The fact that Metzger and Tindal have devoted time and money to climate change is a good sign.

2.) The statement that they brought with them – signed by 55 Canadian faith leaders – is a decent statement. You can read it here.

3.) Churches are not noticeably better than the rest of society when it comes to addressing climate change. We are used to speaking from a point of moral authority. We have no such authority, as a whole, on this issue. That is not to deny the pockets of good work that are being done by Greening Sacred Spaces and others.

4.) I chose not to tell the reporter that holy hot air is no better than any other sort of hot air, a thought that was floating around my mind. I do not regret that choice – the tone is not constructive and, besides, the hot air word-plays have been cliched to death in reference to such climate events.

However, I would say that if climate change could be solved with decent statements and large-radius conferences (conferences that draw participants from a large geographic radius), the global thermometer would now be comfortably cool. Rather, global emissions continue to rise. Kyoto lies in shambles. Scientists speak openly about the point of no return.

5.) We are addicted to energy-intensive forms of saving the environment. We have yet to imagine a different model, one that does not pay regular and steep dues to the airline and petroleum industries. This seriously compromises the spirit of the movement – at least at the level of organizational leaders, who are the ones most addicted to air travel.

6.) Political pressure is necessary and important, but integrity is the currency of change. What the warming world needs is inspiring integrity – actual people who reduce actual emissions, not just ones who say governments or corporations should. We need actual people who do the immensely difficult and life-giving work of imaging how to actually live differently.

I believe it is that sort of integrity that stands a better chance than anything else of breaking the climate logjam. Technology, science and advocacy all play a roll too, but but I think the climate crisis is a crisis of imagination, a very practical sort of imagination.

7.) Tindal says “it feels as if the movement is gaining momentum and strength daily, the movement to call our government to do the right thing.” Two comments: First, far too much of the movement to address climate change is a movement focused primarily on getting other people to change; in this case, politicians. Second, the movement to address climate change has piqued. If you look with any objectivity at media coverage of climate conferences, public opinion polls, government posturing, trendy causes among celebrities and general buzz, the global warming issue has declined significantly (from a height that no other issue has ever achieved).

Movements have life cycles; they do not last forever. Perhaps the climate issue is gaining momentum among church leaders in Canada, but we do no one a favour by stating that global momentum is on the rise. The failure to address climate change is, in part, a failure to be realistic.

8.) If churches cut the emissions of their buildings by half (something experts say is both necessary and do-able), or reduced emissions from travel to church by half, or if leaders committed to not fly for a year, we wouldn’t need to fly around the world to get attention.

9.) I think churches could offer a pastoral word to a world stressed out by an impossibly large issue. But that is another topic for another time.

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