(Editor's Note: At least 40 communities are continuing to hold strikes, protests, and demonstrations every Friday across Canada. You can be active in caring for creation by striking with others in your community, as well as planning to participate in the next major global strike on November 29, 2019. Find out more.)
I begin this reflection by naming the most beloved children in my life, to keep them top of mind; Lilianna, Atlas, Shems, Ronan, Lucia, Arjun, and Parker. My hope is that in naming you I will stay honest in my reflection and accountable to our collective future that you currently have no ability to politically determine.
Through my work with EDGE, the United Church of Canada’s innovation team, I recently met with partners in Milton, Ontario about hosting an innovation challenge aimed at supporting environmental initiatives. In our opening circle we began by stating what draws each of us to this work. While I’ve never denied climate change, I only began to understand the gravity of the negative affects of inaction on climate change last October when The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that we have just 12 years to cut our global emissions in half (by 2030) in order to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate disasters. In fact, it wasn’t until February of this year that my understanding of this fact grew beyond an intellectual understanding of the crisis to a spiritual one. I read a tweet by Naomi Klein that provided her top questions for discerning the Democratic presidential nominee in the upcoming U.S. election. The first question was, “Who best understands anything short of transformative action on climate is tantamount to genocide?”
Unfortunately, here in Canada, we have a track record of genocide denial when we ought to be spending our energy doing the actual work of decolonizing and engaging in true acts of reconciliation. While not necessarily hyperbolic, Klein’s choice of the word “genocide” is a call for the privileged to consider those who live in places that are far less resilient to climate catastrophes. Particularly when we are holding our political leaders accountable on energy and environmental policies. These relatively young nation states through which we govern ourselves need to find radically new ways of being accountable to the collective future of life on this planet.
The world’s best scientists believe that based on our current rate of green house gas emissions, we are headed for somewhere between 2.5 and 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century (we are currently at 1.1 degrees of warming, which is the warmest the planet has been since humans have been around). David Wallace-Wells writes of the consequences in his book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, “At two degrees, the ice sheets will begin their collapse, 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable, and even in the northern latitudes heatwaves will kill thousands each summer.”
I quite like the expression, “justice looks like oppression to the privileged.” In the context of climate change, I am the privileged. I live in a wealthy, geopolitically stable welfare state with access to inexpensive food and goods from around the world.
I’m quite aware that I land on the benefiting end of global supply chains that bring me goods and services fluidly at falsely inexpensive prices, which is to say, unrepresentative of the true cost of labour and resources. I am the direct beneficiary of so much of what is created through what we have long known to be unjust means of carbon-intensive and extractive industries. Nearly all the food and products I consume, at some point or another, ignore the dignity or safety of workers and the regenerative capacity of the natural world in the name driving profit and distributing products as “efficiently” as possible.
Grappling with Hard Truths
It may be painfully difficult to accept and implement a total re-haul of our relationship with energy that calls for a completely new way of being in relation to the earth. To some degree, we all have to compartmentalize our awareness of the scope and complexity of the crisis in order to continue with daily tasks such as going to work, knowing the liveability of our planet is at stake.
Individual action will not be enough, as Mary Annaïse Heglar so eloquently states on Twitter, that people may “shut down” from climate change news due to an “overemphasis on personal responsibility for such a severe and enormous problem.” She continues to comment on the absurdity of “the overemphasis on personal action” contrasting it with, “Prison reform advocates don’t say ‘just don’t get arrested’ as a solution.”
Given my social location in the world and my belief in science, what is the most effective way for me to make change? How should I live? Perhaps the question I should be asking is “what do I care about?” or simply “who do I love?”
We Protect What (and Who) We Love
My godmother recently lost her job at the General Motors plant in Oshawa. I love her very much, and while I was sad for her loss, I can’t help but think that it is utterly irresponsible to be manufacturing internal combustion automobiles in 2019. What I want for my godmother, is what I want for the world, a place where she can see herself and her work as a part of the solution. The same system that bound her to manufacturing these outdated models of transportation is also responsible for the cents paid for those who sew the clothes on our backs, or pick the food on our plate. A solution to the warming planet that does not take care for workers is doomed to fail.
Shems, one of my favourite small humans, recently started junior kindergarten in Toronto this year. His mother, a good friend of mine, on returning from a recent trip visiting family in Zimbabwe was filled with melancholy around the drought and extreme heat there. So many Canadians are diaspora from every part of the world, many of which will be heavily impacted by climate change. Personally, I have family in India, which is one of the countries that is predicted to be hit hardest by climate change.
If we are to extend the sphere of who we love beyond our families, neighbourhoods, and social groups to the entire oneness of creation, we must think of our cousins in low-lying island states, on sun scorched land, and those who have nowhere near the amount of freshwater we have in Canada.
In the West, we are taught about “rights,” but we don’t often think of our responsibilities. I believe that our call is to step up and demand transformative policy from our governments. Of course I love Lilianna, Atlas, Shems, Ronan, Lucia, Arjun, and Parker. The real responsibility is to live as if I love those who I can’t name, across the oceans, far from me.
We must come together and demand that our leaders reform the systems that make the destruction of our climate profitable, and thus, desirable. The climate crisis is the largest common project humanity has ever shared and our response needs to be collective. What a deeply spiritual undertaking.
— Joshua Fernandes is a member of Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church in Toronto, Ontario. He is also the Community and Event Manager with EDGE at The United Church of Canada’s General Council Office.