Arctic ‘the epicentre of climate injustice in the world’

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(L to R): The Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, Nancy Harvey, Henriette Thompson and Bishop Mark MacDonald briefed Council of General Synod about the church’s work on climate change. Photo: Marites N.Sison
(L to R): The Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, Nancy Harvey, Henriette Thompson and Bishop Mark MacDonald briefed Council of General Synod about the church’s work on climate change. Photo: Marites N.Sison

Mississauga, Ont.
A working group is studying the Church of England’s recent decision to divest from thermal coal and tar sands to see how it can be instructive to the Anglican Church of Canada’s own investment policies.

The Church of England announced April 30 that it was divesting £12 million worth of investments in “heavily polluting fossil fuels” and that it won’t make any direct investments in companies where more than 10 per cent of revenues come from the extraction of thermal coal or the production of oil from tar sands.

The working group will look at the Canadian church’s own investment policies and undertake “a period of study, reflection and analysis,” said a report to Council of General Synod (CoGS) by Henriette Thompson, director of public witness for social and ecological justice. Thompson said this was in line with the 2013 joint declaration adopted by the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), which called for advocacy on responsible and ethical investment.

Thompson, along with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, Indigenous ministries co-ordinator the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor and Creation Matters Working Group co-chair Nancy Harvey, also briefed CoGS about other areas of the church’s work on climate change and its link to Indigenous rights and responsible resource extraction.

Doctor talked about how climate change has significantly affected people and animals in northern communities. She recounted how when she first came to Alaska in 1983 as an Episcopal Church missionary the temperature had been 70 degrees below zero. “This past winter, it was warmer in Alaska than it was here…There was a tremendous heat wave,” she said. This has given rise to problems, including the scarcity of snow to insulate pipes, the inability of animals-who live by seasons and temperatures-to migrate and the salmon to spawn. There wasn’t enough salmon in the Yukon River to fish and no moose to hunt, so people have had to buy processed food, which is unhealthy, said Doctor.

Noting that part of his role is to speak for the symbiotic relationship between Indigenous people and the land, MacDonald told CoGS about the recent “eco-bishops conference” he attended in South Africa. MacDonald said that he had spoken about how “the Arctic is the epicenter of climate injustice in the world.” Many were unaware, he said, that there are people living in the Arctic, whose subsistence lifestyles have been drastically affected by climate change. The wealth that Canada has produced “has obscured the poverty of who the land belongs to,” said MacDonald. “The dispossession of land is ongoing and accelerating, not at the point of the gun, not by residential schools, but by climate injustice.”

In her report, Thompson underscored the need for Anglicans to sign letters urging the federal government to adopt a national policy on carbon pricing as a key goal to combat climate change. In April, provincial leaders from across Canada met in Quebec and reaffirmed their commitment to fight climate change, but the national government wasn’t even there, she noted.

“We have a lot of work to do in engaging our own government to live up to its commitment to climate change,” she said, noting that Canada has not even submitted a report to the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference scheduled Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Within the church, Thompson reported that nine parishes have recently undertaken green audits, and more are being encouraged to do the same. “We can’t keep calling on others to make a reduction if we don’t reduce our own carbon footprint,” she said, as she urged CoGS to visit the church’s Creation Matters website for more information.

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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