Readers write

January 2, 2013 | Viewpoints

Mennonites and climate

Re: The letter by Steve Heinrichs on climate change, (Oct. 29, 2012, page 8).

As a practicing Mennonite and an environment scientist, my response is two-fold: gratitude for recognition of a real problem to which Mennonites are contributing, and a comment on apocalyptic predictions.

Heinrichs draws attention to a real problem. Most Mennonite responses to environmental concerns centre around improving recycling and energy saving. Addressing the problem at its source is rare, and Heinrichs identifies this as a concern.

Heinrichs provides some statistics on CO2, the main greenhouse gas released by human activities. Here are some additional statistics from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific sources. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased from 316 parts per million (ppm) in 1959 to about 380 ppm now. Out of 133 years of measured climate data, the coolest year was 1909 (0.52 degrees below average), and the warmest year was 2010 (0.75 degrees above average).

Palaeoscientist Donald Prothero also provides some interesting statistics. During ancient times the concentration of CO2 was more than 10 times what it is now, up to 5000 ppm. The earth was warm enough for tropical vegetation to grow in Arctic areas during this “dinosaur greenhouse.” Later, CO2 levels dropped to about 1000 ppm, but the earth remained warm. Yet later, CO2 concentration dropped to near the current level, and mean northern land temperatures plummeted up to 15 degrees. About 6000 years ago, the North American average temperature was 2-5 degrees higher than it is today, and major ecosystems moved 300 km northward, a shift similar to worst case scenarios of global warming.

What do these statistics mean? Clearly, the earth’s climate has varied greatly over time, and CO2 is only one influence on climate. Life existed just fine with CO2 levels in excess of 1000 ppm, but it was different than it is now. We should not conclude from this that we don’t need to do anything. Just because life itself may survive, life as we know it may not be possible due to higher sea levels, ecosystem shifts, and many unforeseen problems.

So, is anyone doing anything? Many people are increasingly aware of the need to curb energy consumption. Even industries, including the much maligned Dupont corporation, have reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The most important technological challenge of the 21st century will be developing energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases. Addressing energy use is more important than merely restricting production of fossil fuels.

An environmental parallel is the fact that spotted cats did not begin their current population recovery until the market for their furs was reduced by consumers.

Henry Epp, Calgary

CRA is one of the ‘powers’

It is disheartening anytime you get a letter from Canada Revenue, as you know you are being scrutinized. I could not believe it when my son and his wife received a letter saying their charitable donations could not be used as tax credits unless they could prove the funds had been in their possession in the first place.

I can understand Revenue Canada asking for receipts from the charity to which they donated, but I could not believe they would have to go back five years and locate records showing where the funds came from. Luckily, most of their donations were done via debit and not cash, so after a lot of running around they were able to provide the requested information. 

Abbotsford has been named the city with the highest financial charitable giving in all of Canada. I suspected that those of us living in Abbotsford who have charitable donations carried forward from previous years would probably be contacted, so I was not surprised when not only my siblings, but also my niece and nephew, my parents, as well as myself, have been requested to send in charitable receipts. Thankfully, I was not asked to provide proof of where my donations came from as I sometimes give cash and don’t keep all credit card statements from years ago.

I suspect this has something to do with fighting “principalities and powers,” so don’t be disheartened. If we are true to ourselves and our Maker we should have nothing to fear.

Name withheld, Abbotsford, B.C.

Is God vengeful?

I appreciated the thoughtful Oct. 29 piece reviewing the Hellbound? documentary. I was always stumped by the “Mine is a vengeful God!” attitude. I stand by the early teachings of Grandma Toews in the raspberry rows on Barkman Ave. that revenge is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to get sick. So why would God be vengeful, especially since His jurisdiction is eternity?

On those rare occasions when I reveal my hellish misgivings, I frequently get sarcasm—“Well, that oughta be handy for you!”—to kindly redirection: “It’s in the Bible. (Duh!)” Then comes the patient explanation that the act of not believing in that place will, in fact, condemn me to that very place. Talk about your Penrose steps!

Anyway, glad to know I’m not the only confused one. Being in Grandma’s side on an issue was always the best position, so I take some strength from that.

Mitch Toews, Chilliwack, BC

We choose our destiny

I would like to respond to Vic Thiessen’s enthusiastic review about Kevin Miller’s film Hellbound (Oct. 19, page 31). It seems to me that God does not torment us, but Satan does. The prodigal son received from his father only good things while in his presence, then chose to leave his presence. God did not throw him into the pig pen, but Satan did. We also choose who we will follow and in so doing choose our destiny.

Many recent articles in the Canadian Mennonite seem to originate out of Gnosticism. Some writers promote their opinions by attaching them to past Mennonite values—like Mennonite furniture. Hopefully the next film will be a success on its own merits and will not require the Mennonite attachment.

Ross Erb, Shakespeare, Ont.

Editor must seek truth and balance

I thought the story about the “reminder” from Canada Revenue Agency would long ago have been clarified and put to rest. For whatever reason the editor and many readers chose to interpret it as something that threatens our constitutional right to freedom of speech and by extension, also threatens our core religious beliefs.

The editorial of Nov. 26, 2012, “Practice the peace we proclaim,” should have been the one that appeared when the story first came to light. This editorial explains the course of events, cautions against using extreme language or making assumptions—and on the whole sounds sensibly conciliatory.

The editor is in a privileged, influential position. He can express his opinion, he can inform, he can persuade and publish the articles he deems right. He can, in fact, shape the readers views and beliefs over time. But with this privilege comes a responsibility to seek truth and balance. I am not surprised that these events came about because on a number of occasions I too thought the editorials went beyond what could be considered acceptable. I wonder at times if our “spokespeople” are a bit out of touch with the grassroots at home on the farm. It is possible that a fair number of Mennonites are—at least in part—in agreement with many of the policies of the current government.

Social activism has its place, but I wonder if we would not be more influential if we listened to what Menno Simons suggested many years ago: “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant, for it clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it overcomes evil with good, it has become all things to all people.” This too is a kind of social activism but it is a gentler, kinder form and not at all confrontational. Actions speak louder than words.

Ernie Neufeld, Leamington Ont.

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re: Mennonites and climate letter by Henry Epp, Calgary

I would be very wary of entangling the highly charged political/science narrative of anthropogenic global warming (and the U.N.'s IPCC politics) with a theological perspective of any stripe. Donald Prothero and Bill McKibben are also known for their crass name calling of those they disagree with, which contributes to the uncivil nature of the anthropogenic global warming debate.

Best Regards
Stephen Kennel

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