On Feb. 27, 2016, I attended a talk given by Seth Klein, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C., about The Leap Manifesto, an initiative out of the This Changes Everything movement begun by Naomi Klein and her book of the same name.
The manifesto’s subtitle reads, “A call for a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another,” and states that the crisis at hand—a warming planet—is an opportunity to transition to a more just society. It’s time to switch to renewable energy completely by 2050, invest in low-carbon jobs and public infrastructure, and do so by making sure the poorest are supported first.
Along with signing the manifesto, people held events across the country on Feb. 29 to call for climate action. It’s online and anyone can sign. There are 50 celebrity initiating signatories and more initiating organizations. So far, the manifesto has approximately 33,000 signatures.
Although well-presented and convincing, I came away from the talk feeling blue. Klein reiterated what climate scientists have announced: We must curb emissions within the next decade. So, effective immediately.
The bulk of Canada’s emissions are from the oil and gas industries, so pressuring government to get out of their pockets is paramount. But how in the world do we get governments to change their policies so quickly? Fossil fuel subsidies, global trade deals and other excuses for an extractive economy are so ingrained in our national subconscious that such drastic change seems radical. Also, 33,000 signatures? That’s less than 0.01 percent of our country’s population.
I came across a quotation in my day planner the other week. It’s from movie director Rob Reiner: “Everybody talks about wanting to change things—but ultimately all you can do is fix yourself. And that’s a lot. Because if you can fix yourself, it has a ripple effect.”
As a church-goer, I easily identify with Reiner’s statement. I listen to the call of the Spirit through worship and find inspiration from Scripture for inward transformation. During Lent, congregants take time to fast, pray and repent, with the hope of drawing closer to God, turning a new leaf, setting things right. And so I’m making what I’d call “ripples” for climate justice, like getting out of the car, eating less meat, composting, buying more local food.
But when it is absolutely clear that climate justice demands change at the political level, can I also find inspiration from church community? Does the church have a role to play in waves of change?
There are examples of what can and should be done. Fossil Free Menno, an initiative started in 2013, wrote an open letter to Mennonite Church Canada calling for the denomination to divest any funds from fossil fuel industries. The letter was signed by many church members, and Mark Bigland-Pritchard from Osler (Sask.) Mennonite Church put together a solid resolution for the annual assembly in Winnipeg in 2014. (See “‘Jesus is with us’ in our creation-care efforts.”)
In July, the MC B.C. Peace and Justice Committee is organizing a one-day conference at the MC Canada assembly in Saskatoon, at which members will be able to brainstorm ways to put “our theological commitments about creation care into practice.”
There is a common thread between these church efforts and The Leap Manifesto, something that buoys my spirit when I consider paltry numbers or buried resolutions: the call for something better. While it’s daunting to envision a better future while simultaneously faced with a grim present, much can be borne out of striving for justice. I hope the Mennonite church will continue to equip its members to make ripples while simultaneously voicing its support for the more dramatic climate action we so badly need.
Katie Doke Sawatzky (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes and edits from Regina.