Mardi Tindal is the Moderator of The United Church of Canada. The Hon. David MacDonald chaired the House of Commons Committee on the Environment from 1989 to 1993. Both will attend the COP 15 UN meetings on Climate Change in Copenhagen. In this open letter to Canadians, they explain why the Copenhagen Conference is a place where faith and science must meet. Here is an excerpt from their letter. To read the complete letter, click here.
We believe the United Nations Climate Change Conference is a place where faith and science must intersect.
These talks will almost certainly determine the fate of coming generations. The future of our children is at stake. Finding a way forward will require that we attend to the best science available, so we are firmly grounded in reality. But it also demands that we recognize the spiritual values that have guided humans for centuries so we can work toward a vision of wholeness.
Science tells us what is and, given certain parameters, what will come to be. Spiritual values teach us what ought to be. Only the two, working together, can see us safely through this perilous time.
For example, scientific estimates tell us that by 2050 as many as 200 million people may become permanently displaced by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. How we respond to this long-range disaster will be determined by our values as human beings and by the kind of future we decide to shape. These are spiritual questions.
But our climate change discussions so far have tended to be dominated by economic and political considerations. These are important, to be sure, but they are not sufficient. It is vital that people of faith participate to ensure future-shaping decisions are not determined only by short-term considerations, such as what is least costly or most expedient.
Faith groups, perhaps uniquely among human institutions, are predisposed to take a longer view. In responding to climate change processes, which play out over decades, if not centuries, these perspectives are an essential counterpoint to the pressure of thinking that can be dominated by the next quarter, or the next election.
This is why the Copenhagen meeting is unprecedented. It is where people of many faiths and no faith must come to terms with the kind of world we want for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. Envisioning or creating the world we want means we need to work out a grand bargain that will allow life to survive in a hopeful and humane fashion. We need to be prepared to make decisions, sacrifices, and gestures of good will toward one another and the planet.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a similar point at a recent interfaith conference, saying, “Indeed, the world’s faith communities occupy a unique position in discussions on the fate of our planet and the accelerating impacts of climate change.”
He added that he has long believed that “when governments, civil society and particularly religious communities work together, transformation can take place. Faiths and religions are an essential part of that equation.”
Beyond the scientific, technological, and economic issues, climate change forces us to consider fundamental questions about how we see the world in the next 10 to 100 years—and to ask fundamental questions of faith, such as who will succeed or who will suffer with the unwanted and unwarranted changes that will occur.
Climate change is about energy, lifestyles, and power that will have an increasing impact on our planet well beyond our own lives and those of our descendants. In dealing with these issues, we are asking individuals and societies to make extraordinary decisions about not only their own future but also the quality of life of future generations.
As people of faith, we believe climate change requires not a quick technological fix, but rather a transformation in how we live our lives on this fragile planet.
As people of faith, we are called to view the earth not simply as a source of resources and wealth, but as a community in which we live and move and have our being.
For several decades, science and public policy have wrestled with a challenge first raised in 1988 in Toronto at an international conference on the changing atmosphere. The conference concluded that “humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.”
Since that time, science and experience have started to bear out that dire warning. Entire populations and ecosystems are threatened by devastating impacts such as drought, heat waves, fires, floods, storms, and rising sea levels.
Canada is in a unique situation. While we are no longer a leader in climate change policies, we do have an enormous stake in the results. As the country with the largest land mass and the longest shoreline on three oceans, how the nations of the planet determine an agreement in Copenhagen is crucial to our future.
Canada needs to take on targets in Copenhagen to minimize the impacts of climate change on communities here and abroad to live up to its Kyoto obligations.
We believe we can and will arrive at solutions together that will lead us to a saner path of sustainability.
Canada’s responsibility is to demonstrate moral leadership in the face of this global climate crisis.
While none of us may have a complete picture, together we can move in a direction that will be more life-sustaining and enhancing. Ultimately, how we respond is a matter of concern for us all. Whether we are there in person or in spirit, we all need to be in Copenhagen.
Moderator Mardi Tindal and the Hon. David MacDonald