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Caring for God's creation

Green Faith Alliance urges religious groups to work together

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Next time you drive to your church, synagogue, mosque or temple, take note of the other houses of worship of your denomination you pass along the way, suggests a business professor concerned about the environment.

"When I think about churches, the two things we can do is around how we heat our buildings and how we get to our buildings," says Bruce Duggan, director of Providence University College's Buller Centre for Business.

"Those are the things that produce greenhouse gases."

Duggan says Providence College, located in Otterburne, 30 minutes south of Winnipeg, cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent with the installation of geothermal and biomass heating, which burns straw and waste wood.

He is scheduled to speak about the college's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, as well as an emerging business venture in distributing excess straw and wood, at a conference on faith and the environment at the University of Winnipeg.

Creation in Peril, sponsored by the Winnipeg-based Green Faith Alliance (www.greenfaithalliance.ca), runs 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, at Convocation Hall.

The alliance is a loose network of Manitobans and Canadians from various faith traditions who are concerned about the looming environmental crisis and want to keep political leaders accountable about the issues, says Mishka Lysack, a University of Calgary social-work professor who first proposed the idea of a green faith alliance.

"My sense is there are substantial amounts of people who are not only deeply concerned about the problems, but also concerned about the lack of political leadership and feel the faith communities can provide permission to do the right thing," Lysack explains in a telephone interview.

"Our political leaders need to change, and I think citizen engagement is a way of moving this issue forward."

Connecting with others to talk about climate change and environmental issues is an important first step, says an environmental activist and one of the co-founders of the Green Faith Alliance.

"People are profoundly concerned about the environment and they don't know what to do about it," says former Winnipegger Christine Penner Polle, of Red Lake, Ont., who blogs at www.350orbust.com .

"This is an issue that our governments and our faith leaders and our civic leaders should be taking the lead on, but they're not. Is it up to you and me? Apparently it is."

The current political climate in Ottawa appears hostile to environmental issues and the groups lobbying for change, says former MP Bill Blaikie.

"There's a feeling we now have a government that is contemptuous of not just the environment but the philosophy behind the environmental movement," says Blaikie, director of the Knowles-Woodworth Centre for Theology and Public Policy, one of the sponsors for the conference.

"They're so fixated on petroleum exports from Alberta, nothing else matters."

Because people of faith already have a strong affinity for creation and the Creator, it should be natural for them to express concern for the environment, says a Winnipeg-based national church leader who attended the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, last year.

"The platform for people of faith is we're motivated by worship of the Creator," says Willard Metzger of Mennonite Church Canada, one of two keynote speakers at the Oct. 27 event.

"And a critical way to do that is to care for creation and align our lifestyle to do that."

Metzger says his organization has trimmed its boards to cut travel costs, relies heavily on technology to connect people and has reduced airline travel for its staff, but acknowledges they could do more.

For Duggan, every church, mosque, synagogue or temple considering renovations or new building projects should ensure their concern for creation is reflected in any future construction decisions. That might mean better insulation, installing low-flush toilets or geothermal heating and ensuring those practical improvements reflect theological beliefs, he says.

"It's a matter of thinking through how we want to live out our values in the world and acting on it," says Duggan.

"Sometimes these things are harder to do and sometime they're easier to do, but if they're the right thing to do, they're always the right thing to do."

brenda@suderman.com

Want to go?

 

The half-day conference at the University of Winnipeg features nearly a dozen workshops and keynote speakers Willard Metzger and Shaun Loney, former director of energy policy for Manitoba and now executive director of Building Urban Industries for Local Development.

Admission is free but seating is limited. Register at www.greenfaithalliance.ca .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 J13

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Updated on Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 3:45 PM CDT: Update

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