RABBI HARRY BRECHNER, BISHOP ANNA GREENWOOD-LEE and RICHARD KOOL
When Canada declared war in 1939, all of government focused on efforts to defeat fascism. One part of government didn’t fight the enemy while another part, for whatever reasons, tried to strengthen them. A coherent focus on the emergency, and what needed to be done, was critical.
When, over the past two years, we’ve faced a pandemic, governments across Canada, for the most part, focused their efforts on protecting and supporting their people; they provided financial support to people who lost their jobs; they purchased vaccines and exhorted people to get vaccinated; they encouraged a range of public health measures all meant to protect society and economy.
One branch of government wasn’t trying to corral the pandemic while another was actively promoting activities and practices that would clearly exacerbate it. It seems that those jurisdictions that were the most coherent in approach also were good at protecting their people.
When it comes to the issue of climate change, Canadian governments are incoherent. When a government declares that we are in a state of climate emergency, then all of that government has to respond in a coherent manner.
Fighting fascism, fighting COVID and fighting climate change are very different things.
Yet here in B.C. and in Canada, it’s pretty easy to see that one part of government can be trying to actively reduce carbon pollution and thus working to combat climate change, while another part of that same government is explicitly trying to encourage the extraction and release of carbon from the earth’s crust, or through the liquidation of our ancient forests, allowing the reduction of the ability of the biosphere to hold carbon. This is not a coherent focus on understanding the problem and aligning all of government towards a solution.
Both locally, nationally and globally, we are all facing the outcomes of our various levels of government’s incoherent response in the face of a climate reality that is increasingly seen by Canadians as urgent and posing immense risk.
Last Monday night, a group of congregants from the Anglican Diocese of Islands and Inlets and from Congregation Emanuel were called together by spiritual leaders Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee and Rabbi Harry Brechner, to light candles in front of the office of Grace Lore, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, and call on the government of B.C. to become coherent.
We called on Premier John Horgan and his cabinet to act in a coherent way; to be coherent, he can instruct the Ministry of Forests to end old growth logging; instruct the Ministry of Energy to begin the rapid phasing out, starting tomorrow, of fossil fuel extraction; instruct the Ministry of Transportation to facilitate, at least in the urban and sub-urban centres, a more rapid transition from private auto-based travel to transit and human-powered means of moving people and goods.
If we are in a climate emergency, governments must act like it is an emergency.
The B.C. government has put forward reasonably coherent policies around COVID; it now needs to show the same coherence for actively reducing provincial greenhouse gas emissions by directing the reduction of both extraction and use of fossil fuels and other sources of GHG emissions.
Governments, be they provincial or national, simply cannot say they are climate change leaders while on the other hand they have no clear descending pathway towards the end of fossil fuel extraction in the province or country.
In 1963, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel telegrammed U.S. president John F. Kennedy regarding his presence at a conference of religious leaders, called by Kennedy, about the growing racial unrest in the United States. Heschel closed his message to the president with these words: “The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
What is needed to begin the transition to a far less damaging way of living, what is needed in a time of climate emergency, is for our political leaders to show grandeur and audacity and commit to a strategy of coherence at the scale of the problem in front of us.
“The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
Harry Brechner is the spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El, Anna Greenwood-Lee is the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia and Richard Kool is a professor at Royal Roads University.