Climate change, or global warming, poses an existential threat to the human family and all species with whom we share this planet. There is a broad scientific consensus that human activities are influencing the earth’s climate, predominantly through our production of greenhouse gases (GHGs). These emissions trap heat within the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in rising temperatures around the world with devastating consequences. Sea levels continue to rise as polar ice melts. Severe weather events such as heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and droughts are more frequent and intense. Elderly and other vulnerable people die during extreme heat waves. And climate-related poverty afflicts millions of people around the world, especially in the poorest countries.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of the world’s leading climate scientists, recently released a report in which they conclude that we have only twelve years to make the required changes to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we fail to do that, if we continue on our present path, a new class of refugee will be born – those fleeing countries that are no longer inhabitable. Furthermore, our children and grandchildren will have to survive in a climate significantly more hostile than that of today. Refusing to address the injustice of an environmental catastrophe of our own making hardly seems a Christian response. Yet, by and large, that seems to be our response, even though time is clearly running out to “sustain and renew the life of the earth”.
Addressing climate change means reducing GHG emissions which are overwhelmingly the result of our dependence on fossil fuels. Environment and Climate Change Canada tracks GHG emissions in Canada by sector, two of which account for more than half of our GHG emissions: oil and gas production (26%), and transportation (25%). While Canada’s population increased by about 29% between 1990 and 2016, our total GHG emissions during that time have increased by 70%, and emissions from these two particular sectors have increased by 70% and 42% respectively. Now, addressing emissions from oil and gas production has become a highly-politicized, hyper-partisan, rarely-rational debate in Canada, so dealing effectively with these emissions is largely a matter of political and corporate leadership (which has been sadly lacking). On the other hand, addressing emissions from the transportation sector is well within our sphere of influence as individual citizens.
Almost half of GHG emissions from the transportation sector (49%) come from passenger vehicles – the cars, pickups, vans and SUVs that we drive. While emissions from passenger cars declined by 14% between 1990 and 2016, emissions from pickups, vans and SUVs have more than doubled over that same period. This is a significant factor in the overall increase in GHG emissions from passenger vehicles since 1990 (34%). Statistics Canada data also indicates that an increase in the price of fuel corelates with a reduction in GHG emissions from passenger vehicles. Clearly, the choices we make have an effect on GHG emissions, the uncomfortable truth behind the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign.
Don and Marie Rowe, members of the Parish of St. Michael and All Angels in St. John’s, have made a conscious choice to reduce these emissions. In June of 2017 they purchased a 2013 Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. On a full charge the battery has a range of 50-60 Kilometres (40 Kilometers in cold weather). It takes eight hours to fully charge the battery, which they do by plugging their car with an extension cord at the end of the day. In the first twelve months they owned the vehicle they travelled 17,000 kilometres, and spent a total of $300 on gas and $356 in additional electricity costs – an average of $55 per month. Let that sink in for a moment. Not only have they intentionally chosen a vehicle that honours their baptismal vow to “safeguard the integrity of God’s creation”, their fuel costs are a mere $55 a month!
While we all may not be able to make the choice the Rowes have made, there are other emission-reducing choices available to us. We can opt for a smaller more fuel-efficient vehicle. We can be mindful of the amount of driving we do. We can choose other transportation alternatives such as walking, cycling or (gasp!) public transit. Christians should be leading the way in caring for our planet. Yet, almost two decades after the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign was launched, by and large, Christians still haven’t connected their transportation choices with their faith.
This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Anglican Life as part of an ongoing series on creation care by our Associate Priest Father Mark Nichols.