Canadian Mennonite
Volume 11, No. 03
February 5, 2007


Hurting the least of these

In early February, the United Nations-organized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is presenting its first report since 2001 on global climate change.

I’m writing this before the report is released, but it is expected to contain the finding that the group can now say with 90 percent certainty that human activities—mainly by increasing the levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air through heavy use of oil and natural gas—are the main cause of global warming since 1950.

We’re seeing the effects of climate change already here in Canada. A just-released national poll carried out by the Globe and Mail reports that four out of five Canadians have personally noticed climate change. Environmental concerns were the top priority for 26 percent of Canadians last month in the poll, making it the top national concern. Less than a year ago, just three percent said the environment was their top concern. On this issue, the church needs to be out front.

Even more significant is the desire to do something about it. Virtually everyone was willing to make major (55 percent) or minor (38 percent) personal sacrifices to help. This included things like changing car and airplane usage, implementing carbon taxes, banning high-carbon methods of electricity generation like coal-fired plants, switching to more expensive but more efficient technology, and placing limits on how much fossil fuel a person could use in a year.

I think we’re going to need to do all these things, as well as remedial measures like paying our farmers to take carbon out of the air the old-fashioned way—by growing things. There are intriguing high-carbon consuming plants and algae well-suited to this that can also even be used as fuel sources after harvest.

I’d like to bring attention to particularly church-centred reasons why this issue is important to Mennonites. In November, the first U.N. climate meetings held in sub-Saharan Africa focused on the effects of climate change on Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is probably going to suffer more than anywhere else in the world from climate change and yet is responsible for almost none of it.

It’s not that Africa’s climate changes are different in nature from other areas, but since it has so many people living in day-to-day subsistence dependence on crops and livestock, the area is terribly vulnerable to unpredictable weather. More severe droughts will combine with floods. I’m reminded of the conflicts over lack of water for animals between Isaac and his neighbours in Genesis 26.

Verses that are particularly important to Mennonites are Jesus’ words to those who failed to help the hungry or thirsty, the suffering ones: “‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46).

And even more, we must respond not just for the sake of the least of these, but for our fellow Mennonite brothers and sisters. Updated Mennonite World Conference figures from November show that the continent with more Anabaptists/Mennonites than any other is Africa. The largest single national conference is in Ethiopia. There are more Mennonites in the Democratic Republic of Congo than any other country except the U.S. These are churches we here in Canada helped start a hundred years ago.

Our lifestyle gains are becoming their pain. This isn’t what Jesus would have us do.

—Tim Miller Dyck

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