I believe that we are called to protect the natural world. This is important to me as both a member of the clergy and an Indigenous Canadian. I am resolved that human-caused climate change will not continue to devastate the world I cherish.
Thankfully, I am not alone.
This month, during the Season of Creation, tens of thousands of Christians across the globe are committing to healing our relationship with the Earth and those with whom we share it.
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We have a long way to go. Among the many worrisome effects of climate change is the recent development of large craters in the permafrost in places like Fort McPherson, N.W.T. and others regions in our far North. These craters, which are hundreds of meters across, are caused by unusually warm weather persisting year after year. Across the Arctic, the quick, deep thawing of permafrost disturbs the surface of the Earth and poses challenges like buckled roads and unsettled foundations.
Permafrost has been melting and refreezing for millennia. But as we burn fossil fuels that make the earth warmer, the layer of permafrost in our far North is melting more quickly than ever.
This is a distortion of our rightful role as protectors of creation. And for people around the world, the melting permafrost could unleash a deadly domino effect.
Melting permafrost releases large amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as organisms that have been frozen for ten thousand years interact anew with the world around them. These greenhouse gases join the steadily accumulating layer in our atmosphere, where they trap heat from the sun. This results in a vicious cycle of warming Earth, melting permafrost, and warming Earth.
The result is an ever hotter planet and the extreme weather, rising seas, and vector-borne diseases that go with it.
Because of all this extra heat-trapping greenhouse gas in the air from sources like the melting permafrost in the far North and our continued over reliance on fossil fuels, we will likely experience more hurricanes like those that recently tore through the Caribbean and southeastern United States. These terrible storms were not merely part of the hurricane season: they were influenced by the warmer, higher ocean on which they grew. As a result, scores of people lost their lives and untold numbers lost their homes and livelihoods.
Here in Canada, the ground itself is buckling beneath our feet.
Because of our interference, permafrost no longer melts just a foot or two below the surface. Instead, we are disturbing the very foundation of the ground that covers much of the Arctic.
Last November at the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota, I stood vigil against the Dakota Access pipeline. I joined thousands of my Indigenous sisters and brothers and our allies in the peaceful protest against a dirty, dangerous pipeline. I prayed that the Creator would guide and protect us as we sought better ways to care for the Earth that we inherited from our forebears and that we will in turn pass on to our children.
This month, I renew that prayer. The Season of Creation is a monthlong celebration of and commitment to our role as the stewards of creation. It is embraced by the Anglican Communion, and Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew issued their first joint statement on environmental protection this year on Creation Day, the first day of the season.
Along with prayer, people of faith are taking concrete action to protect the Earth.
My action will join those of thousands of my brothers and sisters in faith. Last week in Manila, 5,000 people attended a mass led by Cardinal Tagle and participated in a Walk for Creation. In Assisi, Bishop Sorrentino led a prayer service at the tomb of St. Francis. In Washington, D.C., people of faith will pray and lobby elected officials.
During the Season of Creation, I stand with my Indigenous family, my faith family, and the family of humankind. We have the power to repair our relationship with the Earth. We must firmly commit to embracing our role as protectors of creation. As the outpouring of prayer and action this month demonstrates, we are well on our way.
Bishop Mark MacDonald has served as pastoral leader to Indigenous Peoples in the Anglican Church of Canada since 2007.