Faith & the Common Good’s Mary Zhou (left) and Lucy Cummings (right) are promoting green faith action in York region, Ontario, in partnership with Greening Sacred Spaces. Both organizations are part of the working interfaith network that is Fossil Free Faith. Photo courtesy of Lucy Cummings

Adding faith to climate conversation

By 
  • February 28, 2015

Fossil Free Faith has launched a new program recruiting youth to lead the conversation in their faith communities about divesting in fossil fuel companies.

The aim is to lead the way in removing financial investments from companies that profit from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest into more ethical and environmentally friendly companies.

To celebrate Global Divestment Day (Feb. 13), Fossil Free Faith introduced the BC Youth Fellowship Program. The program hopes to create a multi-faith network of youth activists, organizers, artists, writers, speakers and videographers. Ten to 15 youth participants will be trained to speak to their local congregations about the importance of setting moral standards for the companies that their faith communities invest in.

“I think that there is a tendency to sort of tokenize youth issues,” said Christine Boyle, youth program co-ordinator and co-coordinator of Fossil Free Faith. “Youth are often invited to talk on a panel about youth issues, rather than inviting a youth to a panel about broader issues like the climate.”

Though the program is based mainly in British Columbia, the organization is looking to use it as a pilot that will eventually expand to the rest of the country.

The training curriculum will be built according to the specific needs of participants. Once a team is chosen at the end of March, it will be invited to a weekend program for skill-building workshops like networking, communications and public speaking.

Divestment is not a new movement, but Lucy Cummings, the other co-coordinator of Fossil Free Faith, said a faith-based voice in the conversation is much needed. She said faith communities should be provided with the right resources on how they can get involved.

“Faith communities these days are desperate to have a stronger youth voice in their congregation,” she said. “I think that now the youth voice is taking centre stage.”

The program is looking out for the greater good.

“It’s not so much the financial impact of faith communities. It’s really questioning the social license of these companies to pollute and not grapple with the issues of climate change,” said Cummings.

Fossil Free Faith works closely with organizations such as Spirited Social Change, Faith & the Common Good, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, 350.org and many others to help facilitate networking opportunities. It began as an online interfaith network for Canadian faith congregations interested in divesting from fossil fuel companies. It formed last spring after a conference in Toronto called “Divestment or What.”

“While we were in conversations there, we saw that there is a space in Canada for this, so we started a Google group which then turned into a network web site resource,” said Boyle.

Almost a year later, FossilFreeFaith.ca has expanded to many other projects. Partnered with Greening Sacred Spaces, it has worked on projects to build more sustainable places of worship.

“Faith communities are in all shapes and sizes all over Canada in all neighbourhoods,” said Cummings. “We really believe ... we can help leverage conversations to real sustainable change.”

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