Caring for each other will save environment

By  Kimberly Stinson, Catholic Register Special
  • April 18, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - The Earth needs to be treated as a sacrament given to each other because “time is running out,” said Fr. Pier Giorgio di Cicco.

“Time is running out... We cannot save the environment until we have returned to the ecology of the heart,” said di Cicco, the former poet laureate of Toronto who was keynote speaker at the Greening Sacred Spaces Forum April 12 on the campus of the University of Toronto.

“Human nature has been re-engineered away from civic care. Our task is to restore this situation,” said di Cicco.

Environmental restoration gains momentum not just through greening buildings, but through building community, he said. At the heart of communities are sacred spaces.

Faith and the Common Good hosted the one-day forum, which included speeches by di Cicco and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, as well as a number of workshops. Faith and the Common Good is a national interfaith network affiliated with the Toronto School of Theology. Its Greening Sacred Spaces program provides guidance to communities who want to make their space green and sustainable.

“All sacred spaces have an eco-footprint whether we like to think about it or not. Energy efficiency has not traditionally been on the list in parishes when discussing priorities,” said May.

Katharine Vansittart of Faith and the Common Good pointed out how Scarboro Missions has worked hard to become a sustainable space, doing a retrofit for which it won a 2008 Greening Sacred Spaces award.

“Scarboro Mission has been one of the most effective at retrofitting their space,” said Vansittart.

Questions were raised at the workshops about practical energy efficiency, better land use practices, green renovations with limited funding and grant applications. In some cases, the church building is more than 100 years old and sustainability has also become a matter of survival.

“Most communities want to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Tim Christie, program manager of GreenSaver, Toronto’s only independent non-profit dedicated to environmental energy efficiency.

When churches consider how to upgrade space, Christie opts for retro-fits.

“As much as I love green energy, it is not as cost effective as upgrading right now. Lighting is the biggest electrical load and the easiest upgrade opportunity.”

He pointed out that, for one of his projects, after replacing the two 15-volt incandescent bulbs in each of the church’s 25 exit signs with LED bulbs, the church saved $550 of the $600 spent on the signs each year.

Christie encouraged faith communities to start tracking their utilities and pursue grant funding. While grant applications are time consuming to fill out, he believes it is well worth the effort.

Di Cicco believes that survival, sustainability and community go hand in hand.

“My gospel is simply the gospel of civil encounter. Anonymity is as toxic to the human heart as carbon is to the atmosphere,” he said.

(Stinson is a freelance writer in Belleville, Ont.)

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