Greta Thunberg addressed a rally in Edmonton in October. Glen Argan

Glen Argan: Hope is best weapon to help save planet

  • December 24, 2019

Greta Thunberg has been named by Time magazine as its person of the year because of the global attitudinal shift towards climate change the magazine says she has created.

The Swedish teenager has sparked a global movement of opposition to foot-dragging on climate change by politicians, the corporate world and ordinary citizens. But little evidence beyond the rise of the climate strike movement exists to support the contention that she has spurred a widespread attitude shift. The shift was already underway.

Thunberg herself admits, “Of course something is happening but basically nothing is happening.” My interpretation of that statement is that yes, people’s attitudes are changing, but the human response to that attitude shift is underwhelming.

Thunberg is a polarizing figure. She draws tens of thousands of people to climate strike rallies while others mock or misrepresent her. Recently, I heard a man describe her as “violent.” Where do people get these crazy ideas?

Nevertheless, Thunberg has become the international symbol of ecology and the favourite whipping boy, er, child, of climate change deniers.

Further, attitudes have changed over roughly the last decade. A Gallup poll conducted in the United States in March found that 66 per cent of Americans believe global warming is caused by human actions. Compare that with an average of 57 per cent who held that view in polls conducted between 2001 and 2014.

As well, 45 per cent of Americans now think global warming will pose a threat within their lifetime, compared with an average of 35 per cent in the earlier surveys.

Concern about climate change among American young people is vastly greater than among their elders. Based on people’s responses to several questions, Gallup created three general categories of how people react to the climate issue. Those most troubled about climate change, it labelled “concerned believers.” Sixty-seven per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds fell into that category compared with 43 per cent in the 50-64 age bracket.

I could not find a report which laid out the change in Canadians’ attitudes over the past 10 or 20 years. However, a Gallup poll conducted in early September concluded that Canadians believe climate change is the most important issue facing the world today. Seventy-seven per cent strongly or partially agreed with the statement, “The world is facing a climate emergency and unless greenhouse gas emissions fall dramatically in the next few years global warming will become extremely dangerous.”

Other research points out that, despite our country’s growing population, Canadians consume 94 million kilograms less beef per year than in 2010. The move to a plant-based diet, which contributes less to climate change than does meat production, is substantial and ongoing. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions in Canada are also in decline, due mostly to the move away from coal-generated electricity.

Nevertheless, attitudes and emission rates are not changing fast enough to reduce the perils of climate change.

Thunberg herself is more of a John the Baptist figure than a saviour. Time wrote, “She refuses to use the language of hope; her sharpest weapon is shame.” Guilt only moves some people and them only so far.

We do need prophets of hope, although we ought to be wary of non-divine messiahs. To date, the greatest witness to hope has been Pope Francis and his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Pope Francis has made the essential link between ecology and spirituality. We will only be able to make the transition to a post-climate change world when we act on the belief that creation is filled with the divine presence. Worship of God is incomplete until we respect that He is incarnate in the material world He created. God did not create the world and then stand back; God is present in every ant, tree and stone.

In Laudato Si’, the Pope urges us to contemplate the beauty of creation, God’s presence in creation. By doing so, we will find the hope that will impel us to respect the natural world so future generations will thrive. “If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple.”

Such a vision of God’s presence in creation can be the source of our hope. It is a revolution of hope that will assure the world — and our youth — of a promising future.

(Argan is program co-ordinator of Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta.)

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