Fasting for the earth

Brenna (right) and Blake (centre) MacDonald invited their dad National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald (left) out for lunch on March 16, but he didn't have any food because he was fasting for the climate that day. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams
Brenna (right) and Blake (centre) MacDonald invited their dad National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald (left) out for lunch on March 16, but he didn't have any food because he was fasting for the climate that day. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams
Published March 17, 2015

Many people observe Lent with different sorts of fasts, but some Canadian Anglican leaders have spent time during this Lenten season participating in a rolling Fast for the Climate that is slated to last a full year.

The Fast for the Climate is intended to be an awareness-raising collective fast. For 365 days, different individuals will participate. The fast runs between the last UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting, which took place in Lima, Peru, in December 2014, and this year’s meeting, to be held in Paris, in December.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was invited by organizers along with many other faith leaders to participate, and he chose to fast on March 6. Speaking about the experience, Hiltz said he was very aware that his fast was something he chose to do. “I know that the next day I can and will eat. Millions can’t and won’t,” he wrote in a statement, noting that according to information from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s food security program, the staggering number of malnourished people in the world is estimated to be just under one billion-the combined populations of Canada, the U.S. and Europe. “It troubles me that in the midst of the world’s more than 50 million refugees, a rapidly growing segment is environmentally displaced peoples,” he said. “Climate change has so impacted their lands and waterways that they are forced to be on the move.”

Actions such as the fast must be the beginning of the story, not the end, he added. “I hope my little fast won’t just make me feel particularly pious as one participant among so many in the 365 Rolling Fast for the Climate,” he said. He expressed hope that it would compel him and the church to be more committed to caring for the earth, to be good stewards of its resources and “to challenge any and every indifference to the impact of our choices.”

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald fasted on March 16, and said he was very interested in participating because although climate change is something that impacts everyone, it is disproportionately impacting Canadian indigenous people. “…The Arctic has experienced more in terms of climate change than any place in the world, but it’s completely invisible to everybody,” he said, speaking of the lack of media and public attention to the issue.

He noted that the Arctic has seen the greatest variation in its climate as a centre of global climate change. As a result, people living there have had to cope with issues including traditional and subsistence ways of life that are no longer viable, rising costs due to increased transportation problems that threaten food security and rising sea levels that threaten communities.

“It is so painful to see that the wealth of Canada, a significant proportion of it created by making the problem, is masking the impact on those who were the least responsible for creating the problem. So I think [the fast] is more than timely.”

Jennifer Henry, the executive director of the ecumenical social justice organization Kairos Canada, fasted on March 5. In a blog entry on the website, she began by quoting the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who said that “the key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of the imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted to do serious imaginative work.” Henry went on to write that she was “fasting for imagination. I want to feel hunger and thirst in a symbolic call for the ‘serious imaginative work’ that is needed to address the current climate catastrophe.”

According to the Fast for the Climate website, inspiration for the fast came from a speech given by a Filipino delegate, Yeb Sano, at the UN climate change summit in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon in recorded history, had just hit his country, and in an emotional, personal appeal to the officials at the meeting, Sano said that the typhoon had caused staggering devastation in his family’s hometown. Since scientists predict that climate change contributes to extreme weather of this kind and will increase the frequency of such storms, Sano announced that “in solidarity with my countrymen who are struggling to find food back home…I will now commence voluntary fasting for the climate.” He pleaded with international delegates to work toward a meaningful outcome and concrete pledges to ensure a mobilization of resources for the green climate fund. “This process under the UNFCCC has been called many names. It has been called a farce…This hurts,” he said. “It has also been called ‘saving tomorrow today.’ We can fix this. We can stop this madness,” he said to a standing ovation.

According to Fast for the Climate, hundreds of people from around the world fasted with Sano for the duration of the meeting, but the results were not what they hoped for. Some countries, such as Japan, even began reducing their climate commitments.

Fast for the Climate, however, grew with participation from environmentalists, youth groups and faith-based groups. Thousands of people from 92 countries now fast on the first day of each month, the group said.

Other faith leaders who have participated in the fast include former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary for the World Council of Churches; Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; and Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.



  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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