General Synod hears ‘drastic’ effects of climate change in the Arctic

“I’m arguing for our survival as a society, and as a people,” Inuit leader Natan Obed tells General Synod 2016. Photo: Art Babych
“I’m arguing for our survival as a society, and as a people,” Inuit leader Natan Obed tells General Synod 2016. Photo: Art Babych
Published July 11, 2016

Richmond Hill, Ont.
As General Synod prepares to vote July 12 on a number of resolutions dealing with socially and environmentally responsible investing, members heard a first-hand account of some effects global warming has had on Canada’s Inuit people.

“These are things that keep me up at night,” Inuit leader Natan Obed said in an address to General Synod Monday, July 11, after describing some of the “drastic changes” his people have witnessed in the Arctic environment in recent years. “We live in a time where the knowledge that we have, especially for people of the Arctic, about what is to come is truly scary.”

A thinning of sea ice has already led to deaths among his people, said Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a group representing Canada’s Inuit.

“We…are very concerned about the way that sea ice presents itself,” he said. “In the spring, when the sea ice melts…we see more and more people who have gone through the ice-who have lost their lives-travelling routes that they have travelled since they were children.”

Being able to rely on the thickness of ice to support them as they travel across it has always been an enormous consideration for the Inuit, he said.

“The ice is our highway. For nine to 10 months of the year, we depend on our sea ice to travel to other communities, as the basis of our hunting and just the basis on which we use our land.”

When temperatures increase in the South, they increase by two or three times more in the Arctic, Obed said-an enormous cause of concern for his people.

“If the world goes to two degrees [higher], we go to six to eight degrees. And what will that do to our permafrost? What will that do to our Arctic environment? What will that do to our caribou or our char?” he asked.

“I’m arguing for our survival as a society, and as a people.”

Seventy per cent of Inuit families still rely on wild game as a source of food, he said.

Climate change has made it harder for Inuit to read their environment for changes in the weather, he said.

“As the weather patterns change and become unrecognizable, Inuit have said that they don’t understand the weather the way we used to, and that the weather patterns aren’t as predictable…and that the seasons change in a different way than even a generation ago,” he said.

Inuit have also noticed changes to animals, their migration patterns, the presence of new species in the Arctic-even changes to the way game tastes and the quality of the animal skins they work with, he added.

Obed concluded by urging members of General Synod, when considering responsible investing measures, to act in the interests “of a people that you aren’t necessarily going to go to church with on Sunday, but are people that are going to be…affected by potential decisions that are made.”

General Synod also heard from Canon Ken Gray, secretary of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, and Kevin Thomas, director of shareholder engagement at SHARE, a Canadian organization that provides advice on responsible investing.

The stewardship of creation, Gray said, is becoming “increasingly central to our vocation as Anglican Christians.”

He reminded General Synod that the agreement reached last December in Paris-to cap the world’s average temperature increase at two per cent, but “ideally” at 1.5 per cent-provides little in the way of assurances of action.

“Remember that there is nothing in that agreement beyond aspirations and a very limited accountability,” he said. “Nothing is binding, and there is not a plan in sight.”

Thomas said the process by which a church aligns its investment with its mission has to be comprehensive, collaborative, committed and creative. It has to be comprehensive, he said, in that it should look not just at divestment, for example, but at its investment guidelines and practices as a whole. It should not simply act in isolation from corporations, but actively engage in them, asking them to change their practices. It should commit itself to the idea that it needn’t engage in endless discussions in order for there to be real outcomes, he said, and it should be creative in finding solutions to problems.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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