Planet Matters’ an environmental advocacy engine

Published March 11, 2010

It can take the passion of just one person or a single committed group of people to make a significant change to degradation of the environment.

In the case of Humbercrest United Church in Toronto, it took the zeal of one parishioner, Rita Bijons, and the foresight of her minister to create “Planet Matters,” an awareness building group that challenges parishes to seek and demand solutions to climate change.

Since its creation in 2007, the group has launched a series of activities that include film screenings of “green docs” (green documentaries that focus on the environment) and “hundred mile tastings” that serve local foods at tea time. It has invited guest speakers to talk about topics ranging from green electricity to fossil fuels. It has participated in ecumenical events such as The Sunshine Walk of 2008, in which a small group of activists trekked from Toronto to Ottawa to press the federal government and others to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and invest in energy conservation and efficiency instead. The 17-day journey, passed through 50 cities and towns and walkers were met by hundreds of people who shared their own climate change solutions and petitions to Ottawa.
The walk raised a great deal of attention and awareness, and similar events are being planned, said Bijons.

Bijons shared the story of Planet Matters at “Greening our Faith Communities,” an introductory workshop on how parishes can advocate for the environment.

The March 8 event was co-sponsored by Green Awakening Network and Faith and the Common Good. (Green Awakening Network is an advocacy group of Toronto-based congregations of the United Church of Canada; Faith and the Common Good is a national inter-faith network dedicated to dialogue and action.)

Bijons said her own eco-advocacy awakening began in 2006 when she read a book requested by her 14-year-old son. Written by Tim Flannery, an internationally acclaimed Australian scientist, explorer and conservationist, The Weather Makers suggests that the impact of human behavior on the environment makes each of us “weather makers.” Bijons realized two things: “…we were in dire straits” and the issue of climate change was also spiritual.When starting an environment action group, it’s important to divide the work “into small chunks,” said Tom Cullen of Toronto’s Fairlawn Avenue United Church. He emphasized that a team, no matter how small, can lighten the work load and provide moral support. It is also important, he said, to “engage the community” through events such as “eco-fairs” and outdoor services. But what if there’s no one or no group of people in a parish to take up the green challenge? Or, as one workshop participant asked, “Where do you find a champion in a passive congregation?”Katharine Vansittart, communications co-ordinator of Faith and the Common Good, had a suggestion: “Call in someone who can speak to your church and who will be motivational.” Vansittart emphasized that a good entry point for convincing congregations to take steps is financial. “You can save,” she said, citing how some parishes saw their electricity bills reduced by one-fourth when they “went green.”Getting StartedThe following resources have been prepared by the Green Awakening Network.FilmsA Different Kind of Oil Crisis An Inconvenient Truth A Sea ChangeAwakening the Dreamer Connecting the Drops: Kairos delegation to the Tar Sandsor contact Carolyn Foster at Kairos (416) 463-5312 ext. 221 or by email: [email protected]Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash Earth 2100Garbage: The Revolution Starts at HomeGreen Living Series DVD collection Home Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil Sisters on the Planet Story of Stuff

WebsitesGreen Awakening Network Greening Sacred Spaces(Greening Sacred Spaces offers a $30 kit that includes the booklet, A Practical Guide to Improving the Energy Efficiency of Your Religious Building.)Be the Change Earth Alliance Earth Day Canada (for Earth Day Canada’s EcoAction Calculator, go to Avenue United Church Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice InitiativesLive Green Toronto United Church of Canada Print resourcesFrom Kairos: Creating a Climate for Justice, 2009 (See others on the Kairos website)From The United Church of Canada:Mandate: Living for the Earth, Special Edition, May 2009Greening the Church: Reducing Your Church Building’s Ecological Footprint, 2007From Greening Sacred Spaces:Practical Guide to Improving the Energy Efficiency of Your Religious Building, 2007A Guide to Developing a ‘Green Team’ in Your Faith Community, 2007Green Rule: Ecological Wisdom from Faith Traditions (poster) and Green Rule Poster Study Guide


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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