When Matthew Schroeder thinks about the drought in Ethiopia—the worst in 50 years—he thinks of the starving animals and malnourished people.
When he thinks about the solution, he thinks of the need to address climate change.
“It’s not a one-off thing. It’s not a glitch,” the director of Tearfund Canada told CT.
The Christian relief organization has provided assistance through food programs established to help herdsmen who have been forced to migrate to cities as their livelihoods dissolve. But Schroeder feels compelled to do something more than help those suffering now. He wants to mitigate future droughts by addressing the problem of climate change.
The substantial increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide—caused by burning fossil fuels doesn’t have an outsized impact on the lives of Canadians where Schroeder lives in Toronto. But 7,500 miles away, in Eastern and Northern Africa, the human cost of climate change is very visible.
“We see the effects firsthand,” Schroeder said. “For us, if things get too hot, we’ll just crank up the air conditioning a bit more. But for our beneficiaries in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Sudan, it really is a matter of life and death.”
That’s why Tearfund has taken steps recently to partner with another Christian organization, A Rocha Canada, to better educate people in Canada about the effects of climate change and what they can do to help.
To kick off this partnership, they conducted a survey of 742 Canadian Christians between the ages of 18 and 40 to learn more about what they currently think concerning climate change and how the church is already doing at addressing the issue.
“We know that young people obviously care about these issues just in general more than the older generation,” Schroeder said. “We really wanted to dig deeper and to figure out what they thought and what they believed in.”
What they discovered was a high degree of concern. More than 90 percent of those surveyed reported being worried about climate change and nature loss, with 60 percent stating that they are “quite” to “seriously worried.”
Only a quarter, however, indicated they were actually taking action to address the issue. There was a presiding sense of hopelessness.
As one survey respondent wrote, “It appears like the clock is ticking, and there may not be a future world for my children or my grandchildren. And that, to me, is the single biggest concern. Will they have food? Will they be able to survive?”
Schroeder believes that is a great place for Christians to enter the conversation.
“When you look out into the world and see people, especially young people, being depressed and sad and anxious, I think the church has a wonderful message—one of hope, one of renewal,” he said. “We have a creator God who loves us.”
Tearfund and A Rocha Canada launched The Creation Collective on April 20 at Tyndale University to be a network of like-minded Canadian churches and organizations who want to take action to care for creation. Their website will serve as a place for churches, organizations, and individuals to find ways to combat the hopelessness, take real action, and serve their suffering brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.
“No matter where you are on the journey, you can start taking action and learning more in easy and practical ways,” Schroeder said.
The Creation Collective is offering both theological resources, with courses, videos, and books on creation care, and practical ideas to reduce the use of carbon and make personal changes to better care for the earth.
Luke Wilson, CEO of A Rocha Canada, said there’s a shared ethos and value system between his organization and Tearfund. He thinks a lot of evangelicals in Canada agree with those ideas too but don’t know how to take the next step.
“We really believe that organizations and the church need to collaborate to move forward on this important topic,” Wilson said.
The Creation Collective’s survey confirmed the need for a more intentional and organized response to climate change. It’s an especially important topic for young Christians. The survey found 91 percent of young Christians believe it is important to act now to do something about climate change.
“I knew that eco-anxiety is a growing trend,” Wilson said, “but to see it affirmed with high percentages in the 80s or 90s was fairly significant.”
Christians in Canada may not be experts on the science of climate change and may not have special insight into the best policy proposals for reducing carbon emissions. But a large part of the problem that needs to be addressed, Wilson said, is in human hearts. And churches are called to speak to that.
“It’s a matter of where do we place our value and what do we care about and what do we love,” he said. “Our resources and energy follow that.”
Wilson has been encouraged, so far, to see that Canadian Christians share his conviction that climate change is a gospel issue. The survey found 94 percent of young Canadian Christians say that their faith taught them to care about injustice and the most vulnerable. They are concerned about the environment because of—not despite—their faith.
“It was encouraging to see statistics to back up our stories on the ground of people really living out a new kind of way of their faith,” Wilson said. “I think that’s the opportunity in this gap between where the next generation is and where they believe the church could be and should be.”
Andrea Leung, a 28-year-old law school student in Ottawa and a current board member of Tearfund, said that for her the impact of climate change on the global south drove home the urgency of the issue.
“It’s something I feel we can’t just turn a blind eye to, especially if our way of living and our actions are causing or contributing to the severity of climate change and nature loss,” she said. “I feel like that’s something that requires us as Christians to get involved.”
At the same time, she relates to many of her peers who struggle with knowing what to do.
“People just don’t know how to turn those thoughts into action,” she said. “Personally, I often struggle with [thinking] I should be doing different things, but I don’t really know what that should look like and more practical steps to take.”
That’s where she believes The Creation Collective will come in. Already it has many resources available for people to look at and starting points for individuals and organizations that want to do something. For instance, an initiative underway now encourages Christians to make time on May 27 to take part in Canada’s National Litter Pick-Up Day.
While each group may ultimately choose a unique way to make a difference in their own community, she believes there is value in having a place to find resources or to share and discuss ideas with others.
Her prayer is that through this initiative, God will give people a heart for change and remove the paralysis of fear and helplessness.
“Starting small makes it so it’s not such an overwhelming task,” she said.