Using the personal narrative to move climate justice forward: A Fossil Free Faith Fellow explains.

Guest post by Talia Martz-Oberlander

Talia. Photo by Caelie Frampton

Talia. Photo by Caelie Frampton

British Columbia-based Fossil Free Faith “Fellows” represent around eight Christian denominations, Islam, and Judaism. While we vary in demographics, we share a passion and commitment for climate action and a socially just, climate-stable world.
We’ve read the science, we’ve seen the effects of climate destabilization, and we know the right thing to do is act now to prevent irreparable damage to the Earth.

Our training weekend last May (hosted by leader Christine Boyle and others) ensured all Fellows were on the same track going forward in our climate justice work.
Part of our two days together was spent discussing past and present environmental movements. We learned about historical and contemporary action plans for combatting the systemic injustices of climate change, and we mapped out faith-based climate justice work around the world. However, our greatest task for the weekend was learning how to use narrative.

Narrative uses a personal story to explain a logical argument.

Narrative invites the listener to connect to issues on a deeper level of core values. While it can sometimes be tied to “rhetoric” or sleazy politics, all narrative really does is use a personal story to explain a logical argument. For example, narrative can make the difference between “divest fossil fuels now” and “divest because I want to raise my kids skiing like my mum raised me”. It is a sense of shared values that can connect groups towards action.

We Fellows are now tasked with using our personal narratives to connect with our faith communities and leaders for them to act on climate change through policy such as divesting from fossil fuels. To do this, we must think about what motivates us to work towards climate justice and how others can relate to our stories.

I did not find these narrative exercises easy. My relationship with my religion and climate justice work has not always been an easy one.

I grew up in an Eastern European, traditional egalitarian, Jewish household in the colonized area of Vancouver, BC. My family instilled in me a love of my religious heritage, thankfulness for my ancestry and where my family is today, a deep sense of responsibility to serve the world around me, and that everything I do as an individual impacts others. While this foundation of conduct in conjunction with tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing of the world) is tied to Judaism, I spent many of my teen years feeling like my religious ideologies were separate from my social justice work.

As a young adult, my allegiance to both faith and environmental health was rocked by peers who viewed religion as the basis for violent conflict and inherently contrary to social equality. I felt that if people could not understand the complexity of Jewish identity and social justice work I should ensure to separate the two in my life. It was only later, as I intentionally sought out Jewish social settings, that I found many like-minded peers who felt a strong tie to Jewish religion as well as a sense of ethical responsibility to approach contemporary issues with a faith-based lens.

I learned that Jewish teachings clearly support climate justice work. Many religious texts and laws define the need to speak out in the face of injustice and the responsibility not to damage any part of Creation or profit from harmful activity. So why then did I spend so long not seeing the connection? Perhaps because I felt alone in my desire for faith-based social justice work.

Now, through time spent with other Fossil Free Faith Fellows, I have started learning about other faiths’ ethical commitments to climate justice. I am seeing how strongly faith connects us via many years of shared pasts and deeply rooted commitment to community, across many religions. It is this form of connection that can bring the world together above the runaway capitalist ideologies that have in part led us to this climate crisis.

Climate justice work is tiring. I am only twenty and yet have felt some burnout. When labeled a radical by my own country’s leaders for wanting to preserve the earth as it was passed down by my ancestors, working with the other Fellows helps strengthen my resolve to stand up to systemic climate injustices. I want to thank all members of Fossil Free Faith Canada for their support of this fellowship and I look forward to forming bonds strong enough to unite towards a more just world.

Truly, faith is a narrative with strong abilities to connect. Surely we can better face climate change if we work together.

About the Writer

Talia  is an undergraduate student at Quest University Canada in Squamish, BC where she studies materials sciences (chem/physics) through the question: “How can light inspire effective design?”


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