Reverend Natasha Bruhbaker tries to make greener choices every day.
Although she owns a car, she walks when she can — just one of the daily choices she makes to leave a smaller carbon footprint. And a choice that led to her being almost struck in traffic twice in one week.
When walking across a crosswalk on a double-lane street, Bruhbaker was nearly hit by a driver.
“They came to a screeching stop,” she said. “The guy who had to stop really looked pissed off at me that I happened to be walking across the street.”
To Bruhbaker, this isn’t an isolated incident, but is emblematic of the way people relate to each other and the natural world.
“The whole thing just left me really disturbed,” she said. “Not just being ignored but the way people relate when they’re driving.”
Bruhbaker, minister at St. Martin’s Anglican Church in northwest Calgary, and other members of Calgary’s religious communities believe they can use their regular sermons and other hosted events to encourage Calgarians to take action on climate change. That’s despite a recent survey by Ipsos showing Canadians are below the global average for caring for their environment.
The religious leaders believe when people connect to their spirituality, they also feel a greater responsibility to the planet — a belief backed by studies done at Charles Stuart University, in New South Wales, Australia.
Two years ago, after deciding she wanted to do more to encourage climate action outside of giving sermons, Bruhbaker joined Green Exodus.
The multi-faith group, composed of people who follow Christian, Buddhist and Indigenous traditions and teachings, believes in the value of meditation, poetry and community conversations as tools to deepen the relationship between participants and the planet.
The group initially came together in response to founder Sarah Arthurs’ readings and realizations about the current state of climate change.
“I read these articles and they kind of said we’re up the creek. They kind of said the technology we have isn’t going to save us,” Arthurs said.
“We started to meet regularly to pay attention and process things, and out of all that came some ideas about spirituality and climate change.”
The pandemic forced the group to pivot towards online educational sessions, with a new series of gatherings scheduled all the way until April 2022.
But, even with the multi-faith group coming together to build a stronger connection with nature, they have not always found the response they had hoped for. Bruhbaker said although most of the different faiths have classes and courses connecting faith to caring for the natural world, there’s no real interest.
“It’s not something people want,” she said.
Still, while some programs have not had success, Bruhbaker’s dogged belief that she can foster change through the church has some statistical support.
A correlation between a Christian group being less traditional and the group’s members having a stronger environmental concern was demonstrated in a study published by the Public Library of Science, which is based at Charles Sturt University.
It found the less biblically literal groups believed people should be stewards of nature, and were more likely to vote based on environmental concern than others outside of the church, or in churches that studied the Bible more literally.
“We’re not living in a healthy relationship with our Earth,” Bruhbaker said. “It’s an issue of understanding our purpose, as people understanding our own nature and how we are a part of this larger creation.”
While religion and spirituality can be debated, a recent study shows most Canadians are not taking care of their environment. The majority want to see their government respond to climate change, but are unwilling to make choices themselves, according to the study conducted by Ipsos.
Canadians are less likely to save energy and water or recycle, compared to global averages, the survey suggests. Fewer than one-quarter would be willing to fly less for the sake of the environment, compared to a global average of more than 40 per cent.
Bruhbaker has tried for decades to use her position in the ministry to change how people connect to environmental issues. During her sermons, she seeks every opportunity to show churchgoers how the Bible relates to caring for her environment.
“I just want to talk about our relationship to the natural world,” she said.
“I’ve always found it most beneficial to open up the questions, to not tell people all the answers, but to open up the questions. I think the job of faith leaders is often to help articulate really good questions.”