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Testimony of Margarete Wiebe, November 28, 2021

My testimony today is partly on behalf of the Green Sanctuary Group, (GSG) of which I am a member, to keep you as a supporting congregation informed about our chosen focus now and into the coming year.  But I also wanted to take this opportunity to share with you on a deeper, more personal level, some of my own personal struggles in navigating the waters of the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

In the past number of weeks we have all watched, probably with equal parts fascination and alarmed disbelief, the unfolding, in real time, of our new climate reality, not halfway around the world, not in some distant future, but here and now.

Images of turbulent water, flooded farmlands, submerged and abandoned homes, vehicles trapped between mudslides, and, everywhere collapsed infrastructure, are seared into our collective consciousness.

Who of us can ever forget the tears and choked voices of those who have seen a lifetime of dreams and hard work drowned in waters that have left their natural course?

And who has not been deeply moved, perhaps especially those with an affinity for animals who have a way of becoming a treasured part of our families – the furry part, the part that doesn’t talk back – on seeing frightened livestock neck-deep in water being led to dry land and safety.  And those are the lucky ones!

And yet, who has not been utterly amazed at the compassion of first responders, extended family, friends, neighbours and even total strangers who again and again rise to the occasion of a local calamity in order to lend a helping hand?  I often wonder if this human impulse is written into our very DNA.

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But what about the bigger picture?  And I mean the really big picture.

Has it ever seemed to you, as it often seems to me, that the enormity of the environmental challenges that we face on a global scale are ultimately insurmountable?  

Or has it ever seemed to you, as it sometimes seems to me, that the present woundedness of the earth is beyond healing?

I must confess, if left to my own internal brooding, that I discover there a remarkable propensity for despair.

But if hope, as has often been said, is the antidote of despair, then where is that hope to be found?  And how is it to be teased out of hiding?

For me, it is helpful to recognize that hope is of a different order than warm feelings of optimism about future outcomes. And that one of the ways that real hope can take root and grow, and even thrive, is in actionable responses to concrete, observable events or situations.

How we each choose to “show up”  for our threatened environment is a personal choice, but I think a deeply spiritual one.  Care of the planet, I think, goes to the very heart of what we claim to believe in: that all of life in its multitude of manifestations is intricately connected, that we are called, as a people of faith, to protect and to care for its continuation into future generations.

We are of the earth.  Its teeming life forms fill us with awe and wonder and gratitude. And sometimes we are left speechless with the unfathomable divine mystery at the centre of this tangled web of existence.

As a tiny GSG (we say small but mighty) within the larger gathered community, how shall we together address what is probably the greatest and most important challenge of our age?

After some discussion,  we decided to align ourselves with larger, already existing grassroots environmental organizations, primarily Environmental Defence, in their ongoing efforts to protect the Ontario Greenbelt from further disruptive development with the proposed building of two potentially six-lane highways, Hwy 413 and the Bradford Bypass.

Most of us, I think, are already aware of the salient issues, so I will not belabour them.  But as I did some of my own research, I discovered a number of things that were new to me and I thought I would take a moment to share them with you.

First of all, its vast expanse!  The greenbelt consists of almost 2 million acres of protected farmlands, wetlands, streams, forests and green space.  It is a stretch of land that surrounds the entire golden horseshoe, an area that includes the regions of York, peel, Durham, Halton, parts of Hamilton and Simcoe county, the Oak Ridges moraine, the Niagara escarpment, and the fertile soil of Niagara’s vineyards, which I remember as a young girl growing up in St Catharines, were then acres and acres of blossoming fruit trees – cherry and plum, apple and pear, and the biggest, sweetest and juiciest preaches in the whole wide world eaten straight from the tree.  As I am saying this, I remember my grandparents insisting on the superiority of Russian watermelons!

There are upwards of 7000 farms providing fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, pork and dairy products.

This huge designated area was created by and is protected from further disruptive development by passage of an act of the Ontario legislature in 2005.  It is the largest such designated area not only in all of Canada, but also in the whole world.

In recent years, the rapid incremental unravelling of many of these environmental protections has left this area vulnerable to the devastating effects of the proposed paved highways, the destruction of environmentally sensitive wetlands and forested areas making it uninhabitable by already endangered species, inducing urban sprawl and encouraging the very car culture, with its heavy emissions, that we wish to curtail in favour of public transit.

The GSG has chosen to do a variety of things.  We have been working hard to keep you informed, largely through emails, of any new developments, making petitions available for you to sign, providing lawn signs for you to plant, writing letters and making phone calls to the powers that be, speaking to the media, attending a number of rallies, and participating last Sunday morning in a 3-hour online webinar on environmental strategies. Some of these activities, for reasons important to this congregation, are not carried out as representatives of first unitarian per se.

You may want to do further research on your own.   There is ample material on line. You may want to make this a topic of conversation with family and friends, neighbours, classmates or office mates.  You may want to pack a picnic lunch and hop in the car for a drive into the greenbelt.  Or you may wish to join the GSG in some of their future endeavours.

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We all have ways of thinking about and acting to take care of our environment.  

It has been said before and I will say it again.  When people like you and I show up for what we believe in and truly care about, change can happen.

May all of our lives, both individually and collectively, be enactments of hope, a way to serve life so that all things, even our lands and waterways, even our forests and their creatures, may be left to grow into harmony with the Divine.