Mobilizing faith communities to take action on climate change is close to Joe Gunn’s heart. And he admits that it’s full of complexity.
“It’s one thing to get people to agree on a statement or acknowledgement that climate change is important,” says Joe. “The challenge is to motivate them to use their voices in the public square - to actually bring people out of their pews to push climate change as a priority.”
Dedicating long hours to social justice is not new to Joe. He’s worked in Central America as Country Director for Canadian Save the Children, he was the founding vice-chair of KAIROS, he’s been involved in Make Poverty History campaigns, and he has engaged in research, public speaking, and advocacy on national and international issues.
Today, as Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a national, non-partisan ecumenical organization based in Ottawa, his role is to lead initiatives that critique current policy positions from a faith-based perspective in order to bring well-researched, thought-out alternatives to discussions with Canadian politicians, church leaders, and everyday citizens.
Ecological justice is one of CPJ’s main focus areas. “A key part of our mission is to get important church leaders to speak on the issues and create interest,” said Joe, “and the Pembina Institute has been a great support in these efforts.”
One example of the Pembina/CPJ collaboration was the big push towards the end of 2011 before the COP17 talks in Durban. CPJ helped coordinate and write the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change, a letter with more than 50 different Christian and non-Christian faith organizations signatures – the first statement of churches together on climate change. “The fact that we were able to do this is due to our consultation with Pembina,” says Joe. “A lot of the ground work in terms of our public meetings and building the momentum to make this happen was due to the Pembina Institute.”
CPJ then helped organize several thousand petitions during Durban and afterwards where individuals across Canada sent in petitions that were tabled in the House of Commons. Five Conservative MPs tabled them as well. “It was a successful campaign because the petition was sent out into our many diverse faith communities,” says Joe. “And thousands of Canadians got to read the statement and support its main thrust.”
According to Joe, the Pembina Institute produces high quality work.
“Pembina’s analysis - well thought out, non-partisan and credible - is created for audiences who want to get a grasp of the issues. It has credibility. It moves the discussion forward. It’s critically important to have an environmental organization that understands the science around the issues as well as the politics.”
Joe feels the work closest to his heart is nowhere near finished yet. “Sadly, Canada’s ecological challenge is not being met, neither by our institutions nor with our government,” he says. “Therefore, it’s critically important that the faith and other community groups stand shoulder to shoulder with the Pembina Institute. We can’t get to where we want to go unless we work together.”