Everybody Wants to Rule the World

April 12th, 2015      Rev. Fiona Heath


Just to warn you, I am starting with the bad news.

But I promise there is good news too.

When I was studying environmental studies at York University, we looked at the impact of European colonization on the ecology of what is now the New England states.

First nations were pulled into a European economy, with beaver pelts forming the basis of trade for European goods such as metal tools and food.

Within a generation the beaver was wiped out in much of New England.

During the class discussion one student asked why the natives continued to hunt beaver when it must have been obvious the beavers were disappearing.

400 years from now, some young people will be sitting in a learning circle.

They will be studying the bright and shiny people who lived long ago in great cities.

And a student will ask why the bright and shiny people continued to use fossil fuel when it must have been obvious they were damaging the atmosphere.

And the answer will be the same.

Because we had to.

If the first nations people wanted to live and meet their basic needs, they had to hunt the beavers for their pelts and keep on hunting them until there were no more.

And we keep on driving and flying and purchasing until we permanently alter the climate  - so that we can live our lives.

The use of fossil fuels creates emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and raises the global temperature.

We are already past the 350 parts per million ratio of carbon dioxide molecules that scientists have deemed the safe level.

Scientists suggest that two-thirds of all remaining fossil fuels need to be left in the ground to stave off the worst effects of climate change.  

There is a carbon emissions budget that we cannot exceed, there is no line of credit for back up.

Current estimates suggest we will overdraw that account five times over.

In less than twenty years.

The results will not be pretty.

Already we can see glaciers melting at rates even faster than predicted.

California is in its fourth year of the worst droughts in memory.  Many reservoirs have no water left at all.


We may use compact fluorescent light bulbs and ride the bus - and every little bit helps – but we live within systems that are inherently destructive.

Systems that despite decades of warnings, have kept emissions rising.

Governments who have broken their promises to achieve significant reductions.

Little has been done.


Those with power, when not funding climate skeptics to deny reality, try to pretend it is impossible to change.

That we are too dependent on cheap fossil fuel, and that alternatives are too expensive.

This is all so depressing that I ate a lot of chocolate working on this service.

And it wasn’t even all fair trade.

But this future – the one where the earth is two degrees warmer before – stinks.

It means no more maple syrup because the maple trees from here to Quebec will die in the warmer temperatures.

I will be really sad if maple syrup disappears. And sadder still when UCM has to sponsor refugees from Boston after that city permanently floods.

And it isn’t just about the impact on nature.

Climate justice activists recognize that as things get worse,

it is the marginalized that are the most vulnerable.

And in moments of crisis, we turn too easily to fear and hatred.

Divisions of race, religion, class, gender become chasms.

The Hunger Games will become a global reality as billions compete for scarce resources of food and water.

I realize that my love of post apocalyptic fiction may arise from my sense that I might just meet the apocalypse.

And it isn’t going to be a cool one with zombies but one that is murky, dank and dark.

Have I depressed you enough yet?

Like the first nations people who kept on hunting the disappearing beavers, we keep burning fossil fuels.

We are all complicit in environmental destruction.

The aboriginal people of this continent were being pulled into an entirely different way of being in the world.

Their economies were based on sharing land and sharing resources.

Market profits and private ownership were alien concepts.

They were conquered and reeling from it.

Our situation is a little different.

We did not just come face to face with a strange ideology, we live our lives immersed in this free market economy like it’s the water we swim in.

We aren’t trading for necessities so much as for the 2 for 10 dollar t-shirts at the Gap.


I would rather watch the final season of Mad Men.

But as much as all this stinks, as much as it all saddens me no end, as much as I would rather watch tv, we need to talk about the impact of climate change.

Climate change isn’t the story of our time, it is the only story. (Bill Blakemore)

As Unitarian Universalists we try to see clearly, to understand honestly,

however bleak reality may be.

We hold our chalice flame up high and shine the light upon the earth.

And we try not to look away.

Our current economic system – free market capitalism -  is fatally flawed.

It is based on endless, unsustainable growth.

It is based on cheap energy.

Captialism almost inevitably sacrifices long term health for short term gain.

My favourite author, Ursula LeGuin, reminds us that

“We live in capitalism.

Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.

No system is too big to evolve.

I want – no – I need - a healthy and just society for our children.

I need Audrey and Max and Charlotte and all our fabulous kids to have a bright future. 

My deepest hope is that all of you need this too.


Thank you all for not leaving in tears.

I started with the bad news, so now comes the good news.

You and I alone and together, can make a difference.

Remember Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz?

In one of the Oz stories, Dorothy and her friends are on a quest and are stopped  by a blazing wall of fire.

They panic, they get frightened, they all run away a little.

Dorothy starts to give up.

But then the gang studies the wall of fire.

They pay attention and eventually realize the wall of fire is just an illusion.

It sounds and feels real but they see that it is not.

Nothing is burning.

All Dorothy had to do was screw up her courage and head right into it.

She does and the fire disappears.

It won’t be that easy.

Change is going to be really, really, really, really, tough.

Some of the wall of fire is just smoke and mirrors but not all of it.

It’s going to hurt as we fight our way through. 

Changing global systems and infrastructure away from fossil fuel isn’t a matter of flipping a switch.  Things are going to get worse before they get better.

This really is the good news part!

The good news is that this is a pivotal moment in human history.

With crisis, comes opportunity.

We have a chance to remake society into something better, to bring to life that Unitarian Universalist vision of the inherent worth and dignity of all creatures, to bring to life a vision of society based in justice and equity and compassion, a society that embodies the interconnected web of collaboration and community.

We have a chance to live our lives with meaning.

To live as citizens truly engaged in the shaping of society.

We can be part of the amazing collective of people who are committed to ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

Good change is happening right now.

Yesterday, over 25,000 people marched in Quebec City to remind the Prime Minister and the Premiers that now is the time to act on climate change.

350.org has created a global movement that has helped put climate change on the international political agenda.

The Guardian newspaper has ground breaking media coverage, with dozens and dozens of stories on climate change.

Our denomination is part of this change for the better.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has created Commit2Respond, dedicated to raising awareness on how climate change disproportionally affects the poor and the marginalized.

There is a growing critical mass of positive action.

The owners of the Guardian just divested themselves of all fossil fuel investments.

California is committing to getting 50% of its energy from renewable sources within fifteen years.


Wind farms, water turbines and solar panels are part of the future. Exciting scientific and technical breakthroughs are happening all over the world.

People are working together, across countries and languages, to find solutions.

Our spiritual tradition can help in this Great Turning.

The seven principles are based in a moral vision of health and harmony for all people, creatures, and the planet.  Now is the time when we must truly live out our principles in our daily lives, in our everyday choices and in our work for a better tomorrow.

It will be tough, but we are grounded in hope.  Hope that is held by the chalice.

Hope that will hold us up in the dark times.

Unitarians and Universalists have helped to end slavery, give women the vote, grow the civil rights movement, and legalize the marriage of same sex couples.

We know that it is possible to reform social norms through the collective will of the people.

We are grounded in the hope offered by our connection with the planet.

Nature has a beautiful amazing regenerative power – not just for us but for itself.  Regrowth happens every spring and our spirits are refreshed when we rest in the grace in the earth. We know that the earth always turns back to the light, to life.

We are grounded in the hope offered by beloved community.

Unitarian Universalism grew out of the loving generousity of people working together.  Collaboration and conversation are our skill set.

We participate in the climate change movement by sharing our vision and by holding onto hope. We don’t have to save the world by ourselves, we just have to work together with the  hundreds of thousands already involved.

We know that small groups of engaged citizens have transformative powers.

We know deep in our hearts that we are all connected. 

This sense of connection can empower us.

Hope and vision light our path to a sustainable future.                        

To a future that is about clean energy sources, not cheap energy sources.

A future that is not based on the exploitation of anyone.

A future worthy of our children.

This is a future I want to be part of creating.

It is an exciting time to live.

A truly just and sustainable future won’t be easy to grow, but grounded in hope, guided by vision, we can overcome anything, even a wall of fire.

Here are more words of wisdom from Ursula LeGuin.

“You cannot buy the revolution.

You cannot make the revolution.

You can only be the revolution.

It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

Let the desire for climate justice take root in your spirit.

Let the chalice hold you when the way is hard – because it totally is.

And it is totally worth it.

Let us be the revolution.

So say we all!


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