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Faith into climate action: a young person's journey

Tearfund's Meg Hermes speaks with environmental activist Josh Tregale about how he's putting his faith into action to tackle the climate crisis.

Written by Megan Prosser | 22 Jan 2021

Youth environmental activist Josh Tregale.

One of the privileges I’ve had since I joined the Tearfund Action team is hearing from inspiring activists around the world who are making change happen in their local communities. I spoke to Josh, an 18-year-old youth activist from Dorset, about his journey to becoming an environmental activist and his campaign to get his local church to divest from fossil fuels.

Josh is on his gap year before heading off to study mechanical engineering at Imperial College London. His ambition is to work in the renewable energy sector. In late-2020 Josh worked as an Event Coordinator for Mock COP26, an environmental conference mirroring the postponed COP26, with young people as the decision-makers. Its aim was to raise ambition for this November’s COP talks. He is now working as the Campaign Coordinator for Teach the Future International – an international campaign for climate education.

Meg: What first sparked your interest in environmental activism?

Josh: [It was] when I found out about the catastrophic impact that natural disasters and extreme weather have on people and the link between climate change and these events. The first time this was highlighted to me was at New Wine, during a youth session run by Tearfund. Hearing about the first-hand experience of people facing droughts was powerful. Those at the front line of the climate crisis are the people who have contributed the least to causing the issue – and that injustice is what drove me to push for change.

Meg: What role has your faith played in how you feel about the environment and specifically the climate crisis?

Josh: The teachings of Jesus are centred around looking out for the oppressed and marginalised. I feel that we are called to the same pursuit of justice. The climate crisis has a devastating impact on the most vulnerable peoples in the world and this duty to speak out against that injustice compels me to care about these issues. The earth is God’s creation, with which he is ‘pleased’, and we are damaging it. How is that a sign of gratitude?

Meg: What drew you to the issue of your church’s investments?

Josh: When I saw the tragic news story of when a dam collapsed in Brazil, flooding a mine with mud, it made me realise that the practices of companies can have a direct impact on people’s lives. I was aware from its financial report that my parish had considerable investments. I decided to investigate, and discovered investments in funds containing a high proportion of fossil fuels.

Meg: How did you go about approaching your church regarding divestment?

Josh: I started by researching the investments and calculating the amount of money invested in fossil fuels. I then found some case studies of the impact fossil fuel extraction has on the communities near the drill sites and the impact the industry has in contributing to the climate crisis. I then asked a question at the annual meeting (APCM). Disappointingly this was sidestepped so I spoke to a few people I trusted in the church who also cared about environmental issues for support and advice. My diocesan (regional) bishop is the Church of England lead on climate change and the environment, and I was able to meet with him to discuss the situation in the diocese, in the hope of them leading by example and to seek advice about my parish.

Meg: You put together an impressive report to present to your church council. Can you tell us how you went about putting that together?

Josh: After speaking with people from my church and feeling dismissed at the APCM, it became apparent that the parish was driven by financial arguments, and a purely moral case would sadly have a limited impact. This was when I decided to write a report. I started by reading papers and articles about the links between fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change. My report covered the current financial situation and the moral and financial case for divestment. Once I had written it, I sought the advice of people from my church and from Tearfund, which enabled me to make parts clearer and convey the key points more effectively.

Meg: What was the response from your church when you presented them with your findings?

Josh: To date, the report has not been discussed and there were lots of voices opposing me even bringing the topic up. Reassuringly, there have been several people who have been very supportive and I hope that in the next six months the conversation can begin properly. I became a member of the PCC (Parochial Church Council) and joined the finance committee so I could be part of the discussions around the investments. After I’d spoken to my bishop, the diocese has partly divested from fossil fuels, which is a huge step in the right direction.

Meg: What would you say to others looking to speak up for change, who are looking to perhaps challenge their church council or leadership on their response to the climate crisis?

Josh: Go for it! Speaking to a church should be easier because we have the added mandate to care for God's creation and the people who inhabit it. I would suggest researching the topic and finding stories from people will help you to make your case. The human angle makes it much less abstract and easier to relate to. It is also great to find a few like-minded people so you can be sure of a few supportive voices, and your own voice can be amplified. 

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Written by  Megan Prosser

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