Lauryn Drainie stands on a road surrounded by green trees Lauryn Drainie

A\J: You have a special history having worked with some faith communities, as well as secular, environmental communities. What role do you think faith plays in contemporary, environmental movements?

Lauryn Drainie: Personally, I grew up in a faith community, so that’s always been a part of who I am, but I haven’t really been part of one officially recently. I find myself gravitating more towards the Unitarian Universalist tradition. 

So what does faith mean to you in an environmental context?

LD: When I’m out in nature, there are landscapes – Georgian Bay in particular – I just feel a very strong connection to myself, to the world. I think for me as someone who’s not really part of a faith community, that’s part of what faith is for me. Being out in nature, it connects me to everything and it reminds me what’s important. 

How does that context and community shape your faith? 

LD: When I’m in a place like Georgian Bay in particular, which has this amazing geological history, I get a stong sense of the vastness of time. Sometimes for me it helps to put problems in perspective. 

What gives you hope in your environmental and social justice work?

LD: There are a lot of things that give me hope. I would say I am often inspired by a lot of historic social movements that aren’t even related to the ones I’m working on today. I’ve read a lot about the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, and I found a lot of strength in that. If you spoke to a civil rights activist in the 1960s and told them that there was going to be a black president of the United States in the future, a lot of people likely would not believe you. 

I like to imagine a time, not too distant, when the way we’re treating the planet today seems totally ridiculous to future societies. Hopefully 10 or 20 years from now, there will be so much progress made on climate change that our current state is a distant memory.

So there’s kind of a historical source of hope that you’re seeing.

LD: Exactly. When I was traveling in Southeast Asia earlier last year, I got a lot of hope from the environmental activists that I met there. One that stands out to me in particular was this doctor, named Doctor Mg Mg Kyi. I wanted to do some volunteer work, and in particular wanted to work on a project that brought together tourism, conservation and community, because in a lot of the places we had visited, tourism had destroyed the area. 

We met a doctor running the most incredible local conservation organization in Myanmar on the Rakhine Coast for the past 10 years. He had grown up in a rural area, so spent a lot of time in nature himself, and was starting to see a lot of the farmland around his home becoming degraded. Just as a personal project, he wanted to restore it, because he had this strong connection to the land. He bought farmland that had been used for slash-and-burn farming, and started to restore it gradually. Now he has over 20 hectares of fully restored rainforest and he uses it as a teaching space. 

Now he’s working on mangrove conservation up and down the state, wildlife protection and preventing poaching of elephants and turtle eggs. He’s created this whole army of environmentalists up and down the coast. I think that’s so incredible. I see a lot of hope in environmentalism in the developing world. 

Is there a song, book or a film that has been meaningful or transformative and inspiring for you in your activism?

LD: The Children by David Halverson is about the civil rights movement. In it, I learned a lot about how the lunch counter sit-ins started with students and the courage they had. 

My favorite book of all time is The Little Prince. It just reminds me what’s important. Activism can be so draining. Even though you’re working on something so important, you can lose sight of that. 

Stephen Bede Scharper, a columnist for the Toronto Star, is an associate professor with the Centre for Environment at the University of Toronto. He is author of Redeeming the Time: A Political Theology of the Environment and co-editor of The Natural City: Re-Envisioning the Built Environment.

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