I feel a constant tension at COP15. On the one side, the climate change crisis is complex and global, it affects people everywhere in various ways. Therefore, the narratives of these many people are interesting: their experiences contribute to a better understanding of the crisis. These voices, and particularly those of the most affected people, carry seeds for imagining and designing a sustainable life together on our planet. Each particular voice is worth listening to. On the other side, the COP15 discussions very often reflect the particular interests of countries and nations that enter in power games with one another. Although the clash of these particular interests highlights some very important aspects of the crisis and in that sense is constructive, the game of particular interests becomes destructive for the whole, if it is not set against the background of a worldwide concern. In that sense, some call for global, worldwide structures of governance.
The tension balances between a force downwards (the need to pay attention to individual experiences) and the need for a broad force field that can act effectively on a worldwide scale, beyond the power games of national interests. Such a “glocal” (global & local) approach represents a new challenge to our ways of doing politics. Is there a way to give due respect to personal narratives and experiences, while at the same time focusing on the world as a whole? I am not sure that the politics of negotiating between nations is the best way to proceed? Who are the real parties at the table of negotiation?
The situation is even more complex. This “glocal” tension looks at the crisis from a very anthropocentric perspective: it is a crisis of humanity before being a crisis of the planet as a whole. There is, indeed, an elephant in the room: the voice of the planet as an actor who confronts us with limits and with reactions that move beyond our control. To me, it was symbolized by a loose butterfly in the “Niels Bohr” room, an animal that should not be there at this moment of the year, an animal that had entered the Bella Center without accreditation and without passing through the necessary controls. There may be danger that the human parties at COP15 try to answer in just and equitable terms (for human beings) the challenge to live together, while forgetting to take into account the limits and uncontrollability of our one natural resource, the earth. Who at this conference is advocating for the elephant party in the room?
Allow me a theological reflection on COP15 realities. This triangle of tensions is not unfamiliar to Christians. Indeed, the Christian experience is always located in individual human beings, whose narratives are crucial to understand and to transmit faith. Nevertheless, that faith has a social and a universal scope: it requires the manifold of human experiences to truly unfold as a gift to all of us and to disrupt a self-centeredness that we like to cover up as faith – there is a challenge to justice and equity. Therefore, Christians pay a critical attention to the gift of faith in the poor and excluded, in those who vulnerably maintain their t(h)rust in a dignified future together even amidst the most brutal and inhuman conditions. Church emerges as concrete communities with a universal scope, when these experiences of faith are shared and offer the space for the revelation of the deeper ground or source that – or better: “who” – critically holds and brings us together. However, there is one more critical step to go, lest we should reduce reality to mere human togetherness according to “our” plans (the plans of the most powerful amongst us, who impose their will and interests on others, using even the appeal to objective science and technological control to do so). The source Christians recognize and call God, cannot be imprisoned in the structure of our life together, in our human societies. Reality is larger than human community and society – as reality is larger than the game of countries and nations at COP15. There is an elephant in the room of human life together: there is a world, a universe, to which we all belong and out of which we emerge, and this is a reality that ultimately escapes all human attempts to control and dominate it and that Christians, therefore, call creation. This “escape” of reality is not grounded in its brutal force that would hold us at bay, but, paradoxically, in its vulnerability that lies beyond our control because reality is too poor to yield all that we would want to extract out of it. Reality’s real protection and strength lies in the fact that by destroying it, we destroy ourselves – when the awareness has grown that we can destroy the environment through which we receive life, we become aware of a responsibility that makes us similar to the Creator but that keeps us from replacing the Creator.
José Ignacio Garcia, a fellow Jesuit at OCIPE in Brussels, and myself registered this afternoon at COP15 as part of Franciscans International, an NGO that attempts to embody the global commitment of the Franciscan family and that was willing to accept us as part of their delegation. It was a remarkable experience: many, many, many people queing up to be registered, some confusions, but also, amidst what could become an aggressive chaos, a lot of efficiency, patience, common sense and humor. The organizers have done a very good job. There is a great capacity here to deal with stress. What struck me most, while waiting for registration and photo, is the enormous diversity of the participants – people from all over the globe and of all ages and generations are present. I felt very much encouraged by the presence of young people, from international organisations and from NGOs and IGOs: that is impressive. One really feels that there future is at stake here in Stockholm and that they want to be present at these discussions.
Once registered, one gains access to the main conference space. Organisations were constructing their exhibits and the rooms for the side events were being arranged. I visited several of these organisations: the IPCC, UNEP, WWF, GTF (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. I will see more tomorrow, but I was already expressed to see the concrete faces of organisations I know about through the internet.
Because I had long times to travel and to wait today, I had the opportunity to read in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Le milieu divin. It strikes me how TdC attempts to explain how the Christian faith does not turn one away from the world and from the earth, but effects rather the opposite: it commits one to the world discovering the deep creative energies of love that inhabit it and ourselves. I hope that we will be able to touch these energies in the coming days, so that we do not face the challenges in despair, but rather with proactive hope. At least, COP15 touches the constructive energies of many people. And that remains true, even if one may wonder whether the main discussion here – touching on economic approaches to the crisis, particularly with regard to CO2 measures – touches the deep core of the challenges.
I have started reading James Lovelock‘s The Vanishing Face of Gaia. At this point, three main ideas have struck me, that I want to share.
(1) The seriousness of the global environmental and climate crisis we are facing. The analyses and models of the IPCC, considered to be the best possible science available today, are below the facts that we can measure and observe. The crisis is evolving much faster than those models lead us to expect and the “smooth” evolution that they seem to predict may well be overtaken by unexpected, sudden, chaotic and dramatic changes. Lovelock is very critical of the work of the IPCC, claiming that they have allowed their science to be smoothed by political interests. Although it is difficult for me to gauge to what extent political pressure weighs on the IPCC scientists, Lovelock’s observation is critical as the relationship between scientists and politicians is determining global environmental decision making. I concur with Lovelock when he claims that climate change is moving at a much more rapid pace than modeled by our so-called best available science. A recent and reliable report called the Copenhagen Diagnosis confirms this.
(2) Our “best available science” has not yet really made its way to the Gaia approach, i.e. it is not yet capable of articulating a vision on the earth as one whole, one body, one organism. This seems to me as if a medical doctor would not be able to look at the human being as a whole, taking into account laws and parameters that concern this whole as a whole and “integrate” towards the whole the complex interactions of laws and interactions at a lower level. Objects under study in sciences are always “wholes” of other, “smaller” objects that can be studied at their own level, but something is added when these “smaller” object combine into the “higher” object (the whole is more than the mere sum of its components). We have not yet managed to integrate our science towards the higher level of Gaia and this may lead to misunderstandings, e.g. that we don’t understand well that at this moment the earth, as Gaia, is working out a new balance or equilibrium for its existence.
(3) I also appreciate very much how Lovelock articulates the place of human beings on earth. He considers them clearly a part of the whole, as this whole also contains other component parts. But, at the same time, human beings are a valuable part of this whole, produced by Gaia over the space of millions of years so as to give it the capacity to think and to reflect. In that sense, it would be damage to Gaia if human beings were to disappear from it. This kind of anthropology balances well, in my opinion, the tension between a dangerous anthropocentrism on the one side and the denial of the importance of the human being on the other side. Human beings are an important part of Gaia, crucially enriching it, but they are not more than a part of Gaia and, therefore, cannot be disconnected from it.
These three ideas seem very stimulating to me; they should also, in my opinion, be in the backpack of all those who will participate in the Copenhagen negotiations. Moreover, they are a healthy reminder to theologians, particularly Christian theologians, to enter into critical transdisciplinary conversations with scientists, to remind themselves that the notion of “creature” is a flexible and dynamic one, and to challenge them to develop an anthropology that reflects genuine admiration for human beings, those very special creatures that cannot, however, be disconnected from their embeddedness in the whole of a creation that they can enrich, but that has also taken a serious risk in generating them and allowing them to emerge.
Thank you for these challenges, James Lovelock.
Jacques Haers SJ, also available on http://jacqueshaers.wordpress.com.