Posted by Frances Orchard CJ
Given the apparent lack of faith-based inputs at COP15 it has been a welcome oasis to be able to participate in The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) here in Copenhagen. GPIW has been working for the past year to organize a strong gathering of spiritual leaders from across the world in support of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
Dena Merriam, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell and Sister Joan Chittister OSB are leading this delegation of 35 spiritual leaders and thinkers, environmentalists and scientists to participate in the numerous events taking place in Copenhagen around this UN Summit. The delegation includes strong representation from the Eastern traditions and includes faith leaders from countries strongly affected by climate change. Included in the delegation are representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Pakistan, Senegal, Thailand, UK, Uganda, the United States, and Vietnam.
The message of GPIW is that as climate change poses an unprecedented challenge and opportunity for the human community what is most greatly needed is the guidance of our spiritual traditions, the wisdom and the love that comes from deep prayer and contemplative practice. Climate change, more than any other issue, has the potential to unite us as a human community. It also has the potential to divide us. We will succeed only if we are able to tap that which unifies so that we can know more deeply our Oneness, the underlying source from which all life is drawn.
It has not been possible to attend all their sessions but yesterday GPIW hosted an evening entitled: “Voices of Hope- Responding to the Call of the Earth”. Guest speakers included: the Hon Maurice F. Strong, a leading environmentalist and Secretary-General of the Stockholm Conference on the Environment; Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and Founder of the Greenbelt Movement in Africa; Professor Dr. Phra Dharmakosajarn, Rector of the MCU University in Thailand; Swami Veda Bharati of the Sadhana Mandir Ashram in India; Andrew Harvey, architect of Sacred Activism, and others.
Keys themes that emerged were the belief that only religion has the power – the height, and depth, and breadth – to bring about the shift in consciousness that humanity needs to face the emerging crisis of climate change. Maurice Strong took a long view of change and emphasized that the collapse of communism and socialism removed the restraints of unbridled capitalism and irresponsible acquisition has been the consequence.
Professor Wangari reminded us to re-visit the Book of Genesis to see how God views humans in the whole scheme of things. We were created only on the sixth day because we needed everything else in creation to be there for us. Had we been created on Monday we would have died on Tuesday because our support structures were not yet in place! Our role is to be custodians of creation not exploiters. If we exploit we undermine the structure within which we are designed to exist. As custodians we need values. Values have no price tag (which is not the way the negotiators at COP15 see things), but without values our humanity is diminished. Only Christian values such as compassion towards those who suffer without cause, and empathy to do to others what we would wish them to do to us, can help us to be truly human. Values and compassion are not words in use at COP15.
Dr.Phra Dharmakosajarn returned to the key question of how we raise awareness to the threat to humanity. He reminded us that Darwin’s research showed that it was not the strongest or the most powerful who survived but the fittest. Fitness entails the ability to adapt to a changing environment. As our environment changes how do we adapt our behaviour to survive? Not by continuing our pattern of relentless acquisition but by being aware of what we have to do to adapt to our circumstances: consume less; be more compassionate to those who suffer; stay firm to our values; pray that we might be transformed.
Pope John Paul II spoke about the need for ecological conversion and ecological vocation. This is very close to the message that is coming from the spiritual leaders of the world here in Copenhagen. It is also the message of Pope Benedict XVI when he writes: “”we are all called to exercise responsible stewardship of creation, to use resources in such a way that every individual and community can live with dignity, and to develop ‘that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God’”.