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US President B. Obama’s Nobel Lecture and Climate Change

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Upon reception of his Nobel Peace Prize on Dec 10, 2009, US President Barack H. Obama held a remarkable lecture on many accounts, e.g. his references throughout what he said and his willingness to discuss hope and religion. What he said will most certainly draw very diverse reactions, particularly his willingness to face squarely the reality of war as inevitable under certain circumstances, as well as the rules to wage war.

Here, I just want to focus on two aspects of the talk that seem important amidst environmental challenges such as global climate change. He addresses the issue directly in a small paragraph that relates to the security issues involved with development, food, water, medicine, education and job availability. B. Obama says: “And that is why helping farmers feed their people – or nations educate their children and care for the sick – is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action – it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.” B. Obama emphasizes the security issues regarding climate change. I agree that is an important element in the discussion, and I have not seen many military issues discussed at COP15, although obviously amongst the consequences of climate change we will find great societal and social disruption and unrest. One could argue that B. Obama does not point out that there is an even much larger security issue facing us: the security of the planet itself is at risk and the consequences of climate change concern the very survival of the human race and of life on the planet as a whole.

The second aspect I want to highlight in B. Obama’s address is his clear focus on his responsibilities as head of a state and, therefore, as responsible for his nation. This is most understandable, of course, but one keeps wondering how the responsibilities of a head of state relate to the concern and the care for the planet as a whole. There is need for worldwide leadership beyond national leadership. This tension is very present in the Bella Center: nations, diplomats, ministers and heads of state stand for their own nations’ interests and needs and they enter into economic and political competition as planetary resources are concerned. The poor and weak who suffer the consequences of a lack of worldwide leadership, remind us of the necessity and urgency of a broader scope than the mere nation.

Renueva la faz de la tierra

December 14, 2009 1 comment

Acaba de terminar la presentación titulada “Renueva la faz de la tierra: una aproximación a la justicia climática desde la fe”. Ha sido un acto organizado por Caritas Internacional y el Consejo Mundial de las Iglesias. Ha sido el único acto explícitamente cristiano entre todos los actos paralelos que se han organizado en la Conferencia de Copenhague. En él han particiapado Joy Kennedy, del Grupo de Trabajo del Cambio Climático del Consejo Mundial de las Iglesias; Joy ha insistido en la necesidad de superar un debate meramente técnico para reconocer que estamos ante un asunto que toca aspectos fundamentales del ser humano, por eso cree que los creyentes tenemos mucho que aportar. Erny Gillen es el presidente de Caritas Europa, él ha identificado la relación naturaleza-cultura-historia como un sistema que se retroalimenta continuamente, nuestro reto está en que tenemos el “poder” de cambiar la situación de este mundo. Tenemos que mover nuestra voluntad, y las de los políticos, en esa dirección para hacer que la pobreza “sea historia”, algo del pasado. El último en intervenir ha sido Tofiga Falani de la Iglesia Congregacional Cristiana de Tuvalu . Tuvalu se está haciendo muy famosa en esta conferencia porque es una isla-estado del pacífico que está seriamente amenazada de desaparecer sumergida por efecto del crecimiento del nivel del mar, a causa del cambio climático. Su intervención ha sido el testimonio de un creyente comprometido con una realidad tan desconcertante como es la de una seria amenaza medioambiental para su pueblo, un canto de esperanza en medio de una situación tan difícil de afrontar.

Creo que la realización de este acto es muy de agradecer a Caritas y el Consejo Mundial de las Iglesias. Todos sentíamos que faltaba algo así. Es verdad que el Vaticano tiene su representación oficial pero era sorprendente que esta Conferencia no hubiera un propuesta explícitamente religiosa entre el cúmulo de organizaciones y actividades. Así que lo más importante es agradecer la iniciativa.

Los participantes, y esto nos pasa a menudo, éramos del “club”, es decir la mayoría de los asistentes eran creyentes, muchos participantes activos en grupos religiosos involucrados en cuestiones medioambientales. Una vez más la difícil cuestión de cómo llegar a los no habituales, cómo hacer que nuestro mensaje pueda traspasar los límites de nuestras parroquias, comunidades, grupos.

Otra cuestión importante tiene que ver por la “calidad” de nuestras propuestas. No las técnicas, eso sabemos que no son nuestra competencia. Afirmamos que las religiones, las Iglesias, tenemos influencia en el comportamiento de las personas, que tocamos dimensiones que afectan a su manera de entender la vida y de actuar consecuentemente. Pero, ¿de verdad nuestras comunidades, parroquias o grupos son significativos por sus compromisos medioambientales? ¿Nuestros estilos de vida están marcados por la preocupación por un mundo –también el físico- posible para todos? ¿Cuándo las personas quieren vivir de una manera más responsable y solidaria, también en términos ecológicos, acude a nuestras parroquias? Sin duda que hay iniciativas concretas, pero como Iglesias ¿estamos de verdad marcando un estilo de vida en estas cuestiones? Me temo que nos queda mucho por hacer, tal vez por eso no se nos escuche tanto.

Copenhagen – Dec 13, 2009 – Climate Rally and Ecumenical Climate Service

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Posted by Frances Orchard CJ

At 11.30 we assembled in City Hall Square Copenhagen for a Public Event organised by Christian Aid under their slogan:

Time for Climate Justice – COUNTDOWN TO CO2PENHAGEN

We listened to first hand accounts from around the world where the impact of Climate Change is already affecting lives -always those of the poor – and then we welcome Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His energetic speech was designed to encourage the 25,000 present to fight climate injustice. “Hello rich countries – wake up!’ he called, “It’s cheaper to finance climate debt. 150 billion dollars a year would do it!” A petition signed by over half a million people was then presented to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC who promised to do what he could to get the Heads of States to make a good decision before the end of COP15. “I’ve just come from the Bella Centre”, he said, “and they’re always talking about the financial crisis. But this is a moral crisis, which could result in a global climate crisis.”

Events then moved on to the Lutheran Cathedral of Our Lady where an international ecumenical service to pray for a successful and just outcome to the negotiations for the benefit of the world was to be held. Present were Her Majesty Queen Margerethe II of Denmark, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury who preached. The service was mainly in English with choirs from Africa, Greenland, and Copenhagen. Three important symbols were carried in at the entry procession: glacier stones from Greenland reminding us that glacier retreat is one of the most worrying signs of climate change; dried up maize from Africa, a symbol of the hunger of that continent brought about by changing weather patterns; and bleached corals from the Pacific Ocean – signs of the dangerous acidification of the oceans. Rowan Williams’ deep commitment to the issue of climate change came across with passion and integrity as he called us to respond with love for creation and for humanity rather than with fear at the impending crisis. The congregation applauded.

As we sang the final hymn ‘Beautiful is the Earth’ the cathedral bell began to toll out 350 times in unison with church bells all over central Europe. This connected with the global chain of prayers and bell-ringing for creation and the climate that had started in Fiji in the South Pacific earlier in the day, sounding through all time-zones to Copenhagen, on to Greenland, right round the earth and back to the South Pacific for the end of the day. 350 refers to 350ppm (parts per million), the maximum acceptable level of CO2 emissions, according to the UN.

COP15 – Puzzling Thoughts 4/4 – Eucharist

December 12, 2009 2 comments

Yesterday, Dec 11, I attended various side-events to COP15, and I am left with some puzzle pieces of thoughts.

 (4) José Ignacio and myself participated in a eucharistic celebration at the roman catholic St. Ansgar cathedral in Copenhagen, presided by the archbishop of Kampala and organized by Caritas Internationalis on the occasion of COP15. Although Roman Catholics are a very small minority in Denmark, this eucharist reflected a very lively and welcoming community. The youth choir was impressive.

Participation in the liturgy reminded me how important a eucharistic celebration can be in the context of the worldwide climate change crisis: this celebration connects us globally – the eucharist is celebrated worldwide; there is time to take in reality, our responsibilities and our mistakes in reality; we celebrate the beauty of our world and thank God for it; we participate in God’s work in creation and bring this on the table, where this shared work shapes us into a church; the readings, and particularly the gospel reading, remind us that we belong to the world, as in the incarnation the Lord belongs to the world – our faith is not about moving out of the world into some other kind of world, but about moving into the world to move with it into its full future, the Reign of God; there is celebration of communion with God, with our fellow human beings and with the world; we are reminded of our mission into our world and of the fact that this mission leads us into total commitment – that we may be celebrating the eucharist as Christ did, on the eve of his passion. All of these are crucial attitudes today, in the midst of a growling world, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his “Messe sur le Monde” was well aware of. I refer to him here, because his writings and those of Thomas Berry, accompany me here, and I am glad to have those two beacons with me in Copenhagen.

Egied Van Broeckhoven, a Flemish Jesuit priester worker in Brussels during the second half of the twentieth century, parts of whose diary have been published also in English, describes this double movement of incarnation as participation in the work of a growning world, a world that struggles against injustice and inhumanity; as well as as intimate encounter with God precisely in this world. His holy ground was the factory, our holy ground today is our planet.

COP15 – Puzzling Thoughts 3/4 – The Hadley Centre

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Yesterday, Dec 11, I attended various side-events to COP15, and I am left with some puzzle pieces of thoughts.

 (3) The third side event in which I participated was the presentation of the prestigious Met Office Hadley Centre. The combination of presentations was brilliant, but we were given a very grim – nearly apocalyptic – image of the future, up to the point that one can wonder how these scientists “feel” about these issues, once they are facing their children and grandchildren and have to leave behind the cold rationality they rightly use in analyzing the facts … It is frightening and questions arise as to what kind of adaptation will be realistic and how hope can be generated in the face of such realities and out of such realities. Tackling global climate change, therefore, is not only a scientific, economic and political issue; a much broader and holistic strategy is necessary, in which the so-called human sciences and religions will play an important role. While wondering about strengthening people’s capacity to cope with these challenges, I was reminded of Aaron Antonovsky’s “sense of coherence” (SOC), but also of my own religion’s capacity to generate hope in desperate situations and to deal with situations of immense pain and suffering (e.g. the pest, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi-Germany). There certainly is work to be done here, and urgently. Again, it is a pity that religions and their theologians, or that human sciences such as social psychology, are but tangentially present at COP15.

COP15 – Puzzling Thoughts 2/4 – REDD and Indigenous People

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Yesterday, Dec 11, I attended various side-events to COP15, and I am left with some puzzle pieces of thoughts.

 (2) The idea of REDD is to reduce GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – a plan with enormous implications for the vast rainforests in Latin America and Africa. A side-event organized by COICA, the Coordinadora de las organizaciones indigenas de la Cuenca amazonica, illustrated the complexities of REDD in the face of the indigenous people in the Amazon region. The tone was aggressive and passionate: among the indigenous people, the fear exists – and I can understand them when I see how the whole COP15 focuses on economic and market solutions to the climate change crisis – that this will lead to mercantilise the rain forests. They fear that forests will be turned into plantations, in the hands of industrial interests and aimed at maximizing financial gain. But, plantations are not an alternative to forests, their significance and the special care that indigenous people have for them and for the biodiversity they harbor, necessary to life on earth. Plantations reflect an economic market logic, that does not reflect the real life of a forest, but takes it on as a consumer object. The indigenous people from the Amazon region also fear, that in this market process, their human rights will not be respected, as is already the case – people have been killed for defending the forests against logging. The deepest lack of respect for the human rights of the indigenous people lies in the fact that they are turned into mere economic actors in a market that stimulates greed and murderous competition. REDD, therefore, is linked to indigenous human rights as it is linked to biodiversity.

These passionate discussions pose the issue of the place of economic measures in addressing the global climate change crisis. I was thinking how, in the crisis situation born out of cruel world wars, the European Union has been constructed by building up a common market, by an economic strategy. However, this economic strategy was combined with a strong emphasis on values, particularly on the value of solidarity. Precisely, in Europe today the debate on values has become crucial, since the market logic seems to tempt people away from the important values that should frame economic and market logic. The indigenous people of the Amazon region offer us a plea for a set of values: the value of forests and the special care for them, the value of biodiversity, the values of human rights, … Economic and political strategies should not be blind and they need a framework of values to do their work in a constructive and positive way – a fact of which religion reminds us. It is, therefore, frightening that religions are present only on the fringes of COP15: it is high time to ask decision-makers for the motivations, values and beliefs they hold dear and want to turn into decisions for our planet. Yesterday, Rowan Williams in a sermon reminded us precisely of this: religion is not some eccentricity or oddity with regard to politics – it touches the core of what it means to be a politician.

The Global Peace Initiative of Women: “Addressing Climate Change by Awakening to Oneness”

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

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'”.