I am in the Madrid airport waiting to board my flight to Philadelphia. It was a good, but exhausting week in Marrakesh. One thing that became very clear to me is that people all over the world, from scientists to religious leaders to community organizers are working to find solutions to climate change. Some are working on mitigating the rise in temperatures. Some are working to remove carbon from the air. Others are helping people adjust to the epic changes in the environment. But the recent American election was a pall on the whole community. Only America has leaders who deny there is a problem and who are working to make things worse rather than better.
On the last day of COP22 I went to a very interesting session on the work of faith communities toward climate justice. They argued that climate change is a peace issue since the stress on the environment will lead to violence as people are forced to migrate and compete for scarce resources. The Pentagon is very aware that global warming is a threat to peace and security.
Two of the presentations were very helpful to me. One drew upon the recent history of transitional justice to address how to move forward. Many countries in the 20th century had civil wars or oppressive regimes that were devastating to the people. Crimes were committed and people wanted the perpetrators to be punished. But that would only prolong the violence and would force the guilty to hide their culpability. South Africa under Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela pioneered a process of Truth and Reconciliation that gave amnesty to the guilty if they revealed the extent of their crimes.
The speaker argued that something similar could be done to deal with climate change, but on a global scale. Some countries in the Northern hemisphere are guilty of having done the most damage to the world. Much of this damage was done before climate scientists knew the effects of industrialization and can be dismissed as ignorance. But for the past 20 years there has been overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing because of human industry. And there have been many powerful people who continued to profit from industries that are threatening the lives of a billion people.Even those of us at the COP contributed to global warming by flying to Morocco! The truth needs to be acknowledged but the threat of retribution makes it hard for the guilty to participate in creating a more hopeful future.
The other presentation was by a Quaker representative who spoke about the “quiet diplomacy” she has been involved in with the national negotiators. They had dinners where they could speak freely off the record. Often the negotiators are constrained by nationalist politics and cannot publicly disagree with their governments. But they spoke freely about their grief and fear. The speaker argued persuasively that people are more willing to participate in addressing climate change when their human rights are respected. As we work to reverse the damage done by burning fossil fuels, we must also care for those whose livelihoods are affected. This needs to be seen as the top national priority for all nations since all nations will be affected. She said, “We are the problem, but we are also the solution.” A scholar in the audience responded to the papers by stating that what needs to happen is that we reclaim a sense that the earth is sacred. Why is that so hard for American Christians?